Well, here we are. It’s the very end of the summer and we’re moving into the really active portion of hurricane season. We like to say that we’re always learning on this boat, and this past week brought a whole new series of lessons. Last Saturday Kevin left for Seattle for 8 days, with a goal of spending time with his team at his company. Prior to his departure we went over the procedures if the power went out (and came back on), if the Pepwave needed to be restarted for the oh-so-important wifi, and a refresher course on the IridiumGo sat phone/email should I find myself without the ability to communicate. When the power goes out around here we seem to lose cell service and wifi too. And, it is hurricane season afterall. We looked at the European model and GFS and saw a system forming way to our south. I said, “so if that system becomes a hurricane, you’ll get back here asap right?” Now that is easier said than done. As it is low season Alaska only flies here to Loreto on Thursdays and Saturdays.
So off he went. The dogs and I hung out in the AC during the heat of the day, did some work, read some books, hiked and made tasty food. And we watched the weather quite closely. That little system down south got bigger and a bit more organized and it moved north. The models were not in agreement about what it might do. The National Hurricane Center gave it a number, and then a name, Norma. I poured over the reports, watched a Mexican press conference (good for my Spanish!), read the thoughts of different Mexican weather resources, and started to worry a little bit.
The storm track started to point toward Cabo, but still with the track veering off to the western (Pacific) side of the peninsula. And with each update that track moved east. Now it was hitting Cabo head on. But it would peter out by the time it made it up here, right? Off to bed I went and in the morning when I rolled over and immediately checked PredictWind I saw that now the track was showing a direct hit on…us. That was a wee bit jolting. Here I was, alone with the dogs and the boat and Kevin was in Seattle and a hurricane was coming my way? Fabulous. The next images show some of the progression…
Now I was feeling pretty nervous, but still, I knew things could change. I called Rich, our superman weather router. As we haven’t been on any large passages in the past few months we hadn’t chatted with Rich lately. He asked where I was, and looked at his screens and there was a long silence. Rich is a pretty seriously positive guy. He was not on this evening. “Alison, have you ever been in a hurricane?” Well sure, of course. I grew up on the east coast afterall. “How about in a boat?” That would be a hard no. Okay…. Rich proceeded to tell me about what I was going to need to expect. At this point the eye was going to pass right over us, and Nora would be a Cat 1 on arrival. “Expect 70-80 knot sustained winds with gusts to 100,” said Rich. “The worst will be just before the eye wall. And once it passes the wind will shift to the opposite direction but it will be reduced a bit.” Gee. Great news! Now Rich was just reporting the facts. He’s amazing and I love him and generally I feel much better after I talk with him. Not so much on this evening.
I was over at N43 Gratitude with Paul, Heather and JC eating a lovely dorado dinner, created from their catch of the day. After sharing the news it was time to go home and call Kevin. Oh, hey, great news! We’re going to have our first hurricane!
Kevin was booked on a flight the next day and I spent the night worrying that he would somehow miss the plane or that it might be cancelled. I was up most of the night considering where I might go if I found myself in the storm and unable to safely stay on the boat. My conclusion? The showers up in the marina buildings – no windows, well above the water! The dogs and I could take snacks and make new friends. In this rumination, I did remind myself that our boat is a sturdy tank. A Nordhavn is built to be a blue water boat, and our beautiful girl, Red Rover, has always taken care of us. She will again. But first, we needed to take care of her.
On Saturday morning I got up before dawn and started working on my hurricane prep list in earnest. It was in the 90s with 70% humidity. It was hot. Sweaty. Hot. Even more sweaty. I was absolutely soaked, simply by being outside.
Within our insurance we have “Named Storm Coverage,” which was a challenge to find and very important to us to have. Part of obtaining Named Storm Coverage involves filling out a detailed questionnaire about our plans during hurricane season (for example, how far away is the boat sharing our slip? 40 feet…believe it or not), as well as developing a Hurricane Plan. What will we do in the event that a storm comes our way? This plan is then reviewed and approved (or not) by the underwriters. Our policy carries a 10% deductible for any damage that is a result of a Named Storm. That’s a chunk of change.
