While this is tough to share, it is also humbling and inspiring. Hurricane Michael was the strongest hurricane to hit US shores since Andrew. Practically speaking, it was pretty much a Cat 5 when it hit the shore the Florida panhandle on October 10, 2018. With sustained winds of 155 mph, it was just a shade under the 156 mph rank for a Cat 5. We heard reports, however, of gusts up to 178. One hundred and seventy-eight miles an hour. Can you even imagine? I think it might peel the skin off of your face. I honestly don’t know and don’t want to. Although Phillip and I are incredibly grateful for how lucky we were that Michael did make that anticipated hook to the east and missed us entirely here in Pensacola, it is a stark reminder of how close we came to having our downtown, our homes, and our marinas and boats here in Pensacola look like this.
Phillip and I recently had the opportunity to travel to Panama City to deliver hurricane relief supplies to a local church that had put together a drive. We wanted to go to offer our help, of course, but I have to be honest when I say I also wanted to go to see, to document, and to share. Hurricanes are horrific. They’re terrifying and infinitely stronger than you can imagine. Those who have the means to evacuate if a cyclone anywhere close to a Cat 5 is coming, but don’t simply because they feel they can somehow save their house, business, or boat if they stay behind, I hope footage like this can help educate.
The damage in Panama City (the only location we went to) was primarily from wind. While the damage from a hurricane is typically some combination of wind and water via a storm surge, it did not appear in the areas we went to that Panama City experienced a large storm surge. There were no signs of mud slathered across the streets or water lines on the buildings to suggest that. Rather, it seemed in Panama City wind was the deadliest force. It shocked Phillip and I to see entire fields of trees, hundreds of them, all snapped clean in half. Just from the wind. Seeing them all cracked over, my mind instantly tried to re-create the scene mentally watching full-blown, thick-trunked trees breaking from the sheer force of the wind. I could almost hear their horrific cries. I don’t want to visualize these scenes. My mind forces me to when I see damage like this. It is a humbling reminder of who is in charge on this earth, and why we should make a much greater, collective effort to treat her better, to help heal her so we do not feel her wrath as frequently.
While I share this footage to educate, I also want to shine a spotlight on the many, many volunteers we saw out, gathering and giving away supplies. There were people on the side of the road at intersections with signs that read: “Free Lunch” or “Free Supplies.” There were many donation stations. Free food, water, and ice locations. We saw dozens of freshly-mounted new powerline poles along the roads where power company employees had worked feverishly to restore power for those affected.
To the extent we saw devastating damage in Panama City, we also saw courage in the face of disaster. People can sometimes be awful, selfish, terrible things, but it’s nice to be reminded that other times they can be generous, brave, and kind. Here is a link to the American Red Cross’s Hurricane Michael Relief Page if you, too, would like to help the Hurricane Michael relief efforts. To those affected in Panama City, Mexico Beach, Tallahassee, and the surrounding areas, our hearts and thoughts are with you as you regroup and rebuild.
There’s a storm brewing out there. You know it’s coming. You often know how fast it’s going and what the sustained winds are. You even have many, many predicted tracks. But, you just never know with 100% certainty where it’s going to hit and what it’s going to do.
Deciding what to do when a hurricane has its sights set on you is always a very tough call. The cone is so large (made even larger by varying predicted landfalls) and sailboats move so slow.
Even if you have purchased a hurricane haul-out plan, which Phillip and I have, deciding whether to haul-out or not is still a tough call. Being on jack stands among dozens of other boats propped up on what look like toothpicks is no guarantee of safety. But, even if you tie your boat up super secure in an anchorage or marina, that’s no guarantee another boat won’t come loose and come barreling into you. It’s just tough. As Phillip and I wait for Michael to make landfall, I thought I would share with you all some of our thoughts on hurricane preparation and some of the measures we took to (hopefully) keep our boat safe. Many of these are passed down from sailors much wiser than us, and you know me, I’m always happy to share. Here’s to the Kretschmers and Pam Walls out there who have taught us so much. We hope some of these tips help you all someday (if not today!) too.
