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DON'S LOG: stories, experience and advice


A survey of the tracks of all the------- hurricanes since 1851, that have started as lows in the region of the Cape Verdes, as long as they stay below 19N they track westwards seldom altering course more than 5 degrees in 24 hours. The alterations of course is almost universally to the north. If the hurricane, tropical storm, or tropical depression alters course to the south it is seldom more than 5 degrees and only twice has the zig to the south lasted more than 48 hours. The two  times  the zig to the south lasted  more than 48 hours it lasted 3 days. Irma  was  the last   hurricane  to head  south for  three days.

Thus it is relatively easy to see well before the hurricane arrives in the eastern Caribbean to see approximately where it will hit. Needless to say when the hurricane is half way across the atlantic start tracking it via www.noaa/hurricane as noaa tracks hurricanes by satellite, updates its position every 6 hours.

When hurricanes arrive in the islands of the eastern Caribbean, they may be very intense, but usually fairly small in diameter. This is illustrated by the last two hurricane to hit Dominica. In 79 and 2017 Dominica was completely demolished, but Guadeloupe to the north, and Martinique to the south did not suffer any really serious damage.

But once hurricanes hit the islands they can do rather strange things. In 1872 a hurricane hit Guadeloupe turned north followed the curve of the islands hitting every one until Anguilla where it departed into the Atlantic. In 1886 a hurricane hit St Vincent then turned north following the curve of the islands scoring directs on every islsnd until after hitting Barbuda it departed off into the Atlantic. Since 1851 these are the only two odd ball hurricanes that have come across the Atlantic below 19N.

Once a hurricane has passed thru the islands and gets in the warmer water of the Caribbean it frequently increases in size , intensity and can do strange things, like Flora in 1963 that passed SOUTH of Grenada then curved north and did a 360 over the eastern end of Cuba. Castro accused the US of seeding the hurricane to cause it to do a 360 over Cuba.

Once hurricanes pass north of 19 N then no longer affect any of the islands of the eastern Caribbean but may pick up a really good head of steam over the warm waters of the Bahamas and do serious damage to the east coast of the states

Doina in 2019 did just this destroying Andros.

If you are in the NOAA danger zone, 48 hours before the hurricane hits, pick up the anchor and head south.

As noted in Reflection on Hugo, Bill Skokl, skipper of the 42’ Gaff schooner Media anchored in Fajardo Puerto Rico decided to do this. No one was willing to crew for him, they said he was nuts. He took off single handed under shortened sail, main trysail, foresail, and staysail and headed south. He never got much more than 30 kts, possibly at times 40 but under shortened sail, wind on the quarter, he had no problems. A big sea developed, but they were long easy swells as he was well south of the hurricane.

At the end of 48 hours he headed north back to Fajardo where he found nothing but death and destruction. Amazingly, he found the dinghy he left behind relatively undamaged up in the branches of a tree!!

The St Thomas fleet fled to the so called Hurricane hole of Culebra where almost all of them ended up on the beach either total losses or major damage. A half dozen survived tucked way up in the two mangrove creeks on the north side of Dewey. If your boat draws 6’ or less, and your are one of the first six boat to shelter in Culebra’s mangroves you have a good chance of surviving, but only about six boats will fit in.

Since 1975 every time a hurricane has hits St Thomas, the  St Thomas fleet  flees  to Culebra and suffers a major disaster. You would  think as  years  go by sailors would learn, but they  have  not.

Check Ensenada Honda Vieques, Imray Iolaire chart A 131 taken from a DMA chart not available to the public. Ensenada Honda Vieques, has a number of deep mangrove creeks in its north east corner where a  hal fdozen boats drawing 6' or less sheltered  in 2017 and 2019. It is a little bit trickey to get into the mangroves, read the instructions on the back of chart A 131

Every hurricane that has hit the Virgin island /eastern Puerto Rico area the same situation has happened, boat have fled to St John Hurricane hole, or the Lagoon in Brenners Bay or Culebra with the same result. Scores of boats were sunk in each hurricane hole, the ones that did not sink, most suffered major damage.

