Hurricane Preparedness and Hurricane Avoidance

Hurricane Season Fast Approaching


Hurricane Season Fast Approaching
By Paul Anselmo, VP of Smith-Merritt Insurance
From June through November I get numerous calls from clients and Captains asking me what the hurricane plan should be for their yacht. One yacht is in Miami, another in Bermuda and another is in Puerto Rico. There are so many different plans to utilize depending on where a yacht is geographically located but the main question is always: “what’s the best plan?” That’s a tough question to answer because one can never accurately predict the track of a hurricane. The most important thing is to always have a plan for the different waters your yacht will be fishing in the summer and fall.
Before 2003 most yacht insurance carriers never asked for a yacht’s hurricane plan. But after the destruction caused by the 2004 & 2005 hurricane seasons, underwriters are demanding thorough hurricane plans from the owners. Alternate plans are just as important. I’ve seen carriers find many hurricane plans unacceptable due to poor planning and/or not having an alternate course of action. Poorly thought out hurricane plans transcend onto the paper document that is submitted to the underwriter. 
With the 2008 hurricane season fast approaching, there are questions that many yacht owners and Captains still have in regards of how to best formulate a hurricane plan and when to put a good plan into action or try "Plan B”. In order to gain more insight from a Captain who has had experience utilizing different hurricane plans, Bobby Brown from the 58’ Merritt CUTNAIL answers a few questions about hurricane preparedness and plan implementation.
Is there anything in particular that you purchase before hurricane season starts? 
Good working dock lines that are at least the next size up from your normal dock lines. Having two complete sets would be preferable.  Also make sure you have a good supply of some sort of chafing gear for dock lines. Naturally try to keep fuel tanks full during the season so as not to have to rush around looking for fuel on the approach of a storm. Have an ample supply of fuel filters, spare motor oil, bottled drinking water and good sized poly ball fenders.
If the CUTNAIL was in Fort Lauderdale and you had a slow, erratic moving hurricane approaching from the south, what would your plan be?
If we were in Fort Lauderdale and a storm was approaching from the South or South West, as Wilma did a couple of years ago, I would take the boat to Merritt’s boatyard in Pompano to either haul it out of the water and store it on the hard or secure it under the concrete shed.  There’s not much surge to worry about with a storm from the South so under the shed will be fine.  
What recommendations do you have to secure a yacht while on the hard?
First, all the bridge and cockpit enclosures and covers need to be removed and stored.  The outriggers should be removed and secured in a safe place so as not to blow around. Remove any loose chair backs and other gear and store inside the boat.  Tape-off all lockers, cabinets, door openings, bridge electronic cabinets or covers and hatches to stop the intrusion of dirt, sand and water.  This is especially necessary with engine room doors/hatches and the salon door.  Either remove or fold down antennas and secure with ample line to the tower legs.  Lastly, make sure all chocks and jack stands are as tight and secure as possible, and tie the jack stands together to avoid slippage if the wind tries to shift the boat.  
If you were going to ride-out a storm in a slip, what kind of lines would you use and how would you have your lines situated?
I would use braided dacron or nylon lines of at least one inch diameter.  The braided lines are stronger than the twisted nylon of the same diameter, however, they do not stretch much.  If surging back and forth is a problem and there could be a problem with loosening of cleats or chocks, go to the twisted nylon the next size larger than the braided line.  I would have at least 4 bow lines, 4 spring lines on each side and 4 stern lines.  Many larger boats have two spring cleats on each side, so fore and aft springs off of each cleat is the way to go. Same on the opposite side if there are pilings available. 
If you rode-out a storm in a slip with other yachts nearby, what tips would you give surrounding Captains to prepare their yachts as best as possible?
The proximity of other vessels during a storm is probably one of my biggest concerns when in a slip.  No matter how well you prepare and secure your vessel, if another vessel breaks loose then you are in trouble. You need to make sure other vessels are secured as well as you, and hopefully manned with a full crew, fenders and extra lines.

If the CUTNAIL was in St. Thomas and you had a hurricane fast approaching from the east, what would your hurricane plan be?
My plan would be to start heading southwest to circumnavigate the storm. Ideally I would depart early enough to get to the southwest of the storm center outside of the gale wind radius then head in a southerly direction varying my speed to the forward progress of the storm.  This angle will constantly spiral you out from the eye and then around the bottom of the storm and then back to where you came from with following seas and calming winds.  All this will offer a quick return to the islands after the storm passes.  The reasoning for this plan is that a hurricane or storm rarely, if ever, moves to the south in that area of the Caribbean and almost always to the west or northwest. Having another yacht circumnavigate a storm with you is a great idea. It ensures safety in numbers, communications and help in the event of a mechanical failure. 

I first implemented this plan back in 1995 on the 65’ Merritt MISSGUIDED after running from St. Thomas to Curacao for Hurricane Luis.  The run took a couple of days to get there, a thousand or so gallons of fuel, and 2 days to get back. Two weeks later, Hurricane Marilyn was approaching and I talked to Captain Bill Borer on the EL ZORRO and Captain Brad Simons on BLANK CHECK about my plan and they agreed to give it a try.  When we got out to our spot to the west of the eye I was surprised to see the US Coast Guard cutters from Puerto Rico out there along with other ships.  We chugged at 5-6 knots that night and had winds less than 25 knots and a little rain.  Keeping up with the storm’s progress and positions via the sat phone, and winds off the starboard stern a few degrees, we spiraled our way around the bottom of the storm and got back into St Thomas at 3:00PM the next day. We hardly had any spray on the boat. The storm’s eye had passed directly over St. Thomas with 200+ mph winds at 5:30AM that morning.


Do you have any other important tips to give others for storm preparedness?

​​My advice is to always have a storm plan and a contingency plan if things change. Don’t wait till the last minute. Circumnavigating a storm will really only hold true when in the Caribbean as there is ample distance to the closest land mass to the south. In the Bahamas and Florida there is either Cuba or Hispaniola in the way and one could get caught with no escape. If in the Bahamas, consider heading back to Florida and get on the hard or inland if possible.