A year af­ter his­toric hur­ri­canes wreaked havoc through­out the East­ern Caribbean, a legendary voy­ager im­parts ad­vice on how to pre­pare for the ul­ti­mate worst-case sce­nario. BY DON STREET

Cruising World - - Hands-On-Sailor - SE­VERE WEATHER

Hur­ri­cane losses to the yacht­ing in­dus­try and its in­sur­ers in the East­ern Caribbean have in­creased as­tro­nom­i­cally over the past 60 years. In the 1950s, the num­ber of yachts in the Caribbean was quite small, but be­gin­ning in the 1970s, the num­ber be­gan to grow rapidly, as did the on­shore in­dus­try sup­port­ing the yachts. Since the mid1990s, yacht­ing ac­tiv­ity has sky­rock­eted, and so have in­sur­ance losses re­sult­ing from hur­ri­canes, graph­i­cally il­lus­trated by pho­to­graphs of the trail of de­struc­tion left by hur­ri­canes Irma and Maria in 2017.

I have been sell­ing in­sur­ance to yachts­men in the East­ern Caribbean for more than 50 years, so I am not just a spec­ta­tor to this car­nage. Af­ter Hur­ri­cane Hugo in 1989, I wrote “Re­flec­tions on Hugo,” which was first printed in 1990 in Street’s Guide to Puerto Rico, the Span­ish, U.S. and British Vir­gin Is­lands. It was two pages. Sub­se­quently ex­panded to six pages, it was in­serted in all four of my guides to the East­ern Caribbean. I fol­lowed it up with about a dozen ar­ti­cles writ­ten in an at­tempt to min­i­mize losses due to hur­ri­canes.

If sailors, ma­rina and yard man­agers, marine in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, and Lloyd’s un­der­writ­ers had fol­lowed the ad­vice given in “Re­flec­tions on Hugo” and the sub­se­quent ar­ti­cles, they could have avoided tens of millions of dol­lars in marine in­sur­ance claims and hun­dreds of boats would not have been lost.

Gre­nada is a good ex­am­ple

of how the ex­pan­sion of yacht­ing has led to height­ened ex­po­sure to losses for un­der­writ­ers over the years. A hur­ri­cane hit the is­land in 1892, when there was no yacht­ing. The next hur­ri­cane, Janet, hit 63 years later, in 1955. The Gre­nada Yacht Club, a wooden build­ing on the steamer pier, was swept away, a cou­ple of small lo­cal sloops con­verted to yachts were sunk, and a dozen lo­cally built Mos­quito dinghies were de­mol­ished — a small loss to marine un­der­writ­ers, if any at all.

A half cen­tury later, Hur­ri­cane Ivan cost marine un­der­writ­ers a bun­dle. Yacht­ing had ex­panded to the point that about 175 boats were stored ashore for hur­ri­cane sea­son and prob­a­bly an­other 100 were in com­mis­sion in the wa­ter. In one yard, 100 boats blew over; a video of the de­struc­tion was viewed world­wide. Of the boats in the wa­ter, about 20 fol­lowed my rec­om­men­da­tions and sailed south to Trinidad or Mar­garita: no dam­age, no claims. The oth­ers were se­cured in var­i­ous so-called “hur­ri­cane holes,” with dis­as­trous con­se­quences. A very high per­cent­age suf­fered ma­jor dam­age or were to­tal losses.

I es­ti­mate that in 2018, more than 700 boats will be laid up ashore in Gre­nada and about 600 or more afloat in com­mis­sion. The three yards in Gre­nada took the les­son from Ivan to heart and claim that all the boats they store ashore are now prop­erly chocked and tied down to a dead-man an­chor, sand screws or 1-ton con­crete blocks, and that they will with­stand a hur­ri­cane. I doubt that the 600 or more boats in com­mis­sion or stored afloat will fare as well, even those in the la­goon at St. Ge­orge’s. The docks at both Port Louis and Gre­nada Yacht Club will be un­der­wa­ter in a 3-foot tidal surge, and be­cause the shoal that formed a nat­u­ral break­wa­ter has been dredged out, the la­goon will be­come un­ten­able for any boats that stay there if a hur­ri­cane strikes Gre­nada.

Boats can sur­vive a hur­ri­cane with an ac­cept­able per­cent­age of loss to in­sur­ers in well-de­signed mari­nas and when laid up ashore and prop­erly se­cured. This was proved at Puerto del Rey, Puerto Rico.

