Captain Jack at your service…
Life aboard ship is not always about those beauties in bikinis, turquoise waters and cocktails at sunset as the magazines would have you believe. My friend Doug characterizes this life by saying, “Yes, the highs are very high and the lows, VERY low!”
Way before hurricane season comes upon us, we decide where we will be. Before the Ol’ North Wind begins to blow, we have already agreed to spend this winter in the clear turquoise waters of The Bahamas. The seasons and weather patterns tend to dictate more than anything else when it is time to move and where will we end up for that season. Sailing in the winter means hopping between harbors where we can safely weather the next cold front. Sailing in the summer keeps us on our toes, not only because of hurricane season, but also summer squalls, lightning and thunderstorms, tropical waves, chubascos, papagallos, or tehuantepeckers, to name a few weather events that sailors in the tropics have become all too familiar with.
Last hurricane season we sailed up to the Chesapeake Bay. Though it is well out of the tropics, it is not exempt from the effect of these storms. While in Washington, DC for the summer we rode out Hurricane Irene on the anchor. We saw winds of 45-60 knots (52-70 mph) with a few tremendous gusts up to 80 (92 mph). I was on deck returning from checking on our chafing gear when one almost blew me down on my face despite my readiness.
The boat held fast, riding out the worst of it hanging on 150 feet of 3/4 inch nylon triple braid attached to fifty feet of 3/8 chain, then to a 55 lb. Delta anchor onto which another 15 feet of chain attached it to a mid-sized Danforth. Our main anchor, an 88 lb. Delta, was on 200 feet of chain set in another direction anticipating the wind change. On deck we had a Fortress 37 on 50 ft. of chain and 200 feet of 3/4 inch nylon rope ready to deploy, just in case. In other words, a lot of anchors! With a 10-month-old Marietta on board, we took every precaution. All of our preparations paid off and the Kitty Hawk fared well, swaying to and fro but not dragging an inch through the whole storm.
On Tuesday, one-week-old Jack experienced his first tropical storm. The early appearance of Alberto just a few miles off the South Carolina coast has only served to heighten this Captain’s concerns. Although Charleston is situated well in the crook of the Southeast Coast of the U.S., with the Gulf Stream Current well offshore turning eastward and the prevailing subtropical wind flow changing from east to west above the 31st parallel, it is not exempt from the possibility of a direct hit.
All of those conditions that tend to steer storms back out to sea did not stop Hurricane Hugo from devastating Charleston Harbor in 1989. Ashley Marina, where we are currently moored, was completely destroyed when it made landfall. The damage in the area was due to the 18-22 ft. storm surge, which occurred during a high tide. All of the floating docks at this marina floated off their pilings, taking scores of vessels to their doom. In other words, I can’t consider this marina a safe haven. As a result, I have started to look at the charts and the local rivers, as well as consulting the locals. I also plan to go exploring by dinghy around this area. The locals assure me there is navigable water further up, but you have to know your way around. This means going up river to take soundings with my trusted lead line.
Finding a good place to weather the storm also requires considering what the local boaters will do. If everybody and their neighbor takes their boat to the same place, even if you happen to be there first, there is no guarantee that they will not anchor their boat too close with inferior gear and then leave it, trusting more in their insurance than in their boat surviving the storm. We live by the fact that WE are our boat’s best insurance. Our preparedness and our gear, coupled with our presence on board and determination to save our lives and home will go a lot further than any other course of action.
Some might say hauling out is an alternative, but the local yards already have contracts with the local boaters and space is limited. One yard said you could buy haul-out insurance with them for $1500.00 a season, which would guarantee space in their yard in case of a hurricane. Add to that $8.00 a foot per day and the fact that you must have your own insurance because they assume no liability, and you have a recipe for a very expensive disaster. Especially since boats on stands have a tendency to fall like dominoes on each other during a major storm.
Jacksonville, Florida lies further in the crook of the Southeast Coast and has a very good history related to storm paths, but it is three days away down the Inter-coastal Waterway. So, the question becomes not only where to run, but when? One thing is for sure, this sailor will be monitoring the weather every day as I have for years. I won’t be waiting for the weatherman on TV to alert me as to what’s going on. Before it becomes news, I will have known for days and will have analyzed the forecasting models and made my own determinations. Like my good friend (R.I.P.) Dave Waltz, the Northwest Caribbean Net weatherman for years, would say, “It’s your call buddy.” And to that I say, “Ain’t that the truth.”