CARIBBEAN Hur­ri­cane HIDE-OUTS

State-of-the-art boat­yards fea­tur­ing keel pits, storm cra­dles, tie-down straps on con­crete pads and “cat-ca­pa­ble” build­ings are chang­ing the sea­sonal cal­cu­lus in the trop­i­cal and sub­trop­i­cal hur­ri­cane box.

Cruising World - - Front Page - BY TIM MUR­PHY

For as long as there have been cruisers, there have been snowbirds — those who sail south to­ward the trop­ics for win­ter, and back north again for sum­mer. Good com­mon sense mo­ti­vates the mi­gra­tion, but so too do the man­dates of in­sur­ance com­pa­nies. Yacht-in­sur­ance poli­cies have tra­di­tion­ally set lat­i­tude lim­its con­nected to the cal­en­dar, par­tic­u­larly around hur­ri­cane sea­son: the pol­i­cy­holder agrees to move the boat north of some agreedupon bound­ary line by June 1 or July 1 each year. On the U.S. East Coast, that line could be Jack­sonville, Florida, or Beau­fort, North Carolina, or even Nor­folk, Vir­ginia. Some poli­cies pro­pose a lat­i­tude “box” that al­lows cruisers to sail far­ther south in sum­mer to avoid the great­est hur­ri­cane risk: to Gre­nada or Trinidad or the ABC is­lands (Aruba, Bon­aire, Cu­raçao). Only af­ter Novem­ber 1 do th­ese tra­di­tional poli­cies al­low cruisers back into the box.

But what if you want to stay in the hur­ri­cane box for a sea­son or more? What if you want to avoid the time, cost and wear of two an­nual long-dis­tance de­liv­er­ies? That’s what we’re here to talk about.

Myth­i­cal Hur­ri­cane Holes

Of course, there have al­ways been cruisers who stay through the storm sea­son in the fo­cal point of the hur­ri­cane zone. Gen­er­a­tions of our fore­bears have passed down to us the names of leg­endary Caribbean hur­ri­cane holes: Ense­nada Honda (Cule­bra), Gorda Sound (Vir­gin Gorda), Simp­son Bay (St. Martin), English Har­bour (An­tigua), the north-coast rivers on Terre Haute and Terre Basse (Guade­loupe) and Marigot Bay (St. Lu­cia). The premise is sim­ple: Find an en­closed bay with an en­trance nar­row enough to keep out the ocean swell. Pro­ceed to the head of a creek, put out two or more good an­chors off the stern with a long rode, and nose the bow as far as pos­si­ble into the man­groves. Create a spi­der­web of lines into the branches, then ride it out. Al­ter­na­tively, find a hur­ri­cane hole so well-pro­tected that you can hold out on your an­chors alone.

Ense­nada Honda in Cule­bra, mid­way be­tween St. Thomas and Puerto Rico, was just such a myth­i­cal hur­ri­cane hole. For decades, its

rep­u­ta­tion was un­matched. Then came Hur­ri­cane Hugo in 1989. Some 200 boats had hus­tled them­selves to Cule­bra be­fore the first big winds blew. By the time the storm had passed — with sus­tained winds of 98 mph and gusts over 120 mph mea­sured by the U.S. Navy at nearby Roo­sevelt Roads — more than 130 boats in Ense­nada Honda were de­stroyed.

Like­wise, St. Martin’s Simp­son Bay: When Hur­ri­cane Luis came through in 1995, it de­stroyed some 900 boats. The mere num­bers were stag­ger­ing, the hu­man details grue­some.

Don Street’s Cruis­ing Guide

to the Lesser An­tilles, pub­lished in 1966, was one of sev­eral iconic voices that ini­tially pointed the way into some of th­ese hidy-holes. But the 1989 de­struc­tion in Cule­bra pro­foundly changed Street’s mind. In an essay called “Re­flec­tions on Hugo,” he wrote: “There is no such thing as a hur­ri­cane hole in the Eastern Caribbean. They are all too crowded.” It took Street still another decade and a half to gen­tly mod­ify that statement with a strong caveat: “There are some hur­ri­cane holes in the Eastern Caribbean that are good holes

if they do not get too crowded.”

