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Hurricane Reflections and survival Messages in this topic - RSS

Nigel.Studdart
Posts: 11


1/14/2019
Nigel.Studdart
Posts: 11
HI everyone

Thanks so much for all the interesting comments and feedback. It's a different world today than it was back in the time of Hugo in so many ways. Many more bare boats ( Missiles) and crowded anchorages. Stronger hurricanes by a seriously large factor yet better forecasting. Better Navigation equipment and more accurate and reliable passage planning. ( Less seat of the pants instinctive seamanship)

Later this year I will be sailing from NW Spain across to visit many old friends in the BVI and elsewhere in the Caribbean on my Oyster 435, Azura, my 9th ( If memory serves me well) Transatlantic this way.

Well equiped with communications and a reasonable range under power my tactics now would be very different. Its also my boat and completely my choice with no other influences.

I used to very much enjoy the summers in the Caribbean. The trades are lighter but strong enough for a good sail so inter island passages are a pleasure and some anchorages are tenable which in winter are not. The tourists are thinner on the ground and the pace is more of the past, an easygoing shuffle.., It also seems to me that local people are in some ways happier to see yachts when they come in smaller doses. A little like the restaurants in the South of France in Winter, where the food and service seem to improve as the clients decrease and become more courteous.

All that aside my tactics now, are to carefully watch the weather and have the boat stocked and fueled ready to move at a moments notice. I would never undertake repairs in the hurricane belt in summer that could delay a speedy departure. The same applies to the Pacific and Indian Ocean. This time I will leave the Hurricane belt well before the hurricane season and find myself somewhere in Columbia or perhaps Panama. ( Although the Suzie too rally has a great deal of attraction, so may look at that) .

It is a shame for the islands who used to rely on some over summer cruisers refit work to keep marine businesses going and also for the cruisers who had a great summer community.

If perchance you see Azura in your travels do drop over for a beer or cup of tea and we can continue the conversation further. Meanwhile safe sailing to all and a safe hurricane / cyclone season wherever you end up.

Best regards

Nigel
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Philip Heaton
Posts: 33


12/4/2018
Philip Heaton
Posts: 33
Yes, there are two scenarios 1 boat left somewhere at risk; 2 on the boat somewhere at risk. For 1 I think that leaving the boat in the eastern Caribbean and Bahamas within the hurricane zone is such high risk it defies belief. For 2 the situation is different. It is 500nm from the Virgin Is to Trinidad (a margin of safety instead of Grenada) and 400nm from Antigua - two popular places (St Maarten is about 460nm). In a reasonable cruising boat you could reach Trinidad from Virgin Is in just over 3 days; from Antigua in 2.5 days. NHC/NOAA can give you sufficient advance warning to make it. We were in Halifax, Canada when the tail end of a hurricane was forecast but nothing more than 25kts.We were comforted by the options in Canada and on the east coast of the USA. However, isn't good seamanship about making a sebsible risk assessment and taking action accordingly? Surviving a hurricane at anchor has to be the very last resort and to be dealt with because there are no other options. Cheers
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Dick
Posts: 376


12/4/2018
Dick
Posts: 376
Hi Phillip,
You write: “By running off I meant to leave the area and reach somewhere safe. The advance notice of hurricanes from NHC/NOAA and the predicted tracks are now sufficiently good to be able to get away in advance.”
If what you mean is that you can be in the Caribbean, hear that a storm is on its way and depend on the forecast to give you enough time to get to somewhere safe: I am not sure I agree. Say the storm is forecast to come where you are in a few days and you run N: it only takes a few degrees of track change to have a still offshore storm aim right at the N spot you had your eye on. And storm tracks still regularly deal out surprises, especially in that part of the world, and generally move a good deal faster than sailboats manage. And, again in that part of the world, there are just way too few hidey-holes and way too many boats looking for them. I agree with your advice to not be in the hurricane zone during the season.
In the NE US, however, that advice works better: far fewer storms, far more hidey-holes, fewer boats looking for hidey-holes, more warning and better prediction as abrupt changes in direction and in speed of advance are less common the farther up the US coast the storm advances. Wherever you are, I do agree that OPBs, (other people’s boats) are often a big worry and, too often, a big worry because their lack of preparedness puts well prepared boats in needless danger.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

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Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
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Philip Heaton
Posts: 33


12/3/2018
Philip Heaton
Posts: 33
By running off I meant to leave the area and reach somewhere safe. The advance notice of hurricanes from NHC/NOAA and the predicted tracks are now sufficiently good to be able to get away in advance. Having seen what Irma and Maria did in St Maarten as well as Virgin Is I would not stick around - it is not just your own preparation but also the risk that others have not prepared well and damage or sink other boats. In fact I would not consider hanging around in hurricane season in a hurricane zone. We know how many folks headed for Grenada and Trinidad this year rather than stay in Antigua - including many OCC members. Just too risky and not worth the anxiety.
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Bill Balme
Administrator
Posts: 226


12/2/2018
Bill Balme
Administrator
Posts: 226
Phil, did you mean run off? Or did you perhaps mean run away? As in get out of Dodge as soon as you're sure it's coming your way?

