Boat captain Michael Quantrell, originally from Camden, is riding out Hurricane Irma on his 65-foot yacht named “Mrs. Lane” in West Palm Beach with his father, Tom, a 30-year veterans of the Camden’s fire department. Credit: Courtesy of Michael Quantrell

As the National Hurricane Center on Saturday downgraded Hurricane Irma to Category 3 with a warning that it would intensify as it headed to the U.S. coast, former Mainers planning to ride out the storm in Florida were bracing for the worst.

Leah Johnson, who grew up in Freeport, is sheltering in place with her husband and two children in the Tampa Bay area, directly in the path of Irma.

Johnson’s children spent Saturday morning cleaning out the garage so that patio furniture and one of two cars could be stored in it. The family lives in “an older, sturdy concrete block ranch partially built into a hill,” with hurricane shutters on the exposed windows and sliding glass doors, according to Johnson. While they are near a canal, it’s across the street and 22 feet down.

“The general rule we’re hearing is that if you’re at risk of flooding, you should evacuate, but if you’re at risk of wind damage, shelter in place,” Johnson said by phone.

While bands of the storm approached the area Saturday, the brunt of the storm is expected to hit Tampa Bay Sunday night, with gusts of 120 to 140 mph expected.

Johnson’s husband, Keith Russell, sells disaster preparedness equipment to healthcare facilities, so the couple is confident they’re ready for what’s to come. But Russell also grew up in Homestead, Florida, which was ground zero for Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and so he’s anxious, Johnson said.

“There’s definitely a buzz in the air, and anxiety level, but people aren’t freaking out or being rude or anything,” she said. “It’s just a ‘get things done’ anxiety. Our neighbors just brought us a homemade Key lime pie!”

Across the state, on the east coast, Camden native Michael Quantrell also plans to ride out the storm — on a 65-year-old yacht in West Palm Beach.

“It’s not that bad right now,” Quantrell said Saturday morning from the Mrs. Lane, currently in a West Palm Beach marina. “It’s 14 to 20 knots sustained, but squalls have run through.”

Quantrell said that as his initial fears about Irma have waned, he’s becoming more concerned about Hurricane Jose.

Quantrell and his father Tom, a 30-year veteran of the Camden Fire Department, were sailing the yacht to Annapolis, Maryland, for its owner and stopped to have the shaft and propellers worked on.

Without them, “it forced us to stay here,” he said. “We didn’t really have a choice.”

But Quantrell said he feels safer on the Mrs. Lane than he would in a shelter or “possibly running out of gas and riding it out on the highway.”

“I’m more concerned with looters,” he said. “I’m pretty confident the boat’s not going to blow over, which would be the worst, but even if it did, the boat’s extremely well-built.”

Back in Tampa Bay, Johnson said she’ll rely on a generator, portable cell phone chargers and games — along with the Key lime pie — to get through the storm.

“We’re going to go old school,” she said, smiling. “Sorry and Monopoly, and some colored pencils.”