Creamer’s journey shows storms are rarely ethical

Tropical Storm Sean was barely a blip at the end of the 2011 hurricane season, a disturbance that developed in early November in the South Atlantic and eventually veered northeast toward Bermuda, never getting within 200 miles of the U.S. mainland.

It was no blip, however, for the executive director of the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, J. Shane Creamer Jr., who battled 60 m.p.h. winds and 20-foot waves for four days while skippering a 42-foot sailboat through the storm.

"You've read about things like this, but you don't understand it until you go through it," Creamer said Monday, back at work but still sore from two cracked ribs - one the result of a shipboard stumble, the other suffered when he was knocked overboard by a wave in the middle of the storm.

Creamer just turned 50 and was celebrating with a 1,700-mile trip from the Chesapeake to Antigua in the Caribbean, aboard a J-42 sailboat named Baruna after the Hindu god of the sea. He had three crew members - his girlfriend, Jennifer Eckert, and two friends from Maryland's Eastern Shore.

"We were using a professional weather routing service, and they'd send e-mails to us over the satellite phone," Creamer said. "We were already in our third day, across the Gulf Stream and several hundred miles from shore, when we were advised we'd encounter a system with sustained winds over 40 knots."

When the storm hit, actual winds reached over 50 knots (50 knots equals 57.6 m.p.h.), and the waves were too high for the boat to head in any direction but downwind - luckily, south-southwest, the same general direction the party wanted to go.

About halfway through the storm, 450 miles off the coast of Florida, a wave broke over the boat, knocking out its communication equipment and instruments. Another wave knocked the boat on its side and Creamer slipped into the water, but he was wearing a harness tethered to the boat and was able to climb back on, with help.

Eckert was hit in the pelvis by a flying refrigerator hatch, and another crew member, John Danly, was thrown from his berth into a steel ceiling rail - bending the rail but leaving himself unable to straighten his leg for the next six weeks.

The battered boat and crew limped into Antigua after 11 days, roughly on schedule. But Creamer needed five days to arrange for repairs and missed last week's meeting of the Ethics Board - the first he had missed since he got the job in 2005.

"You learn a lot about yourself and the people you're sailing with," Creamer said. "Everybody stayed calm, nobody panicked and the boat came through. . . . I don't want to go through it again any time soon, but on one level I'm glad I've seen that and survived it."    - Bob Warner