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.

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