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HURRICANES: Don's stories, experience and advice


This is not a good idea as is illustrated by my loss of L’ll Iolaire in hurricane Ivan in Grenada in 2004. Like most sailors I felt that Grenada that had only been hit by two hurricanes, one in 1955 and in 2004 was basically south of the hurricane area. Every summer starting in 1996 we laid up L’ll Iolaire on a good heavy mooring, chain to a rope attached to a buoy. From the buoy to L’ll Iolaire two separate lines lead thru two separate chocks to two separate cleat bolted to big backing blocks. Lines were carefully cover with chaffing gear.

If a hurricane passed north of Grenada, or a low came thru developing 40/50 kts of wind, L’ll Iolaire I felt would have no problems swinging on her mooring.

A good friend regularly checked the boat the mooring lines pumped the bilge. She was laid up for the summer, all sails removed and stored ashore.

All was well until Ivan hit. Amazingly L’ll Iolaire survived Ivan. I have seen a video, taken from a boat anchored near L’ll Iolare that survived Ivan. The winds were easing off, L’ll Iolaire was doing fine until a 50’ catamaran dragged down on her and started to demolish her. The load of L’ll Iolaire and the catamaran was too much for the mooring, L’ll Iolaire broke loose from the mooring , battered and bashed by the catamaran she blew ashore and sank.

No matter how good is your mooring, your boat will have little chance of surviving without major damage if a boat drags down on her.

A proper hurricane mooring has to be a massive anchor o if the bottom is sand a really big sand screw. Wind loads go up with the square of the wind speed. Thus, if at anchor in 20 kts of wind, the load on your anchor line is 165lbs,  at 80 kts it is 2,655 lbs and  at 180kts it is 13,345 lbs! Basically you have to visualize your boat being picked up out of the water by your anchor lines attached to a big crane. Are your anchor lines strong enough? Will the anchor or anchors hold or drag? Will the mooring cleats and anchor windlass stay in place or pull out?


Estimated Anchor Line Load 50' on Boat with 60' Mast























If after reading the above you decide to leave your boat on a hurricane mooring, pick an anchorage in the southern end of the eastern Caribbean islands that is well sheltered. Install a big sand screw, or huge anchor, a length of really heavy chain. Chain is not all that strong, ½” chain breaking load is only 6,000 lbs, 5/8 chain is 10,00 so if you can find it a length of ¾ stud link chain stolen from a wrecked freighter!!!!. Then a swivel with similar breaking load, then to least 1” diameter three a strand nylon, breaking strain 16,000 lbs to a mooring buoy of the type you can pass the 1” mooring line thru. Once thru the buoy make an eye splice. From the eye splice run two separate lines port and starboard to securing points on the boat. The lines should be the largest diameter the will fit thru your chocks and allow room for heavy chafing gear. Then secure the two buoy lines to two separate mooring cleats, samson posts or anchor windlass that are really securely fastened in place. As a belt and braces back up act, run lines from the securing points in the bow back to the two biggest winched and set them up bar tight. Secure the lines to the winches via a tow boat(to Americans)lighterman(to the English) hitch.

Then strip the boat down to minimize windage. Sails and dodger off , all loose gear removed, all halyards except the main halyard pulled up to the top of the mast. Organize with a person or yard to regularly check the lines to make sure there is not a chafe problem and check the bilge. Automatic bilge pumps are very suspect. I can think of well over a dozen insurance claims I have been involved in settling that was caused by failure of automatic bilge pumps.

When all the above is done, clutch your rabbits foot, bow east to Allah, get your Hindu and rosary beads going around like bicycle chains and hope a hurricane does not score a direct hit on your anchorage.

Regarding going to a so called hurricane hole and surviving on the yachts normal anchoring gear. The chances of survival in a so called hurricane hole without major damage are minimal. Even if your boats anchor or anchors hold , the chances of other boats dragging down on you are high. If your anchorage receives a direct hit of a hurricane, re read the above and the loads on anchor gear at various wind speeds. Your chances of staying put are minimal.

I have survived six hurricanes on boats. In all cases, we were very lucky as we did not suffer a direct hit, we were on the edge of the hurricanes. In four of the cases we were the only boats in the anchorage so no danger of boats dragging down on us.

