SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Surviving a Hurricane

August 18, 2014

We're a little different. We raised three boys on a 34 foot sailboat. We sail when others would motor. We put out second and third anchors while others are content to hang--and then drag--from one. And we tolerate the gainsayers who say storms will turn, dissipate, or otherwise not impact us--then we prepare Eurisko for the worst. Because sometimes that's what happens.

Monday, October 13, 2008, Chris Parker of the Caribbean Weather Center was calling for a tropical storm, possible category one hurricane, to pass St. Croix late Wednesday night. After his report, we immediately went to the boaters' hang out. The first person we told said, "That storm? No, it's already past us." To which Dave replied, "So was Lenny." The second person we told, we offered use of our extra anchors and help setting them. He humored us for one anchor, but when we suggested another he declined. By Thursday morning, both of these boats would be on the rocks.


Under that tree is our son's boat

We have spare anchors because we started planning for Omar in June. For seven years we have worked for six months to fill the cruising kitty, then run for hurricane-safe cover for the season. This year, various reasons caused us to alter our plans and work for a year straight, with the hopes of adventuring for all the following year. Which put us on St. Croix for hurricane season. The only way we felt safe was hauled out, against a story and a half block building that was Dave's temporary boat shop.

In June Dave built a custom wooden cradle, hired a crane and truck, and we lived on Eurisko on the hot, buggy, dirty, and miserable hard. With the coming of Omar, we were glad we had invested the time and money months earlier to secure our home.


Stone Free

Monday afternoon, Omar minus two days, we reinforce the cradle. Dave tied her to the building with two lines off the port side, then made a bridle and tied her to the base of the telephone pole across the yard to starboard. We were on land, and we were still secured by more lines than most of the boats in the harbor.

Tuesday morning, Chris was saying the Virgin Islands were going to get pounded by a near miss Cat 1 hurricane at best, a direct hit from a Cat 3 at worst. Still, only a few boaters put out extra anchors; fewer yet stripped their boats. The boats with sails, awnings, and dodgers remaining far outnumbered those that had been stripped in preparation for a hurricane.


Trees in the road

We removed Eurisko awning, dodger, weather cloths, and solar panels--the only items on her deck. We hauled out our dinghy and secured her in Dave's shop. We realized we may have to abandon Eurisko, so we packed a bag to go with us: passports, boat papers, birth certificates, marriage license, cash, CDs of pictures, my memory stick of computer files, and my camera. We filled our kerosene interior lights and anchor light. It was going with us in the event that we had to seek shelter in Dave's shop.

Hurricane Omar was forecast to pass near or over us after dark on Wednesday. Though Eurisko was as prepared as we could get her, nervous energy made us search out something to do. Our mast was on the ground next to us; we decided to remove the spreaders in case the water rose enough for it to roll or bang. We covered our two hatches with 5 inch foam on the outside, tied with small line across the deck. Since looting is a common post-hurricane concern, we gathered weapons: rocks for the slingshot, flare guns, mace, machetes, and spear guns.


These boats were anchored the night before

In the block building, we arranged workbenches in an interior corner so we would have a place to hide if we sought shelter there. We cooked a big pot of chili, turned the propane off at the tank, and by 4 p.m. could find no other projects, so we wandered to the boaters' hang out to see if anyone needed help. No one was around, so we sat and studied the anchorage, naming boats who would probably not be there in the morning. Of the dozens of boats that were lost, only two of them had we failed to name that afternoon. They were easy to spot: canvas still on, no extra anchors, absentee owners, boats still at the dock, and those who would rather risk pulling their boats off the rocks in the morning than invest the time preparing for a storm they had convinced themselves wouldn't be that bad. We call that the ostrich method: Mother Nature can easily kick you in the romp while your head is buried in the sand.


Our neighbor when we were in the harbor

Chris Parker's 8 p.m. report had Omar a strong category two, expected to intensify to a category three before making landfall possibly on St. Croix's eastern end. The wind had just started, but it was out of the east, so the building was lifting it over Eurisko. We could light a match on deck, though it was blowing over 20 knots in the trees over the building.

