Sep. 1, 2019, a Cat 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph and a minimum central pressure of 910 mb hit the Bahamas. It was the strongest hurricane to hit the northern Bahamas since modern records. Phillip and I watched this monster breed, grow, and feast on the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean as it approached. While we had done all we could—our boat was as prepared as possible—nothing can ease the fear of a hurricane claiming her, the one you’ve toiled so painstakingly over. The boat you love. As Dorian began to rip into the Abacos, all we could do was watch and hold our breath as Plaintiff’s Rest sat tied to the dock at Great Harbour Cay in the northern Berry Islands, Bahamas.
August 28, 2019, Dorian is officially declared a hurricane. After rapid intensification, on August 31, 2019, she is declared a Cat 4 with a path pointed right toward Great Harbour Cay. My stomach lurches as NOAA loads and shows us our potential fate.
“I’m actually glad it’s pointed right at us,” Phillip says. “That usually means it’s going to go another direction.”
While that may sound crazy (everyone has a few odd storm superstitions), that one actually holds rather true, as Hurricane Michael was pointed straight toward us in Pensacola in October, 2018, initially.
But, because of our superstition, that meant the storm was going to veer off and just miss us. Thankfully, that’s exactly what Hurricane Michael did, heading just over 100 miles to the east, sadly, walloping Panama City. While it is always tough to “wish” a hurricane on anyone else, all you can think when it’s coming for you is “please turn, please turn, please turn.”
Although it was unclear whether the damage from Dorian would be confined mostly to the Abacos alone, or the Abacos and the Berries, was yet to be determined, Plaintiff’s Rest did have several things going for her:
- The incredible staff at Great Harbour Cay (“GCH”) Marina;
- The marina’s 360-degree protection and impressive hurricane track record;
- Our extensive hurricane preparation; and
- Our final magic touch: Steve and Ros!
1. The Staff at GHC
While I discussed this extensively in the previous blog, it bears noting once more as this was one of the primary thoughts Phillip and I had running through our heads back in Pensacola as we continued to refresh NOAA and watch the news: Our boat was in the best hands possible with Steven and his staff at GHC. I kept envisioning Steven with his 14’ “gang plank” he called it, having placed and scaled it out to our boat in the middle of two slips working feverishly to “spider-web” her out, as I call it.
As I mentioned, we had an additional six (6) 50’ dock lines shipped to Steven at his request for a situation just like this, and I was confident he was using every one of them to expertly position our boat for the storm. While the docks at GHC unfortunately do not float, Steven used a rock-solid strategy in tying the first set of six lines at a length that would allow her to float safely in a normal rise and fall of tide. He then tied the secondary round of six lines at a length that would allow her to continue floating safely in the middle of the slips if the tide/surge rose another 3-4’ and/or any of the initial round of lines failed.
Phillip and I were incredibly grateful for a team willing to take such great efforts in our leave to ensure our boat was safe. We also heard from a follower on Facebook after posting about our hurricane hole who rode out Hurricane Matthew in GHC. She told us what impressive lengths Steven and his staff went to to help prepare and protect all of the boats in the marina. Thank you, Cynthia, for sharing this!
Thankfully, due to Steven and his team’s efforts, not a single boat was lost when Hurricane Matthew went over on almost a virtual track to Dorian. So, for Dorian, we had the best deckhands possible looking out for our boat: Steven’s Angels.
2. GHC’s Hurricane Track Record
One of the first things we learned about GHC when Phillip and I began to research it was its impressive track record. As I mentioned in the previous post, Phillip and I were comforted by an article we found written by a cruising couple who (like Cynthia) spent Hurricane Matthew in GHC and highly recommended it: Hurri-CAN or Hurri-CAN’T.
In addition to Matthew, knowing GHC also survived Hurricane Andrew, another Cat 4 direct hit, back in 1992, again with no damage to boats or homes, help put our minds at ease.
GHC is either a very protected place, or darn lucky. Either way, Phillip and I wanted both luck and geography on our side for hurricane season.
3. Our Hurricane Boat Prep
The sad reality of hurricanes is that no matter how much you prepare, how many anchors you drop or lines you tie, how buttoned up and stripped she is, whether on jacks or in the water, if a Cat 5 rolls over your boat, all bets are off. Nothing is guaranteed. No place is 100% safe, especially when there is always the factor of other boats around her that may not be secured off as securely, either in the shipyard or out. All you can do is make the best decisions possible, do as much prep work as possible, then pray and plead to the hurricane gods that this time won’t be your time. That’s what we did. I’ve posted an article before outlining all of the hurricane prep work we do on our boat anytime we think she might face a significant storm or hurricane for your benefit here. This comprehensive prep-work was a very comforting thought as Phillip and I watched Dorian rumble closer and closer from our laptops back in Pensacola, knowing we had done all we could.