But that Hurricane Plan was now coming in handy. It spells out exactly what I needed to do, and specifically, what we had committed to our insurance company that we would do. With the plan in hand, I went to work feeling a bit anxious. About 2 hours into executing the plan, I had a little talk with myself. It was time to be my strongest woman self and make shit happen. I had this. I totally did. I am capable and knowledgeable and an equal partner in running this boat. Time to roll. So, I did what anyone would do. I selected our “Natural Disaster Playlist” (see Agua Verde in January 2021) and cranked up all four zones of the stereo to 11. As the Scorpions screamed rock you like a hurricane through all of th ose speakers, I executed what I then dubbed Operation Naked Boat. Get everything outside inside, or off of the boat. Things that can fly, things that can create damage, things that will rip and tear in high winds come off, off, off.
Now I was not completely alone in this. I had some very awesome neighbors and friends who helped me when I couldn’t undo the small dinghy air vents, who shared insights from talking with other boaters in Florida, and who gave me all of the moral support anyone could ever want. Thank you Kim and JC in particular. You two are awesome. And thank you Chad and Michelle for joining in on the community barn raising that later occurred, in helping prep other people’s boats. You two are fabulous.
I also had the offers of help from my Mexican friends who work here at the marina, and the smiles and nods of approval from the Mexican captains of the very large yachts around me who were busily stripping everything off of the exterior of their boats. We were all together, yet working apart. I could feel the care and support, and it added to my feeling of capability and empowerment. I got this. I got this.
In the meantime, Kevin got on a plane! And landed at LAX. And got on another plane which successfully took off for Loreto. I should say thank you also to Alaska Airlines for their free texting service. Kevin and I texted on Whatsapp for the entirety of his trip down the west coast. “Should we waterproof tape the covers on the exterior stereo controls or just take them off? Where’s the needle for the bike pump that pumps up the fenders?” We burned up the airwaves and it was like he was here with me. A few hours later, he was. YESSS! It felt so good to hug him. And then bring him back here to the marina and get back to work. While I had gotten a ton done, there were some things that I really needed Kevin to do, and really, I just needed my partner with me. We’re a team.
While Kevin and I busted our butts and got this boat ready for a Cat 1 direct hit, we did not end up experiencing that at all. The storm continued to shift east over the hours ahead and as I write this, it has created havoc for mainland Mexico, and at this time, has fallen apart entirely. And quite thankfully. We didn’t get to see how our efforts would have played out, and that’s really totally fine by us! While we love a good storm, I’m not sure we’d love to experience a hurricane on our beloved boat! We did however get a great practice run at preparing for a hurricane. It was a stressful, but super valuable experience.
The forward stateroom, full of stuff. Flybridge cushions, canvas, coolers, flags…
I’m posting a copy of our plan below. I am hoping that it will help others who are wondering what they might do when in the same situation. I’d love any other additional ideas from anyone reading who might have some more experience with hurricanes. Bring them on!
RED ROVER’S HURRICANE PREPARATION PLAN
In the event that a storm is predicted to come close to us, we will take the following steps:
Remove and Store (Make sure nothing can fly)
- Remove all canvas, including hatch covers, flybridge seating/table/dash and window covers from the exterior of the boat.
- Remove all exterior electronics covers (including stereo stations).
- Use waterproof tape to secure any parts of exterior electronics (ie VHF radio mic).
- Remove small dinghy, deflate and store in the lazarette.
- Remove small dinghy electric engine, store in the lazarette or in the boat.
- Remove Lifesling and store inside the boat.
- Remove all floor mats on the exterior.
- Remove all extra lines, dock poles, etc. from hanging storage on the boat deck and in the cockpit. Put away in lockers or bring inside.
- Remove canvas from the large dinghy. The large dinghy (13’ AB tender) is secured to the boat deck with webbing and stainless steel locking straps on the bow and stern, as well as over the bow and stern of the tender. All of these straps secure to stainless eyes embedded in the boat deck. We will add more straps to double-ensure that the dinghy is not going to move. We will remove the drain plug from the stern of the dinghy to allow water to drain out and over the stern of the boat into the sea. We will ensure that the dinghy bilge pump is fully functional (as it is now) and that the battery is fully charged (as it is now) prior to a storm. We will remove chartplotter from the dinghy and secure antenna. Remove the seat cushions and any items under the seats (dinghy anchor and rode, life jackets). Use waterproof tape to cover any holes when seats are removed. In the event of a large storm, we will make arrangements for the dinghy to be hauled and stored in the boat yard here at the marina.