In City island we were lucky. We had the engine going to ease the load on the anchor line. One boat, a big water boat that carried water to big yachts, broke lose and was drifting down on us. I put the helm hard over, we took a shear to port. The water boat came by so close we could have stepped aboard.

In Klaus, We were on the north side of St Martin , on two anchors spread out in a Y, wind out of the south, we felt we were in good shape. The hurricane was south of Puerto Rico. Hurricanes in the low latitudes always go west.

But we discovered Klaus was heading NE( subsequently it proved to be only the second hurricane to do this since 1851) so our wonderful anchoring under the lee of St Martin would become a deadly lee shore anchorage.

As the hurricane approached, the wind clocked, so the line to the port anchor went slack, all the load came on the starboard anchor. We were anchored in only 12 ‘ of water, so we dropped another anchor on the starboard side, slacked the line to the anchor that had taken the load until enough line was out that the load was even between anchors 2 and 3. As the wind clocked more anchor line to anchor 2 went slack, so we dropped anchor 4 and slacked line to anchor 3 until we were anchored on anchors 3 and 4. We continued this until we were riding on anchors 5 and 6 facing due north as the hurricane passed.

As the hurricane worked north east, once it passed north of us the wind started to ease but was dead out of the north. Then the biggest worry was the rusty inter-island ferry that had anchored astern of us, was now dead to windward of us. If she dragged or anchor chain broke we were finished.

But the gods of luck were on our side. The rusty freighter stayed in place.

How hard did it blow? The airport anemometer blew away at 72kts!!!

When Klaus passed on, swell went down, we retrieved all the anchors with no problem. We had no crossed hawser, and the first anchors we dropped were now right under the stern.

If a hurricane is approaching, if you are unfortunate and are stuck at anchor, can not move, start preparing to try to stay at anchor and not drag across the harbour. Set your two biggest anchors out in a Y in the direction the wind is expected to be. Then assemble all spare anchors, line and chain so when the eye of the hurricane passes, the wind shifts and the loads on the anchor lines shift, spare anchor or anchors can be dropped. It is worthy of note that the aluminium fortress anchors are excellent spare anchors as they can be disassembled and stowed in a small space. Also the danforth anchor, cross arms on both sides of the blades can be cut off, the hole the cross arms and base of the blade can be threaded, a stud fitted to the cut off cross arms, cross arms taped to the stock(photos here from osy 1) and anchor stowed until needed. When needed, the cross arms are cut loose from the stock and threaded into the blades. In hurricane season I feel a boat should have on board a minimum of four or five anchors.

Install plenty of chafing gear on anchor lines. Duct tape makes excellent emergency anchor line chaffing gear. Anchor windlasses have a bad habit of coming adrift when heavily loaded. The same is true of mooring cleats. If the least bit suspicion of either or both, secure anchor lines to mast or run lines back aft and secure to the biggest sheet winches via a tow boat/lightermans hitch. Illustrate if possible.

Usually as the hurricane passes the wind gradually shifts. If the eye passes overhead, a calm will exist for a short while then a 180 degree wind shift with a full hurricane blast. This can happen so suddenly that it can be disastrous. Doctor Tattersall, reports that in Anguilla said that in hurricane in 1960 that as the eye passed over Road Harbor the wind shift 180 degrees, immediately after the calm spell was so fast and hard, that the schooners anchored did not swing. The wind caught them on the beam. All capsized and sank!!!

After reading all the above I hope you will take my advise. 48 hours before the hurricane is to hit your area, you up anchor and head south “be where the hurricane ain't! “

If circumstances do not permit heading south, strip the headsail, or head sails off the foils and stow below. If there is a hanked on staysail, leave in place but tie down firmly. Mainsail, remove and stow below and rely on engine in case of emergency. Some skipper will want to leave the main in place for emergency if blown off anchor or anchors have to be dropped. This is a skippers decision. If the main is left in place, it should be double reefed before securing. Needless to say secure the main with extra sail stops or line to make sure it does not go adrift. Run all halyards up to the top of the mast to minimize windage Secure main halyard to the gooseneck and set up bar tight.

When it really starts blowing, warn everyone before they go on deck, do not stand up, crawl around on hands and knees.

Before it is blowing hard have the entire crew sit down and eat a really good big dinner. Then make a big pot of stew or soup on the stove to re heat later on. If thermos available, coffee or tea as crew prefers into pre heated thermoses.

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