All of which brings us to the present sea­son. Will the hur­ri­cane hole you choose be too

crowded when the eye of the storm comes bear­ing down on you? Will you be among the first boats to com­man­deer one of the few vi­able spots in the man­grove creeks? Will some boat come in be­hind you with high windage and short scope that puts your boat or your life at risk?

The prob­lem with plan­ning to ride out a storm an­chored in a hur­ri­cane hole is that it leaves too many cru­cial fac­tors out of your hands. Be­cause that plan re­lies on an un­sta­ble con­text over which you have zero con­trol, it means putting a lit­tle too much faith in ho­cus-pocus.

Straight Talk on Risk

Shawn Kucharski is the pres­i­dent of Falvey Yacht In­sur­ance, a Rhode Is­land­based car­rier that spe­cial­izes in in­sur­ing recre­ational boats, lux­ury yachts and char­ter fleets in 40 coun­tries.

“There’s re­al­ism,” Kucharski says. “We have seen cases where boat own­ers have taken the time, have tied down, have made sure their pumps are work­ing, whose boats can be in a place where other boats are gone. Re­al­is­tic in­sur­ers know that just be­cause you have a great storm plan, it doesn’t mean you aren’t go­ing to get hit or that you aren’t go­ing to have dam­age. But if you have done the kind of risk man­age­ment that’s go­ing to lower that kind of ex­po­sure, you’re the type of boat owner we want to in­sure.”

What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween the ho­cus-pocus of blind faith and a re­al­is­tic ap­proach to risk man­age­ment?

For starters, to un­der­stand past hur­ri­cane sea­sons, the U.S. Na­tional Oceano­graphic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion main­tains a ter­rific web­site (coast.noaa .gov/hur­ri­canes) that shows the his­tor­i­cal tracks of trop­i­cal cy­clones. The screen shot on page 72 shows the tracks of all trop­i­cal storms or hur­ri­canes in the North At­lantic basin from 1990 through 2016. It’s worth spend­ing some time with this site and set­ting the fil­ters to un­der­stand how trop­i­cal cy­clones have trav­eled and be­haved in the past. Note that the colors in­di­cate each storm’s strength on the Saf­fir­simp­son hur­ri­cane wind scale (Cat­e­gories 1 through 5, with 1 start­ing at 74 mph and 5 go­ing up from 157 mph).

Even though some yacht poli­cies do ex­clude the hur­ri­cane box through sum­mer and early fall al­to­gether, it is pos­si­ble to keep your boat fully in­sured and re­main in the box. But it does mean work­ing with in­sur­ers who spe­cial­ize in cruis­ing boats, and it also means pre­par­ing well in ad­vance for any big storm.

Most in­sur­ers agree that re­main­ing in­sured in the hur­ri­cane box starts with a de­tailed storm plan from the boat owner. Next comes the qual­ity, tech­nol­ogy, and track record of the mari­nas or boat­yards on which that storm plan re­lies.

Mike Pel­lerin is the vice pres­i­dent of un­der­writ­ing for Boa­tus in­sur­ance, which is owned by Ge­ico. Boa­tus is so com­mit­ted to act­ing on an ap­proved storm plan in part­ner­ship with a proven ma­rina, Pel­lerin says, that it will re­im­burse boat own­ers half the cost of their storm haul-out, up to $1,000, in the event of a named storm.

Other in­sur­ers have in­cen­tives too. Gowrie Group of­fers spe­cial­ized in­sur­ance pack­ages tar­geted to­ward cruis­ing sailors. The Jack­line In­sur­ance Pro­gram is de­signed to pro­tect boats and crew trav­el­ing through­out the world, in­clud­ing spe­cial cov­er­age for Cuba. Gowrie’s Safe Har­bor Mari­nas In­sur­ance Pro­gram cov­ers the full cost of haul­ing your boat “if it’s lo­cated in a Watch, Warn­ing, or the 3-Day Track Fore­cast Cone for a Hur­ri­cane or Trop­i­cal Storm, as is­sued by NOAA.”