In the late 1980s, Dan Shel­ley had Puerto del Rey and its shore­side fa­cil­i­ties de­signed so that boats in the ma­rina and stored ashore would stand a good chance of sur­viv­ing a hur­ri­cane with min­i­mal dam­age. The north-south break­wa­ter is 1,575 feet long and topped by a wall 12 feet above high wa­ter. The fin­ger piers are high enough to cope with a 3-foot tidal surge. When I vis­ited the ma­rina with Io­laire shortly af­ter it was built, I pointed out to Shel­ley that, if he did not ex­tend the main north-south break­wa­ter with a 100-yard dog­leg to the north­west, he was go­ing to have a prob­lem with a bob­ble in the ma­rina when­ever the wind went into the north­east in the winter, and a dis­as­ter when the wind went north­east dur­ing a hur­ri­cane. His engi­neers in­sisted such a dog­leg was not needed, but in the mid-’90s, the break­wa­ter was ex­tended with a 460-foot dog­leg to the north­west.

In 2017, hur­ri­canes Irma and Maria both struck Puerto del Rey. Of the 552 boats afloat in the ma­rina, 4 per­cent were to­tal losses and 2 per­cent suf­fered ma­jor dam­age. Of the 237 boats stored ashore, 3 per­cent suf­fered ma­jor dam­age and none were to­tal losses. Ev­ery­where else from St. Barts to and in­clud­ing Puerto Rico, a re­gion known as “Hur­ri­cane Al­ley” be­cause of the fre­quency with which it is af­fected by named storms, it was a dif­fer­ent story.


Hur­ri­cane Ivan in 2004 showed how vul­ner­a­ble boats stored ashore can be to a strong hur­ri­cane. In De­cem­ber 2017, I asked ev­ery yacht-stor­age fa­cil­ity in An­tigua, St. Lu­cia and Gre­nada to de­scribe its stor­age fa­cil­i­ties and pro­ce­dures for lay­ing up boats dur­ing hur­ri­cane sea­son. With some vari­a­tions, they all replied that they strap boats down to suit­able an­chors. With the ex­cep­tion of Puerto del Rey and Bobby’s Ma­rina in St. Maarten, no yard in Hur­ri­cane Al­ley had strapped boats down.

Fol­low­ing the car­nage of 2017, all boat own­ers (and their in­sur­ance agents) should in­sist that their boats, and the boats to ei­ther side of them, are prop­erly stored for hur­ri­cane sea­son, and ob­tain from the yard man­ager a signed as­sur­ance that this is the case. Ab­sen­tee own­ers should hire a sur­veyor to su­per­vise the process and sub­mit a re­port cer­ti­fy­ing that it was done prop­erly.

When lay­ing up a boat for hur­ri­cane sea­son, every­thing should be done to min­i­mize windage. The dodger, Bi­mini and sails must be re­moved, and all hal­yards ex­cept the main hal­yard run up to the top of the mast. Deep keels should be in pits, and all boats chocked with a jack stand each side for ev­ery 8 feet of water­line length, with ply­wood pads un­der the feet so they do not sink into soft, rain-soaked ground. The jack stands must be tied to­gether port and star­board, with re­bar welded to the stands and the han­dles wired so the screws can­not un­wind.

I’ve heard about sev­eral own­ers who re­turned to their boats af­ter a hur­ri­cane to find them with rain­wa­ter above the floor­boards, so a pre­cau­tion worth

tak­ing is to pull a through-hull so wa­ter has a way to drain out. To stop rats from get­ting into the boat (it hap­pens!), the out­side of the drain should be se­cured with wire mesh.

A de­ci­sion yards must face is whether to store boats with their masts in or out. Re­mov­ing masts re­quires yards to pro­vide pro­tected stor­age for them, which Bobby’s Ma­rina does. Other yards that of­fer this same safe prac­tice are the Cata­ma­ran Ma­rina in An­tigua and Gre­nada Marine on the is­land of Gre­nada.

A 60-foot mast and its rig­ging have sig­nif­i­cant windage, and wind pres­sure in­creases with the square of the wind ve­loc­ity. When the wind speed dou­bles, the pres­sure quadru­ples. For ex­am­ple, at 60 mph, the wind pres­sure is about 9 pounds per square foot; at 120 mph, it is 37 pounds per square foot; and at 180 mph, it is 83 pounds per square foot.

For an av­er­age 60-foot mast, the to­tal wind load on the mast at 120 mph is 2,245 pounds — about the same as 24 mph of wind on 1,100 square feet of sail. At 180 mph, the wind load is 5,450 pounds. If the wind is blow­ing on the side of the boat and that force is cen­tered 30 feet above the deck, what are the chances the boat will stay up­right on its jack stands or in its cra­dle if it is not tied down to an­chors in the ground?

