SimplySailingOnline.com 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.
It was such a logical plan. When we decided to try to sail to the Caribbean from North Florida, we hoped to be ready to leave during that sweet spot after cold fronts have ended and before the first tropical system. Until Ana. Not only is there no sweet spot this year, but there are multiple cold fronts to contend with AFTER the first tropical system. There was no opening for us to slip through. There will likely be no trip to the Caribbean this spring. Yes, it was only one tropical system and she was only in our direct route for a few days, but she is indicative of how the beginning of the season will possibly progress. And as we tell our boys, "It only takes one."
I have written a lot about hurricanes: being on the lookout for them, avoiding them, preparing for them, surviving them, and recognizing mistakes afterward. We have been called opinionated (usually when we are harping on our friends to take these things more seriously), over-bearing (when we are insisting that our friends do more than play ostrich when one may come near us), and callous (when I point out the boats that could have been saved with proper planning). But we have also cried along with our friends and even strangers as we help salvage the pieces of broken homes and dreams. If shouting and stomping our feet and making a ruckus saves ONE boat from being damaged in a hurricane, then it will be worth all the bad press it brings us.
Perhaps some of you remember the famous "4 in '04." We were in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, for hurricane season that year, and our plan included 13 lines holding Eurisko in the middle of two slips with an anchor off the bow keeping her from blowing into the bulkhead. All this preparation for a place that purportedly "doesn't get hurricanes." We were continually reminded that they hadn't been hit in 30 years. These assurances changed our preparations not at all. Days before the first storm, when we were stripping sails, tying on extra lines, and deciding where the dinghy would be safest, Dave mentioned to our neighbor that he may want to secure his inflatable with something more than a bungee cord and perhaps tie his powerboat with more than 4 lines. "Oh, are people doing that?" Does it matter what "people" are doing? When we are preparing for a hurricane we smile and nod at all the naysayers, then prepare for the worst. During the strongest of the four storms that year, Dave and another boater were out securing the headsails of absentee owners, putting on extra dock lines for other boats, and removing other people's damaged canvas, all for the same boaters who belittled us while we were making our boats safe.
The most important preparation you can do before hurricane season is to not lie to yourself. Don't play ostrich. Prepare for the worst, rather than the best, and the worst you will likely suffer is the haranguing of the people who got lucky. This time. Don't be too proud or macho to keep your boat (and crew) safe. Know-it-all deniers cause a lot less damage than hurricanes, so keep your goal foremost in your mind at all times: prepare for the worst every time. Because it only takes one.
Do you remember when Grenada was south of the hurricane belt? When it was "safe" from hurricanes? Apparently the insurance companies forgot to send Mother Nature the memo, because they got pounded by Ivan in the fall of 2004, then again by category 3 Emily 9 months later. At the risk of sounding callous (again), those who stored their boats in Grenada in any condition other than prepared for a direct hit from a major hurricane were playing ostrich. We saw boats stored with the rigs up, sails on, awnings and dodgers and all sorts of bits of windage flapping in the breeze, just waiting to be snatched by hurricane force winds. Grenada DOES get hit, maybe not often, but it only takes one.
Dear friends of ours are in the Caribbean, contemplating a hurricane plan. Their favorite choice at this point is a great mangrove-lined basin, which would be the perfect place to ride out even a major hurricane, except it is 80 miles from where they plan to spend the season. Eighty miles is a LONG way to sail when you have a hurricane barreling down on you. Even five miles is too far sometimes. Just ask Bob.
Bob is one of our good friends on St. Croix. When Omar was headed our way in 2008, we offered Bob extra anchors. "Oh, that storm? It has already passed us." Right. So had Wrong-Way Lenny. Finally, the morning of the storm, Bob decided to move his boat out of the exposed harbor and into the slip he had rented as his hurricane plan, five miles to windward. Boats in this marina survived category 5 Hugo in 1989 with only minor damage, so it is a popular hurricane plan. When Bob went out to his boat that he had owned for 30 years, he started the motor and she overheated before he even got out of the harbor. Now what? Before we judge Bob too harshly, we need to take a look inside his head. He was alone, the winds had already started to pick up, he owned a waterfront restaurant that still needed to be prepared for the hurricane that even the doubters no longer doubted was going to hit us. He had a home that likewise needed prepared to withstand hurricane force winds. He weighed the time it would take him to sail the 5 miles to windward against all the preparations he could get done elsewhere and decided his boat would be fine in the harbor. That decision cost him his boat when St. Croix took a direct hit from category 3 Omar.
So what do we recommend? Don't play ostrich. Have a hurricane plan that can be implemented EARLY: a small creek you can go up (before everyone else does, leaving you no room), a slip you can get into early enough to strip the boat and tie her well, a marina with a pre-arranged haulout close enough that you can get to before everyone else does (and there is a waiting list, no room for your boat, or a broken travel lift), or better yet, LIVE in your hurricane hole. It is not always fun. A good hurricane hole will probably be hot, uncomfortable, and not where you want to be. But it sure beats losing your boat. Or worse. We have lived in Trinidad, on the hard in St. Croix, and in marinas with no breeze, view, or any redeeming qualities except that they were safe. If you play the odds and think, "it won't happen to me," someday you're going to lose. Because it only takes one.
A lot of cruisers want to have the latest electronic charts and gizmos, but MONDAY we'll talk about a nearly forgotten piece of safety equipment.
Did you find something of interest? Consider donating $1.