Hurricane Survival - Part Two: Get Ready, Get Set
by Brad Glidden
The time for taking all measures for a ship's safety
is while still able to do so. Nothing is more dangerous for a seaman to be grudging in taking precautions lest they turn out to have been unnecessary. Safety
at sea for a thousand years has depended on exactly the opposite philosophy.
- Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz
In case you missed last month's Compass
(and if you did, Gentle Reader, whatever were you thinking?), we should start with a review: You have identified where you are going for shelter. You've actually been there and scoped and sounded the whole place out. You have a hidey hole ashore lined up, because you know you aren't Sterling Hayden or Naomi James and there is no useful work you can do aboard in 70 knots of wind
. You have looked at all the backing pads on your cleats
and replaced them with both larger-in-area and thicker pads, and new through-bolts as well, because the least sign of rust on a stain-"less" fitting has raised grave doubts about whether it can withstand 16,000 pounds of pull in 85 knots. You have taken your roller furling
headsail off, so you know everything works, and, if you have a roller furling
main, you have taken it off too.
You will be taking your roller furling sails
off. Can you? An amazing number of people don't check this little detail until the storm is a-coming and the ^&$#%^@%&* genoa
is jammed halfway down and halfway furled. Want to endear yourself to your marina or anchorage mates? Have 500 square feet of Dacron flapping uncontrollably in 30 knots and gusting. Want to have a fun exercise? Go up in a bo's'n's chair in these conditions and try to unsnarl the mess.
So, you say, you're staying at the dock
. The same excruciating zero-defects scrutiny you gave your deck hardware
should be applied to the dock
fittings and their attachment points as well.
One key to surviving a hurricane at a dock is becoming a member
of the Department of Redundancy Department. Plan on tying off to the cleats
near you and those across the dock (if your marina will let you). You should be able to survive the failure of any one cleat with the wind
in any given direction, so that means a minimum of four (six would be better) lines ashore to four (or six) different cleats. On the outboard
end of things, if the dock pilings have been in the water
for more than, say, ten years and are anything other than greenheart, you might want to make a mental note that they may let go. Then you should plan on tying to as many other pilings as you can reach.
Even though you are on a dock or tucked into the mangroves, you will be setting your anchors out as well. You say you don't a have enough nylon rode
for all this? That's okay. You have jib
and main sheets
, right? Remember that the nylon can stretch 20 or 30 percent, or maybe five or six feet on a 20 or 30 foot dockline. It's nice to have the stretchy nylon as the initial surge damper, backed up by a less stretchy braided sister line, initially run with a little slack in it.
There has been some new information about nylon and chafe that warrants consideration. I've seen some lines that failed, even when well protected by chafing gear
. It seems the line did not part due to mechanical stresses (i.e. abrasion), but due to the heat of friction on the chock AND to the heat of stretching and relaxing. The rope
was not cut - it just melted. This suggests that the best chafing gear
is one that also allows cooling
. A plastic hose or store bought chafe guard will not do this. A traditional canvas
or leather, water-soaked guard will. Or, wrap everything in a good towel and then lead it through an oversized piece of hose. The same research
indicates that lines made of braided polyester aren't quite as prone to heat induced failure - another reason to "sister" your nylon lines with braid. (See the BOAT US "Seaworthy" for July 1998 for a very important and illuminating story.)
Remember we just mentioned the concept
of line stretching? Consider a few points: First, chafe gear secured to a line will move with the line, and may end up many feet outboard
of where it started. Try to secure the gear - a large diameter piece of exhaust
hose works nicely - to the boat and let the line stretch inside it. Secondly, a ten-foot spring line might become 13 feet long under load. A beam wind will definitely pin you against the lee piling. It will happen. Resign yourself to it. More importantly, a wind from ahead or a surge in the harbor will stretch your lines and beat you relentlessly against the dock - again and again and again, until the dock fails or the boat sinks. Fenders, unless they are tied down under the boat, will just end up blowing in the breeze. You must tie your boat a considerable distance off the dock or the shoreline - six feet would be a good start. Here's the problem: it's now awkward and dangerous, and will eventually be impossible, to get off the boat and onto the dock or the shore. Once aboard in hurricane conditions you are stuck. This is another reason why we do not recommend you stay aboard your boat.
Tie your lines to the pilings, or the mangroves or the whatever ashore, as high as you can. A direct hit by a hurricane can drive a six to ten-foot storm surge into your harbour. The lines ashore to a dock will now be leading down, probably at an acute angle, so here is where your best chafing gear goes. The further down the dock you can lead the lines, the less acute the angle and the less the chafe.
