Once again we're waiting. Waiting for a hurricane to come and destroy our new boat. We're starting to notice a pattern. Every time we buy a new boat it seems to quickly become the target of a hurricane.
The last time we waited was three years ago in early September. The forecast predicted Hurricane Fran, packing 120-mph winds, would make landfall just north of Charleston, SC. Safari was brand-spanking new, having just been delivered from the factory to the yard where we were to launch her. Unfortunately the yard was "just north of Charleston."
Now this was not a situation where we could hightail it for a hurricane hole, put out a bunch of anchors and chain, and then weather the storm. Safari was perched atop an array of jackstands in this low-country boatyard, so Larry went out and bought a bunch of mobile home tie-downs. We worked furiously to get them screwed down strategically all around the boat. Knowing what happens to mobile homes in hurricanes, we tied her down as best as we could. We could only hope that Safari would somehow fare better.
Mission accomplished. Figuring that Safari should be able to withstand some pretty high winds and not be blown away, we stood back and were discussing how much better we felt. But our lifted spirits were soon dashed as we watched boat after boat being hauled out of the water. Our new baby was soon surrounded by dozens of huge vessels, most topped with massive amounts of wind-catching biminis and dodgers. As none of these boats were likely to be tied down or stripped of canvas, we figured Safari would get knocked over by a domino effect and all of our efforts had been for naught.
Depressed knowing there was nothing more we could do, we decided to evacuate inland. We certainly wouldn't be safe ourselves in the boatyard. After taking a few pictures, we said goodbye to Safari, while wondering if we would have a boat left to go cruising in when we returned.
Luck was with us and at the last moment Fran turned north, thus sparing our boat and all the others around her. It seemed a good omen for the start of our cruising life.
It's now late summer, three years later, and once again we're waiting. This time Hurricane Dennis has us squarely in his cross hairs. He is tracking straight across the Bahamas. Unless he turns, Dennis will plow head into Titusville, FL, where we just happen to be working on our new Serengeti.
A hurricane watch was announced this morning and the whole marina has sprung to life. People are running up and down the dock comparing strike probability printouts from various online weather forecasters. Everyone's putting in their two-cent's worth about what needs to be done to protect our boats.
Two boats waited it out in the anchorage off Titusville.
Larry and I groan as we see that Dennis may affect us. Serengeti is in pieces and certainly not ready to weather a hurricane. (And did I mention, she's still not insured?) While other people are stripping off canvas, securing extra dock lines, and buying more fenders, we're busy with "minor details" like reinstalling the stemhead fitting so that we can reattach the forestay. And we're trying to find attachment points for the running backstays since the aft chainplates are currently removed. On top of that, we don't have all the cleats installed yet so are having to come up with ways of creative tying the mooring lines. For us, the timing of this hurricane could not be worse.
As we batten down, our thoughts are with Tinker Toy, the 48-foot ketch usually tied up in the slip next to Serengeti. She's now moored in Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, the exact spot Dennis is currently tracking through. We're thankful not to be in there but continue with our own preparations, knowing we may be next.
Everyone takes care of securing their own boat first but is soon roaming the docks to see if there's anyone needing help in final preparations. At midday we hear a man put out a call on the VHF radio to all the boats anchored just outside the marina. He relays that he has extra anchors and other ground tackle from his boat that are available to anyone in need. He also adds that he has room for up to five people who want to get off their boats to come and stay at his house during the storm. Amid all the anxiety, it is good to witness another wonderful, sight-unseen gesture from one boater to anothersomething we seem to come across all the time.
By late afternoon the word is that Dennis is not likely to make landfall in Florida after all, though we will get the brunt of tropical storm conditions. This means we still need to be concerned about possible damaging wind. Naturally, the highest winds are predicted to arrive in the middle of the nightjust to make things more interesting.