Amazingly Puerto del Rey marina proved to be hurricane proof. It has berths for 1,000 boats, only 452 berths were filled. Boats in the marina suffered 4 % total loss , 2 % major damage. On that basis in 2017 if a sailor did   not feel his  crew or boat nor  fit to depart to sea 48 hours before the hurricane if the boat  had   headed  to Marina Puerto Del Rey rather than the death  trap of Ensenada honda all would have been well. However this is no longer an  option as  Marina Puerto del Rey had  only 45berths availabe  for visiting yachts  in 2020

The marinas in the BVI except for the new marina on the east side of Nanny Cay were pretty much wiped out. However Nanny Cay western marina has been completely rebuilt. Floats are  now secured  by big steel pilings  well driven into firm earth.

In St Thomas Compass point marina in Brenners bay, docks and boats survived but damage was extensive to boats and docks.

East of the Virgins, in hurricane alley St Martin, St Barts and Anguilla there is nothing even beginning to look like a hurricane hole . Simson Lagoon, and Oyster pond are excellent harbors for all normal conditions, even when the trades start honking 30 kts gusting to 40. But in hurricane conditions get out.

There are only two marinas that have Hurricane proof docks, both set up for Mega or mini mega yachts. They are Marina do Sol and Port Plesaince.

The docks are so high unless you are a mini mega  yacht or mega yacht your fenders will not bear against the piers, they are too high.

If you boat is big enough to use these facilities it is big enough to do 10 kts to make tracks fast so head south. Even if   you delayed making the decision, if  you can do 19 kts leaving   24 hours before the hurricane is due to hit you will be well clear if you head south. If the wind is in the south head south west.

Statia St Kitts and Nevis, boats will start flooding into Christophe Marina and anchor in the shoal water to the east. They will be well sheltered from the sea as the harbour is completely enclosed, but it is between two high hills. The funnelling effect is such that mega yacht skippers complain about the normal trade making it difficult to manoeuvre in to the piers. The funnelling effect in hurricanes will make Christophe harbor a disaster area. Boats will not be well moored, will drag or break loose, causing damage to other boats before they end up on the beach. Again head south 48 hours before the hurricane is predicted to hit.

Barbuda, head south.

Antigua, English Harbor, has traditionally been regarded as a hurricane hole since the early years of the 18th century when it became a Royal Navy dockyard. Tucked up into the mangroves boats have survived well but anchored out a disaster as some boats will drag, foul others and the whole mess ends up ashore or against the stone dockyard walls, in either case a disaster.

Falmouth harbour, the docks at Cat Club and Falmouth harbour marina are extremely well built, super strong.  But 2/3 of Cat Club Docks and all of Falmouth Bay  marina were built  for  mega and mini mega yachts. They are so high that they are not  suitable  for boat  smaller than  about  80'. Skippers of big yachts should have sence  enough to head south before the  hurricane hits. Since  they will all do 10 kts or more  tney can leave  24 hours before  the hurricane  hits and be  well south   of any really heavy weather.

Antigua Yacht Club Marina docks are also good, some low  enough  for boats smaller  than 80' other sections  high for  mini mega  yachtss.

In all cases with boats alongside docks, will the dock cleats stay in place, will the cleats, winches windlasses, chocks on the boat stay in place.

Falmouth harbour is completely enclosed, no big sea can enter, but it is a bowl almost a mile in diameter. With winds of 120 kts quite a big sea will develop. With the wind on the beam lines stretch.

When anchoring out in the harbour, forget it. Wind loading goes up with the square of the velocity. If the load on your anchor line at 20ks is 200 lbs, at 40 kts the load is 800 lbs, at 80 kts it is 3,200lbs, at 120 kts . What anchor will hold in that load????

In 2014 a tropical storm popped up just east of Antigua, 40/50 kts predicted so everyone tied things down for a good blow. Carlo Falcone’s Mariella was alongside Antigua Yacht Club dock facing east west Carlo put out a couple of breasting out anchors and set up the lines bar tight to hold her off the dock if the wind went north. He also rigged many big fernders. Unfortunately wind increased and Gonzales hit Antigua with 90 plus kts. Luckily it was fast moving and moved on before doing too much damage. But Mariella breasting out lines stretched, fenders exploded, and Mariella spent many hours trying to destroy Antigua Yacht Club dock, and doing serious damage to Mariella. Mariella survived. It was a blessing in disguise as Mariella 92’ Mylne designed, Fife built yawl was due for a major refit which she received in Italy courtesy of the insurance company.

