If subtropical storm Melissa had been like a professionally refereed prize fight between two evenly matched boxers. If she had taken her time slowly wearing down her opponent to win by a judge’s decision. Then the bombogenesis storm that followed was like being sucker punched in a dark alley.

Even though the bomb cyclone storm was not given an official name its 90 mph winds and extreme low-pressure core set the Massachusetts record for October.

It arrived almost unannounced while New England was still reeling from Melissa. At first it looked like it would pass through so quickly it would cause little damage but as meteorologists rechecked their instruments it became clear that its short-lived power alone would raise havoc and it did.

Soon higher than forecast winds were toppling trees that still wore their full sets of leaves. They fell through houses and took down power lines leaving close to 500,000 New Englanders in the dark on a Thursday morning. Schools were closed and hundreds of boats were torn from their moorings and strewn willy-nilly over beaches and marshes by waves that had also be underestimated.

In the morning I scoured several Facebook pages but people were still responding to yesterday’s news. Scores of people had posted shots of elegant praying mantises and respondents were curious about why there were so many. 

Was it another manifestation of global warming? I finally looked it up and the answer was simple. It was autumn and that’s when male mantises actively seek out females. But they have to be careful while they are busily mating on top of the female, because the female can reach back, decapitate her suitor and happily munch his head while his lower extremities continued to procreate.

But one particular sunrise post caught my attention. It showed the vague outlines of a large ship sitting just off Pavilion Beach in Ipswich. Several people questioned the post’s veracity because the ship was so conveniently obscured by waves and moisture.

But I remembered seeing a similar thing in Woods Hole. Early one morning I was walking along Nobska Beach and looked up to see the large bulk and elegant lines of the QE2 slipping just offshore. She was on her way to running aground on the Pigs and Sows ledge off the Elizabeth Islands. The passengers had to be off loaded at sea and transported rather unhappily by bus to New York, as I remember.

So I jumped into my car and drove down to Pavilion Beach and sure enough there were the two large cruise ships not far offshore. I took some pictures but they weren’t very good. The ships were at eye level and the waves were too high and there was too much moisture in the air to see anything clearly.

Later I had to run some early morning errands and realized I was part way to Crane Beach. Perhaps I could see the ships from a different angle. But neither the guard at the castle nor the parking lot attendant knew about any ships. But I decided to take a look myself and as soon as I topped the boardwalk, there they were. They loomed just above where dogs were frolicking on the sand.

The elevation of the boardwalk allowed me to see above the waves and mist so I could even see the ships’ names. One was the Norwegian Dawn headed for New York with more than 2,000 passengers; the other was The Seven Seas Navigator with 400 passengers bound for Boston. They had both been on their fall foliage cruises and had to dart into Ipswich Bay to wait out the storm before they could get around Cape Ann to transit the Cape Cod Canal.

If we had still been in the age of sail we would have had two shipwrecks and several thousand drowned passengers on our hands. Fortunately the Norwegian vessels had diesel engines and positioning systems so they could jog out the storm in safety.

The last time I had seen something like this was when the Eldia ran aground on Cape Cod’s Nauset Beach and was stranded for several weeks, creating a welcome mini tourist boom in late March.

When I drove home I realized how fortunate I had been. A cop car blocked my way. If I had not had errands to run I would have taken my regular route and been turned away from venturing further. Mother Nature had shown me the way, once again.

Bill Sargent is a North Shore science writer and contributing columnist. His most recent book, 20,000 Years on the Merrimack River is available in local bookstores and through http://plumislandoutdoors.org, and at www.ingramcontent.com.

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