Hurricane And Storm Prep

We have on many occasions, only half jokingly, told our friends that we believe Sea Trek has a bulls-eye painted on her somewhere with the symbol for a hurricane in the center. With the approach of the last Hurricane, this will be named storm number fourteen for us, plus the unnamed storm of the century. We now have hurricane preparations down to a science. We realize that living on board in the Florida Keys might put us in harms way, but the storm of the century brought us 85 knot winds and two feet of hail in the northern Chesapeake. We experienced Hurricane Georges, Charley and tropical storm Mitch in the Keys. Dennis ran over us three times in Great Bridge, Virginia, once as a hurricane, then backed up over us as a tropical storm, and then backed over us again as still a tropical storm. We were pinned to a sea wall in Great Bridge, VA for ten days. We sat out Hurricane Floyd anchored in the Wye River in the Chesapeake. Irene found us in Bellhaven and Isabel found us, again, in the Chesapeake and a bunch more elsewhere. The point being that anywhere on the East Coast or Gulf Coast of the US is in harms way if you live and travel on a boat.
Once it was announced that a storm was headed our way, we knew instinctively what we had to do. First item of business was to tend to the sails. No matter what the predicted storm size, the roller furling head sail always comes down. This time around we chose to leave the main and the mizzen on their booms and to wrap a good strong line around sail, sail cover and boom. If the storm threat was greater, we would opt to remove them. Let me add that we are in a very protected basin with high buildings all around us. We knew the wind protection was good. Otherwise we would remove and stowed all sails to reduce windage and the potential damage that could be caused if one got loose. We next stripped every loose item from the deck. Our rule is that if it is not bolted or otherwise attached to the boat, it has to come off. If we are at anchor, then that means it must be stowed below. This time we were able to stow most items in our van.
Last year we replaced our aging bimini with a hard top. Removing this would be major construction, so we decided to tie the whole thing down with a series of crossed lines that should prevent the wind from removing it. A solar panel atop the dinghy davits had to be removed. Next the dorades were replaced with their proper screw on caps. All covers come off and all hatches are dogged down and taped all around with preservation tape. This allows removal of the tape without pulling the finish off around it. We then make sure all ports are secured and fastened down tightly.
We generally wait until the day before the storm arrives to set up the dock lines. The reason for this is so we can be fairly certain of wind direction and strength. We use a spider web pattern that would make the average arachnid proud. A major point is knowing as close as you can what size storm surge to expect. We need to allow enough slack in the lines to accommodate the rise in water but not too much so the boat will bang into pilings and the dock. That means positioning the lines on the dock as high up on the pilings as possible. A small nail will insure that they won’t slide down. We also run lines as far from the boat as possible, often tying to pilings etc. that are down the dock a slip or two away from us. The boat is positioned in the center of the slip and as far off the main dock as we can get it. Of course this only works if space is available and it does not interfere with your neighbor. If we are at anchor we set out all three of our anchors. We try to determine where the heaviest wind will come from and set our largest anchor and chain it that direction. But we have been fooled a time or two. We also have set an anchor off the bow, even in the slip, if it might help keep us off the dock. You also need to consider any places that the lines might chafe and use good chafe gear in these areas. Sea Trek has substantial cleats and a very solid Sampson post. Any line is only as secure as the attachment point on the boat. In the past we have seen many instances of cleat failures and the lines stayed intact. Of course these are considerations that need to be made far in advance of any storm season.