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Bill Balme
s/v Toodle-oo!
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Dick
Posts: 376


12/2/2018
Dick
Posts: 376
Hi Phillip,
I can imagine what Soper’s Hole and Road Town look like having lived through a number of hurricanes. Sobering.
But, one also needs to ask about loss of life in Soper’s Hole and Road Town. Generally, those who die in hurricanes nowadays have very bad luck or have used poor judgment. Most are in secure shelters for a few hours and go out again to deal with what has occurred. Not great, but not a tragedy.
Running off, as a strategy, in that part of the world is to ask more of good fortune than I wish to rely on. Better, I think, to secure your vessel as best you can and go to a shelter. You will certainly then live to sail another day and if your boat is damaged: that is what you have insurance for.
My thoughts, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

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Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
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Philip Heaton
Posts: 33


12/2/2018
Philip Heaton
Posts: 33
Having visited Soper's Hole and Road Town, Tortola in February this year, seeing the carnage of destroyed buildings and countless yachts, running off somewhere seems to be the most rational decision if faced with a hurricane forecast.
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Bill Balme
Administrator
Posts: 226


10/19/2018
Bill Balme
Administrator
Posts: 226
I agree, excellent account - you're a braver man than I Nigel!

We were in the Menai Straits last week when some significant wind came through. We were fortunate that we had a few days warning and decided to take refuge in the marina at Port Dinorwic which is very sheltered. We watched the boats on the moorings sailing all over the mooring, heeling like crazy and as far as I know, the strongest gust was just 72 knots - nothing like that experienced by Nigel. 4 small boats sank whilst on moorings.

Not sure what we'll do if there's no place to run to, but running away to someplace less nasty seems to be the safest thing to do - especially now that weather forecasting gives some pretty decent warnings well in advance.

Our boat is our home - we don't play chicken with the weather - we are chicken!!

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Bill Balme
s/v Toodle-oo!
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Dick
Posts: 376


10/18/2018
Dick
Posts: 376
Hi all,
A couple of random thoughts with regard to Nigel’s report:
Weathering a hurricane is, first off, a great deal of work, and finally, a great deal of crossing your fingers: there still remains a great deal out of your control.
Please notice the amount of work that was spent preparing Vixen to successfully weather the storm and the degree of prior preparedness that must have occurred to have the reported ground tackle ready-at-hand to execute his “mooring”.
The choice of an anchorage is likely the first important decision: often done with only preliminary forecast information. My experience is that OPB’s (other people’s boats) produce the highest danger to you and your vessel in a storm. I would always choose, within reason, a larger more exposed area, attractive to fewer boats, where I could deploy a great deal of ground tackle to a cozy protected spot where lots of boats will flock last minute. When possible, look for sand beaches around. It is not inconceivable that a boat blown ashore early in the storm and resting on its side on the beach may be best off after the storm moves on.
I would suggest trying not to have a Y set-up to 2 anchors off the bow, at least not aimed toward other anchored or moored vessels: it is too much like a funnel and likely to catch dragging vessels and direct them right in to your bow.
Moored vessels are likely not as secure as those vessels anchored and where the owners are about.
People coming late into an anchorage and not preparing their vessel properly are a plague. It is too late for you to move. If after a reasonable request for the boat to go elsewhere, I would document with pictures, any owner who brings his boat in late intending to throw out an anchor and depart. I would make sure he saw the pictures being taken, the documentation, and that you consider his actions to be poor seamanship and negligent and that you will convey this to his insurance company if things go badly: in other words, play hardball to get him to go elsewhere. This is your boat’s safety in question and, if you choose to stay aboard, yours as well. One or two boats like that in an anchorage playing bumper-cars during the storm can negate the best preparation and work of any boat.
Document all your preparations and the names and preparations of the boats around you.
Be aware that if you take your vessel into hurricane areas where anchorages are rare, you may lose your boat. Generally, with some exceptions, the east coast of the US has a great number of places I would consider anchoring out for a hurricane: definitely not so for the Caribbean or the Bahamas. Especially, as Nigel noted, all reasonable places will have already been scoped out for charter fleets to bail into at the last minute with the clarity that they are well insured and managed by paid employees and not by owners who have skin in the game.
Finally, I would suggest that staying aboard for a hurricane is not wise. You do all you can to prepare: leave knowing that. The boat is now in the hands of the insurance company. This is what you pay your premiums for. In the storm there is little you can do and a great deal that can go awry. Getting hurt, badly hurt, is quite high on the possibility list. But bottom line: there is little of consequence that one can do in the midst of a storm to change the outcome. (I know that Nigel’s report included the cutting away of a boat that had hooked onto his nylon rode, but think how easily that could have gone pear shaped leading to personal injury or worse and how likely that rode would have parted pretty soon anyway against the chafe of the CQR.) The chances of doing something significant to save your boat are slim while the chances of personal injury are high.
As I said, random thoughts on items that may not come quickly to mind when thinking ahead about storm prep.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

