Sunday, October 9, 2016

My life dealing with Hurricanes

In 1978 I encountered my first hurricane threat. It was from Hurricane David. I was 21 years old living in Islamorda Cay in the Florida Keys. I had just lost my 18' sailboat the Bilbo Baggins the year before from sinking after a hole was knocked in it when crossing the Gulf Stream for the third time. I ended up starting over in the Florida keys.
I was young and new to the Atlantic having just two years before sailed from the Pacfic into the Caribbean with my father on his ketch. Hurricane David was making a bee line for Florida and the Keys. My Father insisted I go with him in his truck and seek higher ground in the center of the state.
David passed by us as they still say today " safely out to sea" which means it was going through the Bahamas not Florida.
This was to be the start of my life living, working and sailing through out the Atlaintic basin with the thought in the back of my head every year... Where is the next storm going to land.
From the 70's through the 90's the way you kept track of hurricanes was by the radio. I never watched or had a TV. Forecasting was nothing like we have today. You knew a storm was coming because it had formed into a hurricane and was on its way. Forcasters would do the best they could to let you know what they thought would happen.
This all changed for me having sailed about the Caribbean from 1976 - 1992 with GERT in 1981 being the only hurricane I had to hide from when I was in the Keys in Shellan my Herrschoff Prudence sloop LaWanda and I had built. It was a cat 1 storm and gave me a taste of what would come.
My next encounter was when I was sitting at a bar in St. Croix having dinner. I was there as the Captain of a newly built catamran at Gold Coast Yachts. I had stored my sailboat the Hogfish in Stuart Florida in a very secure yard as I was to be delivering this cat to South Africa and would be gone for quite awhile. My wife and young daughter were visiting family in Canada. I had the cat ready for sea to leave and sail south if hurricane ANDREW was to get near St. Croix. No we were safe. At the bar I was watching the news. ANDREW was just offshore of my island Spanish Wells and predicted to stay on course and head up north. Within the time I had my dinner ANDREW made his left turn and as I watched through the night he laid waste to my island and all in his path on his way to Florida and history.

I've never trusted a forcast since then.

Since that time I became a hurricane detective. I wanted to know what survived, how, why and what to do next time. Both for homes on land and for boats in the water. To not just survive but to make it through without damage.

Following is a list of my encounters with hurricanes since ANDREW in 1992.

1995 - ERIN   Exumas  in Hogfish. Eye passed 4 miles to the East of us anchored at Highbourne cay. Wind speed 75 mph. No damage to us. The four of us aboard.
1999 - FLOYD  Titusville Florida in HFM just launched. Passed by just offshore. HFM at anchor alone in the bay in 3' of water. Wind speed 85 mph. No damage. Stayed ashore at Hells Bay Boatworks shop.
1999- IRENE Titusville with HFM at the dock. No damage. Stayed on the boat. Wind 90 mph.
2001- MICHELL goes over Spanish Wells but HFM is in Abaco. We anchor in 3' of water up against mangroves. No Damage. We all stay aboard bur feel nothing as tide is out and we are on the bottom.
Wind 80 mph.
2004- BONNIE a Tropical storm.   Wind speed 60 mph
           FRANCES  hurricane with wind speed of 145mph      All Russell Island Eluethera 
           JEANNE  hurricane with wind speed of 90 mph
Hurricane FRANCES eye passed right over our new little house on Russell Island. The other two storms pass right by but the eyes are just offshore. Our house no damage.
We are in the Azores on HFM. Sailing back almost 2 years later the leaves are still missing from the trees.
2005- EMILY  Grenada with HFM anchored in a small bay. 8 anchors out. No damage. I stay aboard for the experience and my girls stay in a bunker ashore. Wind 90 mph
2006- ERNESTO St. Augustine Florida. My girls are renting a house there going to school. They experience this. HFM. And I are in the Bahamas building our 2 and house.
2007- NOEL Spanish Wells Bahamas. HFM is anchored on a grass sand flat in 3' of water. I stay aboard. No damage to HFM or our little houses.         Wind 70 mph
2008- HANNA Spanish Wells Bahamas. HFM anchored in the mangroves in 3' of water. We stay in our little wood house. No Damage to HFM or our houses. Wind 70 mph
2011- IRENE Spanish Wells. HFM is in Florida. I'am building a trimaran. Our house sitter Bob stays in our finished house. He's 78. No damage. He complains our house was too quiet. No damage.
Wind 110 mph.
2012- SANDY Spanish Wells Bahamas. HFM anchored on usual sand flat in 3' of water at high tide. Storm passes by at low tide. HFM des not move an inche. No damage. We stay in our house.
Wind 110 mph.
2016- MATTHEW Spanish Wells again ! HFM in the mangroves. Rachel and I stay in our house.
No damage. Wind 55- 70 mph.

As you can see we have been through a few breezes, but have missed the really bad storms. Because we sail about the storms pathway we have to deal with the possiblitys of being in one. We do this by investing in anchors, rodes, good cleats and having a boat that can get away from the others.