Next, we begin removing our electronics. All radios, GPS’, computers, radar, removable depth sounders and whatever else we consider essential, come off the boat. Most all are installed originally with easy removal in mind. Again, because of our protection and the projected size of the storm, we decided to leave the wind generator and the radar dome in place. We did, however, climb the mizzen and tie both off very, very securely. Next we remove all important papers and financial materials, especially the insurance papers. In the event of a major storm we have removed almost everything from the boat, including our clothes, personal items and mementos that we would not want to loose. The interior of the boat is prepared just as if we were going to sea. All loose items are stowed. Doors and drawers are secured. Anything that might move around or get tossed about the cabin is tended to. We close all sea-cocks and shut off the propane system completely. In certain vessels, a plug in the exhaust outlet might not be a bad idea. We also move all interior cushions to the v-berth in case a hatch or ports leak. The wind driven rain can be the same as if someone turned a fire hose on the boat. We remove the shore power cord and turn off the power to our slip. Lightning is always a serious problem during these storms. I don’t know how much it really helps but we clamp heavy cables to the upper shrouds on the main and the mizzen and let them hang in the water. The hope is that it will provide a direct path for the lightning to the ground instead of through the boat.
Our dinghy hangs on davits on the stern. It has ridden out gales while under way with no damage. But this is a different situation. Once all other preparations are complete, we tie it off the dock with double long lines. As with the main boat the attachment points need to be strong. We then completely fill it with water. It should prevent it from going airborne when the high winds move in. Our outboard is stored ashore. All fuel jugs are also stowed ashore somewhere that can’t cause a fuel spill during or after the storm. We have a small gasoline generator that we use if all power goes out after the storm. This is a common problem. We fuel up the generator and stow it in the van. Once all preparations are complete, we stand back and take a hard look at all we have done and go through the “what if” process. Many times we have changed lines or made some adjustments to secure things a little better. This entire process takes us a full two days from early morning till we run out of energy. To completely strip the boat takes us three full days. But when we drive away (and I can’t put in to words how difficult that is) we are confident that we have done all we can to secure Sea Trek so we can return, with her in one piece.
Now this is our routine that we have developed over the years. It has worked well for us. But each situation and each vessel is different. Only you can determine what is best in your case. We are strong advocates for leaving the boat in hurricane situations. A boat can be replaced but human life can not. You won’t be able to count on any help once the storm reaches the danger point. You will be on your own. Expecting others to risk there life and well being during these extreme situations is not practical or realistic. Hurricane Charley only gave us a glancing blow. Maximum winds were only 50+ knots. We did have a close encounter with a tornado at the approach of the storm. But Charley’s sudden rapid development and abrupt change of course reminded us that these storms are very unpredictable. Accurate forecasting even with our vast resources is still not much more that an educated guess. Just as those in the Port Charlotte area found, we too could have suddenly been facing a category 4 storm and the severe destruction that came with it. Each of us must make our own decisions as to how much and how far we will go to protect our vessel. Once you are in the teeth of the storm and things go wrong there is nothing humanly possible you can do. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those that lost everything during these terrible storms. We know this is the price we pay for living where we do. We try to lessen that price as much as we can. A good plan, well in advance, and good preparation has seen us through so far.