As far as mari­nas are con­cerned, prop­erly se­cured boats stored afloat in a ma­rina should sur­vive a hur­ri­cane if the ma­rina is built like Puerto del Rey, fully en­closed so that no sea can build up inside, and with well-con­structed con­crete fin­ger piers high enough to han­dle a 3-foot tidal surge. Crews Inn in Trinidad and, pos­si­bly, the ma­rina in Vir­gin Gorda Yacht Har­bour meet these cri­te­ria. Mari­nas that use float­ing piers are best avoided be­cause float­ing piers have a ten­dency to break loose.


The same wind-pres­sure cal­cu­la­tion ap­plies to boats an­chored or left on moor­ings. The frontal area of just the hull of a mod­ern 45-foot cruis­ing sail­boat with 6-foot free­board and 14-foot beam is 84 square feet. Then there’s the mast, boom, rig­ging and su­per­struc­ture. When the boat sheers to one side, the ex­posed area is even greater. Cata­ma­rans have vastly more windage.

The ma­jor­ity of boats in the East­ern Caribbean will be an­chor­ing on 3⁄8-inch chain or ¾-inch ny­lon at­tached to a

3⁄8-inch chain leader shack­led to an an­chor. The break­ing strength (BS) of com­mon

3⁄8-inch BBB chain is 11,000 pounds, but the safe max­i­mum work­ing load is 2,650 pounds. For three-strand ny­lon rope, the BS is 17,150 pounds dry. Ny­lon loses about 20 per­cent of its strength when wet, and can lose an­other 15 to 20 per­cent of its strength in a splice or a knot. If the an­chor holds, ei­ther the chain or the line will part once wind gusts ap­proach 120 mph, per­haps sooner. The at­tach­ment point on deck might not even last that long. Some mul­ti­hulls will be­come air­borne.

From the above fig­ures, it’s my guess that the vast ma­jor­ity of an­chored boats will drag or break free in hur­ri­cane con­di­tions. And it only takes one loose boat in a so-called hur­ri­cane hole to cause havoc among the oth­ers.

Ense­nada Honda, Cule­bra, was con­sid­ered a hur­ri­cane hole un­til Hur­ri­cane Hugo in 1989 put 60 or more boats on the beach. Some peo­ple must have for­got­ten that, be­cause Irma and Maria put an­other 40 on the beach in 2017. It was the same story in Coral Bay, St. John.

The one true hur­ri­cane hole in the Caribbean is in­ner Eg­mont Har­bour, Gre­nada. The en­trance is only 100 yards wide, so no sea or surge can get in; it’s sur­rounded by 300-foot hills; and its shore is lined with man­groves, not rocks. In Ivan, fewer than a dozen boats shel­tered in Eg­mont. The cou­ple that dragged were eas­ily pulled from the man­groves and suf­fered lit­tle dam­age be­yond gel­coat scratches. But the next time a hur­ri­cane bears down on Gre­nada, there prob­a­bly will be 600 boats in the wa­ter, and far too many of them will head for Eg­mont, with pre­dictable re­sults.


In 1984, Io­laire was caught on the north side of St. Maarten by Hur­ri­cane Klaus. Though I don’t rec­om­mend it today, we sur­vived by us­ing six of our seven an­chors. Af­ter that ad­ven­ture, I ob­tained a copy of the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion “hur­ri­cane book,” which mapped the track of ev­ery hur­ri­cane and named storm from 1851 to 1980, and ob­tained up­dates each year.

Fol­low­ing the dis­as­trous 2017 sea­son, I ob­tained the new hur­ri­cane book that cov­ers all named storms from 1851 to 2008, as well as the loose pages that bring it up to date through 2017. I stud­ied those hur­ri­cane tracks care­fully and iden­ti­fied a gen­eral pat­tern for those that af­fected the East­ern Caribbean.

Since 1851, only four

hur­ri­canes have formed in the Caribbean and headed east into the East­ern Caribbean: Alice in 1954, Klaus in 1984, Lenny in 1999 and Lili in 2001. There were also two od­dball hur­ri­canes. One, in 1872, hit Guade­loupe and headed north via An­tigua, Bar­buda, St. Barts, St. Maarten and An­guilla be­fore head­ing out to sea. An­other hit St. Vin­cent, then turned north and struck ev­ery is­land, in­clud­ing Bar­buda, be­fore head­ing off into the At­lantic.

All other hur­ri­canes and named trop­i­cal storms that af­fected the is­lands of the East­ern Caribbean have formed in the At­lantic and headed west, rarely al­ter­ing course more than 5 de­grees in 24 hours. The course al­ter­ation is al­most al­ways to the north; al­ter­ations to the south are usu­ally for only 24 hours and never more than 72 hours. The track of one of these storms can, there­fore, be pre­dicted quite well on a daily ba­sis (see “Pre­dict­ing Hur­ri­cane Tracks,” page 71).

