When Hurricanes Irma and Maria blasted through the British Virgin Islands in September 2017, they damaged or destroyed a fleet of vessels. One of those was the schooner Ocean Star, on which many Ocean Navigator readers have learned navigation and seamanship. The schooner was dismasted, but Seamester Programs, which offers educational and seamanship programs and owns Ocean Star, got repairs underway quickly and had the schooner re-rigged by late January of this year.
Seamester home ports Ocean Star in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, and the boat was there when Hurricane Irma barreled toward the island. According to Travis Yates, Seamester’s managing director, the decision was made not to put the 88-foot steel schooner on Seamester’s hurricane mooring off Peter Island. “Because it was a Cat 5,” Yates said, “we didn’t put her on the mooring.” Yates and crew obtained a shallow slip in Road Harbour at Village Cay. “She was up in the muck,” said Yates, “secured with 2,000 feet of 2-inch line and eight shots of anchor chain.”
The schooner’s new masts being stepped at Port Manatee.
This setup was severely tested by the power of the hurricane. “As the storm went through,” Yates said, “wind speeds were recorded as sustained at 205 mph with gusts in the 240s.” According to Yates, these wind speeds were tearing the roofs off of buildings at Village Cay. As the storm approached, Ocean Star took the wind on the bow and weathered it well. As the storm passed, however, the wind shifted to the schooner’s stern quarter and the backstay was doing most of the work supporting the rig. Yates isn’t sure of the exact sequence of events, but potentially a flying object struck the backstay and parted it. With the backstay gone, even the steel masts of Ocean Star couldn’t withstand the force of the wind and they crumpled.
The failure zone for both masts was at the goosenecks. Both the fore boom and main boom were still rigged but stripped of sails.
“They both went down just off centerline,” said Yates. “The fore mast hit the bowsprit and the top section broke off at a butt weld. The main mast hit the staysail boom and turned it into matchsticks. Neither mast did any damage to the deck houses.”
While the rig was leveled, the hull was in good shape and Ocean Star was the only boat that floated off B dock at Village Cay. The other vessels at the dock were not so lucky, with some multihulls flipped over by the wind.
The masts in place.
Following Irma was Hurricane Maria, which wasn’t forecast to hit Tortola quite so hard. Yates and crew cut away all standing and running rigging as well as the broken spars and moved Ocean Star to Seamester’s hurricane mooring off Peter Island, where the schooner rode out the second storm.
Ironically, a re-rigging of Ocean Star was on the docket for the ship’s December work period. Yates said Seamester was interested in rebuilding Ocean Star’s rig in aluminum but couldn’t find the proper stock tubes in that metal. Ultimately, the correct size steel was sourced out of Texas and the masts were rebuilt using that material.
The schooner was brought to Port Manatee Ship Repair and Fabrication in Tampa Bay, Fla., for the rig repairs. The new spars were fabricated and stepped by Jan. 16, and Ocean Star has resumed its regular schedule this spring. “This rig will go another 30 years with Ocean Star,” Yates said.
As for further work on the vessel, Yates said a full hull restoration and a repowering is still on the horizon.