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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For the first time in my life I truly understand that the difference one day can make in my life is huge. I have so many examples recently that have driven this home and unfortunately they have mostly been sad examples.
Our dear friends, Ken and Laurie, sent a video of their sailboat Mauna Kea while they were finalizing preparations for Hurricane Irma which devastated St. Martin a mere 24 hours later. Mauna Kea had engine problems and it was unsafe for Ken and Laurie to sail out of harms way. A picture taken from the same place 24 hours later would show Mauna Kea in a much different condition.
We were in Chicago glued to the television as we watched Hurricane Irma swirl toward Puerto Rico where we had left Let It Be and our sweet dog, Captain. We were very lucky because in the last 24 hours, Irma took a slight wobble north and our boat and dog were spared! What a difference a day made.
Fast forward about a week to 5 pm Saturday, September 16th. Frank and I were sitting at the pool at The Yacht Club in Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico. We were chatting with other live aboard folks lounging in the pool and we all agreed that the morning forecast of 60 mph winds for Hurricane Maria were not a problem for our boats. We could be comfortable about staying in the marina.
An hour later, when we read the 5 pm hurricane forecast, the story was dramatically different. Hurricane Maria had changed from a category 1 to a category 4 forecast! And she was barreling directly toward our marina!
The Yacht Club from the top of the mast the morning we left.
Frank and I immediately began redressing Let It Be; returning her sails to working order, putting the enclosure back on the helm, replacing the broken anemometer (luckily the new one had arrived in the mail the day before!), walking to a nearby mini market for canned goods and plotting our departure for early the next morning.
We left Palmas del Mar on Sunday morning, less than 24 hours later, and had a beautiful passage of about 375 nautical miles to Bonaire. We sailed for the first day, then motor sailed the remainder of the trip. We had mostly following seas that were never greater than 1 meter. Surprisingly, this was one of our most pleasant passages!
Twenty four hours later, our friends Greg and Shelly on s/v Sempre Fi had found the quickest flight they could back to Puerto Rico to prepare their sailboat and leave the marina. Shelly and Greg left Palmas del Mar on Monday, about 24 hours after we did. They experienced 21 foot seas and a lot of wind. They could see the very outer bands of Hurricane Maria and tension was high on board! Eventually they encountered ‘a parking lot of tankers and barges drifting in the sea,’ Shelly said. This was their indication that they had run far enough to be out of harms way and could continue more comfortably to Aruba.
Once we arrived in Bonaire, we found wifi and checked on our friends back in Palmas del Mar and learned that Maria’s eye had passed directly over our marina! Thankfully our friends are all safe, but not all of their boats survived.
What a difference 24 hours can make!
Frank and I like to tease that since moving aboard, we live our lives at 6 knot. Thankfully over a 24 hour period, that seemingly slow six knots was enough to remove us from harm!
There are many times in our lives when one day makes a lifetime of difference; one day you’re single the next day you are married; one day you are pregnant and the next day you are a parent. Yes, there are many life changing moments, but somehow this hurricane season, the changes that can occur in a mere 24 hours has become shockingly real!
Drone photo of Palmas after Maria (sorry don’t know who took it!).
We mourn for our friends, their homes and the beautiful islands that have been devastated this year by hurricanes. All those suffering loss from Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria are in our thoughts and prayers!
Although this season has been a challenging and heart wrenching one, we are trying to take away the positive aspects as well. For instance, we have some friends whose boats survived hurricanes with nary a scratch! We have seen many people step up and make huge inroads in gathering and delivering food and water to those in need. We have seen friends drive from Dallas to Houston, towing boats to help rescue stranded flood victims. There are silver linings to every cloud if we look hard enough.
On a personal note, this season has reminded us that we cannot be complacent about weather while living this nomadic lifestyle that is much more vulnerable to weather and storms. We are reminded that we must do our best to keep Let It Be movement ready at all times. We have agreed that we should try to keep our fuel topped off in case we have to sail away from a weather event. We are reminded that we must make our own decisions and allow friends to make theirs as well – what works for us might be all wrong for someone else.
We are reminded that we are blessed to have survived this season without injury or damage to property! (So far.)
Though this blog post could be construed as a negative reflection on sailing life, in truth, Frank and I enjoy living on our boat. While others might dislike the need to pay such close attention to the forces of nature, we find this lifestyle requires us to be more observant and respectful of the power of nature. We are constantly learning to improve our ability to understand what surrounds us. We can no longer jump in a car regardless of the weather and without regard for tides and seas and upcoming storms.
No doubt this life is a greater challenge than living on land, but for us it works. We like the learning aspect and prefer to be caught up in weather and seas and trip planning rather than being concerned with the daily news or which Hollywood star has returned to rehab or who was this years biggest loser. (Plus we were too cheap to pay for cable tv!)
Over the last two years we have learned many things, but in the last two weeks we have learned to appreciate that 24 hours can bring humongous life changes.
As always, thank you for reading. Next post I hope to report more positive things, like about the amazing diving in Bonaire!