February 3, 2010

Waiting for Round Two

I've gotten so many emails I'll try to answer everything, but forgive us if this is choppy, we're pretty exhausted. So far the skies around us are filled with thunder heads, but yesterday at this time it looked like it was clearing, so we don't know if they mean anything yet. All day the marina was frentic, people putting their boats back together, looking for stuff that was lost. We learned two boats went aground, one a family with two kids went up near the rocks (which stopped my heart a bit) but both came off safely. This despite the fact that more than half the boats in the anchorage dragged --some great distances.

Maia and I went into town and found it just coming back to life with power at 5pm. Trees were down and streets are flooded but roofs seemed to be where they should be.

What we learned:
The lessons are always the same; always be ready for anything. We neglected this a bit. Having just come in from a four-day passage we left a few things loose (and are still finding oranges, books and toys in odd locations...). We skipped the dishes, didn't bother zipping the mainsail cover and opted not to hoist the dinghy after using it. Our biggest error though was with the engines. When we came back from dinner on shore we noticed the poly line on the prop. We had a go at removing it but decided because it was small and light (turned out to be a tuna line) and had obviously been there when we motored in, that it could wait for morning to be cut off. On top of this we were out of fuel for our auxilary outboard motor.

We did do a lot of things right. We have clear decks--always. We learned the danger of flying jerry jugs and loose spinnaker poles on our last boat. We also have excellent ground tackle. Our primary is a huge aluminum A120 Spade but it only weighs 33 lbs and we always set it with as much scope as possible and in full reverse, for several minutes. It already proved itself in 50 knots. But 88 and 6' waves is quite something else.   We also checked the ground tackle when a lull came (or maybe at only 30 knots) and found the bow roller damaged and the rope rode chafing a bit.  We hadn't set a sacrificial snubber or a bridle and interestingly it was the snubbers that broke on many of the boats that dragged (several lost all their ground tackle). We were also happy to be on a cat. The monohulls were rolling in the most sickening way as the wind clocked around and in the marina the boats were knocked over so far many have damage high on their hulls and toe rails from where they hit the docks.

We also monitor weather carefully and when Evan saw the bottom drop out on our barometer (it dropped 7 mba over 2 hours) he started checking a few weather books and when a big swell started arriving he decided to pull the dinghy up.

The wind hit with a literal roar at near full force and was sustained in the high range for 30-40 minutes then dropped off to 30 or 40 knots for another hour, then hit us again with a lighter one after an hour's break. I think most boats popped anchor in the first ten minutes.

At the peak of the storm the massive noise of the wind drowned out the thunder--even though bolts were lighting up the sky all around us. We had the radio on full volume and heard frantic disembodied voices that wavered in and out. Occasionally a voice would yell that a boat was dragging onto them, then that would fade to another frantic call, now and again someone would yell a wind speed. I still recall hearing "77! 82!" and "Close your thru-hulls!".  Evan says the spray over the cabintop was very salty had a dive mask to keep his contacts from being blown out of his eyes.

Living on a boat is much like living pay cheque to pay cheque, all it takes is skimping in one area of maintenance then having a bit of bad luck and suddenly your home's at risk. Except in our case foreclosure comes with added danger. Honestly, the moment where I put Maia's life jacket on while she was in her bed then waited to lose the boat was among the worst in my life.

But we set ourselves up. Things don't go wrong on a boat because of one error. In Sereia's blog she tells an harrowing story that explains how problems can cascade until you run out of options. In our case we knocked out a couple of our options early on (we did have the staysail ready) and were fortunate that the storm came in the direction it did and that our engine held while we motored to avoid the dragging fishing boats (who were also at full throttle trying to avoid us).

Woke to clear skies. Had a minor squall in the night--but just your normal thunder storm. Mostly slept through it. We learned today that what hit us was a Weather Bomb not something that is known to happen in this area, at all...
A report at Latitude 38 (had a few things off: there were still 26 boats in the morning and more than 1/2 were gone, so I'd estimate more than 60 at anchor to start. We haven't talked to more than one other boat that didn't drag. The read outs on wind speed ranged from 70-110 knots. We went with the midrange one.)


Seven C's said...

Excellent description of what occurred and what you did to maintain your preparedness for the possibilities.
Amazing how fast the storm came up.
Glad to hear that the boats came off the ground ok. Your post here shows the importance of good ground tackle - not skimping in the important areas!

boatbaby said...

Oooo you guys, glad you're all ok. I swear as prepared as one is, it's always the other boats dragging that puts the most fear in my heart. When we were trying to enter Charleston Harbor way back when we had 87 knot out of nowhere storm, and I photographed the wind instrument b/c I didn't think anyone would believe us. I was grateful it hit while we were in the harbor and not 20 minutes later while we would have been trying to anchor. We dropped everything, nosed into the wind full throttle, and thankfully stood relatively still. Short storm too, more like 30 minutes. Be safe! Oh - and nice fancy new banner ;)

Diane, Evan, Maia and Charlie the cat said...

Cindy, Makes sense. What we got was a Weather Bomb - common in the Carolinas but not here.
Amazing you could hold your own with it. I think the size of the waves was what made it impossible for boats here. It came in from the ocean so pushed up some steep seas before it hit locally. It was also huge- we were amazed how much area it covered on the satelite picture.