Cruising And Sailing Cuba On Our Boat, Click to enlarge page

This was originally posted on our Sea Trek site and was from our trip to Cuba several years ago. This was originally published in Soundings Magazine, and many of our readers ask that we republish it. So here it is and we hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed making the trip. Revisiting Cuba is high on our cruising plans.

We weighed anchor and got underway from Punta Manzanillo in the Dominican Republic at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning. It was Easter Sunday and we knew that the entire island of Hispaniola would be celebrating today. We would sort of be celebrating ourselves, but in a different way and for a different reason. Today was the beginning of a cruising adventure that began as an idea five years prior and was just now before us.

Leaving the Florida Keys, making a quick trip through the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and now the DR, we were as ready as we were going to be. We had provisioned and prepared the boat while spending a wonderful time in Luperon. A day sail to Manzanillo and a good night’s sleep found us both excited and anxious. We had heard mixed reports about visiting Cuba. Everything from how terrible it was to reports that it is one of the most wonderful cruising grounds left in the Atlantic. Soon we would know.

Refurbishing The Spars

For those of you who pay to have all of the work done on your boat, read no further. This article is for those of us who live to cruise and do most, if not all, of our own maintenance. The first step is to find a yard that will let you do your own work. You will probably have to hire a crane to un-step the mast(s) and lay them in a cradle if the yard does not have their own crane. You can cut the cost of the crane if you can find a few other boats that are doing the same thing at the same time. Once you have booms removed and the masts un-stepped and balanced securely on sawhorses, you can begin the process of mapping the reconstruction
We made the mistake of thinking we would remember where everything went. We strongly suggest you take pictures as well as making notes of each item removed. Wrap tape around the cleats, eye bolts, etc. as you remove them and write on the tape where they were located. We at least had the forethought to do this much so we only had a few mystery cleats for which we could not find homes. We had 4 separate boxes in which we placed hardware from the mizzen boom, mizzen mast, main boom and main mast. The shrouds were coiled and marked. Some of our halyards were a bit long in the tooth, so a string was tied and taped to the end then pulled through the mast in order to replace them. Unfortunately, someone decided to pull the strings out so we had to purchase a wire feeder from the hardware store to rerun the halyards.
After all of the hardware was removed, marked and boxed, including the spreaders, we began the process of prepping the masts. This required some creative engineering since we needed to “hang” everything that was being painted. Some areas that had received repeated banging from shackles needed serious sanding and other areas just needed a light sanding. Once the sanding was completed to our mutual satisfaction, the bare areas with no paint remaining were sprayed with a yellow/green paint called zinc chromate specifically designed to coat bare aluminum. Once those areas had been coated completely and lightly sanded with 220 grit paper we got down to the task of applying the first coat of primer. Three coats of primer were applied prior to applying the glossy topcoat – another three coats. For paint, we chose to use a 2 part paint we have used on the hull and topsides as well. Sanding is necessary between each coat again with 320 grit sand paper. Additionally, after sanding, the area needs to be blown off with a high pressure air hose, wiped with a tack cloth, then with the paint prep that goes with the paint you are using. We divided these tasks. I was the prepper and Chuck was the painter. I never thought I would get done sanding 6 coats of paint on 2 masts, 2 booms and 4 spreaders! We would flip the booms and masts after each coat to make sure each side got equal coats. Chuck used a roller and not a brush, except for those hard to reach areas.
The finished results were just as good as if they had been sprayed. All of the cleats, mast steps and anything else stainless were given a good shining with metal polish prior to returning them to their positions on the booms and masts. Any screws with heads that had been stripped in the process of removing them from the spars were replaced. Did I mention that stainless screws that have been married to aluminum for 10-20 years do not like to come out easily? For the not so stubborn screws, some lubricant left on for a few hours was sufficient. Some of the other screws in the original cleats needed a bit more persuasion and a few even required either heat or a power impact wrench!
The final stage of checking the rigging included checking each shroud and fitting for cracks, beginning with a visual inspection for broken strands. Chuck chose a multi-stage product that started with spraying them with red dye. Once that dried, a white dye/paint was sprayed on top which showed any cracks in the end fittings. We were fairly lucky and only needed to replace our bobstay and 2 of the lowers. Next step is to begin reassembling all the hardware. Each stainless fastener was coated with tef-gel to prevent any corrosion and to facilitate any future removal. Once all of the tangs were reattached to the top of the masts and the shrouds reattached to them, we could contemplate having the crane return to the yard to re-step the masts. This is also a good time to check that masthead light, VHF antenna, wind instruments and wiring and replace if questionable. Unless you particularly like being hauled up in the boson’s chair. We chose to replace the first 2 as their condition was questionable and it was very convenient. This is also a good time to secure the wiring inside the mast to prevent that slap, slap you get in the rolly anchorages at night,
Hopefully when you chose to take on this task, you will have allotted a number of weeks to complete it. We had the absolute worst weather imaginable as we tried to do this project on weekends and holidays (and some evenings). It literally took us months between rain and snow and our real jobs. This task would have been much simpler if we could have attacked it on a daily basis instead of whenever our work schedules and mother-nature would cooperate. However, the end result was worth the effort and our boat looks pretty good for an old girl! In the end, you will have a great new look and enhance the beauty of your vessel and, more importantly, safe, secure rigging. Happy cruising!

