As Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas and two other hurricanes are churning in the Atlantic we are about to leave the calm beauty of Steamboat and head back to our boat in the Chesapeake Bay. We will be hundreds of miles from Hurricane Florence but we still wonder…are we crazy? Well – we hope not.
Respecting Hurricane Season
As sailors, we have learned to adjust our schedule according to hurricane season. The season officially runs from June 1 through November 30 with the highest probability of tropical storms in the Atlantic basin generally found between August and October. It’s a fact of life for blue water sailors and we’ve learned that surviving the season, wherever you are, is a matter of planning, preparation and a bit of luck.
What Does Your Insurance Policy Allow?
Our boat insurance sets the parameters of where we keep the boat during hurricane season. For a price, you can find someone to insure your boat wherever you are. But for the best rates, most insurance companies require that you have a hurricane preparation plan and that your boat be above 30° N latitude (about the Georgia/Florida border) during the official hurricane season.
First-hand Hurricane Experience
We’ve had mixed experiences dodging hurricanes over the years. Our first hurricane was in 2003. Our family was sailing in New England, too far north to worry about hurricanes, or so we thought. We had to take our boat up the Connecticut River and find a protected mooring to hide from Hurricane Isabel. More recently, after careful preparation, Snowcat II endured the fringes of Hurricane Irma as it crashed the Florida Keys, about 100 miles southwest of our dock in Ft Lauderdale. This time we were back in Steamboat watching the hurricane coverage on the television while Dean nervously read the fine-print on our insurance policy.
Preparing the Boat for a Hurricane
Here are the steps that we follow to prepare our boat (and ourselves) for a potential hurricane:
- During the hurricane season, Dean starts every morning with a quick look at the Max Tracker App run by a Miami weather forecaster. It follows tropical storms as they spin off the coast of Africa and shows the projections of their possible paths. To get a more detailed analysis, he goes to the NOAA National Hurricane Center. We track the progress of every Atlantic tropical storm and if one even hints that it is turning in our direction, we start to implement our “hurricane plan”.
- If we’re on the boat, we get the (insert foul language of choice!) out of there. We’ll pull out the charts and compare the potential track and speed of the hurricane relative to our position and then analyze our options for a safe protected anchorage. It’s always a bit of a guessing game, but you’re just trying to move further from the probable track to improve your odds a bit, and find a safer place to settle in. That’s exactly how we ended up in the Connecticut River in 2003.
- Once settled, we actually have a written plan specifying all of the things we do to get the boat and ourselves ready. The two primary objectives are to get the boat anchored or tied up securely to ensure it will stay put out of harm’s way and then remove everything from above the decks, including sails, to reduce the “wind profile” of the boat. What we do with ourselves will depend on the situation with the boat and our location. During Isabel, we took our boat papers and insurance policy and holed up with Jack and Ben in a Holiday Inn for a few days, no problem. In more remote areas we might choose to stay with the boat.
As always, personal safety is the highest priority for all of our weather decisions. With good planning and just a little luck, we hope to make it through another season without a big blow hitting the boat.
Currently Snowcat is “on the hard” (out of the water on blocks) in a shipyard located in the far northeast corner of Chesapeake Bay, a reasonably safe location. Our plan is to get her launched in late September and cruise the northern Chesapeake Bay through most of October before starting a slow “follow the changing colors” trip south down the coast.