I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and I never thought about hurricanes. Tornadoes, yes. Hurricanes? I hardly even knew what they were.
Now we live on a boat and hurricanes are a determining factor in where we want to be at different times of the year and thus have a major influence on our lives. In 2020, we had planned to avoid the hurricane season by sailing to French Polynesia in March. The plan was to stay for a while in the Marquesas Islands where hurricanes are virtually unheard of.
But like every other person in the world, our 2020 plans have changed and we are spending this hurricane season in Hawaii.
Pretty views in Hanalei Bay, Kauai
Fortunately, Hawaii rarely suffers from hurricanes, but recently Hurricane Douglas developed and decided to head toward these beautiful islands.
Randy and Shellie pulling Frank on the foil board.
We were happily anchored in Hanalei Bay, Kauai when Douglas began swishing about in the Pacific and heading this direction. Between swims, foiling practice and visits with other boaters, we began exploring our hurricane options.
Most of the local boaters were taking the hurricane threat fairly lightly but since Frank and I experienced running away from Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit, and we saw friends who remained suffer severe damage, we tend to err on the side of caution.
That little green dot represents TTR in Hanalei Bay.
Folks who have permanent marina slips for their boats already know they are going to ride out any storm in the marina and thus go through some lengthy steps to prepare:
- remove sails and canvas
- remove any loose objects
- tie down anything that remains on deck
- tie, cross tie and reinforce all of the lines that keep the boat in the dock
Since we do not have a permanent marina home, our options vary depending on our location. Here in Hawaii, we had contacted a couple of marinas and they either did not have room for us or only had an end tie available. The issue with an end tie is that we can only secure TTR from one side so we have no way to secure her in the middle of a slip to prevent her from banging against the peer when winds push her in all directions. That was not a good option as we had visions of Ticket to Ride surging and smashing against the dock.
When we were in the Caribbean, it was possible to find mangrove holes where one could anchor and secure the boat and the roots and trunks of the mangroves absorbed much of the storm, thus offering a viable hiding place during a storm.
We are not aware of such places in Hawaii.
Much like when we were in Puerto Rico and sailed away from Hurricane Maria, we believed our best option was also to sail away and avoid the storm altogether. The difference this time was that we didn’t have a destination to sail to; instead we were just sailing out of harms way and would be bobbing about until it was safe to return to land.
There were a few other boats anchored in Hanalei Bay who had the same plan, so several of us left the Bay on Saturday, 48 hours ahead of when the storm was expected to reach Kauai.
When deciding where to run from Douglas, we originally considered sailing north because forecasts showed a chance of the hurricane passing Kauai on its’ south side. But as the storm tracks were updated, it became more likely that Douglas was going to pass over Hanalei Bay or on the northerly side.
After much discussion between us and with other sailors, we decided a better plan was to sail south, thus keeping the Hawaiian Islands between TTR and Hurricane Douglas. The plan was to sail our way south on the western side of the islands while Douglas stormed north on the eastern side of the islands.
TTR sailing w R1 in the main and the self-tacking jib.
Fortunately this plan worked well and TTR encountered very little of Hurricane Douglas’ effects. The highest true wind speeds we encountered was 31 knots and the highest seas we saw were probably 8-10 feet.
We saw no rain and the seas were reasonable.
Frank did an amazing job of reviewing the weather reports, analyzing the wind predictions and guiding us toward the lighter wind spots. In fact, after the storm passed us on Sunday, we saw a long stretch of very flat seas and only 6 knots of wind!
When we sailed out of Hanalei Bay, we had the genoa and self-tacking jib up as foresails. We did find we used the self-taker most often and we had one reef in the main at all times.
All told, we were only out sailing about 48 hours. We left Hanalei around 9 am Saturday and we dropped anchor off of Maui at 8 am Monday.
Things I learned:
- TTR is a sturdy, well designed and well fabricated sailboat. She can handle much more than I can. (Ok, I already knew that.)
- I love how quiet the rigging is on this HH55!
- Frank has a higher tolerance for speed and bumpiness than I do.
- Self-tackers are especially nice when short handing in rough seas.
If I were to change anything about how we handled this sail, I would have put a second reef in the main after we were behind Oahu and had a little distance between where we started and where the eye was predicted to hit Kauai. While a second reef wasn’t necessary and we were completely safe, I would have been more comfortable since we didn’t exactly know how windy it might become; especially at night when I am alone on watch.
I would like to express our appreciation to the many friends who reached out to wish us well and who followed our track as we were avoiding the storm. I appreciated the prayers and the messages we received. It is comforting to know others are looking out for us when we are out of communication and guessing our best course.
Kuddos and big thanks to Frank for handling the lions share of the decision making. He is very good at analyzing the weather and I am often only able to listen as he tells me what is happening so I don’t get sea sick. I’m fortunate that he is so capable and that he doesn’t get sea sick!
This is a very simplified version of the decisions that must go into how to handle an upcoming hurricane. There are so many facets and it takes hours of weather watching and option assessment to come to a conclusion. Each boater must consider the capabilities of his own boat. How prepared is the boat and can it be moved right now? What does your insurance mandate? Have you filed a hurricane plan with your insurance company that must be followed or can it be changed? How much time is available to get into a safe zone before the weather affects sea conditions? How healthy and how capable is the crew? What “outs” are available if the plan isn’t working? Are communication systems up and functioning on the boat? Do you have people in place to communicate in case your weather information fails? Who knows where you are and can keep up with your location in case a problem arises? How much fuel, food and water are on board? These are a few of the factors that must be considered.
At this time, it is very important that we recognize and thank Tommy Henshaw for his incredible help during Hurricane Douglas. Tommy is the young man with whom we became friends in Kaneohe Bay. I think he is our living guardian angel. Tommy was in communication with us several times a day during our Hurricane Douglas sail. Tommy watched our tracks, looked at weather and sent us the latest information based on images we are unable to get while at sea. He sent us messages just to let us knowhe was keeping an eye out for us. Tommy has shared local knowledge and offered information and advice that has been invaluable! Many thanks, Tommy!!
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