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Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
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Simon Currin
Administrator
Posts: 799


10/17/2018
Simon Currin
Administrator
Posts: 799
Nigel
That’s a great account. Many thanks for sharing. Having read it it seems tempting to stay in northern waters !
Simon

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Simon Currin
S/V Shimshal simon@medex.org.uk
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Nigel.Studdart
Posts: 11


10/17/2018
Nigel.Studdart
Posts: 11
Hurricane Hugo survival






Shelley and I arrived with Vixen 11 ( A Herreshof New York 40)from St Martin about a month before Hugo into West End Tortola. As I am sure you will remember the previous hurricane seasons had been pretty benevolent by comparison and as a result most people had become probably a little blasé about Storms..

When It looked like we were potentially on track for a hit or near miss we started preparing.
First decision as always was do we run or stay.
In the Northern Caribbean this is always a tough one especially with a classic schooner with limited engine power and range along with low freeboard (VIXEN while a stunning sailboat was a submarine at the best of times, we also had to consider that the Owner wanted her in St Thomas). On reflection now with hindsight I would have sailed down to the ABC’s or San Blas. Her draught eliminated virtually all hurricane holes as did the fact that as many have commented they are full of Bareboat which are missiles with no ground tackle, even more so now with Cats. As such we elected to use Sopers Hole.

We stripped the boat on deck completely and removed anything that could move down to life rings and life-raft which we set up close to where we could use but not exposed to winds so in an emergency they were still available.

Next we started laying ground tackle. 4 anchors set 2 on each chain rode in a Y to the planned prevailing winds. I Dove on these and then set ground chains to old moorings on the bottom as well so ended up with 8 points on the bottom I was attached to and then two rising chains. We brought these to a common “ring” or grommet of inch chain doubled. We brought rising chains up from this and then attached nylon 20- 40MM lines (8 of) To the bow with major chafe protection. At the time I thought I was going completely over the top but in hindsight I am very glad we were so well prepared. At this point the boat could have been shredded but no way was she about to become detached from the bottom.

My Good friend Ted Greenwald came in on Water Spirit (30m Feadship Sport Fisherman and anchored abeam). We helped him do the same, diving on his gear and laying cross linkage to moorings and bottom chains. We were ready.


Next of course the usual happened and a heap of ill prepared boats appeared and threw out an anchor and scarpered. Some of these ahead of us. Notably one Gulfstar Motor sailor which set one anchor ahead of us. So we were as ready as could be. We set up coms gear and set an additional temp antenna for the SSB in case we lost the main antenna. (These are days before cells and satellites were commonly available)

The winds started to pick up and by the time they hit 70 knots the ill prepared were already being washed up on Great and little thatch or blown out of the cut. The winds were bouncing off Frenchman’s Quay and West end and they were starting to blow smoke and howl. We were regularly checking the bow for chafe and doing it by crawling down the deck. Standing wasn’t an option. You could feel the sand and salt in the air. By now Vixen was taking knock downs port and starboard as the wind hit from either side and the bow, but she was riding well and all gear was secure and holding.


We were acting as a relay for Visar as they could not reach out to St John and Jost. More boats started to break free including an Irwin who had get this ( kept charter guest aboard as they thought it would be a unique experience….). It was. They ended up on Frenchmans quay slipway bent around the docks blown ashore and luckily made it safely to shelter in part of the Soper's hole marina buildings.