Of course, the only rea­son­able way for boats in com­mis­sion to avoid hur­ri­cane dam­age is to fol­low the bat­tle plan of Con­fed­er­ate cav­alry gen­eral Bed­ford For­rest. When asked how he man­aged to tear holes in the Union army be­hind the main lines, de­stroy­ing or seiz­ing sup­plies while dodg­ing fed­eral cav­alry, he replied, “I hit ’em where they ain’t!” So, to sur­vive hur­ri­canes, go where they ain’t.

Boats in com­mis­sion in the is­lands should keep a con­stant watch for trop­i­cal storm for­ma­tion and be­gin plot­ting their es­cape as early as pos­si­ble. Usu­ally, this means head­ing south to be well be­low the lat­i­tude of the south­ern­most is­land in a storm’s path.

In the case of Irma, Mar­tinique would have been far enough south. Mod­ern cruis­ing cata­ma­rans, if the ad­ver­tis­ing is to be be­lieved, have seven-league boots and can man­age 240 miles per day. At that rate, 36 hours af­ter leav­ing the Vir­gin Is­lands, a cata­ma­ran could be safely an­chored in Gre­nada.

My ad­vice, es­pe­cially if the storm was on a track to­ward the south­ern is­lands, would be to head south to Trinidad, by­pass­ing Ch­aguara­mas, with its over­crowded an­chor­age, poor hold­ing and re­vers­ing tide, and an­chor off Pointe-à-pierre, 120 miles south of Gre­nada.


Over the five decades I have been sell­ing yacht in­sur­ance, I have seen many scams that left yachts­men hung out to dry af­ter mak­ing a claim. I rec­om­mend buy­ing in­sur­ance through a bro­ker who will place it with ei­ther a U.S. in­sur­ance com­pany, a U.K. com­pany or a Lloyd’s syn­di­cate. (Lloyd’s is not a com­pany but an as­so­ci­a­tion of un­der­writ­ers that op­er­ates out of the Lloyd’s build­ing in Lon­don.) Dif­fer­ent in­sur­ance com­pa­nies have dif­fer­ent records on prompt and eq­ui­table pay­ment of claims, and so do Lloyd’s syn­di­cates, so check the bro­ker’s rep­u­ta­tion for set­tling claims, and also that of the back­ing in­sur­ance com­pany or Lloyd’s syn­di­cate.

Most in­sur­ance poli­cies pro­vide nor­mal cov­er­age for boats in com­mis­sion that are inside the “hur­ri­cane box” from June 1 to Novem­ber 30, but ex­clude dam­age re­sult­ing from a “named storm.”

Poli­cies that place the south­ern limit of the hur­ri­cane box at 12 de­grees 30 min­utes north, putting the south coast of Gre­nada out­side the box, cover boats in that area for named storms. A south­ern limit at 12 de­grees north puts all of Gre­nada inside the box, so boats un­der those poli­cies need to be in Trinidad to be cov­ered.

Ei­ther way, if a storm is on a track far enough south to strike Gre­nada, the best pol­icy is to head far­ther south. In­sured or not, a boat on the beach in Gre­nada or any­where else is no longer cruis­ing.

Sailors who de­com­mis­sion their boats for hur­ri­cane sea­son should make sure they are stored prop­erly ashore as de­scribed above.

Those who con­tinue cruis­ing in the sum­mer need to mon­i­tor ev­ery trop­i­cal dis­tur­bance for de­vel­op­ment, and have a plan for sailing well away from any pos­si­ble track that a trop­i­cal storm could fol­low.

Legendary Caribbean yachts­man and cruis­ing guide author Don Street knows hur­ri­canes. He re­mem­bers the hur­ri­cane of ’38 and made his first marine in­sur­ance claim in 1944, when the “Great Storm” of 1944 dam­aged the Snipe dinghy (Hull No. 3) he owned with his sis­ters in Man­has­set Bay, New York. In 2017, he ini­ti­ated a claim for 16 feet of gar­den wall that col­lapsed af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ophe­lia scored a direct hit on his home in Glan­dore, Ire­land.

While most sailors will re­call the scenes of car­nage from the 2017 hur­ri­canes, many boats also emerged un­scathed, such as these at the Cata­ma­ran Ma­rina on An­tigua.

There is an art and science to strap­ping down boats on jack stands and cra­dles, as marine sur­veyor Todd Duff ex­plains in “What Went Wrong” be­gin­ning on page 74.

Two suc­cess­ful meth­ods of se­cur­ing boats ashore dur­ing hur­ri­cane sea­son: Lloyd’s-ap­proved cra­dles are con­sid­ered to be one of the strong­est op­tions (left). Hur­ri­cane pits re­duce windage and the forces on stands and sup­ports (right).

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