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Hurricane Anchoring

During hurricane Eloise in 1975, 16 feet of storm surge struck the Florida Panhandle.
By Gene J. Parola

Storms at sea often approach too swiftly for the sailor to outrun them. There is no place to hide and one must face the tempest and minimize the threat under the most adverse conditions. But the largest majority of boats lie in marinas or at moorings 98 percent of their lives and when threatened by storm, there is time to prepare the boat before it's in danger. And there are places to hide.

In this, as in any discussion about boats and weather, one can make no assumptions. Storm severity, particulars of the locale, overall condition of the boat (even its design and construction) and the skill and workmanship of the individual boat owner, make it difficult to generalize about any preventive measures that may be taken. However, there are some steps that a responsible owner can take in an attempt to minimize damage. And there are horror pictures and bulging files of insurance claims that testify to the results when no measures are taken.  The following suggestions, properly executed, may be of some help.

Hurricane forecasting and tracking are admirable techniques and are, for the most part, accurate. The weakness in the process is that as a storm nears with increased consequent danger and decreased response time, it is apt to change direction. Depending on your location this either increases or decreases your particular danger.  A change of a degree North or South of its route, while the storm is still a day offshore, may put your boat in the crosshairs of its landfall or make all your preparations a waste of time.  

Never, ever underestimate the destructive power of these storms: here's an ocean-going tugboat left high and dry in the aftermath of hurricane Andrew.
There is little new in that matrix. Boats, the sea, and weather have posed those ambiguities since man leapt astride a log and rode it downstream the first time. A prudent boat person always prepares the boat to meet as many unforeseen events as his knowledge and budget allows.  The hope is that the need will never arise to test those precautions. Hurricane preparation is no different.

Plan the job    In preparing the boat for this ultimate test, one must, as in every aspect of boating, fall back on the time-tested traditional behavior of the seaman: (1) anticipate (remember the axiomreef the first time you consider the need to reef), (2) use quality gear, (3) don't skimp on size requirements, (4) do a thorough job, (5) do a complete job.

Anticipate by doing all that you can do long before the storm season approaches. In the event of the storm, anticipate its severity, its possible track, and monitor its progress. Have a plan based on that information and have an alternative.

If you have been sufficiently motivated by these words, start your anticipated preps now! Rig the boat for the eventuality, scout out a convenient 'hole' for shelter, rehearse the procedure. Remember that in the best possible situation you will want to be able to mount your storm rigging, move and anchor the boat, and be back ashore twelve hours before the predicted landfall of the storm.  Remember also that the boat will probably not be the only thing that you will have to prepare to protect, so do as much on the boat as early as possible. You may discover something you forgot in readying the boat and it'll be a lot easier to do when you have that margin before the wind and waves of the approaching storm make remedy dangerous.

Attitude Change    Attitude changes are paramount when considering these storms. This is particularly true along the middle Atlantic coast, where areas have missed being hit by the few really devastating storms in the past few decades. Human nature being what it is, residents in areas that escaped damage have failed to appreciate their good fortune and too often assume that being saved once is providential indication of their future salvation.  

" If your boat is to survive a hurricane you must do something. Marinas and boatyards cannot be responsible. "
If you fit into that category, perhaps a nudge toward reality is necessary. Ask your boat insurance agent for the claims figures on Andrew or Hugo, or Gloria's boat damage on Long Island alone. Recognize that every careless owner who allows damage or destruction is a direct contributor to the spiraling cost of coverage. Or just recognize the growing difficulty to get insurance coverage, its limitations and its cost.

Another reality check is a trip to the library to look at some back issues of the newspapers in the aftermath of those storms and speculate just how the boat in the photo, its keel tonnage, tall rig, and all, could have been so neatly deposited so far inlandand destroyed in the process.

With that new attitude, approach your task.  If your boat is to survive a hurricane you must do something. Marinas and boatyards cannot be responsible. For one thing, there will be too many requests for their services at the last minute. The more important reason is that they can do very little that is really effective. Started early enough, a yard can prepare the rigging and insure the strength of cleats etc., but you will probably have to rig the harness yourself and I would allow no one to set anchors for me in such a situation.

Don't leave your boat in a marina     Even if it is hauled out it may be damaged by wind-borne debris; it could even be blown over if it is in a cradle and the likelihood is greater if it is just shored up.  Further, the adjacent boat may be blown over on to you.