A good illustration of why to go south rather than sheltering in a marina.

Marina west coast antigua, completely enclosed but berths are floating piers secured to pilings by hoops. All as needs to cause disaster is a couple of the piers breaking loose with the result massive destruction to other boats.

On the north coast of Antigua, in Parham there appeared to be the perfect hurricane hole for a few boats that drew 6’ or less. It was in the mangroves, only a small narrow entrance, complete shelter, tie off bow in to mangroves anchors out astern. If blown into mangroves, damage to gel coat, little chance of being holed, winch off after hurricane passes, all would be well. As Hugo approached four boats went into the hurricane hole. After hurricane passed, boats were relatively undamaged, but so far into the mangroves the only way to get them out was lift them with a crane. But the barge that had a big crane was too big to fit in the narrow channel. A road had to be built from the road to the mangroves, crane brought in, boats lifted out put onto big low loader and moved to Crabbs Marina for repair. The repair bills were relatively little, but the salvage costs expensive

After reviewing the above, if your boat is in commission,48 hours before hurricane hits head south.

Guadeloupe, too many boats, all secured to floating piers head south. Dominica no harbors head south.

Martinique luckily had not been hit dead on by a hurricane since yachting has developed. Marin has as of 2020, I would estimate   at least 400 boats on floating piers and probably another hundred at anchor. In the early 90s when Marin was not as crowded as it is now, I asked the Manager of the Moorings bareboat fleet what his preparations would be if a hurricane approached.

His reply”I will be on a plane flying out of Martinique before the hurricane hits”.

So obviously if in Martinique, in commission flee south.

St Lucia, has been lucky. In the years since yachting became established in St Lucia, St Lucia has not been hit by a hurricane. It has been brushed, but not hit so no serious damage has happened to yachts afloat or ashore.

The entrance channel to Rodney bay marina is so narrow, that it is impossible for any real swell or surge to build up in the marina basin.

The majority of docks in Rodney bay Marina are very solid concrete structures, high enough that a 3’ tidal surge will not cause boats to ride so high that there fenders will be useless. Of course there is the problem will the dock cleats stay in place, chocks, clears, windlasses and winches on the boat stay in place.

The floating piers secured are properly secured to piles that are well driven in and all is well maintained

When all is reviewed if a hurricane is headed for St Lucce. If so, on to Trinidad, but do not go to Chagaramus. At the best of times the anchorage is ovia head south. Why risk cleat coming out of the dock or floats or chocks and cleats coming off your boat, head south 48 hours before the hurricane is predicted  arrive.

The harbors of Grenada may be so crowded that there is no space to anchor. Head to Trinidad but do not stop at Chagaramus which  has poor holding,  is subject to a reverse tide that makes anchoring difficult. as the anchorage is crowded.

As of 2018 there are 30 permanent moorings that are well maintained available for rent, but they will probably all be occupied. Either head for Port of Spain and anchor out, or continue on to Point a Pierre, in the far south of Trinidad and anchor. At 10N you will be well clear of any hurricane disturbance.

Both anchorages  are open to the west but Port of  Spain and especially Pointe  a Pierre at 10 N they should  not be bothered  by strong  winds  from the west  generated by  a hurricane.

If a hurricane is headed for St Vincent or any of the grenadines, head south to Trinidad as recommended above.

Grenada has been hit by hurricanes in 1856, 1955 Janet, 2004 Ivan, and the north end by tropical storm Dennis which later  became a major hurricane and  hurricane Emily. Both were so small in diameter they did  no damage  to the south end of the  island,

In 1963 major hurricane Donna passed just SOUTH of Grenada. It continued on to eastern Cuba where it did a 360 degee loop before departing. Castro accused the US of seeding the Hurricane to make it stay over Cuba.

Grenada has been hit by tropical storms , 40 kts gusting to 50/60, in 1988, 02, 05, 07. Tropical storm are strong enough to blow poorly chocked boats out of their stands. If a hurricane is aimed at Grenada, head south , go all the way down to Point a Pierre, 10 N 120 miles south of Grenada. There you should be well clear of all high winds caused by the hurricane

The north coast of Trinidad has not ever been hit by a hurricane

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