Changes In The ICW

We have now made five and a half round trips on the ICW between the Florida Keys and the Chesapeake, the first being a decade ago. Since that first trip, we have seen many, many changes. Some are positive and many not so. It was during this last trip south that we really had the opportunity to ponder those changes and how they affected our perception of the waterway. We still remember the awe and wonder we enjoyed on that first trip. We also remember the anxiety and anticipation of the unknown. There is almost one article each month in almost every boating publication that covers some part of it. In this I would like to reflect on those changes we have experienced.
The ICW officially begins at mile marker zero in Norfolk, but for many, the journey begins much further north, usually somewhere in the Chesapeake or even as far as Maine. The trip to mile marker zero can be as exciting or as daunting as the waterway itself. Offshore or near offshore conditions are not uncommon and the boat and crew need to be prepared. Two things we noticed almost immediately on our run down the Chesapeake were that the traffic was going to be horrendous and the anchorages were going to be very crowded. The first day out we counted over twenty five boats within our immediate vicinity, all going the same direction. We remembered that first trip when we had long stretches of water alone and we were the only boat in many of the anchorages.
One sure sign of the changes in our society is the constant and vigilant presence of our military and law enforcement. From the Annapolis area to Norfolk, Virginia, we were within sight of a naval vessel at all times. After we entered the Norfolk area near the Naval yards the patrols and security were everywhere. Any vessel that strayed to the shipyard side of the channel was immediately intercepted by a security boat. Their approach was no nonsense. Their command was for you to move to the other side of the channel immediately or be arrested. We were buzzed at mast head level by fighter jets on the Pamlico Sound. The Marines at Camp LaJeune were practicing exercises day and night. We did anchor in Mile Hammock Bay in Camp Lajeune with no problem. As a matter of fact we and the twenty five other boats anchored there felt very safe and secure. The main ship channel in Miami was closed to boat traffic whenever a cruise ship was in port and the Coast Guard escorted most large vessels in and out of ports. Coast Guard and local law enforcement are constantly posted in all major ports we passed through.
It seems to have become acceptable for some newbie’s to hook up with what we dubbed the waterway Gurus. A fine old salt that had probably made the trip several times, or at least once, and taken some poor inexperienced crews under their wing. The Gurus planned out the trips each day, decided how far and at what speed their little groups should travel and where the anchorage for the evening would be. After communicating this information each morning, the group would then head out with the Guru at the lead, making all contact with bridge tenders for the group and making sure everyone was staying together. This made for interesting entertainment when two or more groups converged at a narrow part of the waterway and particularly at bridges. And it was a little confusing as to which Guru was directing which group. When we accidentally mixed in on occasion it was always made clear that “they are not with us”. It was also the Gurus responsibility to troubleshoot problems aboard any of their charges vessels as they presented themselves.
One of the sadder changes we noticed was the loss of comradery we had known over the years. With the forming of the “groups” it seemed that other boats and crews were considered outsiders and socializing outside the “group” was not a good idea. Fortunately there are still a few of the old time snow birds still making the trip that you still can meet up with old friends along the way. It may just be that with so many, many new cruisers, the mind set and attitudes of living ashore have not been shaken and the cruising mentality has just not yet taken hold. We can only hope.
Shoaling of the waterway has always been a problem, even on that first trip south. Some areas are still being dredged, but many others are not. Playing the tides and staying perfectly in the channel is sometimes the only way a deep draft vessel can use the waterway. Many times we “farmed the bottom” mid channel at mid tide. We often observed vessels running from channel marker to channel marker. We also observed some of those vessels running aground. A commercial tug Captain once told us to pretend we were a tug pushing an eighty foot barge when we transited the narrow channels. He suggested that dredging was done to accommodate the commercial traffic and not the pleasure boats. By imitating what a tug and barge would do, we would always find the deeper water. It worked just as he had told us. Meetings are currently being scheduled up and down the east coast to discuss the impact to local communities and the boating public in general. There is talk about closing parts of the waterway. We feel this would be devastating. Each year the problem in some areas is increasing. As funds are diverted to more security and other issues the dredging of the waterway becomes less and less a priority.
