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HURRICANES: Don's stories, experience and advice

HURRICANE HOLES

Ever since 1975 when yachting in the Caribbean really took off, for 45 years I have been reading about, and personally being told about the disasters that happened in the so called hurricane holes. Every time a hurricane come thru the islands of the eastern Caribbean boats flock to the so called hurricane holes and disaster results. For years the BVI bare boat charter fleet had secured all boats together in Paraquita Lagoon. The lagoon was completely surrounded by mangroves, only a small shallow entrance. The arrangement worked for a number of hurricane. Some boats were damaged, a few sunk. But after each hurricane they sat down and analysed what caused the damage. They then altered the system of the boats were to be secured to minimize the damage when the next hurricane struck Tortola. Until 2017 the losses to the charter fleets whose boats were in Paraquita lagoon were bearable to the insurance companies. Then in 2017 when the two hurricanes struck almost all the boats in Paraquita Lagoon either sank or were seriously damaged.

Hurricane hole St Johns was another disaster area. The inner lagoon in Brenner bay St Thomas was again a disaster area. Ensenada Honda Culebra, as usual was a complete disaster area. About six boats survived. They were the six boats that drew less than 6’ that had arrived early and worked their way right up into the top of the two mangrove creeks on the north side of the harbour.

One possible hurricane hole that I do not think has ever been used, are the two creeks into the mangroves on the north east corner of Ensenada Honda Vieques Imray Iolaire A 131 and page 86. Streets Guide to Puerto Rico, Spanish US and British Virgin islands. Access is to the two creeks is not easy. Read the piloting instructions in Street’s guide pg 86 and on the back of chart a 131.

When we explored the area in the 80’s( memory is not good enough to give an exact year), I estimated 20 or more boats could tuck up into the mangrove creeks. If you are late and there is not room enough to get either of the creeks, again disaster. This is the reason why I say there are really no hurricane holes in the eastern Caribbean as they are all too crowded.

In Antigua English harbour has since the early years of the 18th century has been used as a hurricane hole. Boats stuck their bows into the mangroves, with numerous anchors out astern, have survived fairly well. Boats have been damaged by the mangroves but not sunk, unless one of the boats anchored in the harbour dragged down on them and sank them.

Each time a hurricane threatens Antigua, more and more boats take refugee in English harbour, some drag and disaster results.

In Parham, there appeared to be an excellent hurricane hole. It is a small cove in the middle of the mangrove only accessible thru a very narrow channel only 6’ deep. In Hugo, a number of boats took refuge there. They went bow into the mangroves, anchors out astern. They figured if they were blown into the mangroves during the hurricane, once the hurricane passed, they could winch their boats out of the mangroves, undamaged except for scratches in the gel coat. However in Hugo they were blown far up into the mangrove, so far away from the water that the only way to get them out was to lift them out with a crane. A barge big enough on which to mount a crane big enough to lift a boat and put it back in the water, was too big to fit thru the narrow channel. A road was laid from the nearest road, crane and low load truck driven in, boats lifted on to the low loader and carted to Crabbs yard and marina. There they were repaired and launched.

The Crabbs bill for repairing and launching was relatively small, but the salvage charge was high.

In St Lucia in 1980, hurricane Allen’s center passed close south of Veux Fort which was largely torn apart. Boats sheltering in Marigot Lagoon fared fairly well as the high hills north, east and south broke the worst of the wind. Boats secured in the mangroves did well unless they were unfortunate enough to have boat drag or break loose and drag down on them.

If a hurricane passes close to the north of St Lucia, Marigot as a hurricane hole will be a disaster as the western entrance to Marigot Lagoon is protected by a sand spit only about 4’ high. This will give no protection from the wind. The sea coming from the west will be increased by the funnel shaped outer harbour and will sweep over the sand spit. This will make Marigot lagoon into a cauldron or washing machine with disastrous consequences for boats sheltering from the hurricanes.

As Don Street has said for the last 30 plus years, if a hurricane is aimed at your anchorage two days before the hurricane is due to hit, head south.

The only other hurricane holes in the eastern Caribbean is Egmont inner harbour and Calivigny Harbor, both in Grenada. I noted in my first guide (still in print) Cruising Guide to the Lesser Antilles 1964pg 116 Martinique to Trinidad guide pg 158 that Egmont Inner Harbor would be a good hurricane hole. It is surrounded by high hills, the entrance channel is narrow and deep, but is at the head of the 1 1/2 mile long narrow Egmont harbour. No hurricane swells could enter the harbour.

In Ivan, a number of boats secured bow into the mangroves, many anchors over the stern. Those that were driven into the mangroves suffered relatively little damage. Everyone got together and all boats were afloat 24hours after Ivan hit.

Calivigny Harbor, at the head of Chemin Bay, does not have high hills surrounding it, but it is small, with a very narrow entrance from the mile long narrow Chemin bay. Any huge swells from the south should be broken up by the long narrow Chemin Bay.

In Calivigny harbour it is bow on to a steep to sand beach, stern anchors out. A few boats successfully sheltered from Ivan in Calivigny harbour. But if the harbour becomes crowded with boats ???????

In the spring of 2017 Ian Duff did a rough count of the number of boats at anchor, off St Georges, Prickley bay, Mt Hartman, Hog island, Clarks court and came up with a rough estimate of 200. Then add to that number all the boats in the marinas. A hurricane approaches, all should head south to Trinidad. Anchor off Port of Spain, or on south to Point a Pierre 120 miles to the south of Grenada.

Boats fleeing Grenada should not try to anchor in Chagaramus. The anchorage is crowded, the holding poor and the anchorage is subject to a reversing tide.

All too many boats in Grenada, will decide to stay in Grenada in one of the so called hurricane holes. Egmont inner harbour, and Calivigny Harbor will probably be jammed with boats, many poorly moored that will drag onto other boats damaging or sinking both boats. Result another disaster confirming my claim that there is no such thing as a hurricane hole in the Eastern Caribbean.

If you disregard my advise and decide to try and shelter in one of the so called hurricane holes, bring plenty of line, short lengths of chain to secure the lines to the anchors, bring spare anchors the biggest you can find then go to the marine supply store and buy numerous extra BIG fenders. I recommend extra BIG fenders as secured in an over crowded hurricane hole it is almost inevitable that even if you stay in place someone will drag down on you.

To repeat, head south two days before the hurricane is to hit, remember what the famous Confederate Cavalry General General Bedford Forrest said when asked how he operated behind the Union lines and never got caught by the Union Cavalry chasing him “ I am where they ain't” Similarly, to survive hurricanes be where they ain't!!!!!

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