On shore in our small homes we have built them from the ground up to have everything fastened with 3-16 surgical grade stainless steel fastenings through out. All the roofs are screwed not nailed. Everything is tied to the next thing. All things are way over built. This was easy and not too expensive as our homes are very small. 17'x21' and 12'x16'. It has paid off as we have had no damages at all. 

We are uninsured in both our houses and HFM. We self insure by building as strong as possible, knowing what to expect in the storms and aways looking out for places to get away from all the other boats. We have already saved the cost of HFM by doing this.

Last weeks wind and waves on Russell Island off of Eleuthera curtesy of hurricane Matthew.
Our house is on the point to the left with the two small pink shutters. The wind in this picture is blowing 65 mph. Rachel and I walked around the shoreline to see how the waves were affecting the different areas. We are at our friends house up on a ridge about 70' above the sea. The fetch in front of our place is 1-1/2 miles and the water is 10' at the deepest.

Our home the day before the storm. That's a very high tide. So far that's the highest we have seen the water since we built. It was a harvest moon tide but still about 2-3" higher than we have ever measured. So is it global warming or too many boats in the sea ?

The side of our house with the shutters down. Very secure.

The front of our place facing the sea. The pink doors are only closed for storms.

Under the upstairs porch we can lift these heavy Purple Heart shutters with blocks and line led to a cleat on the porch collum. I call it lowering the gates to Mordor when closing up for a blow.
All our house windows are vynel and double pain glass rated to 120 mph winds. I like the shutters over them as even with them covering the windows when it's blowing 110 mph against them you can feel the windows bowing inside. Kinda scary. Three of the houses in our neighborhood don't put on shutters and have been fine.

The HFM in Grenada in 2005 after going through hurricane EMILY. plenty anchors out. The eye went over us so we started out facing the shore and ended up going around 180 degrees as the storm passed over us at 90 mph. HFM had at any time 4 anchors spread apart so she was always held strait into the wind. But in the gusts she would lean over about 20 degrees. My wife and daughters stayed with a friend up the hill in a concrete  house built into the hill side. They could not feel a thing.

Rachel below on HFM last week. We are anchored in our little slot in the mangroves in 3' of water at high tide on Russell Island.

Because hurricane Matthew was predicted to pass over us as a cat 3 storm we put out lots of lines.
22 lines and 5 anchors. But he went to our west and we only felt minimum cat 1.

Hey girl..... Wanna hear my pickup line? We carry lots of line for storms. Over 3000' of 5/8", 3/4" and 1" nylon three strand rodes. Plus our collection of 2 Luke -55 lb fishermans, 2 Luke 75 lb fishermans a 75 lb Herrschoff fisherman, and a 66 Bruce on 3/8" chain.

Sorting the rodes on deck.

Hogfish is ready for the breeze.

The locals around us cut out these mangrove slips for their boats. They have been doing this for decades.

Our front porch during the storm last week. I'am peeking around the leeward house side to get the picture. The collums are a cut up Proctor sailboat mast from a 57' wrecked yacht.

Rachel on our back porch taking pictures. They all end up like pictures of gales at sea. Not very impressive.

Two Hatian sloops off of the Atlantis resort in Nassau. I hope they made it. Found this picture online.

This is our place after hurricane IRENE in 2011. The winds were 110 mph. You can see the trees really got blown and burned by the wind and salt water flying by.

It's kinda sad afterwards but once the burned leaves fall off and it rains they all just seem to rebound quite well. 

Here's our place when we started in 2002. Just us, a generator and no neighbors. The pond you see was fresh water with fresh water fish in it.

This is how it looked in 2011. 

Here we are last week in 2016. Things have grown up. Now there's 18 house around us. Storm is coming in the morning.

During the storm our small 8x8' dock blew away. I designed it to come loose as I wanted to save the pilings. The dock wood I had salvaged off the shore years ago for free.
I knew that it would be down the shore line on the first beach and sure enough it was. Along with a bunch more planks from other docks. Mine was in one piece but I just took it apart to make it easier to transport back.

A couple hours work.

 Rachel with one of two boats that sank during the storm. Not from waves but from rain, no bilge pumps and the wind tipping them on their sides.

We have been lucky. But we have been prepared. Both in our home ashore and afloat. I really am glad we have not gone through any cat 3 or worse storms. I will just leave it to my imagination.

Having a home midway down the bowling alley of hurricanes mean you will have to deal with them.
Our island has delt with 65 hurricanes since they started tracking them in the 1800s. 

We are slated to have one every 2-1/2 years by the percentage numbers.


Alan Jones said...

Great post and a very enjoyable read. It shows how being prepared pays off. Thanks for putting it out there Chris!

Unknown said...

Glad you all weathered it well! I am in Jacksonville and we received about the same top winds. No damage, just a bunch of branches in the yard. Lots of others in the area had a much harder go of it.

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