Over dinner Dave reminded me and our 15-year-old son, "All we are going to do tonight is not get hurt. Whatever happens to the boat, I can fix. But we are NOT going to get hurt." Though we are a shorts and flip-flops family, he has put on pants and shoes to protect us from flying debris if we decided to evacuate to the building.


Piled up on the boardwalk

By 10 p.m. we had decided we were safer in Eurisko than in the shop. The corrugated metal roof was making scary noises, and it was still two hours before Omar was to hit. With that decided, we thought about the safest place to be in the boat. After the first piece of debris landed on Eurisko's deck, Dave told us to stay near the bulkheads. The boat, which had been surprisingly still and quiet, was now shaking like she had during the earthquake a week earlier. Action is the best remedy for fear, so when small projectiles continued bombarding Eurisko's deck, Dave took the settee and dinette cushions and tied them under the salon hatch and companionway. "That's why I told you both to put your knives in your pocket. If we have to get out of here in a hurry, cut that line."


Completely sunk

For two hours we watched the barometer falls. Dave and I secured potential projectiles in the event that the cradle failed and Eurisko fell over--which didn't feel like such an unlikely scenario the way she was shaking. Without ports and with our hatches covered, the large banging noises remained a mystery. Trees? Metal roofing?

Before we even heard the 1 a.m. update, we knew the worst was over. Dave tapped the barometer and let out a whoop. "It's rising! He's passed. We'll be okay." As if Neptune had flipped a switch, it was over. In less than half an hour we went from preparing to survive a knockdown on land, to opening the hatches.


For some boat owners, the lost was devestating

Some of the noise mysteries were solved--a large tree in the yard uprooted and fell our sons 15 foot Catalina that was last year's Christmas present. Large tree, small boat, enormous hole where the trailer punched through the bottom. Though it brought tears to my eyes (not the first of the evening), Dave was more pragmatic, "Well, looks like you get to learn how the fiberglass, kiddo."

Daybreak brought clear skies, receding water, and heartbreak as we identified our friends' boats on the rocks. Those who did nothing, lost everything. Not a single boat that was stripped and secured with extra anchors was damaged. All of the boats that were dismasted still had sails on. Not a single boat left at a dock in Christiansted Harbor was still floating. From out of the anchor locker of a wrecked boat, its owner pulled a perfectly good anchor--bigger than the one his boat had dragged across the bottom on its way to shore. Two boats on the rocks had anchors still in their bow rollers. Several boats were lost due to chafe; lines secured bowline to bowline create tremendous chafe. A much better option is to use a sheet bend, or better yet, a double sheet bend.


This owner lost everything. Even the keys to his car.

Not a single boat whose owner did everything possible was lost, but it was close. In preparation for Omar, a friend on an 42 foot sailboat removed his awning, main sail and cover, mizzen and cover, and head sail. His boat was hanging from two sand screws and a large Bruce anchor with adequate chain. Just before leaving the boat, he saw his 15 pound Danforth with half-inch line and thought, "It doesn't do any good on the boat," and tossed it overboard. His mooring lines chafed through, the stainless steel chain snapped (all of the links were stressed at the welds), and Thursday morning his home was hanging from the tiny anchor whose rode was nearly chafed through. By doing everything he could, he had saved his boat.


Loss was often due to shoddy workmanship and chafe.

Omar passed within a few miles of St. Croix as a category three hurricane, a far cry from the tropical storm first predicted. Though we spent a few stressful hours in Eurisko during the storm's 129 knot-winds, we were safe. Eurisko suffered not a single ding or chafed line. When preparing for a storm, the choices are clear: fool yourself into believing it won't be that bad and pick up the pieces later, or prepare for the worst and spend your post-hurricane time helping those who didn't.


Stainless steel chain that opened up at every weld.
Previously published in Sail Magazine.

A cruiser recently asked if the solar cookers worked and were worth the price. If you build one yourself, they most certainly are! MONDAY we'll share the plans we used and the results.

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