how they affect the islands of the eastern caribbean from St Thomas south and how to minimise damage to boats ashore and afloat
Insurance and the beginning of the yachting industry in the Caribbean
INSURANCE and the beginning of yachting in the Caribbean, and its expansion to its present state, why it is now so difficult to obtain insurance coverage in the Caribbean, Don Street's insurance experience, and advise as to how to obtain insurance coverage.
I arrived in St Thomas in 1956. I bought the engineless 46' cutter Iolaire, built 1905. In Iolaire and then L'll Iolaire, and other boats, for the next 63 years I cruised, raced, c---hartered ,explored, charted and wrote about the Caribbean.
Don's Hurricane Experience
Don Street’s first experience with hurricanes was the 1938 hurricane that cleaned out the yachting fleet of Manhasset Bay(where street grew up and learned to sail) by putting ashore or sinking 400 boats. Further east in the Watch Hill, Westerly RI area, it killed 485 people and caused in modern dollars 1.4 billion in losses. It wasone of the most destructive and expensive Atlantic hurricane of all times until Sandy2012 tore New York city and suburbs apart
Sandy did more damage so was more expensive but the loss of life was lest than 10 % of the loss of life in the 38 hurricane.
Then the 44 hurricane , which NOAA refers to as “the great storm” hurricane force winds in a 600 mile circle sinking a US navy destroyer, a light ship, two coast guard cutter and ? cargo ships carrying supples to Europe. Well more than 300 seaman must have lost there lives as 276 were lost when the destroyer sank. Thus in loss of life these two hurricanes were the most destructive atlantic hurricane in history.
Damage ashore was not that bad It severely damaged but did not clean out the Manhasst Bay yachting fleet. Snipe number 3 owned by Don Street and his three older sisters survived, but damaged. Street at age 14 filed his firm marine insurance claim as a result of hurricane damage.
Tropical Hurricanes and their internal tornadoes
Tropical hurricanes start as a low pressure wave in the region of the Cape Verde islands. Some lows pick up a circular motion and are almost immediately noted by NOAA satellite and given a name. They are then carefully tracked by NOAA/hurricanes with the positions given every six hours.
Tropical depression , have winds to 34 kts/39mph/18mps and a bit more .
After being caught in 1984 on the north side of St Martins by late season , mid november hurricane Klaus and surviving using six of Iolalire’s seven anchors,(click here for full story) I decided that I had to do some research. Klaus was the first hurricane anyone could remember that headed NE in the low latitudes.
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
DON STREET AND HURRICANES - follow his advice
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.
Don's Advice, follow it!
As noted in the introduction, Don Street because of his age 89, and experience with hurricanes on the east coast of the states and Caribbean, he knows more about hurricane tracks as they approach the Caribbean, and their effect on the yachting industry, than any other sailor or yachting author in the world. Read what he says, and follow his advise.
Had sailors followed the advise he gave in all four of his guides, Reflections on Hugo, 1990, and the articles that followed, hundreds of boats would not have sunk, and hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance claims would not have had to be paid.
In the below sections, Street gives detailed advise as to how to eliminate or minimize damage caused by hurricanes. Basically, like the very successful Confederate Calvary General who avoided direct battles against the vastly superior Federal forces, when asked on what he based his success “ be where they ain’t”. Similarly, Street advises avoiding hurricanes. If in commission, there are no hurricane holes in the eastern Caribbean, head south 48 hours before the hurricane hits. If storing your boat ashore try and do so it is out of the hurricane box. If in the box, check the record of the yard as to losses to boats in yard , and what is being done to minimize losses in the future.
Properly lay up your boat to withstand a hurricane.
If you are leaving your boat in the water in Hurricane season in a marina check, the marina’s loss record the last time a hurricane hit the marina.
If leaving a boat on a hurricane mooring read Street’s advise very carefully. Remember wind pressure goes up with the SQUARE of the velocity.
Pick the topic below that fits your situation, read very carefully and follow the advise given.
1.Use a robust cradle.
2.Tie the boat down – to dead men or sand screws in the sand.
3.Dig a pit for a fin keel.
4. Take out the mast!
If a hurricane is forecast...
Hurricanes are tracked by satellite from their earliest stages by NOAA Hurricane center. They head west, never altering course more than 5 degrees in 24 hours. Any zig to the south usually lasts no more than 48 hours. Since 1851 only twice has the south zig lasted three days.If a hurricane springs up, each day plot a 5-degree cone north on the course from the position of the hurricane. The area of the cone gets smaller as the hurricane approaches.
If you are in the cone 48 hours before the hurricane is to hit your area, pick up the anchor and head south on beam reach or close reach. That will give you enough time to be well south of the hurricane. You will experience manageable winds and big seas. Once the hurricane passes, turn around, head back to your anchorage and examine the destruction you avoided by heading south.
