PREPARE FOR NAMED STORMS

Hold fast

Hurricane season is here. Having ridden out several hurricanes, and having had a boat smashed by one, I feel qualified to offer a few suggestions on storm readiness.

In times past yachtsmen would be gone from the hurricane belt before the start of the hurricane season and this is still the only way to guarantee you won’t be caught in a Caribbean hurricane. However, for many of today’s cruisers, leaving the hurricane belt is not an option. I live in the Caribbean year round and therefore must deal with hurricane season. When my boat was smashed by hurricane Gonzalo, I fell into the trap of not preparing early enough. I also relied on the weather forecasters who later admitted that Gonzalo didn’t behave as planned. Although I can lambaste the met office for a dodgy forecast, the buck stops with me. My seamanship and judgment were at fault and I paid a high price.

If you can’t haul out, and plan to stay afloat for the season, then here are a few things to consider.

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Location

Choose your spot early and get as much ground tackle down as you can. Remember, other boats will be seeking shelter and will anchor close to you … this is a given. When I rode out Hurricane Luis in 1995, I was holding to a concrete mooring block and five anchors. I kept one anchor in reserve but didn’t use it even though I lost one anchor thanks to chafe. Lashing your boat to mangroves with anchors deployed from stern or bow is a proven way of surviving a storm. However, environmentalists in places like St. Maarten are trying to limit such actions. If you are in a so-called ‘Hurricane Hole’, then seek the advice of people who have sheltered there in the past. Coral Bay, St. John would be an example.

Chafe is your enemy

If you are lying to chain then you will need long nylon snubbers to prevent snatching. It is vital to protect nylon snubbers or anchor rode from chafe. Leading snubbers and rode through bilge hose works well but modern bow rollers are notoriously inadequate and there probably won’t be room for more than one hose and line. Where to lead everything is something you must work out for yourselves. During Hurricane Louis, I took extra snubbing lines back to the primary winches, and I had the bitter end of one anchor chain through a pipe and shackled around the base of the mast. ‘Belt and braces’ is your motto.

Windage

Try carrying a 4×4 sheet of plywood in ten knots of wind and you’ll quickly learn about windage. Strip your boat of everything that increases windage: Sails, awnings, spray curtains, BBQ, take off as much as you can; including external halyards (leave a couple so you can go up the mast after the storm). Stow the dinghy and never, ever leave the headsail on the roller furler, it’s a boat smasher.

Staying aboard in the blow

I have heard it said that there is nothing to be gained by staying aboard. This isn’t strictly true. There are lots you can do. For instance you can shake in fear, you can also tend the lines and keep chafe at bay. Before the wind really picks up, you might also be able to fend off should a small boat drag down on you, but if it’s an inter-island freighter, then good luck. At some point during a ‘monster’ storm you will find there is little you can do but hang on. And don’t expect anyone to come and get you, they won’t. Running the engine to maneuver is marginally possible and some skippers have reduced the load on dragging anchors and in this way saved themselves from going ashore. Be aware that the sea floor will be in motion and sand and debris might find its way into the water intake and the engine overheat. It happened to me. Dirt in the fuel tank will also be stirred up.

Moving ashore for the blow

I’ve ridden out several hurricanes both afloat and ashore. Ashore, I did nothing but fret about leaving the boat, afloat I did nothing but cuss for not staying ashore. If you do head for shore then take your valuables, electronics, money, papers and documents with you. Sadly, if your boat does break free and go ashore, you might not be the first person to arrive on the scene.

Fight or flight

Leaving an anchorage to outrun or out maneuver a named storm is fraught with danger. Lack of wind ahead of the storm, boat speed, crew endurance and unreliable weather forecasts are just a few of the factors to consider.

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If there’s a weak link in your preparations, the probing storm will find it. Skill, local knowledge, experience and good equipment all help. Common sense is vital.

Rocking the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta with Island 92, 91.9 FM …

The joys of the radio commentary boat

I say joys because for four glorious days, from February 28 to March 3, joy is what it was. The 39th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta rolled over the island with spectacular sailing, wonderful trade wind conditions, and superb parties that reverberated to music of all kinds from some seriously talented acts including The Jacksons.

I began broadcasting from the Island 92 radio boat back when all we had was cheap cell phones and a signal that at best was hit and miss. There was no feedback from the studio, you were on air or not, and you never knew which. A ten minute call reporting all the drama of a thrilling start might have been dropped after 20 seconds leaving you talking to yourself, a few photographers on the boat and a clutch of bedraggled pelicans.

This year I rejoined the sea-going team of Island 92 reporters; station owner Jeffery Sochrin (aka Doctor Soc), and the Caribbean’s leading sailing pundit, Cary Byerley, whose knowledge of sailing, Caribbean sailing in particular, is as deep as the Marianas trench.

