Donald M Street, who arrived in St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands in November 1956, is the compiler of the Imray Iolaire charts which cover all of the eastern Caribbean east of Aruba, and is author of guides covering the same area. Over the past 70 years he has built up a tremendous knowledge of how hurricanes affect the yachting industry in the eastern Caribbean
COULD YOUR BOAT WITHSTAND A HURRICANE?
2017's hurricanes devastated boats both in and out of the water. If your boat is in the Caribbean, Don Street advises on how you can keep it safe and continue to sail during the hurricane season
An area from west of St Barts to the east coast of Puerto Rico is often called Hurricane Alley, because the islands in the area have over the last 35 years frequently suffered either a direct hit or major damage by a hurricane that has passed close by.
With two exceptions, none of the yard managers have laid up boats during hurricane season in such a fashion that they would stand a very good chance of surviving a hurricane.
The yard attached to Marina Puerto Del Rey had 237 boats properly laid up: tied down, well supported by screw jacks, masts out, no total losses: just three per cent suffered major damage during 2017.
In St Martin, Sir Bobby Velasco says: “I lay up my boats the way my daddy taught me: wooden cradles, everything tied to together with cross spalls, well nailed together and masts out”. Boats in Bobby's marina survived undamaged except for sand blast damage from hurricane-blown sand. Elsewhere in St Martin, where boats were hauled ashore there was massive destruction.
In marinas in hurricane alley in 2017, outcomes varied from massive destruction, to many boats sunk, to no sinking but major damage, except Marina Puerto Del Rey. Puerto del Rey with its 12ft-high 1,000ft-long breakwater was specifically built so that boats would survive a direct hurricane hit to the marina. The marina has a total capacity of 950 boats, of which 552 were in the water. Just 4% suffered major damage, 2% were total losses.
As a resut the marina became very popular and filled almost to full compasity.In 2019when Dorina approached therewere only 45 berths aailable to boats wishing to shelter from Dorian.
In the islands to the south of Hurricane Alley – Antigua, St Lucia and Grenada, where large numbers of boats lay up ashore for the hurricane season – the marina managers claim they have learned their lessons by observing the disasters: Antigua as a result of Hugo, Grenada as a result of Ivan in 2004. They lay up boats properly so that they will survive a hurricane.
Fin-keeled, deep-draft boats have their keels in a pit, boats are in specially built steel cradles or are very well chocked by numerous screw jacks, and boats are tied down with straps to either dead men buried in the sand or sand screws.
But the vast majority of the boats are stored with their masts in. Wind pressures go up with the square of the velocity. When the wind gusts to 180mph the wind pressure is astronomical: 83lb per sq ft. That means that on a 60ft mast with the wind gusting 180 mph, the load exerted 30ft above the deck is 5,450lb. When the wind is fore and aft, or near to it, this load really does not matter. But with that load on the beam, will the boat stay in the cradle?
Every time a hurricane passes through hurricane alley, boats pour into supposed safe havens, such as Ensenada Honda on Culebra, Hurricane Hole St Johns, or inner Benner Bay on St Thomas. In every major hurricane they are disaster areas with a total of well over 100 boats sunk, and a similar number suffering major damage.