The weather here in the Caribbean is getting scary. It’s hurricane season and we’ve had six named tropical storms so far. First came Arlene, which formed unusually early in April and fizzled out in the central Atlantic. In June, Bret struck Trinidad, Tobago and Venezuela, followed by Cindy, which developed off the Yucatan and punched into Louisiana. In July came Don, which lashed the Windward Islands, and Emily, which ripped across Florida from the Gulf of Mexico. Franklin is due to make landfall on the Yucatan tonight. Rain, wind, flooding, significant property damage and several deaths have been the overall toll.
Though none of the storms impacted Corroboree, they have raised our level of alert. With our rebuilt engine now installed—hooray!—we are staying an extra day or two in Puerto Rico while we monitor yet another tropical disturbance that threatened to come our way. It now appears it will skim to the northeast, and once the wind and waves have passed we can leave. Sometimes it feels as if we’re being overly cautious, but we have no desire to experience a repeat of Hurricane Matthew, which devastated St. Augustine last October. Though Corroboree rode it out successfully at her mooring, other boats weren’t as lucky. To see a sunken boat, to see someone’s dreams demolished, hits all too close to home.
So what exactly are we doing to prepare for hurricane season? First and foremost, we have created a written Hurricane Plan. This is required by most insurance companies for boats operating in the Caribbean, and our insurer provided us with a two-page form. The form, however, assumed Corroboree would be hauled out and stored in a shipyard for the duration of hurricane season. Since we plan to continue voyaging, we need to take extra precautions.
We began by researching the cruising guides for information on “hurricane holes.” An ideal hurricane hole is an anchorage that is almost completely enclosed by land. These occur naturally along many coastlines and are well known to local sailors. Well-protected marinas can also serve this purpose. In addition, other bays and anchorages may provide good shelter. Longtime sailors advise tying up among the mangroves, nature’s own defense against powerful storms. The mangroves cradle your boat and absorb the wind and swell. Tying up to mangroves is prohibited in some areas, however.
A bigger problem is that the Caribbean has become so chockablock with both private and charter boats that in the event of an approaching storm, the known hurricane holes and marinas quickly fill. And since no hurricane hole can ever be deemed 100% safe, a better option, provided you have enough warning, is to get out of the storm’s path altogether. From our current position in Puerto Rico, probably our best bet is to sail south nonstop to Grenada (440 miles) or Trinidad (530 miles), both of which are generally considered to be below the hurricane belt. Except that Trinidad, as mentioned above, got whacked by Bret in June, proving nothing is certain.
A key element to surviving hurricane season in the Caribbean, therefore, is to constantly monitor the weather. We do that through a number of sources. WindyTV, an app and website we learned about in Bimini from two Swiss sailors, displays wind conditions in real time anywhere in the world for up to ten days. WeatherTrack does the same in the form of GRIB files, graphic files that show wind vectors, precipitation, cloud cover and other weather phenomena. The Weather Channel, NOAA, and Weather Underground are also at our service. When we’re out of wi-fi range, we can still get minimal weather reports on our Delorme satellite phone.
But the most important part of a hurricane plan is to act immediately on learning of a developing storm. Don’t wait for it to become a hurricane. Don’t linger to see how strong it’s going to get. If you are the least bit likely to be anywhere in its path, pull up anchor and scoot to safety, whether that means heading for the nearest marina or changing course to avoid its wrath.
Ironically, following that simple advice can be the hardest part of the plan for sailors to grasp and implement. It seems silly to panic over a tiny depression that’s two thousand miles out at sea and only just beginning to register on the radar map. That’s why Eric and I reinforce it to each other whenever the subject arises. Don’t wait—Act! We want it cemented into our heads so there’s no arguing back.
Our insurance company accepted our written hurricane plan, and we are cleared to continue our voyage down the islands. For those interested in the details, the full document is included below. In the end, no plan can ever be foolproof, especially where the workings of nature are involved. But we want our family and friends to know we are doing everything we can to stay safe in the months ahead. We hope all of you in hurricane-prone areas will plan ahead and stay safe, too.
HURRICANE PLAN – S/Y CORROBOREE
Insured’s full name: Eric W. Sponberg, Arliss Ryan
Address: 411 Walnut St., #11983, Green Cove Springs, FL 32043
Phone: (Mobile #1) 904-460-9494 (Mobile #2) 904-806-1824
DETAILS OF YACHT
Vessel Name: CORROBOREE
Type / Model: Stephenson Yachts, Sponberg 35
Date Built: 1988
Port of Registry: St. Augustine, FL
Hull Identification Number: MCZ872390488
Other Identification Number: ON 927519
If different from above, who is going to be responsible for the vessel before and after the hurricane?
Name: Owners, as above
What is the name, address, and contact details of the marina or residence where the vessel is kept?
Corroboree has no set residence or marina. The owners are on a cruise around the world.
How frequently do you or the person named above visit the vessel if not permanently crewed?
The owners are living board the vessel.
Is the vessel in a single slip? If so, what is the clearance between the insured vessel and surrounding docks and piers?
Not applicable, there is no permanent residence for the vessel.
Is the insured vessel in a single slip with a neighboring vessel? If so, what is the distance between the widest beam of the insured vessel and the neighboring vessel?
How many lines are going to be used to secure the vessel and what is the diameter and material of those lines?
The mooring of the vessel will depend on the arrangements of the anchorage or marina at hand. We have multiple lines of 7/16”, 1/2”, 5/8” Dacron yacht braid and 3/4” 3-strand Nylon line that can be used for securing the vessel. The vessel also has two primary anchors: a 35-lb. CQR plow anchor with 150’ of 5/16” G40 galvanized chain, and a 33-lb Bruce Claw anchor with 100’ of 5/16” G40 galvanized chain plus 150’ of 3/4” Nylon 3-strand line.