From hurricane alley:
Just head south or southwest, do not try to fight your way east to an island or harbour in the islands of the eastern Caribbean.
From Antigua or islands to the south:
It is just a case of heading south. In years gone by you could head southwest to Venezuela, but with the present disastrous political situation this should be avoided.
The anchorages in Grenada will look attractive, but they will be so overcrowded there will be the danger of boats dragging and damaging others
Head south to Trinidad, but do not stop in Chaguaramas. The anchorage is overcrowded, the bottom is poor holding, and there is a strong reversing tide that makes anchoring difficult. Continue south to Point-à-Pierre. Anchor at 10°N well below any danger from a hurricane.
You have no protection from winds from the west but you are so far south you should get no strong winds from rhe west.
LAYING UP AFLOAT IN A MARINA OR STAYING IN A MARINA IN A HURRICANE
First of all look at the frequency that hurricane have hit the various yachting centers where there are marinas of any size that make leaving a boat there is a possibility. The below figures based on NOAA hurricane tracks since 1975 when yachting in the eastern Caribbean started taking off
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.
HURRICANES: BOATS IN THE WATER IN COMMISSION
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 never altering course more than 5 degrees in 24 hours. The alterations of course is almost universally to the north. It the hurricane, tropical storm, or tropical depression alters course to the south it is seldom more than 5 degrees and only once has the zig to the south lasted more than 48 hours. The only time it did the zig to the south lasted 3 days.
LAYING UP ASHORE PICK AREA AND YARD CAREFULLY
The western part of Hurricane Hurricane Alley Anegada west to Eastern Puerto Rico is well named as since the area really started booming with yachts about 1975 , the area has been hit 8 times, with hurricanes 75, two in 79, 84 Klaus, 89 Hugo, 95 and four times in 2017 by Harvey, Irma,Jose, Maria. In 2019 Dorina gave them a good brushing. There were another half dozen times by tropical storm. One would think that everyone would have worked out plans to minimize the damage caused by hurricane, but unfortunately they have not. This is the reason it is difficult to obtain insurance in the eastern Caribbean and especially so for boats based in Hurricane Alley.
HURRICANES: PROPERLY LAYING UP ASHORE
To properly lay up a boat for hurricane season is a job that must be done by owner, his captain, a very trusted friend or be done under the supervision by local surveyor.
LAYING UP ON A HURRICANE MOORING DURING HURRICANE SEASON OR SURVIVING A HURRICANE AT ANCHOR
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 was south of rhe Hurricane area. I had checked my NOAA HURRICE book, Tropical Hurricane in the Atlantic ocean 1871 to 1998.I prchased this book in 1985 after Iolaiee had bee caught by the late season wrong way hurricane Klaus that traveked east rather than west. Go to Surviving Klaus to see how Iolaire survived using six of her seven anchors.
I had checked rhe tracks of eveery hurricane from 1871 to1998.The only hurricanesto hitGrenada was Janet in 1955. I assumed Grenada 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.
Securing for a hurricane
Hitches, knots, line, chafing gear, cleats on docks, ring bolts, chain, shackles, swivels anchors vs sand screws
When securing lines it is not only a case of securing but also a case of being able to unsecure and re adjust the line.
When securing to a sampson post, bollard, or a winch, Do NOT use a clove hitch. Once a clove hitch is heavily loaded the only way it can be unsecured is with a good sharp knife.
Use a tow boat hitch, to the Americans, lightermans hitch to the English, as this hitch can be unloaded under heavy strain and line veered.
Lines that are on heavy load may have to be moved. Learn to reliably tie a line to the loaded line with a rolling hitch so that the load can be taken on the line secured by a rolling hitch and the loaded line moved to a better tie off point
CRUISING DURING HURRICANE SEASON
In my first hard covered Guide (first guide Yachtsman’s Guide to the Virgin islands 1964 was privately printed on a hand powered ereneo to the English mimeograph to Americans 1963) Cruising Guide to the Lesser Antilles l966 (reprinted facsimile editions now available thru iUniverse .com, Amazon and Imray,a wonderful bit of nostalga, the Caribbean in the late 50’s early 60’s) I stated that the best sailing months of the year were may June and July and sometime into August. This is still true today.
In October 1984 one low after another blasted thru Antigua. Iolaire was hauled on the north side of Antigua in Crabbs, no screw jacks, just wooden A frames jammed against the boats, then wedges driven in to hold the boats tight.
When lows came thru the boats shook so much the wedges would fall out so we finally re drove them and nailed them in place.
The Ultimate insurance policy
When cruising the Caribbean all boats should have a minimum of three anchors. The military always desires to go into battle with a mix of weapons. Similarly when cruising the Caribbean you should not rely on one type of anchor. Different bottoms require different anchors.