4. Our Eyes and Ears on the Ground: Steve and Ros
This was an unexpected gift. Phillip and I had been lucky enough to meet this wonderful couple both when we cruised through Bimini on our way into the Bahamas this past spring, and again when we both ended up stopping in GHC to park our boats for hurricane season. Steve and Ros are a very interesting and entertaining liveaboard cruising-couple who are just getting their first taste of the Bahamas this year. We had fun dining and hanging out (literally!) with them when Phillip and I were in GHC before we left in May of last year.
While Steve and Ros chose, themselves, to stay in GHC once it appeared Dorian was traveling significantly and safely to the north, they thankfully had a condo where they were able to stay so they remained high, dry, and safe. But, this also let them be our eyes and ears on the ground as the storm rolled over Plaintiff’s Rest in Slip 6, which they could see from the safety of their condo. This was the view from their condo (Plaintiff’s Rest is the sailboat on the far right):
We spoke on the phone many times to Steve and Ros as the storm approached making sure they were safe, offering the food and water we knew was on our boat in the aftermath of the storm (as everyone expected the power, water, and food supplies to be diminished for days, possibly weeks post-Dorian), and talking about the conditions they were seeing in the marina. Steve and Ros were able to send us some pictures and video during the height of the storm.
You’ll notice in the photo above, the water has not risen enough yet to reach the docks. Thankfully the actual storm itself was fairly benign in GHC, with reports of winds only up to 90-100 mph in the marina. However, immediately after the storm, as the surge began to flow in (even with the incredibly narrow cut I documented previously that leads into the marina), new fears began to grow as the water quickly consumed the docks and continued to rise.
One of the most frightening images I think we received from Ros was of all the boats in the marina with no docks visible—just lines stretched taut into the dark water below. If that trend continued, Phillip and I knew our baby girl would be in trouble struggling with dock lines stretched to their max and continually-rising waters. Unfortunately, this was the last video we received from Steve and Ros around 4:00 p.m. on September 2, 2019 before their cell service went down for approximately 20 hours.
I’ll admit that was a bit of a frightening moment, not knowing what was happening to the boat, what the water was doing, what lines, if any, were currently failing. All kinds of graphic images wandered through our minds during that time, imagining her breaking free of all lines, being lifted up above the docks and laid back down on concrete, damaged, impaled, or worse. But, Phillip and I had put our faith in that marina, its location and layout, and its exceptional staff. And, finally, around 2:00 p.m. on the afternoon of September 3, 2019, Phillip and I received a photo from Steve and Ros that (I’ll be honest) made me tear up:
A wet, post-hurricane selfie with our baby! Our floating baby! I was elated, thrilled, laughing silly with the realization that she had made it! Plaintiff’s Rest had survived Dorian!
That was the probably the most frightened Phillip and I have felt as a storm passed over our boat. I remember Nate was very scary when we decided to haul out and strap her up as best as possible, but Nate then took a turn more toward Orange Beach and the reports from Pensacola told us they had only sustained 40 knot winds, so we were almost immediately relieved. Now, in 2019, watching our boat rise with a surge that was unpredictable without updates for an extended period of time was … well, gut-wrenching. But, we know many others lost their boats, homes, and livelihoods in the Abacos when Dorian went over, so we can only consider ourselves lucky, and extremely grateful.
While there is no way to say what is the “right” or “best” decision to make when a hurricane is coming, because there as so many variables and unpredictable outcomes, I guess I’ll apply the same rule that we use for docking: If no one was hurt and nothing was broken, it’s a success. Thankfully, we can say that this year—with that monster Dorian roaring a mere 60 miles north of our boat—and neither Phillip nor I were hurt and nothing was broken, which means our hurricane plan this year was a success. Thankfully.
But, my lawyer (Phillip : ) wisely reminded me to include this important disclaimer: Deciding where or how to secure your boat for hurricane season can be an incredibly difficult decision, with no “right” answer in sight. But it is a decision you have to make on your own after conducting your own research, knowing no place, including Great Harbour Cay, can ever be a 100% guarantee.
Many thanks to Steven and his incredible staff at GHC for watching over our baby girl, to fellow cruisers who have posted and shared their experience at GHC, and a resounding, almighty thank-you to Steve and Ros for keeping an eye on our baby girl during the storm and venturing out when it was safe to make sure she was, too. Plaintiff’s Rest will be forever grateful!!