Monthly Archives: October 2009

FAQ: What about hurricanes?

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this.  At this stage in our life aboard, we don't move around too much, and our home base is at risk of the occasional hurricane.  In the future we'll likely change our location seasonally based on weather patterns, but for now we have to take what comes.  Florida has had a couple bad years recently, but fortunately it has been pretty quiet since we've owned the boat.  But one thing I learned from owning a house during those bad seasons is that if you wait until a storm is forecasted before making your preparations, you're pretty much screwed.  So we have a plan for Take Two.

Hurricanes are big enough and unpredictable enough that moving the boat out of a forecasted landfall area isn't really practical.  You would be pretty much guaranteed to experience bad weather of some type during the transit and may very well increase your risk.  I think the time is better spent preparing the boat and taking your chances where you are.

In theory, the boat is safest at sea in open water.  My understanding is that the Navy and Coast Guard take their ships to sea.  As I've posted elsewhere, Take Two's original owner did this with success, but there are several key differences between then and now.  For one, Take Two is older than she was then.  I like to think that she's still strong and capable, but I don't know for sure and haven't tested her much.  The other factor is the crew.  Tanya and I just don't have anywhere near the skill and confidence to face that kind of weather intentionally.  Could we do it?  I bet we could.  But it isn't a reasonable risk.

To prepare for a storm in the marina we move the boat into a more protected slip and double the number of fenders and docklines.  We take the sails and other gear off to reduce the windage.  But the boat is only safe in the marina up to a certain point.  Docklines frequently break or chafe through under those conditions, and even if you prepare adequately, what if your neighbor doesn't?  Storm surge is also a serious problem.  It is virtually impossible to set your docklines such that they restrain the boat properly when the tide may rise 20 feet or more.  In our case, it would only take about a 10 foot surge for the docks to float right off the pilings.  The boat is now secured to a raft that isn't secured to anything at all.

So for an intense storm or a high strike probability, we'll take the boat to what we hope will be a sheltered area nearby, moor her as best we can, and leave her to her fate.

This is the scenario we've spent the time planning for.  It involves many anchors (I currently own five), lots of high tensile chain and heavy duty shackles, and heavy 1" line.  The goal is to array the anchors so that as the wind shifts they don't have to break out and reset.  Shock absorbtion is necessary to avoid breaking the chain, so we'll use relatively stretchy lines for the rode and bridle between the boat and the anchors.  And we will also try to eliminate all points of chafe by using thimbles and shackles on each end of the lines.  For the boat side, we're currently planning to use chain inside hose looped around the cleats, but I'm still thinking about putting stronger attachment points on the bows that the line can be directly shackled to.

We've purchased all the gear called for in the plan and have it in our storage unit, so there should be a minimum of panic shopping.  Setting it all up will require a significant amount of time (much of it underwater).  We should probably practice it at some point.  Hopefully we'll never need it.