Michael Pitts flies into the storm
Michael Pitts has always wanted to be in Bermuda for a hurricane.
Having visited the island over and over again since he was a child, the 56-year-old was particularly interested in seeing what the winds would do to the surf.
So when the Florida resident heard Hurricane Lee was going to brush Bermuda, he booked the next flight.
His wife, who doesn’t like the heat, stayed at home unimpressed that he missed her birthday.
“I usually come at Cup Match,” said Mr Pitts. “When my cousins heard I was coming they said, ‘You know, most people run away from a hurricane, not into it’.”
Being from West Central Florida, he is no stranger to the seasonal storm systems.
“They are almost as common there as they are in Bermuda,” he said. “This last one that blew by, Idalia, impacted us.
“I am about a mile and a half from the water so I was all right, but there was a lot of flooding. I went down to the coast in my truck and the roads were all flooded out and people were stuck.”
He took his chainsaw and helped with the clearing up.
But he always felt that hurricanes in Bermuda would be different.
“Here it is beautiful to see the ocean in a storm,” he said. “Bermuda is the most beautiful place in the world.”
He also felt it was safer to be here than other places during a big storm.
“Bermudians build their houses for this,” he said. “In the United States they build houses for cost. We have so much damage after a storm, but you guys are a lot smarter.”
Mr Pitts spent Thursday morning at one of his favourite places in Bermuda, Warwick Long Bay.
Speaking to The Royal Gazette from the beach at around 12.15pm, he said the water was coming up to the steps.
“It is really churned up,” he said. “It is rolling in. I have never seen waves like this. They have to be 5ft to 8ft high. I have got so many pictures. It is insane.”
He was not particularly bothered by any potential danger from Lee, which was expected to bring tropical storm-force winds and hurricane-force gusts.
“I was an army paratrooper,” Mr Pitts said. “I have done all sorts of things.”
He did have one close call at Warwick Long Bay.
“One of the yellow floats they put on the beach broke loose and blew down the beach,” he said. “I went and got it.”
He could not say how far he was from the water, but explained that he felt safe enough to walk over to the float. As soon as he reached it however, the water washed in.
“I thought, that is enough of that,” Mr Pitts said. “That water comes in fast. I just pray no one goes in the water.”
In the days leading up to the storm, as he toured Bermuda’s beaches, he wasn’t surprised that many others were also out admiring the rough water. “I’m not the only crazy one out here,” Mr Pitts laughed.
What did give him some concern was the person he saw out surfing on Wednesday at Warwick Long Bay.
“He was not able to get up on the board. I was a bit worried he would get washed out to sea.”
His late father, a Bermudian also called Michael Pitts, left the island when he married in 1962.
“My mother was from Queens, New York City,” Mr Pitts said. “My parents eventually moved to Florida when I was 8.”
His father also had a love of storms. “He would open the sliding glass door and watch the wind,” Mr Pitts said. “He passed away in 2017.”
Mr Pitts thinks he may have instilled that same love in his own son, Dominic, who would have joined him in Bermuda had he not just started a new job.
So great is their love for the island that they are planning to get the coordinates for Warwick Long Bay tattooed on their arms.
Mr Pitts is staying with cousins on Harrington Sound for what is his second trip here this summer.
“I only just recently visited them and had only been home 20 days,” he said. “What surprised me the most was that school was cancelled but everyone in my family still went to work.”
As his relatives live on a hill, they were buffeted by the wind early on Thursday.
“When I got up in the morning I could hear the surf on the South Shore and hear the roaring of the wind.”
Although Hurricane Lee did not hit Bermuda directly, the trip was worth it, he insisted.
“Even if you came here for a few minutes you would not be cheated. You live in the most beautiful place in the world. I can say that after having been all over the world with the military,” the retired veteran said.
In Florida, he spends a good part of his time building birdhouses to look like Bermuda homes.
“I have shipped quite a few over here but I had to slow down this year because it has been so hot in Florida,” he said. “I just cannot do too much. I have 40 on the list to make. That will probably take me about a year. It is a labour of love.”
One of the reasons he loves the island so much is its people.
“You have the whole package here,” Mr Pitts said. “It is heaven on earth.”