The crowd leaving the Orange Bowl in Miami on the afternoon of Wednesday, January 1 congratulated itself on a day to remember—euphoric 72° weather enveloped them and an awesome demonstration of football, Oklahoma-style, was behind them. It was of little moment to the crowd that the Miami office of the Weather Bureau had issued a 1 p.m. report showing a menacing cold front lying across the central Gulf of Mexico—or that, hundreds of miles away on Cuba's Isle of Pines, the weather watchers were soon to discover a low-pressure area saturated with warm, moist air. The workings of nature were of life-and-death moment to yachtsmen in the summerlike seas, but the sailors, most of them escapees from winterlocked offices up north, did not know that yet.
One famous boat at sea on that day was the 39-foot 8-inch ocean racer Hoot Mon, which had been chartered for a run through the Bahama cays. Aboard were two marine officers from Parris Island, together with their wives, the 9-year-old daughter of one couple, the 6-year-old son of the other, and two enlisted marines, also from Parris Island. Another craft in the area was the sturdy old ocean racer Amberjack II, a 46-foot schooner first introduced to fame when Franklin D. Roosevelt chartered her for a post-election-year cruise with his sons in 1933. Amberjack, under the command of her paid skipper, was in Key West getting ready for a return cruise to Fort Lauderdale. Another ocean-goer, the spanking-new, 43-foot Revonoc, had set out from Key West at 8 a.m. New Year's morning. Revonoc (Conover spelled backward) bore her sea-wise skipper-owner, Harvey Conover of New York, a publisher of technical magazines, Conover's wife, their son Larry and his wife Mary, and a textile executive, William Fluegelman, of Scarsdale, N.Y., a friend of the younger Conovers. Miami was thought to be Revonoc's goal, since Conover had had an appointment scheduled there on Saturday morning, January 4, with Colin Ratsey, the New York sailmaker, who had cut some sails for an America's Cup racer and wanted to try them on Revonoc. Later it appeared Revonoc's intended goal might have been Nassau, in the Bahamas, but the exact destination Harvey Conover had in his mind may never, now, be known for sure.
By 4 p.m. on January 1 the Miami office of the Weather Bureau made a further evaluation of its 1 p.m. data. Projecting the effect of the cold front in the Gulf of Mexico, the bureau signaled a small-boat bulletin:
"Gentle to moderate southeasterly winds tonight becoming moderate to fresh north to northeast during Thursday. Slight seas becoming moderate to rough Thursday. Increasing cloudiness with scattered showers beginning tonight."
At this hour, the Miami forecaster knew nothing of the low-pressure area sweeping up from the Isle of Pines toward the Straits of Florida.
But incoming reports kept building up. By 4:30 a.m. Thursday, January 2, the Miami weather forecaster spoke again: "Fresh to occasionally moderate strong 20- to 30-mph northerly winds gradually becoming moderate-to-fresh northeasterly tonight."
It was the first serious warning, and it was an understatement. At 8:30 a.m. Thursday the bureau reinforced the warning, adding: "Fresh to strong 25- to 35-mph northeasterly winds with occasional gusts to 40 mph in squalls extreme southeast Florida coastal region and in the straits."
By 2:30 p.m. Thursday the real evidence was coming in and the Weather Bureau crackled out:
"Hoist gale warning 3 p.m. Thursday, Palm Beach southward to Dry Tortugas."
Up went the gale warnings—two red pennants—over every Coast Guard station as far south as the Tortugas. Out over the radio waves went the same alarm. Gale. Winds of 39 to 54 mph.