shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

How to do Hurricane Matthew

October 17, 2016

It's here! My latest book, Years of Ideas from a Simple Sailor is now available on Amazon.

Everyone on the US east coast, Bahamas, and much of the Caribbean, boater and landlubber alike, has a Matthew story. Spoiler alert: ours will make you smile and maybe even cheer.

As parents, our job is never done. We thought that raising our kids, getting them through school, gainfully employed, and in a good spot in life, was a goal. That there was an end. I'm now learning, with a 28, 26, and 23-year old, that it's a life-long job. We'll never get to retire. And I'm OK with that.

The morning after

Our youngest son, his wife, and our 4-year old grandson live on a boat in a marina in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Several days before Matthew was supposed to hit them, we sent an email. It started with the usual, "I'm sure you're keeping an eye on this thing, but..."

That email sparked a steady stream of texts and phone calls that continued through the storm and several days after. At one point we got a text that said, "What would you do?" Whew, that's a hard one, because our first thought was, "Not be there in the first place." But of course, we couldn't say that. Instead, we started the advice train.

Tying low with double lines. Sheet bend in the middle, not a bowline. Good kid!

His boat was already stripped from Hermine ("You gonna take yur sail off for that there storm that's not even gonna hit us, boy?" You have to love the reprimands of marina neighbors.) so all he had to do to prepare the boat was remove the awning and solar panel, and lower the boom. When the discussion went to tying off the boat, we recommended tying to docks, pilings, bulkheads if possible, but we discouraged him from putting out anchors. "When those docks float off the pilings, which they very well may do, your anchors will be holding the entire dock. You don't want that." In the process of brainstorming, it was mentioned that a friend's boat was on the hard for repairs. Lucky them. But also lucky David, because that meant the dock in front of their house was empty. We immediately encouraged him to ask if he could weather the hurricane at their dock. With the completion of phone calls and tide chart consultation, plans were made to move his boat the next day.

The only thing that chafed was his chafe gear.

The next afternoon, we got a phone call. They had gotten safely to the dock, but it wasn't easy. When they left their marina slip the boat wasn't responding to the throttle. David jumped in the water to see if there was something wrapped around the prop. Fouled. By marine growth. So, fighting the tide clock that was slowly closing his window of opportunity to move the boat, he scraped the prop, shaft, and gave the bottom a once over. It wasn't perfect, but it got them to the dock. That was when David and his wife started telling each other, "We should have done this sooner." But it wasn't the last time they said that.

Before he pulled his anchor after the storm.

We followed along via text as David and his wife secured the boat. We gave them advice on what to take with them when they evacuated. "If we evacuate..." started one text. My reply was "WHEN you evacuate. You guys do what you want, but you are not going through a Cat 3 hurricane with my grandson on that boat!" (You'd think we hadn't subjected David to a Cat 3 just a few years ago in Omar on St. Croix. But this is different....)

By dinnertime the boat was tied to cleats, the dock, pilings, and the bulkhead.
"Did you put an anchor out yet?"
"Mom, the dinghy is already on deck. It's blowing 30. There's no way we can launch it, row out an anchor, and get the dinghy back on deck."
"You can float it on a life jacket and swim it out."
"But Mom, we are FEET from the dock. There's no way we're going to be able to hit it."
"You may get 100 knots ON THE BEAM. Do you know how much 3-strand stretches? What if one of your lines chafes through. THEN can you hit it? Do you know what a boat looks like that has rubbed against a piling for 6 hours in hurricane force winds? Get that anchor out there."

"There's no way we can hit that piling, Mom." Don't count on it.

Several hours later I got a phone call. A very tired young man explained to me that they had launched the dinghy, he'd rowed out the anchor, they'd hauled the dinghy back on deck, he had left plenty of slack so other people could get in and out of the canal until the storm started. They had arranged for some place to stay during the storm, and their ride was picking them up early the next morning to take them and all their favorite stuff to a friend's house about 20 miles inland. I think he was expecting congratulations for a job well done. But as his mother, I couldn't help but say, "You only have one anchor?"
"We have the fisherman's but it's HUGE! There's no way I could row that thing out there in this wind. The dinghy is already on deck..."
"You know, David. When you come back to that boat in a few days, there is a chance that you are going to be homeless. You may lose your boat, your home, and everything in it in this storm. You know that is a real possibility. When you come back and look at the mess that was once your boat, do you want to know that you did EVERYTHING to keep her safe and it was just a bad roll of the dice? Or do you want to always have to wonder 'what if?'"
He mumbled a reply, and got off the phone.

A happy boy, glad his home is safe.

11:00 that night, only a few hours before they would be evacuating, I got a text that read, "We somehow got the dinghy over the side of the boat without getting killed, I rowed out the enormous fisherman's and got it to set. It's on 3/4" line. We got the dinghy back on deck, despite the increasing rain and wind, and got her secured. Early morning tomorrow. I'm going to bed."
"Long day, huh?"
"I think I have successfully eaten a hole in my stomach, ruptured a vessel in my brain, and suffered three minor heart attacks. Yeah. Long day."
"Good job, kiddo. We're proud of you. NOW you've done everything you can for the boat. Get your family somewhere safe tomorrow and know that whatever happens, you did the best you could. Get some sleep."

Things look like a fun house.

And I WAS proud of him. Extremely. There were so many ways that he could have cut corners. He could have decided at any point that it was just too hard. Screw it. It'll be fine in the marina. And maybe it would have been. But I am proud of him for not settling for "maybe." Yes, his boat could have been destroyed at the dock, too. But he would never have had to wonder if it was because of something he did. Or didn't do.

Matthew headed a bit offshore before nearing Jacksonville Beach, but the damage was still extensive. It was days before the young family could leave their safe haven because trees had taken out power lines that now blocked the driveway. When they finally got back home, their relief was evident. I could hear it in his voice.
"Not a drop of water in the bilge. Nothing broke. Nothing rubbed against the dock or pilings. The only chafe was on my chafe gear. I think I did a fine job, if I do say so myself."
"You have every right to be proud, kiddo. You worked your butt off to come back to find your boat in that shape. Congratulations."


The marina where they live suffered an enormous amount of damage. The docks floated off the pilings, wiping out entire rows of wooden and even concrete pilings when they got pushed by the wind. Offices flooded, finger piers snapped off, boats came down on each other's rub rails in the seas in the marina. No boats were sunk, but there was plenty of damage.

Every time we prepare for a hurricane, one of two things happens. Usually, we get chided for our "needless" preparations. But sometimes, like Omar, (and now Matthew, for our son) others admit that we did the right thing. Regardless of which scenario plays out in the end, we always, always, know that regardless of what happens, we did everything we could to save our boat. Our home. And what we think of ourselves if worth a lot more to us than anyone else's opinion.

MONDAY we'll share our latest food storage container idea.


Connie McBride's work has been published in Good Old Boat, Sail Magazine, Small Craft Advisor, Cruising World, All at Sea, and Blue Water Sailing. As a full-time liveaboard cruiser for over 15 years, she has written several books and in her spare time, well, who has spare time?

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