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Insights: The Perfect Storm
April 15, 2009

The Perfect Storm

“Storms make oaks take deeper root.”

- George Herbert

I trust you enjoyed a wonderful Easter break and I hope that you feel refreshed and revitalized.

In the Cape we have had the good fortune to enjoy some truly wonderful weather. So good, in fact, that I’ve felt in perpetual holiday mode for an extended time, resulting in a rather daunting email backlog to contend with!

The Cape of Storms

The balmy autumn weather that we experience here in April and May tends to have the effect of lulling us into a false sense that winter will never arrive. But of course it always does – and with a vengeance! Not for nothing was this part of the world named the Cape of Storms by early explorers.

Enjoying the last day of school holidays, I sat at home in the late afternoon yesterday and gazed out at the pond-like tranquility of False Bay.

Feeling a sudden need to be productive, I ambled off to our store room to fetch a rake to gather up lawn clippings. The store room provided a jarring reminder of the ferocity of our Cape winter storms. There lay the mangled wrecks of a trampoline and a table tennis table that we had inadvertently left outside one winter’s night last year.

Memories of something far more frightening

My recollection of that night - awakening to the frightful bumps and crashes as the north-west gale tossed our playthings around outside – was to remind me of a far more dramatic and frightening experience in my past.

At the end of 1979, I travelled to Mauritius to spend three weeks with my girlfriend, Jenni (now my wife) who was living on the island at the time. Jenni had made a nice little nest egg from teaching dance classes to young Mauritian children and she had decided to treat us to a few days in a beach house in stunning Grand Baie in the north-west.

Unbeknown to us at the time we arrived there, we were about to find ourselves right in the track of one of the most intense and destructive cyclones to batter the island in recent times.

Enter Claudette – a woman scorned!

Cyclone Claudette roared in from the Indian Ocean early one evening, as we were leisurely sipping drinks on the verandah of our little holiday house. Being quite used to the strong south-easterly trades that buffet the Cape in summer, we were, at first, both somewhat bemused by the way the locals started battening down hatches as the wind picked up.

An hour or two later, though, our bemusement turned to mild panic as darkness descended and driving rain started to fall to accompany the ever strengthening wind.

At around 10p.m. we began to realize that this was no ordinary storm. The electricity failed and we scrambled around for torches and candles. The scene – an eerie interior light complemented by strange groaning and screeching sounds from outside, as anything not adequately secured found itself being wildly flung around – could easily have been scripted for a horror movie.

At breaking point

Two hours later and the violence of the cyclone had reached staggering proportions. Jenni and I cowered on a raised bed as far removed from the windows as possible. As we played the torch on the window panes we were shocked to see that the intensity of the wind had caused the panes to flex out of their wooden frames, almost to breaking point, allowing the near horizontal sheets of rain to pour in through the gaps.

At 1 a.m. I remember thinking that this was it. The window panes seemed certain to give way at any time. If we could somehow miraculously avoid being slashed to bits by flying sheets of glass, the six inches of water already sloshing around on the floor of our room would become a raging torrent and threaten to swamp us.

Then suddenly, it felt there had been divine intervention. Within the space of minutes, the raging maelstrom outside was replaced by complete and utter... silence!

The eye of the storm

I knew, instinctively, that the eye of that perfect storm had just passed over us and that it was just a matter of time before we would be exposed to the full fury of the cyclone again. But Jenni and I were suffering from severe nervous exhaustion and before we knew it we were fast asleep.

Just three hours later we were savagely awoken again, once more fearing for our lives. The only difference this time was that we knew that if we could hold out, things would gradually improve.

And they did.

Scenes of devastation

By 9a.m. not much more than 12 hours after it all started, the wind had abated sufficiently to allow us to venture outside, where we took in the scenes of complete devastation. Yachts had been ripped from their moorings in the bay, picked up and dumped on dry land. Palm trees lay at all angles across the main roads. Many shops and houses lay in complete ruins. Power lines were down; reticulated water had been shut off.

An event that shaped our future

Despite the ravages of this powerful storm, Jenni and I felt proud of the way we had bonded together to survive what can only be described as an incredible experience. These days, we look back on that event with wonderment, feeling that it helped, in no small way, to shape our subsequent marriage – reminding us not to give up on it when times get tough.

And that’s the point that I want to make this week.

At the time, any ‘storm’ that we experience in life, whether physical or emotional in nature, may cause us to feel frightened, out of control and even overwhelmed. But we should never forget that every storm passes.

After every storm, the birds come out and sing again.

An opportunity for growth and development

For those of you who may feel you are right in the midst of some perfectly awful storm, please know that your storm, too, will pass. And when it does, you will be able to reflect back on how the experience helped you to grow as a person.

With warm regards


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