Is the slip covered by a roof or building?
Does the slip have overhead power lines?
Which direction is the slip facing?
This will depend on the marina of refuge chosen.
If the Insured Vessel is a sailboat will the vessel be hauled and blocked ashore during hurricane season?
If a marina is selected as a refuge, then yes, the vessel will be hauled and blocked ashore during the passage of the hurricane.
If the Insured Vessel is a sailboat, does she have a “hurricane pit” and will it be used through the hurricane season?
It is not expected that the sailboat will be stored in a hurricane pit.
Will all canvas and/or cushions and/or outriggers be removed?
If the vessel is to be moved to a hurricane hole, what is the travel time by water & if there are any bridges will they open prior to the hurricane?
See the ADDENDUM below.
What arrangements have you made for the safety of your vessel in the event that a named storm warning is issued?
See the ADDENDUM below.
What are your alternative plans in the event that the above plan becomes unlikely?
See the ADDENDUM below.
Have you ever had to prepare for a storm before (Yes or No)?
Yes. The vessel survived Hurricane Matthew in October, 2016 in St. Augustine, FL.
If so, we would appreciate any tips or comments you may have.
The vessel’s regular residence was on a St. Augustine city-owned mooring in Salt Run near the lighthouse (a protected cove). We elected to leave the vessel on its mooring during Hurricane Matthew because it had good wind and wave protection from all sides except the northwest, and it was far away from any other boats and structures. We felt this was safer than taking the boat to the boat yard for haulout, where we had carried out a year-long refit, because it would have been in close proximity to other boats and buildings of questionable condition. At the mooring, we removed as much of the top hamper as possible (canvas bimini and lines) and doubled-up on the mooring lines—4 x 5/8” Dacron yacht braid versus the normal 2 mooring lines. Some period of the hurricane was from the northwest, but the vessel weathered the storm well—wind, waves, and surge. We had not removed the sails and sail covers, and the sail covers were damaged, although the sails themselves survived just fine. The sail covers subsequently were replaced new at our expense, and we will definitely remove both sails and covers next time. The boatyard where we could have hauled out did experience damage to buildings on the site which could have impacted vessels in the yard, so we felt we made the right choice by leaving our vessel on the mooring.
All material facts must be disclosed to Underwriters whether or not the subject of a specific question above. A material fact is one which a prudent Underwriter would regard as likely to influence the acceptance or assessment of the proposal. Non-disclosure or misrepresentation of material fact may result in the insurance being void. If you are in any doubt about whether facts would be considered material, you should disclose them.
I declare that the particulars and answers are correct and complete in every respect to my knowledge and belief. I agree that this declaration shall for the basis of the contract of insurance between me and the Underwriters if a policy is issued.
I further declare and agree that if the statement and particulars above have been completed in handwriting of any other person other that the undersigned, such person is deemed to be the agent of the proposer for the purpose of completion purposes.
Eric W Sponberg
Date: 2 June 2017
Corroboree Hurricane Plan for the Caribbean 2017
Background: Corroboree is a 35’ sailing yacht owned by Eric W. Sponberg and Arliss Ryan. The boat left St. Augustine in January 2017 on a circumnavigation and is now at Puerto del Rey Marina, Fajardo, Puerto Rico. The boat will be at a marina slip here until late June, then proceed to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and south through the Caribbean to Grenada.
Hurricane Options: Our hurricane plan depends on our location when the hurricane forecast is made.
#1 – If a hurricane is forecast while we are still at Puerto del Rey Marina, we will haul out here. We are already familiar with the marina, and it has excellent security and storage facilities.
#2 – If we have left Puerto del Rey but are still within the US or British Virgin Islands, we will return to Puerto del Rey for haul out.
#3 – If we are in the Leeward Islands (Anguilla through Dominica), we will head for either English Harbour or Falmouth Harbour on Antigua. Both are recommended hurricane holes and also have haul-out facilities. Jolly Harbour Marina on Antigua also has haul-out facilities and good protection.
#4 –If we are in the Windward Islands (Martinique through Grenada), we will head for either Martinique or St. Lucia. On Martinique, Cul de Sac Marin is a recommended hurricane hole and has Port de Plaisance du Marin Marina which has haul-out facilities. On St. Lucia, Marigot Bay is a recommended hurricane hole both for anchoring and for Marigot Bay Marina. Also on St. Lucia, Rodney Bay Marina is well protected and has haul-out facilities.
If a developing hurricane is forecast far enough in advance, our best course of action will be to sail south out of the hurricane zone altogether. From Puerto del Rey we are 440 miles from Grenada and 530 miles from Trinidad, a 4-6 day sail if the winds are favorable. As we proceed further south, that distance will decrease, and this option will become increasingly feasible.
LOCATIONS: Latitude Longitude
Puerto de Rey Marina, Puerto Rico: N18° 17.34’ W065° 38.21’
English Harbour, Antigua: N17° 00.37’ W061° 45.70’
Falmouth Harbour, Antigua: N17° 01.00’ W061° 46.43’
Jolly Harbor, Antigua: N17° 03.98’ W061° 53.01’
Cul de Sac Marin, Martinique: N14° 27.40’ W060° 52.73’
Port de Plaisance du Marin Marina, N14° 28.12’ W060° 52.02’
Marina at Marigot Bay, St. Lucia: N13° 57.94’ W061° 01.41’
Rodney Bay Marina, St. Lucia: N14° 04.54’ W060° 56.89’