Whether to Haul
The decision of whether to haul is usually difficult because it has to be made very early in the process, when the hurricane is out there with varying predicted landfalls. But, understandably, the shipyards have to be prepared to haul as many people out on their list that want out, so that takes 2-3 days to coordinate and schedule. They cannot allow all owners on the list to wait until the last day and then demand to be hauled out. For Phillip and I, if our marina requires a mandatory evacuation, then that makes the decision to haul-out easier. However, as with Michael, where the marina merely issued a “voluntary” evacuation—encouraging but not requiring owners to leave—that makes our decision tougher.
While it would be (well … nice isn’t really the right word as I’m sure the experience is a wet, wild adventure) but it would be reassuring to be able to stay safely on the boat in the marina during the hurricane constantly checking for chafe or other wind-driven problems, and watching out for other boats that may come loose. Staying in the water, however, does expose the boat to a potential sinking if something collides with her or strikes her in such a way as to punch a hole or cause a break that would allow water intake. Being on jack stands does give you peace of mind that she won’t sink. However, up and on jack stands does create significant more windage. Jack stands can fail, and other boats can topple over onto you.
While Phillip and I believe hauling out can be the safer option, it’s not guaranteed. Some friends offered us a mooring they dropped themselves (a 2,000 lb tractor axle) with a super hearty shackle up in a hurricane hole where they rode out Hurricane Ivan safely, and I would imagine that would be a safer option than the shipyard. However, it’s in a neighboring state where we are not insured. So that would be a huge downside if something did occur and our boat was significantly damaged during the storm. All of these pros and cons were weighing on us as we left Pirate’s Cove in Alabama and made our way home Sunday to our slip in Pensacola.
It was no surprise when the folks at our hurricane haul-out yard called us during our motor back asking us if we wanted to haul-out and, if so, when we wanted to be scheduled. They offered us a 5:30 p.m. slot the following day on Monday, or a 7:00 a.m. slot on Tuesday morning. Debating a not-so-ideal evening haul-out versus the benefit of earlier prep of the boat, we chose the 5:30 slot knowing that would give us all day Monday to watch the storm and make a last-minute decision on Monday afternoon.
Knowing we would strip the boat entirely whether we stayed in the water or hauled-out, we set to that job on Monday morning while we watched the NOAA reports during the day and waited for the final 4:00 p.m. full report that would force our hand. When the report showed Hurricane Michael moving faster, allowing it less time to hook further east before making landfall, Phillip and I decided to haul-out. We did the same thing last year when Nate was barreling down on us (I wrote a piece on that experience here), so we knew the process, we trusted the yard, and we felt it was best.
Photo from our Nate prep, October 2017.
But, the haul-out itself was just one step of the prep work. I wanted to share with you all here a detailed list of the additional work we did to ensure (we hope) no canvas or sails are damaged during the storm, no halyards or other lines come untethered and start slinging around like ball on the end of a chain, and that our boat stays as absolutely safe and undamaged as possible.
First, we start with Annie up the mast! Detailed list with photos below. Prep smart people, and best of luck out there!
Hurricane Prep on Plaintiff’s Rest
We send Annie up the mast to bring down our convertible inner forestay for our storm sail. We know we’ll have to send me up after the storm to bring other halyards and things down, so removing this just to ensure less “whippage” potential during the storm is a no-brainer. I will install it back when I go up the mast after the storm so it will be ready for our offshore sailing season.
And that video still came from our “How to Rig Your Boat for Heavy Weather Sailing” video where we share some other tips on rigging your boat for heavy offshore winds. Feel free to check it out here.
2. Drop, flake and bag the genoa, and put it below. We leave the sheets on it, so they are also removed from the topside as well.
3. Pull the furling line out of the furling drum on the headsail. It’s easy to re-install and it means one less line on the deck.
4. Remove the flag halyards. (Again, we know I will have to go up the mast again after the storm, so anything completely outside of the mast that can easily be taken down entirely and re-installed when I go back up, we remove.)
