Come late summer and early fall, many of us with boats in salt water have reason to worry. Sailors lucky enough to already have made it to the Caribbean, Mexico or off into the Pacific have it the worst, since a few thunderstorms today can easily swirl up into a tropical storm — or worse — tomorrow. Having a solid plan in place ahead of time for how to deal with things is critical, a lesson sorely learned during the 2017 hurricane season. Hence, our focus on hurricanes in this month’s Hands-on Sailor section.
But even East Coast sailors who do most of their cruising along the Carolinas or farther north are well advised to keep a wary eye on the tropics. I
know from May until nearly Thanksgiving, my day almost always starts with a visit to the National Hurricane Center’s app on my iphone. There’s nothing sweeter than reading
the words tropical cyclone activity is not expected during the
next 48 hours. If I see instead a yellow, orange or red X, you can be pretty certain I’ll be checking back to read the warnings at lunch, dinner and bedtime.
The good news for those of us who sail from the Chesapeake north is that we nearly always have several days’ warning of a storm headed our way, but even up here in New England, you’ll sleep better if you’ve given some thought to your options should you find your boat even close to the edge of a storm’s predicted wind field.
I clearly recall one storm several years ago that was forecast to come up the coast. Several of us spent the better part of a day stripping off and stowing sails, booms, dodgers and frames, and anything else we could get off our decks. People with smaller boats pulled them, and most of the fishermen headed off to secure moorings up a nearby river. By late afternoon, so many had heeded the warnings that the harbor was actually looking fairly empty. It was then that a fellow showed up with heavy ground tackle, looking for someone to help set it. With the wind and seas already building, he was out of options. Luckily, the worst of the blow passed us by and his boat survived just fine, but the lesson was clear: Plan ahead, and take action early.
Eric Collins, at the family-run Pleasant Street Wharf boatyard in busy Wickford, Rhode Island, has seen his fair share of fall unpleasantries cause a panic on Narragansett Bay. As the folks at the Weather Channel crank up the storm hype, the demand to haul boats increases exponentially. With their single Travelift and regular crew, they’ve managed to pull as many as 17 or 18 boats in a day. But do the math: If you wait too long, the hours and storage room in the yard will simply run out.
If a storm’s a coming, the boats at Pleasant Street get packed in tight. Extra stands are used on the bigger boats, especially the sailboats, and plywood is set under the legs of each jack stand to keep them from sinking into the gravel lot. Each pair of stands on opposite sides of the vessel get chained together to keep them from being rocked out of place. Collins says it’s expected that owners will remove sails and any canvaswork before the boat gets hauled. Furled sails, he says, can be impossible to remove once the boat is on land and the wind is either building or coming from the wrong direction.
So far, those precautions have paid off, and the yard — knock on a copious amount of wood — has never seen a boat blow over.
Over the years, we’ve had our sailboat hauled for some storms; for others, we’ve chosen to remain on a mooring, depending on the storm track, expected wind direction, strength, etc. Either way, our routine has been pretty much the same: remove and stow sails and everything else we can from abovedecks. In the water, we double up on heavy mooring lines, and lead lines from the pendants’ eyes at the cleats back to the keel-stepped mast, tying them off as close to the deck as possible. And we remove anything we value and couldn’t replace from the boat before we close the throughhulls and secure the hatch.
After that, we hope for the best and watch to see how furious things might get. What else can you do?
Eric Collins, at Pleasant Street Wharf in Wickford, R.I., is well accustomed to securing jack stands for a safe haulout.