Your storm plan is the first key to qual­i­fy­ing for most poli­cies. Boa­tus of­fers a good set of generic guide­lines on a Web page called “Hur­ri­cane Prepa­ra­tion for Boaters, Mari­nas and Yacht Clubs” (boa­tus.com/hur­ri­canes/hurr_ prep.asp). What in­sur­ers want to see from you is a com­pre­hen­sive de­scrip­tion of the steps you in­tend to take in the event of a storm — and the more de­tail, the bet­ter. The Boa­tus “Hur­ri­cane Prepa­ra­tion Work­sheet” (boa­tus.com/hur­ri­canes/ wk­sheet.asp) pro­vides a good start, but your par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances will al­ways merit their own details.

“If you’re an ab­sen­tee owner,” says Pel­lerin, “we’ll want to see a con­tract from a ma­rina or a con­trac­tor who

will look af­ter the boat in your ab­sence.”

Kucharski agrees. “For us it al­ways comes down to the old-school, con­ser­va­tive as­pect. The safest route if you’re not with the boat is if you have a con­trac­tor or crew, even if they’re part-time, some­one who can check on the ves­sel. They don’t nec­es­sar­ily have to move it, just some­one to tie it down if a storm is com­ing, check on pumps, that sort of thing.”

En­gi­neered for Storms

The next most im­por­tant thing, af­ter your per­sonal storm plan, is the place where you plan to ride out the storm. As risk man­agers, yacht in­sur­ers have ac­cess to and ex­pe­ri­ence in in­ter­pret­ing lots of data: decades worth of records that show where past storm dam­age was con­cen­trated, and where it was mit­i­gated. At the same time, more and more boat­yards and mari­nas in the hur­ri­cane zone are de­vel­op­ing tech­nol­ogy in their phys­i­cal lay­out that lessens or elim­i­nates dam­age in a storm.

“The vast ma­jor­ity of the dam­age that’s done in storms,” says Kucharski, “is from the storm surge — not the wind. We can look back at Sandy in 2012, and we found boats miles in­land. The wind’s not tak­ing off even a 30-foot power­boat and mov­ing it in­land. It’s the storm surge that’s pick­ing it up.”

For that rea­son, mari­nas have been in­vest­ing heav­ily in dry racks. “With a strong dry rack that can bring a boat up 8 or 10 feet off the ground, you’re go­ing to be able to weather most storms,” Kucharski says. “Next, if you can take that dry rack and put it in­side a ware­house that’s de­signed to take wind ex­po­sure, the in­surer will look very fa­vor­ably on you.” Build­ings deemed “cat-ca­pa­ble” are de­signed to with­stand winds con­sis­tent with the Saf­fir-simp­son cat­e­gories of hur­ri­cane-force winds.

Of course, dry racks ac­com­mo­date power­boats far bet­ter than sail­boats, with their com­pli­cated rigs and un­der­bod­ies. State-of-the-art mari­nas in storm ter­ri­tory have re­sponded to this chal­lenge with storm cra­dles and keel pits, as well as eyes em­bed­ded in con­crete that al­low the boat­yard to strap the boat down against high winds and surge. Look for th­ese mari­nas as you plan your trip.

For ex­am­ple, Nanny Cay Ma­rina in Tor­tola of­fers sea­sonal tie-down for a $3,000 fee above the usual haul-out rate. Com­pare that to the cost of de­liv­ery and any re­duc­tion in your in­sur­ance pre­mium that such a haul-out brings. Puerto del Rey on Puerto Rico’s east coast of­fers tie-down space for 350 to 450 boats. But be sure to check early and re­serve space, if nec­es­sary. “This year we’re sold out,” said Jorge Gon­za­les, sales man­ager for Puerto del Rey, in early June. “We’re hoping to have an ad­di­tional 100 to 150 spa­ces for next year.”

