By CW4 Michael Carr – Tropical Storm, and potentially Hurricane Barry was heading directly for us. Though still a thousand miles away, which might seem far away, that distance is small when considering the wind radius and forward motion. We needed to make decisions on what we would do, and once those decisions were made we would be unable to change our decisions.
Hurricane avoidance or preparation for impact if you cannot get out of the way, requires hours of work and effort. A plan needs to be logical and consider the worst case, not best-case scenarios.
We were moored in Lunenberg, on the east side of Nova Scotia, about 60 miles SW of Halifax. Barry was forecast to track NE from its present position west of Bermuda, tracking just offshore of Nova Scotia. Winds were forecast to be 60-80 knots, all depending on Barry’s final track.
Our options were limited. We did not have sufficient time to depart Lunenberg and travel to some safer location, because our schooners top speed, under ideal conditions was 8 knots. Rule #1 in hurricane avoidance is don’t close with the system, i.e. don’t go closer in hopes of finding a path to avoid its wrath. Don’t cross the “T”, or expect a hurricane to behave rationally.
We could stay moored to the pier, but out lots of lines, chafing gear, fenders, etc and then ride out the storm. But there are many unknowns to this plan: will the lines hold, will the dock stay intact, will the waves and surge pound you into the pier? Once you are tied up there are no options, you cannot depart. If dock bollards fail, and lines chafe through, what is the backup plan? I did not like the idea of staying tied to the dock. There were several other large schooners moored near us, they had decided to stay, and were busy running extra lines to the pier.
“What is the worst-case scenario?” I pondered if we stay tied to the pier. One of these larger schooners breaks free and crashed down on us. We would be crushed. There would be nothing we could do.
But if we departed the pier and anchored in the bay, the worst case is we would drag anchor and end up on a mud bank. Our schooner had a steel hull. We could lie on the mud bank and remain intact. We could use our three anchors and engine to stem the wind, and we would have room to drag inside the bay.
I checked the hurricane forecast again. Plotted the worst track, analyzed how the winds would back from SE to E to NE and around to the W. We could anchor to minimize fetch and also give ourselves room to drag. There were mud banks on all sides of Lunenberg Bay, so I was OK with being dragged up on a mudbank.
I gathered our crew. “Here is the plan, we are not going to stay here on the dock, even though these other schooners are staying. We are going out into the bay and set up our three anchors and ride out the storm”.
I explained my rationale, and the crew understood. Once out in the bay, we dropped two anchors in a “V” off setup off out bow, with an angle of 120-degree separation. Then we dropped a third anchor underfoot, giving it a scope of about 1.5 to 1. Enough scope so it would drag on the bottom but not fetch. This third anchor was to minimize yawing. Yawing was our enemy. All vessels yaw, swing back and forth, at anchor, and in strong wind conditions such as experienced in hurricanes, the yawing can become so extreme it breaks anchor rodes and jerks set anchors out of the bottom. An anchor underfoot provides drag and reduces yawing.
We used a 10:1 scope on the two main anchors, and put chafe gear everywhere. We stripped our topsides of all sails and gear. Reduce windage. We topped off our engines day tank and changed fuel filters. We would keep the engine at idle once the wind reached gale force, to ensure it was running properly and to prevent water backing up into the exhaust manifold. We made coffee and waited.
We watched clouds roll in, the barometer drop, and winds increase. Wind force increases fourfold for every doubling of wind speed. When winds reach 60 knots the force is four times what it was at 30 knots. Soon we could not talk, we had to yell to communicate. The rain was coming at use horizontally. We kept two crew in the cockpit for an hour at a time. They were harnessed to welded pad eyes and wore diving masks. We used the engine to take the strain off the anchors, engaging the engine RPMs to just keep us headed into the wind. In the dark of night, this could only be down by staring at the lighted compass.
Winds reached 80 knots, we could tell from radar plotted fixes that we were dragging, but slowly and our anchors’ rodes were showed a strain, so we had not lost a grip on the bottom. Our yawing was minimal, we were holding against the winds and seas. And then there was a decrease in winds. Almost imperceptible at first. Gusts were less, and of shorter duration. Our barometer started to rise. Clouds began to thin.
I sighed in relief. Wow, we were floating and there was no damage. Winds stayed at gale force for hours, but compared to the 80-knot gusts we experienced during the night, this seemed like pleasant zephyrs. And then by afternoon, it was calm. Not a breath of wind. We sat on the deck and drank coffee, amazed at what had transpired. Now we had to pull out our sails, re-rig and pull up all our anchors. Pulling up the anchors became more of an endeavor than we expected. They would not come free. We hauled in all the chain rode until the anchors were “up and down”, but the hydraulic anchor windlass could not free the anchors. We backed down, came ahead, swung our schooner in circles using maximum RPMs but the anchors stayed embedded in the bottom. We attached a block and tackle to increase purchase, and finally began to see movement.
Eventually, the anchors came free, and we winced them to the surface. Their surfaces were so clean as if they had been sandblasted. I night of being dragged through the mud, sand and gravel bottom had etched off all the paint and rust. “Steel is real” we all agreed.
We motored back to the dock where we had been previously moored. I was relieved to be back alongside, but even more relieved that we had not stayed tied up against this concrete wall. We were all ready for a few cold Nova Scotian beers!