The wind built throughout the night and it was now truly horrific. We could see a 20 ft sailboat just before dusk spiralling afloat right way up and upside down its mooring. Dinghies on stern’s were flying horizontally before they disappeared. Bareboat sails unfurling, and shredding and rigs came down and boats dragged. A horror movie. Our friends Paul and Judy up on the hill had a grandstand view.


At some point we lost one of the nylon rode’s chafing on the bowsprit and We replaced it hanging over the bow. The night wore on with patterns of a howl as the wind blew smoke and then a knock down as it bounced of the hills. The radio chatter was awful with Maydays al the time ashore and afloat as the VHF’s started to break down and aerials disappeared. We had settled into a pattern, scared yes, but feeling relative secure knowing what we had in place.


Vixen was handling it well and sitting cleanly in the appalling conditions. Then suddenly we were not weather cocking properly to the wind and taking more severe hits. We couldn’t understand this and though something must have happened to the riding gear so went forward wearing a mask an snorkel as you couldn’t be bare faced in the winds and driving conditions.


I looked down at the bow and to my surprise saw a CQR hooked onto one of the nylon warps that were coming from out chains . It wasn’t my CQR. It took me a while to process this in the conditions as I couldn’t understand it. I looked astern and could just make out the Gulfstar 60 motor sailor now hanging behind us and see the chain from the CQR running down the Hull on the Port side.


Her Anchor had run up one of our ground chains jumped the ring somehow and ended up on a nylon bridle. Bizarre. We had no choice, nobody was aboard ( we had established that before the storm hit when we went to ask them to move). I took a knife and touched the nylong bridle. It exploded it from of my eyes under immense strain. ( She ended up washed up on Great Thatch and was salvageable) .


The conditions were too severe to try and replace that bridle.

Water Spirit was riding well and Ted Had the engines on and was easing strain as he motored ahead in the gusts. At one point catching some rubbish in a prop. His bright deck lights gave us a point of reference so we could see position.

It was a difficult night with many stories to tell and intense radio traffic we relayed for VISAR with awful reports from many anchorages of friends boats destroyed or sunk. The dawn brought winds dropping to 80-90 knots and its semed quite reasonable and we started cleaning up and assessing the damage. By the time they hit 70 we were well into recover mode. As the winds continued to drop and we surveyed damage around us we realised how lucky we were. We had Blown off prot and starboard nav light boards. The Varnish on the masts was sanded from the sandspit ready for a coat and we had a whole heap of ground gear to untangle. Other than that no damage at all. All around us was devastation, roads were closed and washed away, power was off and boats were destroyed.

I revovered the Ground tackle over 3 days. Chain was strectched to be unusable ( The links were flattened) so that you could “break it” bend it like lengths of mild steel in places. One Danforth Anchor which had buried so deep I need a shovel to get it out in 60ft was bent backwards.


The Old Luke was fine but otherwise we replaced everything.

In the following weeks we were often asked where we were for the hurricane as Vixen looked stunning and was within two weeks back in boat show condition. We felt almost guilty. She won the Best crew operated yacht for her condition in the boat show a month or two later.

The Island greened back up and boats returned but nobody who went through that ever took hurricanes anything but seriously again. Boats were littered in bays some recoverable some not. Boatyards were a mess. It was the start of digging holes for keels.

The Owners House (Dr Schimert) was destroyed on St Thomas and completely blown apart. His comment was “Well Captain let’s look at my boat, I hope its fared better”

He was a very happy man.

On reflection we were very lucky. The Storm tracked where we plotted it would so West End did not get any seas and only the winds. If we had got that wrong we would have been in serious trouble. The acceleration zone produced gusts I have never seen again and wind strengths in them I would hate to estimate, but sufficient to knock us down and blow smoke.

Hurricanes have got worse and IRMA for example was not survivable.


As I am sure you know damage increases by the square of wind speed. Cats have become commonplace and are a nightmare in bad weather let alone a storm and there is no hurricane hole anywhere in the Caribbean I would try and ride a storm out today.


My advice to any captain is simply get out before. The best place to be in a hurricane is somewhere else. On the other hand weather tracking is far more accurate and with current technology getting out is much easier. Having said that you would not find me anywhere in the chain between July and October.


These days my idea of a Hurricane hole is Boca Del Toro in Panama.


FormedDissipatedHighest windsLowest pressureFatalitiesDamage
September 10, 1989
September 25, 1989
(Extratropical after September 22)
1-minute sustained:160 mph (260 km/h)
918 mbar (hPa); 27.11 inHg
60 total (estimated)
$9.47 billion (1989 USD)
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