Another more serious change we have seen is a real lack of good common sense and seamanship. Perhaps this too is due to the increase in the number of first timers to this annual migration. Each day the VHF brought vessels chastising each other, and there is much use of unkind words and phrases that we could not publish in this article. The waterway was designed and built for all vessels small and large to use but there seems to be two opposing groups. There are those that can travel fairly fast (you know who you are) and those that can not travel very fast (you know who you are). These groups seem to have become diametrically opposed and unable to transit the same body of water without some colorful conversations. It appears more and more that one group has taken a delight in making the other group as uncomfortable as possible. The unfortunate consequences are that at some point someone will get seriously harmed. There are certain rules for preventing that situation but in many instances neither side seems interested in those rules. In the interest of informing those unfamiliar, the rules of overtaking state that if you can not safely pass another vessel, you do not pass. Common courtesy from the boats that can’t travel very fast (you know who you are) dictates that you slow as much as possible to allow boats that can go faster (you know who you are) to pass safely. Those boats that can travel faster (you know who you are) must slow to a safe speed and reduce their wake so as not to cause damage or injury on the other vessel. Here is the procedure we have used successfully over the years without any complaints. We always approach the slower vessel dead astern of them and slow down to match their speed. We then call the vessel ahead to let them know we are there, which side we will pass on and ask them to slow down so that we can pass. We then pass as close in to the slower vessel as can be done safely and then move directly in front as soon as it is safe to do so. Once we are in front of the vessel we have passed, we can increase speed and go on our way with little inconvenience or discomfort to the other crew. It is a very simple procedure, but one that many have not yet mastered. Why can’t we all just get along?
I can’t mention the VHF without noting how many of our trucker friends seem to have made the conversion to boating. The chatter on the radio daily is full of folks wanting to know what their friends “20” is and if so and so “has their ears on”. To our brethren from the highway we say welcome. We are sure you will bring your professionalism with you to the water. That’s a big 10/4 good buddy.
We have many favorite anchorages and towns along the waterway and noticed the biggest changes here. Ten years ago we could travel for very long stretches without seeing any signs of civilization. It even caused a little anxiety in that we worried that if we had a serious breakdown, help was not close by. Many small towns brought welcome packages to the new boats that arrived each day. After this last trip we fear the time is not too far off that the waterway will be totally developed from one end to the other. Even now there are very few miles of unspoiled areas. It seems that many of our favorite towns have discovered the potential income from visiting boaters. Large anchorage areas such as Annapolis, Charleston, Vero Beach, and Marathon, to name a few, have set mooring buoys and are now charging cruisers. The City of St. Augustine is currently considering installing a mooring field in the entire anchorage area. We do understand some of the reasoning behind this. It is another case of a few spoiling it for the many. A number of our favorite towns along the way are off our must stop list because there are so many derelict boats anchored that there is only room for a few cruisers and the unattended boats are a safety hazard in bad weather. These poorly maintained, sometimes abandoned vessels become a burden on the local government when they sink or become navigational hazards. With the increase in the number of boats making the trek each year, this makes finding decent anchoring spots in these towns almost impossible.
Not all the news is negative. There is still enough area out there that peace and solitude can still be found. You just need to study the charts and look for places other than those written up in the guides. Many cruisers rush North or South and miss the great places off the beaten path. Small towns on the Pamlico Sound and Neuse River that many bypass still remind us of what cruising these areas was like that decade ago. Towns like Great Bridge Virginia still have free dockage and most conveniences are nearby. Elizabeth City still welcomes cruisers with a free town dock. St. Mary’s, Georgia has discovered the economic benefit of the cruising community. They have completely rebuilt the waterfront area making it very attractive to the boater. Yet few have discovered it. We have found anchorages some days by just making a right or left turn at the end of the day and dropping the hook close in to shore, just off the waterway. We do as much offshore running as weather will permit. We have to chuckle as we sail along the coast and listen to the shouts on the VHF from those inside. The numbers of bridges that have been replaced by 65’ spans since that first trip are increasing. Although care should be taken if your vessel has a tall rig. It seems some engineers have lost their tape measures and bridge height is not as advertised. Timing your trip so that you are not traveling during the peak part of the season can much improve your experience as well as following the rules of the road and maintaining a sense of humor. Nothing makes the trip more enjoyable than having your boat properly prepared and the crew well educated for what they will encounter along the way. Read the articles, cruising guides, and study the charts well in advance. And even then remain flexible and open. Safety and good seamanship are important on the ICW, the ocean, or sailing in your local waters. Slow down and smell the fish fry’s. Make the entire ICW as much a part of your destination as where you plan to spend the winter months. Give your fellow travelers a wave along the way and dinghy over at the anchorage and say hi. We have made many friends for life just practicing these simple courtesies.