Mike Pel­lerin com­mends Jolly Har­bour in An­tigua for its in­vest­ment in storm-prep haul-out. “We have boats in cra­dles on stands that are welded to­gether, and boats in con­crete keel pits,” says Jolly Har­bour gen­eral man­ager Jo Lu­cas. “All boats on cra­dles have ex­tra stands. Our tie-down an­chors are set in con­crete or have he­lix an­chors set into the ground a min­i­mum of 5 feet. Seven­ty­five per­cent of our yard is con­crete stor­age.”

Both Kucharski and Pel­lerin ex­tol Log­ger­head mari­nas (log­ger­head­ma­rina.com) in Florida for their storm-prep in­fra­struc­ture. In ad­di­tion to those, Kucharski also high­lights River Forest Ma­rina and Amer­i­can Cus­tom Yachts, both in Stu­art, Florida; Blue­points Ma­rina in Port Canaveral, Florida; and Ma­rina One in Deer­field, Florida. For in-the-wa­ter stor­age, Kucharski points to City Ma­rina in Charleston, South Carolina, as an ex­am­ple of a com­pany that’s in­vested in high, surge-proof pil­ings and ro­bust con­crete docks.

As you look to your own cruis­ing plans, have a chat with your in­surer; he or she might be able to rec­om­mend mari­nas that have good track records with past storms. In fact, that con­ver­sa­tion might help you not only with the places you cruise, but also the tim­ing.

“Talk to your in­surer,” says Kucharski. “Novem­ber 1 is the of­fi­cial end of the hur­ri­cane sea­son, and many in­sur­ers use that as the date for tran­sit south. So that means mari­nas in the mi­dat­lantic are chock­ablock with boats wait­ing.” Kucharski, ever the risk man­ager, says, “What’s the worst ex­po­sure? Late-sea­son storms are more mid-at­lantic or far­ther north.” So, he says, tell your in­surer: “I don’t want to be sit­ting with a hun­dred other boats in this ma­rina just be­cause Novem­ber 1 is the date.”

Be­cause, says Kucharski, your in­surer doesn’t want that ei­ther.

Yacht in­sur­ers look kindly on boat own­ers who ap­proach hur­ri­cane sea­son with a well-crafted storm plan. In re­cent years, a grow­ing num­ber of mari­nas have de­vel­oped storm-proof­ing tech­nol­ogy to mit­i­gate the dam­age from storm wind and surge. Shown here are con­crete keel pits in Jolly Har­bour Ma­rina in An­tigua.

Some in­sur­ers will al­low you to store your boat in the wa­ter at a ma­rina — pro­vided that the ma­rina’s lo­ca­tion and in­fra­struc­ture have demon­strated a strong track record. City Ma­rina in Charleston, South Carolina, which has in­vested deeply in tall, surge-proof pil­ings and ro­bust con­crete docks, was ex­tolled by the pres­i­dent of Falvey Yacht In­sur­ance.

To plan for hur­ri­canes, you first need to un­der­stand how they form, de­velop and travel. This im­age rep­re­sents all trop­i­cal cy­clones in the North At­lantic basin from 1990 through 2016.

To­day’s state-of-theart storm-proof ma­rina in­stal­la­tions in­clude storm cra­dles and tie-down straps (top) and ex­tra jack stands (above). Tie-down straps at­tach to eyes or rings se­curely set in con­crete for added se­cu­rity (right).

“The vast ma­jor­ity of the dam­age that’s done in storms,” says Falvey’s Shawn Kucharski, “is from the storm surge.” If your storm plan in­volves haul­ing out (left), en­sure that the el­e­va­tion ex­ceeds the pre­dicted surge and that the ground isn’t soft enough to wash away in runoff. Puerto Del Rey, on the east coast of Puerto Rico, has tie-down space for 350 to 450 boats (right).

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