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Anchor Bridle     Anchor Trip Line    Sea Anchor   
 Hurricane Preparedness

Hurricaine Preparedness and Tactics

In 1996 Ventana dodged two hurricanes along the US east coast and finally was hit by a third one as we waited at Vineyard Haven in Martha’s Vineyard. Fortunately we had several days notice to prepare the boat. Our first decision was where to position the boat. While we could have stayed on the secure moorings inside the breakwater we were most worried about other boats that may not be properly secured. With that in mind we proceeded into the lagoon where we could anchor far from other boats.

 The lagoon offers 360 degree protection from ocean swells though the fetch is quite long. We picked an open spot where no other boats were nearby and we could swing in any direction with lots of scope. Knowing the likely initial direction of the wind and predicted shift after the eye we decided to position two anchors about 60 degrees apart where we would have the best land protection for the first part of the storm. We figured if our anchors dug in well during the first half of the storm and we watched the chafe the second half would be easier even with more fetch and wave action. A marker float was tied to the anchor crown and we placed our primary 55 lb delta out with about 200’ of its 250’ chain rode. The scope was about 11:1. As we were anchoring in soft mud we first let the anchor settle for an hour while we did other tasks then we backed down on it for several minutes at near full throttle with our reversing prop. A 20’ snubber line was then put on to absorb shock loads.

Our second anchor is a fortress FX-27 with 50’ of chain and 250’ of nylon. I set this from the dinghy so I could carefully position it. This is done by loading the anchor and plenty of scope in the dinghy and motoring out backwards in the dinghy feeding the scope over the bow until all the scope is out. (Do not try to load only the anchor and drag the rode through the water). This anchor also had a float marking its location. We set the Fortress the same way as the Delta. After setting the Fortress I assembled the 70 lb. 3 piece Luke fisherman style storm anchor and loaded it into the dinghy with some spare shackles. Loosening the rode on the Fortress I was able to dinghy forward and pull up the rode until I reached the place where the 50’ of chain ended and the nylon began. The anchor was well dug in and since the water was only 18 feet deep and the chain 50’ long I could get to the middle of the chain without disturbing the anchor. I then used a shackle to attach the Luke to the chain about 40’ from the Fortress.. As I lowered the Luke I made sure the chain was taut on the bottom. I now had the well dug in Fortress followed by 40’ of chain and then the Luke. There was an additional 10’ of chain for chafe protection against the bottom before the nylon began. Not only did this give the holding power of the two anchors but the friction of 40’ of chain being pulled into the mud by the anchors at each end.

For chafe protection we purchased several feet of sanitation hose and wedged it into the anchor roller chocks so there was no rubbing on anything. Next we wrapped strips of towel around the rode and the snubber line extending back for about 8 feet. The towels was secured with light line so it could not unwrap. The 8’ section would give us the ability to continually ease out line if it was chafing.

Both anchors have their bitter ends inside the boat and these were checked and a knife was handy to them should one or the other need to be cut for any reason. A float was also handy so we could buoy the cut line if need be. Our fourth anchor, a smaller Fortress was placed in the cockpit with its 150’ rode ready to deploy should we need further holding particularly after the eye passed us.

Boat Preparation
The boat was prepared by striping the decks, removing the bimini and dodger, removing the headsails and sending all but one halyard to the top of the mast. All the rail mounted gear was stowed below decks and the spinnaker pole removed from the mast and lashed at the rail. The wind generator and solar panels were securely tied. With a full batten main removing it is a time consuming process so we covered it and tied several sets of gasket lines around it. The boom was secured in two directions with two lines on each side. All batteries were topped up, food was cooked, handheld VHF charged, flashlights ready. harness handy and jacklines in place. Foul weather gear and dive masks and snorkels were handy. The dorades were turned aft. Our outboard was stowed on the rail. Since we were in a lagoon with 360 degree protection I chose to leave the dinghy in the water. The reasoning here was should we need to abandon ship during the storm we could get in the dinghy and with land on all sides be assured of washing ashore somewhere. The dinghy was double lashed very close to the boat so it did not jerk and bounce too much. We had arranged a VHF contact with people ashore. We finished noting our GPS position and by taking multiple bearings on shore fixtures around us. I was careful to pick shore side objects that I could see day or night even if the power went out. The boat preparation took a full day during which we of course monitored the weather continuously.

The Hurricane Arrives
A few hours before the storm hit the harbor master and others asked us to leave the boat and come to shelter ashore. As Ventana is our only home and was less than a year old we opted to stay with her and do our best to protect her from damage or worse. If there is ever a next time we may make a different decision.

About 4 hours before the leading edge of Hurricane Edouard was expected to hit us it veered farther out to sea. This put us in a good position and outside of the area where winds were 135+ knots.

The storm began with bucketfuls of rain well in advance of the winds.  In the late afternoon the leading edge of the storm approached us and the wind quickly built to 50 knots. We were relieved to see our anchors holding well and surprised at how quiet the boat was with all the halyards down. In foul weather gear and hiding my face inside a hood I was able to spend time on deck and verify that we were not dragging and that our anchor rodes were not chafing anywhere on the bow. We decided to maintain an anchor watch with one of us resting and the other checking bearings every few minutes to make sure we were not dragging toward shore. Over the next few hours the storm built to 70 knots  with stinging raindrops that felt like driven sand. Despite the chaos topsides it remained fairly quiet down below. Even at 80 knots the stripped down boat was quieter than the many times we had sat through 50 knots with everything in place. The calm below certainly helped our attitudes as we could rest without the constant tension induced by listening to the wind screaming in the rigging. During the first part of the storm we checked in regularly with our friends ashore who had a VHF but when a few trees blew down they took the power lines with them and our shoreside voices went silent. Looking outside we saw the house lights all around the lagoon were dark with only the 3 other sailboats each 1/2 mile away showing any light at all. 

At the height of the storm I was able to crawl forward to the bow wearing full foul weather gear, a harness clipped to the jacklines and a scuba mask and snorkel. We never experienced any chafe but nevertheless I continued to go forward every few hours to ease out a few inches of line. A few times I ducked back into the cockpit and just watched in fascination the wild scene all around us. Spume and spray were sucked from the ocean as the wind tore the tops off of every breaking wave and the rain flew horizontally. The far shore was gone in the blur of flying water but at times we could see the near shore and watch the trees twisting and writhing as if they had a life of their own.  When the eye passed us it went calm so quickly it was eerie. However  within a little while the storm resumed even stronger than before with winds now hitting 90 knots. During the second night we continued to monitor the VHF and spoke several times with other crews in the crowded harbors of Martha’s Vineyard where inevitably some boats had torn loose their inadequate mooring lines and were damaging others.  As dawn broke we looked out to see two small 20 footers in the lagoon had washed ashore but with very little damage. In a few hours we began to see people moving about ashore and we knew we had been through the worst of it and survived.

That afternoon we toured the island and saw a number of damaged and sunk boats confirming our initial decision that fending for ourselves far from others was the correct move. All our preparations had worked well and I could think of nothing I would have done differently to prepare the boat. In the end though we realized we had been lucky the storm had veered away and given us only 90 knots. Though I did ease the lines during the storm it seemed unnecessary as we had no chafe. I am not sure what I will do if there is a next time. Having since seen pictures of some really strong storms I know I would not stay on board if winds are over 130 knots. At that point there is little one can do to effect the outcome. Our boat is insured and our lives are more important.


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