At sunset that evening we all gather at the end of the dock watching the initial effects of the stormand actually enjoying the cool air from the 30 to occasional 40-knot gusts. (I describe these conditions as blowing-fat-elephants-off-thick-chains winds.) The top winds are forecast to arrive around 2 a.m. We nervously bid each other good night and retreat down the dock to our boats for some more waiting.
Larry and I gather up our dock-wandering cats along the way and so they are safely tucked away below with us. While closing the last hatch, we notice that the breeze seems to be dying. No, it's probably just the calm before the storm and big rains, we think.
At 3 a.m. we wake up. We are both a little disoriented because there is no sound of wind. Where's all this weather we worked so hard to prepare the boat for? An hour or two later there's a sprinkle but it isn't even enough to properly wash down the decks. Larry turns on the weather channel and as we hear the latest update, we smile at each other in relief. Dennis has decided to leave us completely alone. Looks like Serengeti will get to go cruising after all.
Dennis spun angrily and tracked slowly up the East Coast and was taken very seriously by everyone along the way. The slow-moving hurricanes are always unpredictable. He eventually battered the Outer Banks of North Carolina and, as I write this, is still rated a tropical storm and changing directions again.
Tinker Toy did not weather the 115-mph effects of Dennis in the Abacos without damage. The owners were unable to fly back in time to prepare her properly. The result was that both mainsail and genoa were ripped to shreds, which caused further damage to the standing rigging. We heard that several boats sank in Marsh Harbour.
There are many cruisers who do all they can to be completely out of hurricane territory until the season is over, but not all boaters can do that. Not all situations allow that.
You never know exactly how badly a hurricane is going to hit a specific location, or what the spin-off effects are going to be in nearby areas. Today, though, there is always a fair amount of warning. Weather forecasters track these storms to the greatest degree in history and can give pretty good guidelines as to a hurricane's likely path. By nature, though, hurricanes are unpredictable so you need to be ready for anything. It's not impossible to stay in a hurricane territory during the season provided you're prepared to take reasonable precautions should you become a potential target (See Hurricane Dockside Preparation sidebar).
We've been very lucky twice now but know we can't count on luck all of our lives to keep storms away. We know it's best to be prepared for the worst whenever we find ourselves in a possible hurricane situation and be happy when the brunt of the weather misses us. One thing we have always had is a lot of warning. It's considerable work to properly put your boat in storm-ready condition but well worth it, considering the damage that could be sustained.
Now with the Dennis excitement behind us, it's back to work on Serengeti. And just in case there's another hurricane out there that has heard we had a new boat, I'm getting to work now on reinstalling those cleats.
Hurricane Dockside Preparation
Reduce windageStrip all the canvas off your boat. Dodger, bimini, sun awning, boom cover, etc. Strip off sails and stow below. (If only a tropical storm is expected, you may get by with just wrapping your mainsail boom cover very tightly with line and securing your roller furling jib with multiple tight turns of the sheet. This practice is definitely not recommended if a hurricane is likely). Remove the boom and lash it on deck. Eliminate extra halyards. Attach the shackle end of each halyard to one line, then raise all halyards together to the top. This leaves you with just one line running down from the top of the mast and reduces windage. Remove all loose gear from the deck. If a dinghy is usually stored on deck or on davits, secure it ashore or place it in the water and fill it with water with the plug in, then secure it to the dock.
Secure your boatMake sure you have properly sized fenders for your boat. Secure your boat with double lines on each cleat. Use long lines to allow for possible storm surge. Use only three-strand nylon for dock lines. This provides the proper stretch and shock absorbing characteristics. Add chafe guard to your lines at all rubbing points. (Cut up water hose or fire hose, if you can get some old ones from your local fire department, work well.)
Miscellaneous tipsClean strainers and ensure all your bilge pumps are properly functioning. Ensure boat is completely closed up to protect from torrential driving rains. Stay informed with the latest weather updates. Prepare your boat as if you expect a direct hit each and every time, and be happy if it misses you. Don't be a hero. If a direct hit is coming, leave your boat and tend to your own safety.
S.H. and L.H.