for a hurricane
cruise for pleasure and adventure and dislike being cold, wet, and
frightened. During our 70,000 miles of voyaging in our Beneteau
First 38 Bagheera, we have never been in risky areas during
the dangerous weather season; but the memory of two near-misses with
cyclones during the supposedly safe season in Australia and the
Indian Ocean always keeps us on the alert. Hurricane Floyd first
came to our notice in early September 1999 when we were cruising the
Atlantic coast of Canada, preparing to head south to the Chesapeake.
Hurricane Floyd was soon showing the potential to be one of the
biggest hurricanes in years, forcing us to keep a wary eye on the
weatherfax pictures of its progress.
Hurricane Floyd conducted many
a sailmaker's symphony
on its way up the coast—a nerve-wracking sound
accompanying the demise of a sail flogged to pieces.
A pleasant, 12-knot north-westerly
breeze met our departure from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia for Marblehead,
MA. Hurricane Floyd was then still west of the Bahamas, but growing
into a category-four hurricane three times larger in area than
Hurricane Andrew, which had devastated the Florida coast in 1992.
Massive evacuations along the US East Coast heightened our concerns,
as did the predictions that Floyd would turn north and east,
threatening the entire coast from Florida to Nova Scotia.
After an easy, 60-hour passage we
arrived in Marblehead and cleared with customs to find the harbour
crammed with yachts on their moorings. There was no room to anchor,
and the anchorage was exposed to the northeast. By this time Floyd
was punishing the northern Bahamas with winds of 135 knots, gusting
to 165 knots, producing towering 36-foot seas. We asked around for a
good hurricane hole. "Don't worry," the local sentiment went, "We
never get hurricanes here." Given the unpredictable nature of these
storms, we were not entirely convinced, and noticing fishermen
pouring into the harbour with their boats piled high with pots
bolstered our sense of urgency. With two days left to find a
suitable haven, we left Marblehead and headed for Boston Harbour.
A cat's cradle in a
is one way to ride out the storm.
Our confidence that there would be
ample room for visitors was soon put to the test. Marinas were
trying to clear boats out rather than check in transients, and every
travelift in the area was working overtime. We moored downtown and
rushed to the offices of SAIL magazine.
"A hurricane hole in Boston?"
exclaimed editor Patience Wales, "That is not a usual request!"
Instantly rising to the situation, she called Webb Chiles, four-time
circumnavigator and liveaboard at the Constitution Marina. He went
to bat for us at the marina office and, with some reluctance, the
marina allowed us in.
By now, Floyd was continuing to
create havoc up the coast. There was some speculation that the
hurricane might turn out to sea at Cape Cod, but if it continued on
its present course it would hit Boston the following night.
Boat owners and marina staff went
into a frenzy of activity. Bagheera was on the end of the
dock so we set two large anchors—our usual 33-pound main anchor,
which had 300 feet of 3/16-inch chain, and a 45-pound CQR on 80 feet
of chain and 300 feet of 3/4-inch octoplait line—from the bow to the
north and east, the most exposed directions. We also carry a
44-pound storm anchor and a 22-pound Danforth kedge weights. Being
in a double slip with no neighbours, we were able to weave a web of
nylon lines that kept us sprung from the docks all around. These
docks were secured by heavy chains and anchors rather than piles, so
there was plenty of give to the swell and no danger of the floats
being lifted off the piles by the expected storm surge. We
remembered well the damage inflicted in Bundaberg, Australia, where
a cyclone had created such a surge—over twelve feet high—that docks,
complete with boats, were lifted off the piles and driven ashore.
There's plenty to set and
in the face of a hurricane.
The morning was spent removing
sails, lines, cockpit cushions, and gear and stowing everything
below. Halyards were wrapped around shrouds, flags were struck, the
bimini came down, bilge pumps were checked, and the steering gear
The local TV station was
broadcasting information on Floyd's destructive progress on a
full-time basis, and it appeared that the eye would pass right over
Boston at about 2:00 in the morning. During the afternoon, the
atmosphere in the marina became tense as the barometer plunged and
teeming rain caused an instant flood in the parking lot and
surrounding roads. The winds continued to rise and it became
increasingly difficult to walk safely down the slick, windswept
It's a lot easier to take
down the genoa before
it is blown to tatters and wraps around
the headstay in hurricane-force winds.
Plus, you can still use it later.