At Black Point Marina in Florida, wind and surge from a category 4 storm tossed boats about like toys.
The docks and piers are subject to whatever wave action that the fetch allows and are very susceptible to storm surge damage.  They are only as safe as the breakwater that protects them and there are some new marinas with floating breakwaters, if that isn't a contradiction in terms, which are even more susceptible to destruction by storm surges of 10 to 12 feet above normal high tide.

Remember that if your marina is on a tidal bay, the mouth of which faces the wind of the approaching storm, the bay will not empty at each ebb for several tides prior to the storm.  It may collect more and more water for each of four tides. Then there will be the storm surge on top of that. Many estuaries on the mid-Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay answers to this description when a storm approaches from the Southeast.

"There is evidence that most craft left in a marina will not receive proper attention and many will receive none. "
Marina-bound boats whose dock lines have been slacked in an effort to deal with this rising water are often above the tops of submerged finger pier pilings when the surge arrives and are susceptible to being bounced down on piling tops and holed as the storm rages.

There are other dangers as well in a marina, for no matter how clever and effective you've been, and how new and strong your marina may be, there is little guarantee that that large yawl or power cruiser that no one has bothered to do anything for, will not tear loose and fall down upon your well tended craft. In fact, there is evidence that most craft left in a marina will not receive proper attention and many will receive none.

One Carolina marina owner reported that during a 70s storm, a large power yacht tied tightly to six pilings provided enough buoyancy when the surge arrived to pull the piles out of the ooze. The boat, plus piles, were stacked neatly against the wall of a nearby motel.  Pilings are designed to resist lateral pull, not vertical pull.

If, for whatever reason (your boat is in Norfolk and you live in Ann Arbor and you arrived just ahead of the storm) the marina is your only choice, then use your longest anchor rodes, position yourself in the middle of the basin, bow into the direction from which the surge will come, and tie two lines fore and two aft to dock and pilings. Fender her all round and hope that no orphan breaks free and falls down upon her.

Don't stay on the boat    But that's a last ditch effort.  Let's go back and assume some planning time and preparation.

A good prevention plan will yield better results than the highest insurance policy you can possibly afford, says the author.

Prevention is more insurance than you can ever afford    This effort will cost you some money.  This effort may save your boat.  How much money are you willing to spend to save your boat? As early as possible—tomorrow—buy three, 200 feet nylon anchor rodes one diameter size larger than recommended for the size of your boat, i.e. if you normally require a 1/2-inch diameter rode, buy a 3/4-inch one. If they have plastic thimbles spliced into one end, replace them with galvanized ones. A cracked or broken plastic thimble may chew through the eye splice during the constant pressure and sawing action of the storm.  Eye splice another galvanized thimble into the opposite end of each rode. If your splicing skills are questionable, hire this done by a rigger—a loose splice will allow the thimble to slip out and the grinding action will sever the rode.

The harness    To prepare a harness to which these rodes will attach, begin by buying a galvanized swivel with jaws large enough to accommodate three galvanized shackles. This may have to be special ordered from your chandler—check early. The three shackles should again be one size larger than you commonly use and must be large enough to accommodate the thimbled rode eye and the jaw of the swivel.  These shackles should all have screw pins with eyes in the pins.

Buy two lengths of nylon line eight feet longer than the distance from the bow chocks to the ginny winch cleats. Splice a galvanized thimble into one end of each of these lines and whip the other end of both. Buy two of the largest size rubber dock line shock absorbers (snubbers) and properly rig them six feet from each thimbled end of the these two lines. Now, with a large shackle, secure the thimbled ends of them to the swivel. This is the basic harness with which to anchor your boat in its hole. Each 200 feet rode will be shackled to the other end of the swivel as you set the individual hooks.

All shackle pins must be wired closed with monel wire.

Next week Gene Parola will continue his hurricane preparation series covering such topics as chafing, cleats, and windage.

About the author:  Gene J. Parola is a sailor of 45 years experience, having sailed the Great Lakes, the islands of Hawaii, Bahamas, and the Florida Keys, the Aegean and the Chesapeake and Penobscot Bays. Until his recent return to Hawai’i, he kept his 32-foot sloop on the eastern shore of Maryland.You may contact him at

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