This is sure to inflame some members, and for that I apologize, but I do think it is necessary to examine the other side of "staying aboard" during a hurricane. Having done so, and after carefully examining the experience of others who did the same thing in the same storm (eye passage
of Hurricane Marty over Puerto Escondido, in Mexico's Sea of Cortez
, September 2003), it is clear that one CAN, in fact, do things that help a vessel's survival. But, at what risk?
That's the question and it is highly situational. Where is the boat? What's around it? How do you plan to get ashore if the worst happens? How fit are you? How well can you swim? Who is dependent upon you? How strong is the storm? What time of day will it hit? Is it likely to intensify?
There is no all-encompassing answer, whether it is "stay on board", or "flee with your life".
At the time of Marty, my 33 foot monohull
was anchored a couple of hundred yards from shore, a shore I was sure I could swim to. I am fit and a good swimmer, and I was even more so back then. The shore I proposed to swim to was indented and not subject to big waves. The storm was category 1, borderline 2. I believe the most anyone saw was maybe 91 knots. It was not likely to intensify, particularly if it hit us, directly. I was single
with no dependents. Although it was not predicted to do so, it passed through entirely during the day.
By contrast, when Hurricane Omar threatened my subsequent boat in the BVI
in 2008, I got off. I was very well secured in a marina, spiderwebbed in the middle of a double slip (Jet Stream is a 45 foot catamaran). But the hurricane was supposed to be strong, it was supposed to come at night, really bad things happen when boats are close to and banging docks, and I was not at all keen on the thought of getting off the boat or swimming to a dock in the potential chaos. I also had a very serious girlfriend, at the time, who lived aboard, as well. The storm missed us but caused much damage and misery in St Maarten.
For Erika, a few days ago, Jet Stream was even more securely spiderwebbed in the same dock as in 2008. But, this time, I stayed onboard. Erika was supposed to come in the afternoon and into the evening. She was supposed to either hit us directly, or miss us by just a bit. But, she was forecast to be a mid strength tropical storm with very little chance of intensifying. And I kept the decision of leaving the boat open until the morning of the day she arrived. In the event, Erika passed about a hundred miles south of us, and we didn't get that much rain. The most wind
I know of was 51 knots, in a gust.
Three entirely different situations....three entirely different decision.
What are the benefits of staying onboard, should the situation not seem life-threatening? Well, contrary to much of what is written, you CAN positively affect things, such as adjust lines, protect against chafe, secure gear
, run your engine
, etc. etc. etc. If the eye should go over you, you will have quite a bit of time to sort things out in the calm. Many of us did this in Marty, even going to the extent of setting anchors in the opposite direction, in anticipation of the different wind
direction. Some even launched dinghies for a few minutes.
In the aftermath of Marty, there was, of course, a celebratory party. We all shared our stories. No occupied boats (there were 21 such) were lost
, although most sustained some degree of damage. We noted that of the 51 unattended boats, 17 were on shore, obviously sunk, or just plain missing and we complemented one another for our own thorough and obviously superior preparation......until we began to dig deeper! We found that, of our occupied boats, exactly the same percentage had suffered problems as had the unoccupied boats, problems that probably would have resulted in the loss of each of those occupied boats, had they not been dealt with. 17 out of 51 unoccupied boats (1/3) were lost, and 7 out of 21 boats with persons aboard (1/3) would likely have been lost had they not had those onboard to intervene. And, some of the interventions were very sobering and courageous, indeed.
Having said this, I knew one of the cruisers who perished in Odile, last year. He had gone through Marty, by the way. I don't think any cruisers got killed in Marty, but plenty were roughed up and lots of boats damaged or sunk in different locations throughout the Sea of Cortez
. And the Caribbean
and Florida have seen their share of major disasters.....Hugo, Marilyn, Lenny, Jeanne, the list goes on and on. So I am most certainly NOT urging folks to blindly stay onboard boats during Hurricanes and Tropical Storms! But I am saying that there are plenty of situations, when carefully analyzed and the boat properly prepared, where I would not question anyone who DID stay onboard. Having done so myself, I completely understand, always depending upon the situation. And for those whose lives are truly encapsulated in their boats, who really have everything on their boats, I totally understand the motivation to do everything they reasonably can to protect them.
I will leave the blindly all encompassing command that "whatever you do, get off the boat" to the magazine articles and those who have never really had to make the choice.
I hope that Erika, in Florida, poses the least threat possible and that she passes bringing only welcome rain to the South, and leaves our community unscathed.