How to Reason With Hurricane Season

I’m pleased to report that I have no first-hand experience with hurricane-force winds in my cruising experiences on Moonshadow. While I’ve ridden out two hurricanes, one on a 40,000 ton ship and the other in a hotel room, that was enough to convince me that I wanted to be as far away from this type of weather as possible.

That said, I am a firm believer that with hurricanes, avoidance is the key. It is our practice, and our insurer’s requirement, that we leave the tropics during the summer hurricane season. This is still, however, no guarantee that one won’t encounter the odd out-of-season tropical cyclone, or that a hurricane won’t wander north or south out of the tropics into our summer cruising grounds in the sub-tropics.

This is exactly what happened in 1997 in Mexico. Hurricane Nora formed in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico and headed out to sea in a northwesterly direction. It then made a big U-turn and came back to Mexico, making landfall near the middle of the Baja Peninsula, then turned north in the Sea of Cortez and moved right up into the state of Arizona.

Between the Satcom C weather information, the Chubasco Net and other cruiser’s nets, we kept up to date on Nora’s location, wind velocities and projected track. Since we were cruising in the lower part of the Sea of Cortez, we made a beeline to the nearest hurricane hole which was Puerto Escondido, near the town on Loreto on the east coast of the Baja Peninsula. Puerto Escondido is a natural hurricane hole, almost completely surrounded by land, and flanked to the west by a large mountain range. At one point, Nora was forecast to come right over us, but we reckoned that the mountains would serve to block some of her full force. As it turned out, she passed well north of us and all we saw were heavy rains and a few hours of winds in the 30-35 knot range.

If we were caught out with a hurricane bearing down on us, we would look for some sort of landform that would give us protection from wind and waves. A place where a small body of water is almost completely surrounded by land, preferably high ground, with a bottom composition that provides for good anchor holding is the ideal situation. Puerto Escondido in Baja is a bit deeper than I like (average about 40-60 feet) but pretty good. Vuda Point Marina and Musket Cove in Fiji both look to me to be excellent. The bay behind Oyster Island off the coast of Espiritu Santo looks pretty good and has been used by those cruising in northern Vanuatu. In the absence of a hurricane hole, I would look for a mangrove swamp, run the boat up a narrow creek, anchor and tie up to the mangroves. You may end up with some scratches in the topsides, but you should stay put and be protected from large seas and a lot of flying debris.

Our ground tackle consists of our regular anchor, which is a 110 pound Bruce with 300 feet of 10mm chain, a folding fisherman anchor, two very large aluminum Danforth style anchors, and three 250 foot, one inch diameter nylon warps. How we would deploy all this would depend on the protection available, the bottom composition, swing room, availability of moorings, pilings, trees, etc. My preference would be to hang on one rode with at least two anchors attached for best holding. For emergency chafe gear, I carry a couple of yards of old fireman’s hose. This can be easily cut and put over lines at potential chafe points. We have also used old rags or towels held in place by duct tape to protect our lines.

I suggest that in the comfort of your home or marina, that you create a hurricane procedure checklist. When it all turns to custard out there, and you might not be thinking clearly, it is nice to have a step-by-step list of things to do to prepare yourself and your yacht for the worst. I keep min (copy attached) in my “emergency procedures” binder at the nav station.

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