Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Our Dance with Debby


weather Map - debby and Dog Island


What a title. It wasn’t really a dance. It felt more like a wrestling match. And my back and arms are sore to prove it.

The short version:    We got stuck for a short time on Dog Island, FL in the heat of tropical storm Debby, but we are now safely inland and happy to be off the island.

I have to admit that even in the midst of some sticky situations, thoughts entered my mind like this:    “Ok, there has to be a great metaphor of life lessons in this situation for the blog… What nuggets can I take back from this?”  

Then with a firm backhand to my own face I would say: “You idiot, stop thinking about your blog!! Moron! You are in a serious situation.. focus on the task at hand!!!”    

Michael and Max waiting for something more exciting to happen

Michael and Max waiting for something more exciting to happen

With that understanding, please realize that I don’t have any brilliant metaphors to entrepreneurial inspiration from this experience (yet). So today, instead of inspirational epiphanies, I’ll just share what actually happened. Maybe with some time to remember the experience, I’ll get a little more fluffy (for those of you who like that sort of thing).

About Dog Island (DI)

Think third-world country that just happens to be claimed (and taxed!) by the State of Florida. You can read about Dog Island on Wikipedia, but here is what you need to know:

  • It is 7 miles long (or it was last week anyway).
  • There are no businesses on DI.
  • No stores.
  • No restaurants.
  • It’s about a 4-mile crossing by boat from Carrabelle, FL.
  • There is a short, grass landing strip on the island.
  • There are vehicles, but thanks to the salt in the air, they go to Dog Island to finish their useful life.
  • Our particular mode of transportation is a mid-90’s Japanese mini-truck and a 4-Wheeler. Our house is 2 miles from the docks.

How We Ended Up Dueling Debby

We had set a goal to spend a lot of time there this month. I had a nice little office setup for calls and quiet, productive working. My iPhone Hotspot provides good 3G service there, and Margaret could let the kids wear themselves out jumping in the waves all day.

We saw the news of the system developing on Saturday, but the forecasts predicted Debby to sit still out in the Gulf another 36-48 hours, then the most likely model pointed it to Texas and Mexico. Even if it came our way, it would be Monday before it got messy (so they said).

Not having any desire to tempt fate, we decided that Sunday morning would be our window to depart.  It was the prudent thing to do. BUT… things all changed Saturday evening when the wind and the surf started picking up dramatically. By early Sunday morning, the waves were officially giant, on their way to ginormous. The wind had probably picked up to 25-35mph with gusts that were much more.   We weren’t going anywhere by boat.  Neither was anyone else.

This video was Sunday morning when we first ventured to the beach to check out the erosion.

Debby beach recon 1

Tidbits of Tropical Storm Knowledge

    • USCG Dog Island Rescue

      USCG Dog Island Rescue

      On Requesting Coast Guard Assistance.   Turns out the USCG needs you to use specific words like “imminent life danger ” to get their attention. I understand. Helicopter rides are expensive are boats are breakable.   I called them Sunday afternoon to let them know that there were a few folks on Dog Island who would appreciate a ride off.  At least the women and kiddos. I couldn’t honestly tell them we were in “imminent danger,” but:

      • (A) we weren’t going to brave the crossing in our own boats,
      • (B) the ferry captain declared it was too dangerous to come over,
      • (C) Franklin County Emergency Services had declared a mandatory evacuation.Ok, smart guys, now what!?  The Coast Guard’s advice was to hunker down but to call them if it got scary and they would send a helicopter.     As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what some people down on the narrow part of the island had to do. See the video of the rescue from the USCG here.
    • On keeping a boat attached to anything.  Whew, lots of lessons learned here:

      Never enough

      Never enough lines.. (note the dock is underwater)

      1. With enough wind, high tide, and surge: lines will break!! Who knew!? With this lesson learned, came lesson #2.
      2. You can never have too many lines in a storm situation.
      3. You cannot pull a large boat closer to you when pulling against a 50mph wind. It isn’t going to happen. Find another way to get to it.
      4. When you find your other way, wear a life jacket.
      5. Even with your life jacket, get someone else to spot you.
      6. Keep your arms out from between ropes and boats in gusty winds.
    • On ground transportation.
      1.  Clearance is important. Japanese min-trucks may not have the clearance one needs to traverse flooded sand/dirt roads.
      2. 4-wheeler ATV + 60mph gusts + rain = SCUBA mask is the only way you will see forward.
      3. Tuck a towel under your scuba mask to protect your face.  (Expect that 100 people will use automatic BB guns to shoot right at your face. That’s the feeling, yeah.)
      4. Always be friendly to the other islanders.  When your ATV dies and you need a ride home, you will be happy you were. They may even offer you a glass of wine or strong cocktail for the trip.

Here is my sarcastic video message to my brother-in-law, who expected me to report like a real weather man…

My Sarcastic Debby Reporting from Dog Island


How We Got Out

Though we had accepted the need to continue “hunkering down,” when an opportunity came to disembark we pounced. Monday morning I was at the docks and noticed the back side of the island seemed relatively calm.  Soon after I heard that Capt. Rusty and his “Miss Baby” ferry-boat was making a crossing and that several others were going to go around the same time back to the island. I knew we wanted to be leaving when other boats were leaving (something about safety in numbers), so I raced home and began our first ever get-the-hell-off-the-island-NOW fire drill.

If anyone goes to our house right now, they will think the rapture happened.  I believe there is still breakfast on the table, coffee in the pot, toys out, clothes everywhere, and beds unmade.  We grabbed a change of clothes for each kid, one suitcase, car keys, wallets, my LAPTOP (priorities!!), and bolted! We made sure the doors were closed and locked and dashed for the docks.



Getting the entire family out to the boat was interesting. For a 6′ guy, wading through 12″ of water  isn’t a big deal, but to my 4-yr old and 6-yr old, it made them uncharacteristically skittish.   Still, with the baby in arms, I led the way, followed by the boys, followed by Margaret who had our suitcase on her head.  (The scene would have been great front page photo material for any local news reporter!)

(Speaking of my sore back earlier in the post… it happened when leaning over to hoist my heavy boys from the dock to the boat… when the dock is under water, it’s a lot farther down than you expect and quite the angle that my physical therapist wife would recommend for lifting heavy misfits with your back!)

Our crossing was windy but without incident, and we were happy to have the kids off the island. As of this writing on Tuesday, the island continues to be beat up with strong winds, but the reports are that things are improving and weakening.

We may have some cleanup to do over the 4th of July week.

Thanks to everyone for the notes, texts, and prayers.


Category: General
  • Hasajd says:

    Wow Johnson.  An adventure you will always remember.  I am so happy you are off the Island. 

    June 26, 2012 at 7:17 pm

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