Hello from beautiful St. Thomas!
At least it is today, but we still have a few weeks of an active hurricane season left on the calender. This post is in response to a post over on the BCC Forum. I was asked to write about how I secure Shanti in the mangroves for a hurricane. So I will talk about my experiences with 4 hurricanes and how I survived them basically intact.
So far after 25 years in the Caribbean I have been through 4 hurricanes. Marilyn was a cat 2-3 and I saw the eye. We caught the NE quadrant and it destroyed the island. 80% of the electrical infrastructure was knocked out. Extensive physical damage with thousands of damaged roofs and whole houses leveled. I rode this one out aboard Angelsea. I had water, food, fuel, communications and a box of Snickers Bars. I did quite well during the storm. After watching the barometer bottom out and start back up I went to bed. Next day I awoke to see total destruction of St. Thomas. So I pulled up my anchors bent on my sails and sailed over to the BVI. They were far enough away from the eye that I could get a shower and a cold drink. I did suffer some damage. I lost my VHF antenna.
Massive loss of boats during Hurricane Marilyn. Anchorage was too exposed to the south.
There were approximately 85 boats anchored in the main harbor of St. Thomas at the beginning of the storm. There were 5 boats left after the storm. The local Coast Guard cutter was up on the waterfront. It’s really strange when you hear the USCG putting out a mayday.
Our earliest hurricane was next. Hurricane Bertha past to our North, a little closer than Earl as a CAT2 hurricane on July 6th, 1996. We had 60-80kts of wind. I was watching out my port hole when a whole huge tree blew past. I suffered no damage and St. Thomas had been hardened by Hurricane Marilyn.
September 21, 1998 brought in Hurricane Georges. Even though the weather service said we had 60-80kts of wind from Georges, it didn’t seem any where near as strong as Bertha. Georges past about 35 miles to our south close to St. Croix as a CAT2 And we caught the NE quadrant. But Angelsea rode her out very nicely. Again no damage.
Finally this year, August 30th, a couple of weeks ago, we saw Hurricane Earl. Earl passed about 80 miles to our north as a CAT3 and we saw 50-70kts of wind. 40 boats were put ashore or sunk. All of these were in anchorages exposed to the west. For 4-5 hours we saw the wind back between W and SW and blow 50-70kts. So the west facing anchorages got hammered. (see previous post). Of course my new BCC “Shanti” rode the storm out in fine fashion.
Hurricane tracks for the Virgin Islands. 1995 to present.
So where did I weather all these storms? The MANGROVES!
My favorite hurricane hole for St. Thomas, Benners Bay.
To see my hurricane hole on St. Thomas click here for Google Earth, then click “open”. You need Google Earth installed on your computer. Or you can click on the photo above, although it’s not as good as GE.
What I look for in a hurricane hole
I would ideally like no more than a couple of hundred yards of fetch in any one direction. This idea comes from the fact that you never know exactly which way a hurricane will go. So I like to prepare for wind and waves from any quadrant. And of course it goes without saying that you want good holding. Most times it’s the waves, not the wind that causes most of the problems. In my previous post I mentioned 2 boats that lost there masts from extreme pitching of their vessels. Of course, a weak rig may have also been a big factor. One of the boats in question may have also left a sail on that got loose in the wind. I have not had a chance to take a closer look. Of course this is not a perfect world and you or I may have to accept less than ideal in some circumstances. Let’s hope that never happens.
Why I like mangroves
- Extremely protected. Usually no more than 500ft fetch in any one direction.
- 30ft high mangrove trees make a good wind break.
- Mangrove trees are extremely strong. Excellent to tie off to.
- Usually mangrove areas are very shallow allowing one to put out enough scope for storm conditions and some extra for storm surge.
- Great holding. Usually a soft clay/hard mud bottom. Very sticky, but a mess to clean up after words.
Please keep in mind that mangrove areas are shallow. I would strongly suggest checking out any mangrove areas first BEFORE you need them. I made sketch charts for the areas I was interested in long before any hurricanes arrived. You will need a lead line or use your boat hook as a sounding pole. Also, mangrove areas are popular, so go early to get a good spot. And don’t be surprised that you may need to re-secure poorly secured boats next to you, put there by bare boat companies or people who just don’t know.
Places I don’t like
- Areas with more than 1 mile of open water. The lagoon in St. Marteen is an excellent example. They lost 1500 boats in Hurricane Louis. Many areas in the lagoon have more then 2 miles of fetch. Also be weary of areas protected by reefs. With a storm surge, all of a sudden there is no protecting reef.
- Boat yards. They can be good, but can also be a disaster in the making. Use only a yard that ties the stands together athwart ships. Do not use a yard that has a dirt base. Flooding can undermine the stands. One of the best ideas I have seen is on the island of Virgin Gorda in the BVI. They dig trenches for the boats keel to sit in.
- Docks are a bad idea. The storm surge can lift a vessel over the pillings and pound a hole in your freshly waxed hull. Or just beat your vessel against the dock. Either way your SUNK.
- Boat yards can be a disaster.
Thats all for now. The next post will cover How I secure the boat.