CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Storm watchers from all over the world packed coastal vistas throughout southern Maine Monday, with many saying the waves crashing into the state ahead of Hurricane Sandy are the largest they’ve ever seen.
“Even when [Hurricane] Hugo came through Charleston, the seas didn’t get this high,” said Kay Harris of Beaufort, S.C. “This is incredible.”
Harris and her husband, John, took in the surf near the western tower of Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth. They said they had planned their northeastern vacation “months ago,” before they knew the hurricane would be providing the natural entertainment instead of the colorful leaves more commonly associated with fall in Maine.
With an astronomical high tide coinciding with the arrival of Hurricane Sandy’s northernmost blade Monday morning, nearly every parking space in several of Maine’s most popular surf-watching parks was filled. Dozens of people at each location snapped pictures and leaned playfully into the wind gusts.
Hurricane Sandy — a late-season storm dubbed “ Frankenstorm” because it is on track to collide with a wintry storm and Arctic air as well as its near-Halloween arrival time — has triggered mass closures in the northeastern United States, where some expect it will cause as much as $1 billion in damage.
But in coastal Maine Monday, the first signs of the storm were more a tourist attraction than a natural disaster.
The Harrises didn’t come from the farthest away, however. Alex Jevons and Peter Norman arrived at the Cape Elizabeth site from England — Birmingham and Liverpool, respectively.
Jevons and Norman have been in Maine for months coaching the Portland Phoenix club soccer team.
While Jevons said they get high seas in England, Monday’s coastal tumult still offered the duo the chance to see something novel.
“There are no hurricanes in England,” he said.
Nate Johnson, who grew up in New Gloucester but now hails from Boston, caught some high tide waves with his surfboard at Higgins Beach in Scarborough. The National Oceanographic Data Center reported water temperatures off the coast of Maine Monday around 54 degrees.
“It was really fun,” he said. “There was a pretty good swell in the water, but the winds were a bit crazy.”
Matt Starcher, from Morgantown, W.Va., was among many watching the waves kick up from a safer distance on Scarborough’s beachfront sidewalk.
“I’ve never really seen waves this big,” said Starcher, who relocated to the town last week with his wife and daughter. “It’s gorgeous.”
Other stormwatchers from closer to home added to the spray of superlatives describing the coastal scenes.
“These are definitely the biggest waves I’ve seen here,” said Tristan Coffin of Auburn. “I’ve never seen them this big before.”
Owen McGarry, who spends his summers in Cape Elizabeth but heads south for the winters, said he delayed his Wednesday trip to Florida because of the storm. He watched the waves Monday morning near Two Lights State Park with his grown daughter, Melinda McGarry-Gregory.
“This is as bad as I’ve seen it,” McGarry-Gregory said. “We come out generally whenever a storm rolls through, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it any worse than this.”
Elizabeth Pike, who was raised in Boothbay and now lives in Saco, used the word “electrifying” to describe the surf crashing in front of her in Cape Elizabeth.
“This is what ‘awesome’ really means,” the self-described “storm lover” said. “The kids use the term, but they don’t really know what it means. … This really puts everything in perspective.”
Carl Inkel from Portland watched the ocean smash high into the rocks at the foot of the iconic Portland Head Light across town.
He said Tuesday’s high tide, which is scheduled for around noon, will be even more impressive. For those who can handle it.
“Come tomorrow, but bring a wetsuit and leave your camera at home if you don’t want to lose it,” Inkel said.