Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Trying to Maintain Reason in Hurricane Season….

The best way to learn something is to explain it. Several times. To that end, here’s a first draft of my storm preparation plan, a.k.a., “the drill.” To date it has existed only in my head and been performed in a state of manic frenzy.

For the simple reason that most dock owners will not allow boats on their docks in extreme conditions, this assumes your boat is on a mooring.

This is by no means an absolute or complete list. In fact, this is the blog entry I hope to expand most by viewer comment, so please feel free to add and modify my ideas with yours!

Phase I: Given likely time constraints, this is generally done at the first indication of potential weather exceeding normal storm intensity.
1. Get all seasonal toys that would otherwise soon be removed anyway off the boat. Kayaksand awnings on deck, as well as seasonal toys in the lockers are included.
2. Inspect the mooring top to bottom. It doesn’t matter if someone else just did this. It’s your boat not theirs. Leave nothing as is if it causes doubt. Never, ever rely on a single attachment to your primary mooring chain. I consider 2 lines to be the minimum. Obviously this requires vigilance to prevent twisting and therefore chafe of the lines on each other. Extra length in one of the two lines is helpful. See below for thoughts on line stretch snubbers.

Phase II: This stage kicks in for me when Tropical storm conditions become likely and Hurricane conditions become maybe.
1. Strip headsails from their furlers and stow. Furling gear is often overwhelmed in high winds, and even a tiny patch of sail will increase the amount of mooring sailing your boat does. That in turn results in acceleration loads on your mooring gear, and acceleration loads are what break gear, unless chafe gets it first.
2. Flip your anchors or take them out of the roller. Whatever angle your mooring lines make under normal conditions, it will be less of an angle under extreme load. Anchors love to chafe through mooring lines that saw over them.

3. Haul out extra dinghies or other toys. You can put them back in later. The idea is to get them out of your field of focus until the weather is past. For me, this means simplifying down to my most utilitarian work skiff.
4. Get the rest of the stuff you don’t absolutely need off the deck. Grill, Solar panels, radar reflector, wind vane removable parts, etc.
5. Cover the woodstove or heater pipe.
6. Prepare storm anchors but don’t set them until the last minute to reduce fouling with the primary mooring.
7. Gather bags or boxes for later use in offloading boat gear should the threat increase.
8. Gather tires and or fenders to set down both sides of the hull if deemed necessary. Remember to strap them under the hull as the wind will lift them otherwise.

Phase III: Depending on track and intensity, but almost for certain with any hurricane watch issued…
1. Strip the deck completely. As in everything not bolted down. The sailing dinghy, liferaft, all canvas, wind turbine, liferings, cockpit table, and cushions are on my list.
2. Remove the boom and mainsail. Sails don’t have to be raised to create sail area. In strong winds, even a bare boom can generate a startling amount of force.
3. Offload electronics and personal gear. In the event of the worse case scenario, best not to rely on human nature to prevent this stuff from being stolen.
4. Remove and cap cowl vents.
5. Set storm anchors. Allow plenty of extra scope so they do not foul the main mooring lines. Fouled lines will cut each other under a load. A triangle pattern is considered best, but only if you can be relatively sure they won’t twist together. Some prefer a shackled connection underwater with a swivel and single lead up to the bow. I personally have seen too many failed swivels and will never trust one. To allow plenty of slack in the storm anchor rodes, I favor flaking out extra line and chain on deck and securing it down with breakable light lashings. The theory here is that in the event of the boat dropping back on the storm anchors, the load would pull out more scope, resulting in better holding power. I know this could result in overlap with another boat, but I consider the storm anchors to be absolute last resort anyway. At that point in a failure scenario, it would simply be about staying off the beach.
(Charis's 200 lb Danforth storm anchor)
6. If possible, install line snubbers to absorb stretch in a known location. Line stretch under load is generally distributed over length. Chafe through occurs where this stretch movement coincides with immovable hardware (like a chock or bobstay.) It’s essential to have chafing gear in those locations, but more can be accomplished by focusing the line stretch in a location away from the hard contact areas. Over the years I have used most of the commercially available rubber snubbers (haven’t tried the metal spring type yet,) and have even resorted to pulling a slack loop in the primary mooring line by splicing in a piece of lighter, more stretch prone nylon. Anything will help.
7. Think about what you are attaching to on your boat. More often than not, the strength of the mooring gear is greater than the combined strength of the attachment hardware for one cleat. Spread the loads with multiple attachment points. I favor the “spiderweb” approach. This is where I take the primary load from the mooring lines to a heavy line spliced in a continuous loop around the cabin trunk. Spliced into this loop are multiple light pieces of 3 strand nylon, in turn secured at each piece of substantial hardware (winches, cleats, turning blocks…) These lighter lines are further stretch points, relieving shock strain on the rest of the mooring system. They are also sacrificial. If you set this up correctly, loss of all lines of the web will transfer the load to the cabin trunk. And only after subsequent loss of that spliced loop does the deck hardware get loaded at all. I stress splices here because any other attachment reduces line strength unacceptably for the anticipated circumstances. Remember that all of these lines will stretch and provide chafe protection where they contact each other.

8. Keep your ear to the track and if you find out any of your neighbors’ boats are worth more dead than alive, persuade them by any means to find a more decrepit mooring away from yours. I’ve known too many cases of one man’s ill gain being another’s sad loss. I have actually gone so far as to strip sails and increase mooring attachment on unattended threatening boats. Right or wrong, you do what you need to when your home is at stake.

Moving line items from one phase to another is to be expected depending on your circumstances and available time, assistance, and materials. Over the next few days, I expect to think of more line items. I wish I didn’t have to. This is not my favorite part of living afloat. But everyone has to contend with some form of man vs. nature threat. On the water, it just comes in big doses.

I’m often asked before a storm if I’m ready. No. If you are paying attention, you are never ready. You can only be as ready as time allows. My gauge for the adequacy of my preparation is quite simple. If I illicit a response of mocking laughter from at least 3 passing dinghies before the storm, I feel like my chances are better than even. Ridiculous has often proven just adequate. Be sure, if the worse scenario unfolds, there will be more than 3 people passing after in horrified shock. Preparations are easily undone if you still have a boat when it’s over.

Go forth and be ridiculous. Feel free to border on hilarious if you are upwind of me. And good luck all.

(Please note that these ideas are cumulative and the pictures somewhat dated. Not all ideas are shown.)

1 comment:

  1. wow.. This is a huge post with lots of useful tips on prevention in Hurricane Season. Very useful post. Thank you.