Hurricane holes drying up?

March/April 2006

To the editor: We do our best to take care of our boat and avoid dangerous situations, especially hurricanes. Make no mistake about it, even the best-prepared boat cannot survive a direct hit. Boats are not like steel and cement buildings that can be designed to withstand 175-mph winds. Some of us know what it’s like being at sea in 70 knots of wind. It’s hard to even imagine 175-mph winds hitting a boat, no matter where it is.

Boats usually survive best inland on welded steel jackstands, away from trees and beyond the storm-water surge area. Even then, boats are still like fish out of water and are very vulnerable. Our concern for our Tartan 34, Endeavour, is not heavy rain (some of which always manages to find its way below, even though the boat is watertight) but the boat being blown off the jackstands by hurricane-force winds or having boats on either side blow over and fall into us.

Following Hurricane Wilma’s march across Florida, I called the inland Lake Okeechobee-area boatyard where we had left Endeavour. Seventeen out of 300 sailboats in the yard had been blown over by the 110-mph winds Wilma produced. We were lucky; Endeavour was not one of them. One reason Endeavour didn’t get knocked off its five jackstands (four under the hull, plus one at the bow) is that all the sails and deck gear were stowed below. Also, it was located near the center of the yard, shielded to some extent by other sailboats, all with their sails and deck gear stowed properly. Endeavour has a modest amount of freeboard and is a heavy, shoal-draft centerboard boat with an internally ballasted keel. It appears deep-draft boats with large amounts of freeboard and bolt on keels were the principal victims. The few powerboats in the yard survived because they have nearly flat bottoms.

If I had it to do over, I would have made one change: I would have run two heavy lines over the boat to anchors in the ground on either side.

Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer truly safe places to leave a boat during hurricane season. Many previously safe marinas and boatyards are being turned into condos or dockominiums. This is a trend voyagers can only watch with great concern.

– Dick de Grasse is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran and holds a USCG auxiliary sail masters license. He and his wife, Kathy, live in Islesboro, Maine, when not sailing in southern waters.

By Ocean Navigator