PS Advisor December 2003 Issue

PS Advisor: 12/03

Hauling For Hurricanes
About 24 hours before Hurricane Isabel came ashore in the Chesapeake Bay area, Practical Sailor received an e-mail from reader Terry Wanner of California, MD, who owned a Beneteau First 42 lying in the path of the storm. He told us a bit about the boat's orientation on the dock, and said he was in line to have it hauled out. But he wondered whether it would be safer to stay in the water: "I realize there are a lot of variables here, but when does storm surge overtake the wind speed as far as potential damage is concerned?"

We dashed off a quick note in response, for what it was worth. The gist of our note, and Terry Wanner's response, are below.


PS to Wanner: If we were in your shoes, given what you've told us, we'd take the opportunity to haul the boat. If you get high winds and storm surge at the dock, your boat is sure to take a beating. If you haul, and the surge reaches you and takes the boat off its poppets, it can still be damaged, but the chances of that are probably less.

Wish we could be of more help, but there are never absolute answers in these cases. Best of luck with the storm.

Wanner to PS, a few days after the hurricane blew through: I know I didn't give you a lot to work with, but I appreciate what you had to say.

I did not get the opportunity to haul the boat (too many folks in line ahead and not enough time to conduct hauling operations safely) so I triple-tied every point (bow, breast, stern, and spring) of the boat to all the pilings I could reach, with line varying from 1" to 5/8", and waited. 

The storm track took a turn to the west from what was originally forecast to "boresight" us, which gave Patuxent River the eastern hemisphere of the storm. The high winds then were predominantly easterly  (so much for my E-W breakwater at which I am slipped on the southern side).  I believe we experienced 40- to 45-mph winds sustained, and took a few gusts around 60. Except for the nervous stomach given to me by a piling located farthest from the dock (on the boat's starboard hip) as it wobbled about 18" when the stern pulled hard, the boat rode well. Although the piling's action looked bad from the shore, it always came back into position and when the storm had cleared it was still there.

After the storm had passed, the docks at the marina were under one to two feet of water and had been broken apart and beaten badly, and except for a roller-furler headsail that came unfurled on one boat in the marina, no serious boat damage was immediately obvious, fortunately.

Lessons learned:

I had only considered wind and surge when determining whether or not to haul the boat. I neglected to consider:

1. Other boats breaking loose in the slip next to mine (which did happen, but at the same time I was checking on my boat, so I got it under control before any damage was done to either boat);

2. The dock breaking up and putting heavy debris in the water during the storm;

3. The possibility of the surge being worse than expected. I didn't witness it, but I believe we got about a 4' foot surge where 3-6' was forecast.  The haul-out area that I would have been assigned is 10' above high water.

4. Although I used chafe guards I still lost one line. No big deal, since it was one of three at that point, but had I been hauled, line chafe would not have been much of a factor.

5. I did not have rubber snubbers on my lines which, I believe, contributed to the rough ride my pilings took. I will be buying and installing them shortly.   

All in all, if I had it to do all over again, I would be the "first pig at the trough," scheduling a haul-out well before the storm gets close.

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