- Remove kayaks, store inside the boat or lash securely to the dinghy if a less intense storm. Secure or remove stainless steel kayak supports and kayak support cushions and bring inside the boat. Remove kayak covers and store inside the boat, but leave cockpit cover on if the kayak is outside to preclude water gathering. Lash kayak with the cockpit covered by the dinghy.
- Remove and deflate stand-up paddle board and store in the lazarette.
- Remove the grill and store in the lazarette.
- Remove all fishing gear and rod holders and store in the lazarette.
- Remove all cushions from the flybridge. Place Stidd chairs on lowest level. Check Stidd chair bolts to the flybridge boat deck.
- Remove coolers and store inside the boat.
- Remove gas cans (which will be empty) from the boat deck and store in the lazarette.
- Confirm anchor chock is on and locked with a stainless steel bar (as it is now) and triple secure to cleats behind the windlass.
- Ensure that the life raft is securely strapped to its stainless steel cradle and add more straps to the existing two straps as additional protection.
- Remove all flags and burgees, and the lines/poles that hold them, bring inside the boat.
- Remove deck chairs and table from cockpit, store in lazarette.
- Just prior to the storm, we will remove the power cord connecting us to the dockside power stanchion. Ensure that the power cord is put away safely on the boat and is not a target for lightening. Utilize generator.
- Remove hose from dock stanchion and store in locker.
- Turn off all electronics. Turn off power to electronics at the circuit board as well to help stop electrical current transmission.
- Close all stainless steel porthole covers and secure them in place (all portholes have water tight stainless covers, intended for passagemaking security). Remove screens prior to ensure their safety.
- Close and lock all hatches. Clean around rubber gasket prior to storm to ensure that no dust or dirt will allow any water into the boat.
- In the event of a strong storm, use 3M waterproof tape to double secure hatches and outside doors (for example, the storage locker doors in the cockpit and in the Portuguese bridge).
- Place two straps on the davit to ensure that it will not move (it is hydraulic and unlikely to move, but we will double secure it).
- While our solar panels are mounted and screwed to an aluminum frame that sits atop our stainless steel framed flybridge cover, we will add additional straps to the solar panels, attaching them and the aluminum frame further to the stainless frame below.
- Place our ten oversized fenders between the boat and the dock. Add teardrop fenders as well in pinch points by cleats. Ensure that all fenders are fully inflated.
- Utilize our 1” nylon lines to secure the vessel, as spring lines, at the bow (at an angle) and at the stern. We will have at least 12 lines if not more, on the vessel. We have at least 30 lines to utilize on board including 50 foot 1” lock lines.
- Criss-cross lines and have multiple aft and forward spring lines.
- As the boat is positioned facing into the brunt of the wind, ensure that multiple lines come from the bow to both the finger pier and the main dock.
- Add chafe guard to all lines at the contact points with the boat and with the cleats on the dock.
- Close and lock all three of our steel doors.
- Coordinate with the harbormaster and extensive marina team on plans, preparations and weather updates. We will ensure we are fully knowledgeable of marina emergency plans.
- Ensure that the boat is properly fueled.
- Ensure main engine and wing engine are maintained and ready for use (as is the case now).
- Start and test both generators and ensure ready for use (as is the case now).
- Start and test both watermakers, and ensure they are ready for use (as is the case now).
- Ensure that our water tank is full and the grey and black water tanks are empty.
- Fill one of the gas cans to have available as extra gas for the dinghy if needed to assist in efforts after the storm has passed.
- Check and clean all sea strainers before, during and after the storm in the event that any debris in the water is not clogging the strainers.
- Ensure life jackets with PLBs installed are out and easily accessible. Dog life jackets too.
- Ensure ditch bag and EPIRB are out and easily accessible.
- Bring large first aid kit to the main level for immediate access.
- Ensure personal harness and leash are out and available.
- Fully provision the boat to be self-sufficient after the storm as well.
- Brew some coffee and take a deep breath.