Cruising

Hurricane precautions and anchor handling

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This month: Hurricane precautions, anchor handling

Hurricane Prep

Planning shoreside precautions
Hurricane-force winds (over 64 knots, or 74 mph) and the resulting storm surge are serious business. If your boat is in an area that might see hurricane conditions, you need to know what action to take.

If possible, get the boat out of the water and remove the rig. If the boat has its own cradle, tie the hull securely to it. If the hull is set on jackstands, each stand must be securely chained—even welded with a rod—to the stand on the opposite side. All the screws on the stands should be wired so they can’t back off. If the jackstands aren’t on hard pavement, put plywood pads, at least 12 inches square, under each leg of a stand—generally, that means three to each stand.

Don’t scrimp on stands. A 30-foot boat needs three jackstands to a side and one at the bow; a 40-footer should have four to a side and one at the bow; and a 50-footer should have five to a side and one or two at the bow. Place the stands against the boat’s internal bulkheads; don’t just put them up against the hull and hope. If the storage area’s surface isn’t paved, think about driving sand screws into the soil on either side of the boat and using nylon straps and a tensioning device like the ones used in the trucking industry to snug the hull down onto the jackstands.

When I left Grenada in May 2004, I saw many boats stored 2 to 4 feet from each other, and most of them were still rigged. Because the boats were so close, it was obvious that one boat falling over would create a domino effect. Boats should be placed far enough from each other so one can’t influence another.

Remove the depthsounder transducer or speed gauge on the bottom of the hull so any rainwater that gets into the cabin can drain out. I’ve seen many boats weather a hurricane ashore but be filled with rainwater to bunk level.

Wind down the windage. Put all sails, awnings, dodgers, weather cloths, life rings, and so forth down below. If you can’t pull the boat out of the water and remove the mast, run all the halyards except the main halyard to the top of the mast to reduce windage further. You’ll use the main halyard to go up the mast and retrieve the others when the storm has passed.

If your only choice is to anchor, remember that, as a rule of thumb, the loads on an anchor at 40 knots are 4 times what they are at 20 knots; at 80 knots, they are 16 times. At 120 knots it is best to just imagine that your boat is suspended in the air by a crane that is holding the anchor. Can the anchor chain, anchor line, and all the attachment points on the bow take that kind of load?

Planning. Good preparation takes time, so don’t cut corners because of time constraints. Stowing things properly on a 35-footer will take two people at least half a day; the larger the boat, the longer it will take. To speed up the process, make a written plan and put it in the ship’s notebook or some other easy-to-find place.

If you’re in a location where there are mangroves and no large seas can get at them, you might want to consider placing the boat into the head of the mangrove area and tying the bow into the mangrove roots with a spider web of lines. Then set your anchors astern in a fan shape.

Prepare your boat as well as you can. But when the wind starts blowing at hurricane speed, the reason a boat survives comes down, in my view, to one-third preparation, one-third good gear, and one-third good luck. D.S.

Hurricane Prep

Prepare for the worst
Last year my wife and I were in Grenada when Hurricane Ivan passed right over us with 140-mph winds. Here are some things I’ve learned from that and other first-hand experiences.

Guard against denial. The chance that Ivan would hit Grenada was pretty clear four days before the storm arrived. That left plenty of time for cruisers to sail clear of the zone of probability, haul the boat out, get extra ground tackle, or be the first to arrive in the most protected harbor. But fewer than a dozen boats sailed away from Grenada ahead of the storm, and most waited 24 hours too long before they moved. That delay made their move more dangerous because it reduced their options if they were to have a breakdown at sea before they reached a safe harbor.

Get away from docks. Hard surfaces and hurricanes are a lethal combination.

Work out the expected wind direction. If the eye passes north or east of you, the wind will back—from west to south or from north to west, respectively. If the eye passes to the south or west, the wind will veer from north to east or east to south. Use this information to pick your anchoring spot, keeping in mind that your boat will be only as secure as the ground tackle of the boats that will be in front of you as the storm passes.

Put down everything. Anchors don’t do any good on deck, and planning to lay out a “reserve” anchor during the storm is a loser bet. Get every anchor you have over the side on the longest scope possible. The “ideal” hurricane mooring is three storm anchors set at 120 degrees to each other, with the boat in the middle; after the storm they may very well be in a straight line.

Chafe-guard your chafe guard. In hurricane-strength winds a rode can chafe through in a matter of minutes, so you can’t do too much to protect your rodes from chafe. Heavy hose makes excellent chafe guard, but be sure the hose isn’t too tight; heat can build up inside and melt the nylon fiber (see figure).

Finally, get off the boat. Don’t let anyone tell you that he saved his boat by staying aboard. If winds do get near triple digits, all you can really do on your boat is die. D.C.

Anchoring

Handling a secondary anchor
Although conventional wisdom has it that serious cruisers carry only all-chain anchor rodes, in the real world there are plenty of people out there getting by quite happily on rope. Rope rodes work very well if you take precautions. You should inspect the rode often for chafe, lay out more scope than you would with chain, and always be ready to set a second anchor just in case. You’ll need the second anchor not only when the wind is blowing extra hard, but also in crowded anchorages to keep from swinging around too much. One disadvantage of anchoring on rope is that your boat will wander much more than it does when anchored on chain.

The most convenient way to handle a secondary rope rode, even if your primary rode is all-chain, is to store it in a bucket. Most any sturdy bucket will do, but 5-gallon sheetrock buckets usually work best. To load the bucket, tie the bitter end of the rode to the bucket handle, then neatly coil the rode down into the bucket, so that the business end, with a short chain leader and a shackle that fits your secondary anchor, ends up at the top. Store the bucket wherever is convenient—at the bottom of a hanging locker, say, or in a cockpit locker, or even in a secure spot on deck. When you need to set another anchor, just carry the bucket up to the foredeck, bend on your secondary hook, and you’re good to go.

One big advantage of keeping your secondary rode in a bucket is that it makes it very easy to untangle your two rodes if they get twisted together. Just uncleat the secondary rode, let it go slack, and you can then easily pass the bucket full of rode around and around the primary rode until everything is straight again. Another advantage is that the bucket makes it easy to set an anchor from your tender. Just drop your anchor and bucket into the tender, bend the anchor to the rode, then row out to where you want the anchor set. Drop it overboard, then row back to the boat trailing rode out of the bucket over the tender’s stern. This is much easier than hauling a long length of rode behind you on the pull away from the boat, particularly if there is much wind blowing. A bucket also allows you to position the anchor with pinpoint accuracy. C.J.D.

Words from the Wise

"The more sophisticated the system, the more prone it is to failure in the abusive environment of salt air, scorching sun, and rough seas. Inevitably, you’ll be glad to have a simpler piece of gear as a back up, standing by to replace primary equipment that fails. For example, the dinghy may be propelled by an outboard motor, but you’d better also carry a pair of oars aboard for when (when, not if) the motor stops running. Or, when the fresh-water pump or electric bilgepumps fail, there needs to be a hand or foot pump already in place to take over.

"A leadline will sound water depth when the digital depthsounder breaks. An emergency tiller will cover temporarily for a broken steering-wheel cable, and a bucket for a toilet. When the GPS packs it in, you’ve got to carry and know how to use a sextant for offshore navigation without electronics. This backup philosophy applies to every piece of essential equipment aboard."
—Tor Pinney, Ready for Sea! (2002)

This month’s contributors: Don Casey, Charles J. Doane, and Don Street

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