With sustained winds of 100 mph, Hurricane Irene is expected to strengthen as it approaches the U.S. mainland this weekend. Irene, already a Category 2, should avoid the southeastern states, but Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts are battening down the hatches for a storm that could hit as early as Saturday afternoon. The forecasts echo those of 2010, when Hurricane Earl arrived with similar predictions and departed with 50-knot winds. There's no telling what Irene may bring, so owners throughout New England are scrambling to have their boats hauled and secured.
To haul or not to haul? If we did have the boat hauled, that would be it for a season that still had six or seven weeks of good sailing left in it. The worst of the winds were expected to be from the north and west, rather than the dangerous northeastern quadrant, so we decided to leave the boat in. I was as confident as I could be in the integrity of mooring and ground tackle, so my main concern was getting the boat as ready as possible for the coming onslaught. Here’s what we did.
1. If strong winds are expected it’s a good idea to cut down on windage. Step one was to clear all extraneous clutter from the deck and cockpit. Fishing rod and man-overboard gear went belowdecks; the outboard would come home with us.
2. Many boats had their headsails removed – an absolutely essential step if hurricane-force winds are expected - but the mains still bent on. We decided to remove ours. The dinghy was lashed down on deck; it too went down below. I was amazed at how many other sailors simply lashed their dinks to the foredeck, not even bothering to deflate them.
3. We have modified the bow cleats to be chafe-free – otherwise, I’d have spent some time adding anti-chafe gear to the mooring pennants.
4. I worried that the flukes of the anchor would catch in the mooring pennants as the bow pitched, so we pulled it up on deck and lashed it down. I probably didn’t need to do this, but a little extra security never hurt anyone.
5. The mainsail and headsail are off, and the halyards taken down to the pulpit or toerails and hardened up. Rope coils are lashed to the mast. Dorade cowls are turned to face aft.
6. Having your rudder flopping from side to side as the boat swings doesn’t do your steering much good, so I’ve double-lashed the wheel. I didn’t want the boom swinging around, so that’s been secured too.
7. Belowdecks, we closed all the seacocks, dogged the hatches down tight, and secured all breakables inside lockers. Before stripping the boat, we motored around for an hour to make sure the batteries were topped up sufficiently to cope with demands from the bilge pumps.