As we sit in St. Simons Island, Georgia watching tropical storm Erika break apart, I looked back over the list we had put together of things we should do to prepare if she decided to head this way, and thought I’d do a quick post and get your feedback.
Every boater on or near the coast during hurricane season should have a hurricane plan on board. A plan that encompasses a little more than charging your cell phone, laptop, Kindle or iPad and downloading all three seasons of Orange Is The New Black.
A really strong plan that works best in hurricane preparation is to NOT BE in a hurricane zone! Yuma, Arizona is lovely this time of year. But we aren’t there. As you may know, some insurance companies set guidelines and restrictions that require boats be out of a certain area and above “xyz” longitudinal line from June 1 through November 1, the official hurricane season. Our insurance requires this and that’s why we head north during these months.
But lets say you do as we did and leave for waters considered outside the hurricane area and still find yourself in the path of an approaching storm, what do you do? What 5 things should you be doing ASAP when there’s still enough time to execute that hurricane plan you have on board? Cause you have a plan now, right… a hurricane plan?
1. Move The Boat: Obvious Right?
You’re saying, “But I just moved the boat out of the zone, why would I move again?” First of all, if the marina you are in is not designated as a safe hurricane marina, they may make you move whether you want to or not. I suggest you spend some time looking at the area (long before you need to) and find out where the local hurricane holes are and pick a plan “B” location. Go visit and make sure you can get there in ample time. Once a storm has been named and looks like it’s headed your way, make a reservation and go.
You’re still gonna have to prepare the boat but at least you’ll be in a “better” spot. Sometimes moving is not an option. You are in the only option available, and if that’s the case, the next several steps should be apparent. I say “should be” because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen boats aground with headsails and canvas in tattered ribbons after a storm. A lot of times, your boat is not the problem, it’s the boats around you!
2. Remove Stuff! Sails, Canvas, Solar Panels and Dinghies On Deck
Our first round of activity once we heard about Erika’s approach was to remove the furled headsail. We needed to have some of the sacrificial Sunbrella stitched anyway, so we used this as the perfect excuse to get that baby down. We stowed the halyards we could stow and bungeed the ones we couldn’t.
We planned on pulling the main as well as the bimini and solar panel. Frames would be either removed or lashed securely to stern rails and whatever else was available. I keep several different lengths of 1/4″ Dyneema on board for just such occasions.I lashed the roller furler, the anchor and chain. I thought about removing the anchor altogether since we have a Mantus that can be stowed easily, but we never go to that point.
Next was our hard dinghy. If we had an inflatable we’d deflate and stow obviously, but we have an old hard dink that we didn’t want on deck no matter how well it was lashed down. Once those winds start, it’s far too late to attempt a last ditch effort to move it. In addition to adding extra windage to the boat, it can become a projectile should the wind break the straps holding it.
3. Go Shopping and Stock Up
As you’re keeping a watchful eye on the storm via weather.com, wunderground.com, NOAA and/or your favorite weather app, make a list of provisions and hit the market well in advance of the panicked locals who will ultimately wait til the last minute and rush to buy bread, milk and eggs, which I never understood.The three most perishable items one can buy!!! What… is everyone making French Toast? I know… I’ve used that before.
We like to shop late at night and provision as if we’re going offshore. Canned chicken, tuna and salmon. Beans, chickpeas, and chicken broth. Rice and Quinoa (or similar staples) work well, too. Easy-to-prepare foods… enough for a week or two, in case the worst happens and there is loss of power and water. Which is the perfect segue to my next point. (Oh, and don’t forget the rum.)
4. Fill The Tanks. Empty The Tanks
Fill your water tanks. This serves two purposes: one, you have water! Two, you’ve added weight to your boat. It’s not significant, but every little bit helps. Should the worst happen, you have full water tanks and can ration accordingly and by now, you should know how much water you use when you’re not worried about water and when you ARE worried about water.
Additionally, we buy a few of those 2.5 gallon water jugs that we stow in the shower and we use this for drinking and coffee. We also carry a 5 gallon potable water jug that we fill and keep in the cockpit just because we can. Make sure to fill the “Rum” tank as well. It adds additional weight… just saying.
If you cook with propane, make sure you have enough to cook with in the event you are stuck on the boat for a week or more. Whatever fuel you cook with, make sure you have enough. Roads, causeways and dock pilings can wash away and you may not even be able to get to the parking lot or the marina bathrooms. Again, a good segue; your holding tanks… make sure you pump out and have empty holding tanks before the storm hits. Nothing is more stressful than having to “go” and realizing your holding tank is full and you can’t get off the boat. NO DUMPING! In more ways than one.
5. Top Off Your Fuel Tanks
We always try to keep our diesel tank full whenever we sit. It keeps the condensation down inside the tank and if we did ever have to leave quickly or run the engine to charge batteries, we know we’re starting with a full tank. It also adds weight but in our case, not much since we only carry 33 gallons. That said, I top off the tank and fill our 5 gallon jerry jug in the event power is out for significant amounts of time. This is where that rum really comes in handy.
Of course, I did not state the obvious elements of nice, strong, and appropriately-sized lines for your vessel. I don’t need to actually say that, do I? A nice web of spring lines fore and aft. Doubled where possible. And I don’t need to discuss bumpers either… right? I can’t believe how many boats I see, BIG boats with tiny, algae-and-barnacle-covered, deflated bumpers clinging for life to a frayed 1/4″ line. We’ve all seen that guy and if you haven’t seen that guy… you ARE that guy.
There are many things one can do and should do to prepare for an approaching hurricane and the truth is, it still may not save your boat. If you have time and can move out of the path, that is the only “sure” thing. Going up against Mother Nature is a losing proposition in most cases but as boaters and sailors, we take that risk and do the best we can to prepare ourselves and our boats. I once heard a quote that went something like, “Mother Nature has no patience for the unprepared,” and I think about it every single time we make a passage or prepare for a storm.
Don’t be the guy with the ripped up headsail flogging in the wind or the guy on the foredeck tying his dinghy down as the winds pipe up to forty knots. Make your plan. Execute it well in advance and if the storm misses you, enjoy your freshly stocked galley, downloaded movies and have some rum! Celebrate your badass-ness.
Now it’s your turn – comment below with some of your methods (serious or funny) of preparing for heavy weather while on a dock.
The year we we launched a boat (the only year thus far- haha) we were delayed 1 weekend by a hurricane (figures!). We removed canvas and projectiles, strapped down bimini/doger poles and left her sitting snugly on her jack stands in the “lot-dock” (our home away from home). Then, we bought rum and had a hurricane party in the library of the marina. The only thing that quit was the power, as the party went on all night!