Protecting your Boat in a Storm
Published 5th October 2016, 6:19pm
Take the Boat out of the Water
It is usually best to get your boat out of the water if a hurricane is approaching. If you have a trailer, the launching ramps will get congested as a storm approaches, so give yourself a little extra time. Once the boat is on the trailer you will want to get the boat away from areas where it can get swept up in storm surge: ideally you are looking for higher ground.
It really doesnít take much water to float your boat and trailer. Some boat owners who are concerned about the likelihood of surge keep the plug (bung) in place and fill their boat with water to reduce the likelihood that the boat and trailer float away in the storm surge. The extra weight of the water may also reduce the likelihood of the wind blowing the boat over on its side. Remember if you plan to leave the plug in place and fill your boat with water, the battery should be removed so it does not get covered by water.
Another option is to secure the boat and trailer to the ground by driving large and strong pegs or spikes into the ground and attaching ropes from the boat and trailer to the pegs, so the boat canít move in the wind or surge.
Native vegetation has evolved to stand up to hurricane winds, so if your boat is on a trailer try to avoid parking under trees like casuarinas, these trees have a shallow root system and are more prone to toppling over in a cyclone than native trees like mahogany or cedar.
Larger boats (or boat owners without trailers) may still want to get their boat out of the water; this usually requires the use of a commercial hydraulic lift and with a hurricane approaching the demand for this service can be significant. Waiting until the likelihood of impact is a certainty may be too late and you could find that the lift is completely booked up. Try to make the call as early as possible if you want the boat pulled out and placed on chocks.
The North Sound Option
Anchoring your boat on an exposed coast is not a good choice if you want it to stay afloat, so when a hurricane threatens virtually every vessel in Grand Cayman (that canít be pulled from the water) is brought into the relative shelter of the North Sound. Remember the maximum draft for vessels entering the North Sound is about ten feet (an experienced pilot can perhaps bring in a twelve foot vessel on a high tide). The sea can also get rough well before the onset of tropical storm or hurricane force winds, so the channels can become more difficult to safely navigate the longer you leave it.
Once inside the North Sound there are a various options:
In a hurricane the wind can blow from every point on the compass. You have to plan for these wind changes. Many boat owners will take down as much rigging, canopy and canvas as possible to reduce wind resistance; they will then tie their boat up in the middle of the canal. Ropes are strung from various points on the boat to dock cleats, posts and trees on both sides of the canal. If there is nothing suitable to tie up to, you can hammer a post or metal rod into the ground and use that to tie off one of the points on your boat.
If the boat is well positioned in the centre of the canal, it is likely that there will be sufficient amount of rope extended to allow the rope to stretch in the wind, so there is no need to have a lot of slack in the line. The ropes should not be tight either because this could increase the likelihood of a rope snapping, so some slack is good, but not loose. As an added precaution many boat owners set an anchor out as well from the bow and try to get it well set in the mud at the bottom of the canal. One of the concerns about using the canals is that you are not always sure that other boat owners have secured their vessel in an appropriate manner, and if during a hurricane, one boat comes loose in the canal, it is possible that it will collide with other boats, snap ropes and generally wreak havoc.
2. Anchoring or using a mooring in North Sound
Some boats will sit on a large mooring in the North Sound or head up into the relative shelter of places like Salt Creek (west side of the North Sound) or Duck Pond (on the south east side of the Sound) and put down one or more large anchors. Use a lot of scope (at least 100 feet even for a small boat), strong rope and good tackle and make sure your anchor is thoroughly embedded in the seabed. Remember that the boat will swing in many different directions in a strong hurricane so it has to be able to move in without coming in contact with land or any other vessels. In Hurricane Ivan the soft mud on the floor of the North Sound resulted in many boats dragging, or as the wind swung round it caused the anchor to lift out of the mud, especially those that failed to use a big, heavy anchor and put out a lot of scope. A number of these boats ended up sinking. Also be aware of other boats moored nearby in the area: you need a good turn radius to reduce the likelihood of boats getting tangled in anchor lines or colliding with each other. Do not stay on your boat in a hurricane. One of the two fatalities recorded in the Cayman Islands in Hurricane Ivan was from someone who stayed on their boat.
3. Using a hurricane hole
Some narrow passages or hurricane holes in the mangroves have been used by certain families for generations. Typically the boats are taken into these hurricane holes and then tied on all sides to mangrove tree trunks. This is a fairly effective method for protecting your boat, but is probably best to get advice from a knowledgeable and experienced local boat operator before going for this strategy.
4. Keeping your boat on a dock
It is not considered a very effective option for keeping your boat safe in a hurricane to tie a boat close to a dock, but if you go this route you should plan on using lots of fenders (bumpers) on your boat, and on your dock. Also use spring lines and very importantly - donít tie your boat too tight or it will probably sink. It is also a good idea to set an anchor and attach lines on the opposite side from the dock to reduce the likelihood that the boat will rise up in the storm surge and blow onto the dock itself. Remember that ropes stretch in hurricane force winds. You donít want the boat to be able to touch the dock even when the wind is blowing full force in that direction.
Most people are well aware that during a hurricane, storm surge can cause a significant rise in water levels, so it necessary to leave a certain amount of slack in the dock lines, but some may not be aware that a significant drop in water level is just as likely. It all depends on the direction of the wind. In a hurricane the winds blows in a counterclockwise direction around the eye.
So consider this scenario: if your boat is located in a canal on Marina Drive and a cyclone is approaching from the east, the wind could first blow from the north pushing water up the canal and causing a surge, then as the eye travels over your boat there will be a period of no wind at all, then as your boat emerges from the eye and is now located on the east (right side) of the eye, the wind starts blowing from the opposite direction from the south and this pushes the water out of the canal.
If there is a significant drop in water level and you have tied your boat tightly to the side of a dock, the side of your boat will drop as the water level goes down and if it gets low enough, water will eventually pour over the side of the gunnel of your boat. As the hurricane moves further away and the wind starts to ease up, the boat returns to a normal angle, but the water that came in over the side now covers the batteries, the batteries fail causing bilge pumps to stop working, the rain continues to fall and when you emerge from your shelter at the conclusion of the storm you find your boat has sunk. It is therefore important to leave a bit of scope in the lines attaching your boat to a dock.
Heading out into the open ocean away from the forecast track
This is the worst option. In Hurricane Ivan there was a J-Class Olympic sailing boat that unfortunately drew over twelve feet and could not safely get into the North Sound. For some reason they were not willing or able to use the lift on the Government dock, so they headed out to sea. At the time, the forecast track for Hurricane Ivan had the storm heading north of Grand Cayman and going over the Sister Islands. The Captain decided to run to the south of Grand Cayman to try to get below the cyclone. Unfortunately, the track changed and the sail boat went straight into the eye wall of this massive category 4 hurricane. The two men on the boat had a terrifying experience, one broke his arm and they were very fortunate that the boat did not go down. They were bounced around in enormous, frightening seas for over twenty hours. Indeed the waves from Hurricane Ivan were some of the largest ever recorded, with the US Naval Research Laboratory recording a wave height from the ocean surface of 91 feet at one of their wave gauges.
Running from a hurricane is a risky and potentially lethal thing to do. In 1998, the sailing vessel ĎFantomeí was trying to duck below Hurricane Mitch when it went down with all hands off the Island of Guanaja. Over the years many Caymanians have been lost at sea during hurricanes.