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Skipper’s Tips

Hurricanes  –  Now that the hurricane season is officially upon us, it's a good time to discuss hurricane preparations. Ideally, you would have made arrangements for secure storage of your vessel or at least planned an option in case of an impending storm event. There are a few options to choose from, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Professionally run boats often secure a slip in such marinas as Village Cay, Nanny Cay, Sea Cow's Bay or Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour. Generally, in these instances, the yacht is secured between two slips and held in place with an anchor off the bow. Some marinas might rig heavy chains between the support legs of their slips so that multiple lines can be rigged. This is a good solution for many situations, particularly holding against high wind, but it is less than ideal when faced with a six-foot or ten-foot tidal surge, which can put great strain on the mooring lines. As most marinas in the territory lack floating docks, the vessel may rise above the dock level and then be dropped onto the solid dock. I'm sure you've seen that picture.

 

Another fine option is to get entry into a hurricane hole such as Paraquita Bay, but positions there are generally limited to members of the BVI Marine Association—charter companies and the like. Paraquita is especially well protected—the narrow channel in is the only entrance for storm surge unless it comes over the top. In that case, all bets are off.

Sailors who need to keep their boat in service for commercial reasons or because they just like to keep sailing might find that last-minute decision making is just too late. Best to have a plan. Some sailors might choose to tuck into a small cove or drop several anchors in a reasonably sheltered bay area such as the inner harbour/Wickham's Cay complex or Trellis Bay. Tying off into the mangroves is a good option too, though once again storm surge is the issue. Anchoring needs special care—the dangers of chafing lines are huge, and there's not much chance of rowing out to the boat in 80 or 100-knot winds to check on your gear. If you're going to do it, do it right. Minimum of three anchors. Heavy chain. Oversized lines—the newer the line the better since older lines can degrade from UV exposure and other stresses. Thick hose wrapped around nylon line to prevent chafing in chocks. All these are a bare minimum.

The greatest danger when anchored or secured to mangroves or otherwise exposed comes from other boats dragging down on you. Even when secured to a dock, you aren't safe from dragging. A couple of years ago when it seemed as if the area might be hit, a last-minute arrival in the anchorage off Village Cay was a commercial ferry, fresh from the St Thomas run. The crew dropped an anchor, jumped aboard a waiting tender and sped away. It took just a few hours for the ferry to be banging its stern on the finger pier, threatening the pier itself. The last one in the anchorage is the most dangerous, since they show up when the winds are already blowing hard and there's a sense of urgency about getting off the boat.

Whatever you do, don't stay aboard the vessel—find a hotel room or shelter of some kind. Before departing the vessel, it's a good idea to plug any openings such as ventilation areas or air intakes for the engine, even exhaust outlets, since when the wind is blowing at extreme velocity the air is largely liquid. A surprising amount of water can blow up your pipes. Take off any valuables such as passport and ownership papers—the next time you see them they might otherwise be under water. 

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