Intensity secured in a secluded bayou in anticipation of a possible hit by Hurricane Dennis. I've got four anchors in the creek bed: two off the bow and two off the stern, in addition to four long lines secured to stout trees on shore. This waterway is protected from any possible wave action, so the main threat is hurricane force winds.
Here is the second part of a two part series I wrote for South Mississippi Outdoors and Recreation on preparing your sailboat for hurricane season:
Preparing your boat for hurricane season
Part II: Storm anchoring techniques
Last month I detailed the supplies and gear the owners of large, non-trailerable vessels should keep on board during hurricane season. Since that article was printed, the Mississippi Gulf Coast has been threatened by Tropical Storm Cindy and Hurricane Dennis. Most boat owners on the coast took evasive action as Dennis was bearing down, but luckily it passed far enough to the east to have little effect.
Most boat owners by now should have what they need to secure their vessel in a storm, and many already have favorite “hurricane holes” they plan to evacuate to each time the coast is threatened. While it may be possible to ride out smaller storms like Cindy in the marina, as many of us did at Point Cadet, the bigger storms and hurricanes will require finding more protected waters and getting away from docks and pilings. Fortunately, the Mississippi Gulf Coast offers an abundance of bayous, canals and other sheltered waters that offer a lot of protection.
Since my boat is a sailing vessel that draws more than four feet of water, my focus is on the specifics of securing a sailing vessel, but many of these techniques are applicable to motor vessels as well. Any boat drawing more than a couple of feet is quite limited in where it can go near shore on the Gulf Coast, so it pays to explore your planned evacuation area in advance and make sure you can get in and out without running aground. The idea is to get as far from open water as possible into sheltered waters where you will be protected from the effects of wind-driven waves. While some boaters chose to anchor out in semi-exposed bays and estuaries where the boat will have plenty of swinging room, doing so means you will have rely 100 percent on your anchors and anchor rodes. Boats anchored this way can survive hurricanes if the anchor rodes are well protected from chafe and the deck fittings they are cleated to are sufficiently reinforced to prevent them from being torn loose. Since the wind from hurricanes often reverses direction if the eye passes close enough to your position, it is important that the boat is secured from every possible angle. One method is to set three anchors out at 120 degrees to each other and connect the rodes to a strong swivel that is then connected to the bow. This allows the boat to swing in any direction with at least two anchors absorbing the force, at least in theory. Another method also successfully used by cruisers is to put more than one anchor, usually two or three, connected in series on a long chain that is then connected to the bow of the boat by one rode. This method also allows the boat to swing and the multiple anchors reduce the possibility of dragging, but all your hopes are riding on one rope or chain, and if it parts it’s all over.
The biggest problem with either of these methods out in somewhat open water is that hurricanes can generate surprisingly big waves even in what seems like a peaceful cove or bay. If the storm surge causes the water to rise several feet, barrier islands, jetties and other breakwaters might be submerged and suddenly you find yourself exposed to breakers. Even properly set storm anchors can break out when a boat is pitching and pulling in rough waves, not to mention the risk of taking on water through deck openings such as hatches. This is why most boaters chose to head deep into the woods on the bayous and canals such as the Industrial Seaway, where the exposure to possible waves is almost non-existent.
Another advantage of narrow waterways is the presence of trees and the possibility of tying up your boat to both banks as well as setting anchors. According to marine surveyors and insurance adjusters in Florida after last year’s devastating hurricanes, the boats that came through with little or no damage tended to be secured in such canals with anchors and lines to shore. Most of the boats that were destroyed or sunk were the ones left in marinas.
Preparations for Hurricane Dennis turned out to be a drill, but the measures I took were as follows: First, I monitored the latest coordinates and forecast track given at each update by the National Weather Service. Second, since most of the computer models showed the storm was likely make landfall somewhere east of Biloxi, I decided to sail west to put as much distance as possible between me and the storm if it did take more of a turn in our direction. Third, once I made that decision I left as soon as possible, before the evacuation of all the out-front marinas became a mad scramble. And forth, after cruising some distance west, I entered a protected bay while the drawbridges were still operating and then worked my way as far as my draft would permit into a bayou and series of abandoned canals. Some other boats were already tying up in the area, so I found an unoccupied hole well away from them. One problem is that many boaters don’t have proper anchors or enough lines, and getting too close to them in a storm can get your boat smashed, so I like to find a place to hide far away from the crowd. Finally, once I was situated in a wooded waterway about two boat-lengths wide and 6-8 feet deep, I pointed my bow northeast into the direction of the strongest expected winds and then proceeded to set four anchors in the creek bed; two at slight angles off the bow and two at similar angles astern. All these were set on more than 100 feet of rode to allow plenty of stretch in a storm surge. I then secured four additional lines at angles to sturdy trees on the bank, making sure there was enough slack to accommodate a water level rise of several feet. I feel like the boat was as safe as it could be in such a situation, but it was a great relief that the preparations I made were not tested by a Category 4 or 5 storm.