Weathering Earl in the British Virgin Islands

By: American Sailing Association, Safety, Sailboats, Schools, Weather

Avoid ending up like this.

Many of you have been lucky enough to learn to sail, cruise or charter in the British Virgin Islands. Here is an update from Pat Nolan who owns and operates Sistership Sailing School on Tortola after recently weathering hurricane Earl:

Location, location, location. That real estate mantra also applies to hurricane survival (followed closely by preparation, preparation, preparation). Having just come through the very large, very powerful category 4 hurricane Earl in the BVI, I can say that both location and preparation are key to minimizing damage. Lucky for us the eye of the storm passed about 30 miles north of Anegada so we on Tortola, roughly 27 miles southeast of Anegada were spared the worst. We still experienced sustained winds of 100+ mph; winds strong enough to sink boats, blow boats ashore, smash boats into docks and. Those who took the time to move boats to a well protected hurricane anchorage, secure the deck and all gear topside, in addition to properly anchor riding out the storm, sustained minimal damage if any.

One must remember that the wind often comes from every direction during a hurricane, so your choice of anchorage must be protected 360 degrees. For those of you familiar with the harbors in the BVI, Road Town, Soper’s Hole and Anegada proved places NOT to be. In those harbors numerous boats were sunk, piled on top of one another or beached. In Trellis Bay, Nanny Cay, Paraquita Bay and inner Sea Cow’s Bay boats did fine. Boats in virtually landlocked Paraquita Bay are packed in like sardines, lying to hurricane gear installed by the government. Trellis Bay hosts a large community of live-aboards lying to their own private moorings. Those folks are old hands at hurricane preparation and it showed – no damage reported there. Nanny Cay, the marina we operate from, is completely land locked save for the very small entrance. All the boats are moored to floating docks. Even though well protected, the high winds and tidal surge still put a huge strain on the docks. Several times during the beginning of the storm we needed to jury rig finger piers that sheared off from the main dock. Struggling in 80 knot gusts to secure a bucking bronco of a finger pier with two big boats attached to it is not my idea of a good time. It took a team of us to do it, but it worked.

Luckily that work was done in the daylight. When the worst of the storm hit after dark, the dock was not the place to be. Safely shuttered in our concrete block of a house we crossed our fingers that the docks would hold through the night. They did.

Many snowbirds keep their boats in the BVI. Unless you have hired a good management company to oversee your boat in your absence you would not want to leave it in the water; rather on the hard, in the yard is the place to be. Boatyards here are experienced at storing and securing boats to minimize storm damage. It is imperative that owners take the time to make their boats are ‘hurricane ready’ after their last cruise just prior to hauling out. Not sure exactly what that entails? Many great articles have been written on this subject. Just Google “How to prepare my boat for a hurricane” and take your pick. And don’t wait till the last minute – it all takes time.