out a hurricane
Just two years ago, Hurricane
Lenny wrought havoc in the Caribbean, and I was on hand aboard Hawk
with my cruising partner Evans to endure that storm. The single most
important lesson that hurricane taught us was: Prepare for the worst.
Despite all the recent technological advancements in the weather-sensing
community, hurricane forecasting remains more art than science, and should
be treated as such.
Broad expanses of water like this allow the breeze to build
waves as well. It's best to seek a more
sheltered spot for a
Based on the early forecasts, we
prepared for a Category 1 or 2 hurricane (65 to 95 knots of wind) with the
strongest wind strength from the southwest. In the end, we experienced
tropical storm force winds from the south-southeast. But if Lenny had
followed the same script 80 miles further south, we would have experienced
winds in excess of 100 knots for a minimum of 24 hours. And we weren't
ready for that.
Given that hurricane preparations
must start at least 24 hours before the storm hits, the accuracy of
forecasts simply does not allow for any certainty with respect to wind
speeds or direction. The National Hurricane Centre's own numbers, as
quoted by Steve Dashew in Mariner's Weather Handbook, prove this.
Over the last 10 years in the Atlantic, the 72-hour forecast was accurate
to within 251 nautical miles; the 48-hour forecast to within 169 nautical
miles; and the 24-hour forecast to within 71 nautical miles. Given that
the average hurricane's eye measures from four to 22 miles in width, even
24 hours in advance the forecast is too inaccurate to predict whether the
hurricane will pass to the north or south of a given position—making it
impossible to be certain of the direction from which hurricane-force winds
Often times the best idea is to use mother nature's
—the mangroves—to ride out a hurricane.
After watching the locals—veterans
of many hurricanes—prepare, and after interviewing several couples who had
successfully weathered Category 3 and 5 hurricanes, we now know that well
do many things differently next time. Here's what we would do the same and
what we'd do differently in selecting a spot to anchor—and why.
There seem to be two models for sitting out a hurricane in the Caribbean.
In well-protected anchorages and lagoons like, Simpson Bay Lagoon on St.
Martin, boats set out four or more anchors at various angles to the boat.
In mangrove-lined anchorages like English Harbour, Antigua or Marigot Bay,
St. Lucia, boats set a bow or a stern anchor, get as close to the
mangroves as they can and then tie lines from the opposite end of the boat
to the mangroves to hold it in place. In either case, only a serpentine
entrance or completely encircled lagoon will keep large waves from
entering the harbour. The mangrove method provides more reliable
attachment points because the storm anchor can only be laid out in one
direction from the boat, and other anchors will not have the same holding
power. We favor the using nature's anchors, the mangroves.
Clive Shute and Laila Sterndrup, who sat out 150-mph winds aboard their
30-foot boat in Hurricane Luis in Oyster Bay, St. Martin, told us: "You
can do everything right, but if a 60-foot boat drags down on you, things
will still go wrong." Especially in places where charter boats are left
unattended, dragging boats often pose as much of a threat as
hurricane-force winds. So, taking refuge where there's a minimal fetch can
help eliminate damage as there won't be any boats to drag down upon yours.
The ideal hurricane hole will have a short fetch
and be well-protected by land on most sides.
Waves also create risks, especially in shallow
anchorages. "We were anchored in seven or eight feet of water," Laila
said. "When we started to get four-foot waves across two miles of fetch, I
kept waiting for us to slam into the bottom." In the upper arm of English
Harbour where we selected our refuge for Hurricane Lenny, there was no
room for anyone to anchor in front of the boats tied into the mangroves,
and we had less than 100 yards of fetch in any direction.
Bow To We
watched Zach from Sun Yacht Charters drive half a dozen charter boats
straight into the mangroves with their engines on full revs until they
were hard aground. Then he tied two bow lines into the mangroves and put
out an 85-pound Danforth anchor off the stern quarter in the direction of
the strongest forecast winds. "These boats sat out 100-mph winds from
Hurricane José right here three weeks ago," he told us. We went stern into
the mangroves for three reasons: we didn't want to damage our bottom
paint, we wanted the wind and rain on our bow so the hard dodger would
give us some protection and allow us to keep the companionway open, and we
preferred to handle our ground tackle using the windlass and bow rollers.
But when Hurricane Lenny reached Category 4 status, our reasoning seemed
less than sound as we both started worrying about our rudder. Next time,
we'd try pick a spot where we could go bow in and take the strongest winds
over the bow.
Even within a sheltered anchorage like English Harbour, wind speeds easily
doubled within 100 yards depending on the local topography. We selected a
spot with a high hill a half mile away to the southwest, the direction
where the strongest winds were forecast to originate. We soon found that
the hill was as likely to accelerate the wind coming over it block it.
Being stern-to, we couldn't go as close to the mangroves as the Sun Yacht
Charter boats around us, so when the wind stubbornly remained from the
south-southeast, we ended up taking the full brunt of the storm-force
winds on our beam, which put tremendous strain on our port stern lines and
anchor rode. The local boats in English Harbour all went to two coves with
mangroves on three sides, tucked in almost side-by-side with their bows
touching the mangroves and created a huge, interlocking web of lines and
anchors. They ended up with low windbreaks within eight or 10 feet on at
least three sides, giving them full protection from winds in all but one
direction. We'll favour that approach next time.
Each boat responds
to heavy winds at anchor in its own way.
If you can, it's best to anchor near boats with similar
underbody and displacement characteristics.
The locals here in English Harbour didn't worry about
what the forecast said. They prepared for Lenny exactly the same way they
prepared for José and Luis, and the numerous hurricanes in between. They
set themselves up to withstand maximum winds from as many directions as
possible. That approach—in their well-protected harbour—works. No boats
were lost in José in English Harbour despite sustained winds in excess of
100 mph. So we know what we'll do—and not do—the next time a hurricane