Even under bare poles a sailboat will heel right over, at least to decks awash, in hurricane force conditions. It is crucial, therefore, that sailboats adjacent to each other aren't lying with their masts in line. You do NOT want to lock your rig with your neighbor's in a storm. Two sloops next to each other might have to move one boat bow in and the other stern in, for example.
You say you're going to ride it out at anchor? I will NOT get into what types of anchors to use; there will be eternal peace and happiness in the Middle East before you can get two sailors to agree on what anchors hold best. You have, however, determined what the bottom conditions are where you are going and know if you're dealing with hard sand or soupy primeval ooze. You are not picking up anyone's mooring
and trusting it to hold, because you know that the holding power of a 2,000 pound block of concrete submerged in water
is little better than 800 pounds, or about half that of a 45-pound CQR
But in answer to the questions of where the wind going to be coming from, and where do I set my best anchors, here's an Old Sailor's Trick: Face the wind, extend your right arm out parallel to the ground and point as far back as you can (about 110 degrees or 10 points). You will now be pointing at the center of the low pressure area. Do this in reverse. Point at the approaching storm, and then rotate, pointing at the direction the storm is expected to pass your island of St. Something. You will be facing the direction of the expected wind shifts as you move. What's in that direction? High hills that might produce gusts? Nearby land that will prevent the seas from building? The whole length of Simpson Bay Lagoon
that will build up a terrible fetch? (I once inadvertently moored my boat for Hurricane Gloria in Norfolk, downwind of a sand and gravel plant, but that's another story.) Put out the best anchors in the expected direction of the wind shifts and hope the forecasts are right.
Some other things on your At Anchor Checklist:
Run the engine
as long as you can and put the best possible charge in the batteries. The bilge
pumps may have to run for hours and hours, just dealing with rain driven into a supposedly tight boat.
Take your boom down and lash it tight. Your topping lift
will not hold up. Even better, take it off and put it below. Put extra lashings on the spinnaker
pole. Even better, put it below, too.
Remove the ventilators and put in the storm plates; duct tape over hatches and large port lights.
Secure your cockpit
lockers! They will be either blown or sucked open by the wind, or fall open when the boat is knocked down. Don't rely on gravity. If you have latches
on them, make sure they are well fastened.
Make up a hot meal and hot drinks and then secure the stove as if you are going to sea. Turn the gas off at the bottles.
Put at least two complete sets of bedding and changes of clothing
away in tripled plastic bags. You will be eternally grateful that you have something clean and dry to change into 12 hours after the party's over.
Remember, you aren't staying aboard, but if you are leaving the dinghy
behind drain every last drop of gas out of the engine
and secure the engine in the cockpit
. DO NOT put it below. Gas vapors are incredibly explosive - one cup of evaporated gas is equal to four sticks of dynamite!
Secure the helm! Lashing the tiller is obvious, but you must lash a wheel
as well. Don't depend on a friction brake. The boat will be surging like you've never seen. It is very possible for the boat to surge back with the rudder
hard over and bend or break the shaft or the stuffing box, leaving you with a catastrophic leak in the middle of a hurricane.
Close all the seacocks except for the cockpit drains.
Now, you say, my boat is hauled out and I don't have to do any of the preceding fol-de-rol. No, but you have your own set of tasks.
If you aren't in a yard where they have set you in a trench, you need more jackstands. You will have to work with and get permission from the yard for this, as there are all sorts of legal
and liability issues here for setting extra chocks. You should have this figured out, and preferably in writing, beforehand. A major danger
is the jackstands washing
away from under the boat in the rain; set each stand on a piece of plywood
. Secure each stand to its opposite number with light chain or line. Remember, you may be presenting the boat's whole broadside profile, including the underwater area, to hurricane force winds. There is no such thing as too many shores, props, or jackstands.
Boats hauled out can still suffer flooding below through cockpit sole hatches. Lockers can blow open. Flying debris can smash portlights
hatches. You have to pay the same attention to well-charged batteries and bilge
pumps as if you were afloat. Enough water can accumulate below that the cabin
soles are immersed. This will be a very expensive repair. Consider removing the hose from the lowest seacock and leaving it open. That way, extra large accumulations of water will have a way out. Traditionally, wooden boats had a bronze threaded plug
in their garboard for just this reason. Don't forget to close the holes before you launch.
Stripping extra windage is especially important when hauled out and unable to ride with the wind. Here I would say putting the boom and spinnaker
poles below to join the sails
, the dodger
and the barbecue grill
Hang in there! Only ten weeks to go! Or, if Dr. Grey is right this year, only 10 weeks with a storm a week to go.
Brad Glidden is the author of Cruiser's Guide to Hurricane Survival, available at bookshops and chandleries or from Cruising Guide Publications, www.cruisingguides.com.