Expecting to have a sleepless
night, Andy catnapped for much of the afternoon. I phoned friends in
Annapolis, MD. Winds there were at 50 knots, but all was well in the
marina in Back Creek. After a final check on the boat, we went to
bed after sunset. Minimum winds were at 25 knots, with strong
"bullets" that whipped through at 40.
Years aboard have made us very
sensitive to changes in conditions, so we were not concerned that we
would be caught asleep if the wind increased to dangerous levels.
Prepared for the worse, it was with surprise that we woke at 2:00 in
the morning to find that, while the wind was now blowing a full
gale, few gusts exceeded 50 knots, and there was no wave action. The
next time we woke it was dawn and the storm had passed. What had
It appeared that our haven was in a
great spot. The eye did indeed pass right over Boston, and the steep
drop in pressure displayed on our barograph had been followed by an
equally steep rise, displaying an impressive 33-millibar spread.
Exposed areas close to us, particularly at the nearby airport, had
experienced storm-force winds. We were lucky that our marina was
directly downwind of downtown Boston, so we were sheltered by its
high-rise buildings as the hurricane approached, and subsequently by
the industrial and residential buildings to the north of the marina
when the wind switched around behind the eye. This, coupled with
being at the bottom of a nine-foot tide at the time of maximum wind,
gave us complete shelter from damaging wind and wave forces.
The following morning we spent
recovering anchors and replacing stowed gear. Our plan was to find
an anchorage for the night some miles away at the entrance to the
bay in readiness for a dawn departure for Cape Cod. While we knew
that there was still some strength in the wind, we were surprised
nonetheless by its vigour when we cleared the shelter of the inner
harbour and found ourselves surfing under bare poles from gusts
exceeding 50 knots. It was a relief to tuck in behind an island at
dusk and find good holding ground.
When Bagheera headed out the
next morning, all signs of the storm had vanished and we motored
south on a glassy sea. As we stopped at various anchorages, it was
obvious that most boat owners had taken Floyd seriously. Everywhere
we found boats hauled or stripped of gear as a precaution, although
we did see several sunken dinghies and many furling genoas in
In spite of satellite
surveillance and many years of research, meteorologists are
still unable to predict with certainty the path and strength
of one of these super-storms and largely rely on the
historical behaviour of previous hurricanes. As several of the
recent hurricanes in the Caribbean have proved, these storms
can follow erratic paths. It is therefore important that
cruisers make an early decision to sail to a good hurricane
hole or out of the hurricane belt.
When winds associated with a
tropical depression reach gale force, 34 knots or more, a name
is given to the depression. Above 48 knots the depression
graduates to a tropical storm, and at 64 knots it becomes a
hurricane, categorized from one to five, the latter being the
The term hurricane is
used in the Americas. In the China Seas they are called
typhoons, and in Australia and the Indian Ocean they are known
as cyclones. They are usually seasonal: in the Northern
Hemisphere, between June and November, and in the Southern
Hemisphere, from November to June. It is unusual to encounter
them within five degrees of the equator.
DANGERS AT SEA
The dangers to vessels from
hurricanes are mainly from the huge, breaking seas built up by
the winds that can engulf small craft. A storm surge, seeming
like an abnormally high tide, usually accompanies a hurricane
as it approaches land. Surges of over 10 feet are not uncommon
and can cause huge flooding, especially if they coincide with
a high tide.
If threatened by
hurricane-force winds while at anchor, it is prudent to leave
the boat and seek refuge ashore. A common danger in a crowded
anchorage is boats dragging, damaging other vessels and
putting lives at risk. The extreme flooding is also of
significance to the safety of cruisers, whether at anchor or
at the dock. After Floyd, the Neuse River, located in NC, was
reported to be 28 feet above normal.
Although in our case extreme
preparations had proved unnecessary, it was a good exercise in
stripping the deck and also a reminder that one can never
ignore the possibility of strong winds, or expect facilities
to be available, even in a major centre.
Experts now predict an
increase in hurricanes due to global warming. "We lived in
Antigua for nearly 40 years with no hurricanes," friends told
us recently, "and now in the last 10 years, there have been
direct hits from three and a close brush with a fourth, well
after the Caribbean hurricane season should normally have
Hurricane Floyd reinforced
the need to be out of the hurricane area during the bad
weather season (something most insurance companies demand) and
the necessity of a long-distance radio (or at least a
short-wave receiver with SSB capabilities) for receiving