INSIDE TALK - MICHAEL FABEY ON THE SEA FOX, RIDERS THROUGH THE STORMS LEARN HOW TO COPE

INSIDE TALK - MICHAEL FABEY ON THE SEA FOX, RIDERS THROUGH THE STORMS LEARN HOW TO COPE

So many hurricane stories seem to have the same kind of ending. The storms scrub out a bit of land and then go on "safely out to sea."

"Safely" is a relative term. And it's safe to say that the merchant mariners working the ships in the paths of these storms are feeling anything but safe.Take the case of the Sea Fox. It's a Crowley American Transport ship that regularly goes right through the Caribbean - ground zero for the recent spate of hurricanes. I recently hitched a ride.

The ship made sure it was in a different time zone when Luis hit. It first tried to outrun and then had to zigzag its way around Hubert in late August. The marine minuet made the ship a little late getting home to Philadelphia.

But Erin was a nettlesome nipper for many of the Sea Fox's crew. The storm passed well north of the ship's stern in early August, but hit Florida - which many of the sailors on the ship call home. They would rather face a storm at sea on a ship than sit helpless while their families sit home alone to face a storm on shore.

Sea Fox Capt. Jan Kummernes told his wife to leave their home near Jacksonville. The second mate, Tim Anderson, wanted to tell his wife, Sue, to abandon their house in Jupiter.

"I'm going to tell her to get the hell out of there," Mr. Anderson said. ''That's what we have insurance for."

But he couldn't reach her.

CALM AMID THE STORM

While trying further phone attempts by satellite, Mr. Anderson darted back and forth on the bridge of the Sea Fox, between the radio, which broadcast Erin's latest positions, and the chart table, where he plotted the storm's course. He kept a calm countenance, but lines of concern creased his brow below the strands of his blond hair.

Mr. Anderson showed less concern while on the bridge of the Sea Fox as it threaded its way past a flotilla of ships anchored outside Santos, Brazil, clouded in fog. After all, that was nothing like a hurricane. Especially one that was about to strike home and family.

Waiting for word about Erin, other sailors shared some of their experiences in hurricanes and other bad storms. Chief Engineer Pete Stremel told of a time when a wall of water about 100 feet high washed over the stern of a ship.

Chief Mate Jim Toy was on a ship going across the Atlantic Ocean, carrying military vehicles for Desert Storm, when rough weather hit. The lashes broke, and the vehicles rolled around the ship's belly like Tonka toys. He and other sailors caught and secured the vehicles by throwing grappling hooks around the bumpers - like using a clothesline to lasso an enraged elephant.

"There's nothing like the North Atlantic in the wintertime," said Gerald Ray, an abled-bodied seaman. "Up on the bridge, you always hear distress signals. Ships are always getting it out there."

Capt. Kummernes recalled a time when he was working as a deckhand on one of his first ships. A typhoon smashed into the ship while the vessel was making a run in the North Pacific. "I was sleeping and when I woke up, I was standing straight up in my bed," he said. "A wave just threw me up in the air."

'YOU FORGET ABOUT THOSE MOMENTS'

He survived unscathed. The cargo was a little less fortunate. A wave broke chains the size of a person's fist and washed a load of logs off the ship.

"You forget about those moments," the captain said with a nonchalant wave of his hand, as though he was shooing an annoying bug. Sailors can't afford to fret and freeze when a storm hits. One mistake could mean the end for them or the cargo.

"You choose to remember only how nice places were," Capt. Kummernes said. Mr. Anderson received good news the day after he first tried reaching his wife. Erin slapped his home around a bit, but Sue was fine.

It's still early in the hurricane season. Luis and Marilyn almost smashed Puerto Rico and decimated some smaller neighboring islands. Most people breathed a sigh of relief when the storms went safely out to sea.

"Yeah, right," Capt. Kummernes mused. "Safely out to sea."