To say ‘regatta radio’ has changed over the years is an understatement.

For one, Island 92 now has its own ‘dedicated’ media boat. No more sharing with a motley collection of sweaty photographers and videographers (it’s okay, we’re all mates). Better yet, upgrades to the station’s mobile communications equipment have placed Island 92 at the forefront of Caribbean sailing commentary and links via the internet allow what’s happening on the water to be streamed to the world in real time.

A team covering the regatta from various locations along the shore added to the listeners’ fun. All this was held together in the studio by Erb, Island 92’s techno genius and presenter whose catchy radio voice and penchant for Grey Goose is legendary.

Boisterous conditions make for sparkling sailing conditions for the racing yachts but are gut-wrenching on a small press boat. To calm my stomach I always eat at sea, but after four days of Island 92 sandwiches I (and my creaking bowels) never want to see a cheese sandwich again.

I’ve reported on many St. Maarten Heineken Regattas for radio, print media and video and done it in all sorts of conditions: flat calm with races abandoned, and storm-force winds with the media boat falling apart, cameras ruined, and press hammered black and blue and seeking medical assistance. The 39th was magic. Blue skies, 18 knot trade winds and just enough sea running to make it, er, interesting.

A good press boat puts you at the very heart of the racing. When a forty-footer was over the start line early and sailed around the committee boat to restart, it found its course blocked by spectator boats that forced it to sail so close to the start boat that its mainsail hit it with a loud thwack. We were there among the shouting and obscene gestures. Epic stuff. Disaster averted, but only just.

It’s fair to say sailing is not much of a spectator sport, but a knowledgeable, entertaining, live radio broadcast from the water can bring sailing excitement into the lives of people who know nothing about the sport and wouldn’t get on a boat if you paid them.

So, I returned to the radio boat and had a wonderful time. Back behind a microphone doing something I love. I’m a lucky guy.

None of this could happened without some very special people. A big thank you goes to the team at Island 92, stars every one of them. Afloat, commentators Doctor Soc, Cary Byerley and Omari Timmermans. The shore team; Charles ‘Mr S’ Southworth, Rebecca Low and Heather Court, and, of course, audio wiz and studio anchorman Eric ‘Erb’ Boyer. Erb broadcast our reports and kept the music pumping between the sailing action.

Thanks also go to Billy Bones Charters who provided us with a splendid press boat, and gallant Captain Al for keeping us safe if not always dry.

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Island 92 regatta team (standing, from left): Captain Al, Omari Timmermans, Jeffery ‘Dr Soc’ Sochrin. (Front row): Gary Brown, Charles ‘Mr S’ Southworth, and Cary Byerley.  Missing from the photo, Erb Boyer, Heather Court and Rebecca Low

Join the Island 92 radio team for the 40th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta March 5 – 8 2020.

See you on the water

Gaz

 

 

 

Keelhauled

We launched the boat last Friday and put it on our mooring in Nettle Bay, French St. Martin. She’s been undergoing repairs for three years, three months, after she was damaged by hurricane Gonzalo. We use our 11ft Boston Whaler as a tender, but the hurricane stripped the beach outside our apartment block of sand and dumped it all just off shore. Depending on the state of the tide, that means we have to drag the Whaler through the shallows before it will float and we can lower the outboard. The shallows are uneven and there are deep holes all over the place. Also there’s lots of debris such as twisted zinc sheets from the roofs, bits of railings and chunks of boats half buried in the sand. These are really difficult to see in low light, and this was in the evening. I managed to drag the Whaler through the shallows but needed to pull it sideways towards me to clear a really shallow patch. As I walked backwards, I tripped over a twisted pipe on the bottom and began to fall backwards. My instinct was to hold onto the Whaler and pull myself upright, but just then the Whaler slipped off the sandbank and came at me in a rush, knocking me off my feet and backwards into a deep hole. I went right under and my legs came up under the back of the Whaler, which was covered in barnacles. The Whaler went over me and the blood began to flow. Fortunately there are no Great Whites in the lagoon. My wife and a friend helped me out of the water. On the plus side, my iPhone, in its waterproof case, was fine. My mp3 player was not so lucky. I showered, bathed the wounds in Dettol solution, put on fresh clothes and relaunched the Whaler, carefully. The next morning, when I came ashore, we got a good look at the physical damage and my wife went into nurse mode with dressings and antibiotic cream. Eight days have passed and only one, a deep gouge not a cut, is causing a little concern. That injury, and one on a toe, will leave me with a couple of permanent scars to add to the rest. In effect, I keelhauled myself! 🙂