5. Remove the dodger and stow it below. (We’re getting a new one this year by the way; our old one is “played out!” as Phillip would say. Zippers coming off and falling apart. This might be the last time that old dodger rides on the boat! Sorry Charlie. See you later!)
6. Unhook the solar panels on top of the bimini (usually by marking the right connections with blue painter’s tape and Sharpie).
7. Carefully fold the bimini with the solar panels attached and stow it in the vberth below.
8. Remove the lifeline from the stern rail and stow it below. Now the cockpit is completely stripped and clean.
8. Secure the bars of the bimini and the remaining solar power cords with tape, line, and zip ties. Same with the dodger frame.
9. Remove all other canvas (hatch covers, hand rails, etc.).
10. Drop the Stack Pack and stow it below. I usually take a photo of it and make myself a little diagram so I remember how to re-install it. It’s not that hard at all. But, when it’s a wadded up pile of canvas and lines it looks a little intimidating.
11. Drop the mainsail and stow it below (with the reef line at the tack stored with it).
12. Check the figure-eight knots on each end then pull Reef One and Reef Two at the clew down into the throat at the aft of the boom with the remainder of the lines in the cockpit.
13. Remove the Cunningham and stow it below.
14. Remove the whisker pole and stow it below.
15. Okay, we’re not quite through but in yesterday-time it’s now 4:00 p.m. and time to head to the shipyard. It’s haul-out time! Let’s go!
Last thing to deal with is the lines that are remaining on the boat. Pam Wall gave us some great tips on these.
16. We pull all all halyards in the mast up to the top so the lines are protected and the shackled end cannot come untethered and start whipping everything on the boat with a fury. This includes the genny halyard, the staysail halyard, the topping lift, the spinnaker halyard and the main halyard. (That’s one busy mast!) We run dyneema leads up with the spinnaker and genny halyard (the two lines we often use to raise me up the mast) so those can be pulled back down to raise me up to retrieve the others post-storm. At the shackle end of each line I tie a big figure-eight knot to (while I’m sure it already is, but just to be doubly-sure) it’s too fat to fall down in the throat of the sheave. I then fold the shackle back onto the figure-eight knot and tape it all securely with blue tape (that way the shackle can’t bang and beat itself to death). We then attach a dyneema messenger to those we will pull back down. I tie several knots in the dyneema and tape them with blue tape to prevent the knots from slipping out. (That dyneema is super strong but notorious for un-tying itself. It’s so slickery! Annie word of the day.)
18. The remainder of the dyneema (because we don’t want to cut it, it’s one piece long enough to replace any stay or shroud) I stuff into the boot cover at the bottom of the mast and tape it round and round (to ensure the Velcro doesn’t give during the storm).
17. Here’s the Pam Wall trick. We run the remainder of the genny and the spinnaker lines round and round (tightly coiled) around the base of the mast. The main halyard that is back in the cockpit we run the same way (tightly coiled) around the binnacle. And the other lines (outhaul, main sheets, reminder of the topping lift, staysail halyard, etc.) we stuff in a bag on a port wench and we tape the throat of it shut and secure it to the wench. You can see the bag here:
18. You tired yet? We were. It was a loooonnng day yesterday. Now that everything topside is as secure as it can be, it’s time to reinforce the bottom. We run seizing wire around the handles of each jack stand (a trick Brandon with Perdido Sailor taught us – thanks B!) to help prevent them from rattling themselves loose in heavy winds.
19. We then run chain or dock lines (chain is best) from jack stand to jack stand to create a sort of secure “cradle” for our boat. To make all of the jack stands work together to support our hull.
20. Okay, I believe that’s it (as I’m running through this mentally). We’ll always do one last sweep to make sure all hatches are closed and that we didn’t miss anything. I hope this list helps some of you!
And, we hope this sheds some light for those who do not own a boat on how much work really goes into preparing a boat for a storm. Phillip and I got this all accomplished yesterday and we’re hoping our baby girl is as secure as she can be for Michael’s fury, whatever he may bring. We hope all of you remain safe during the storm, too. We’ll be sending our thoughts to your hearts, homes, and vessels. Hold fast followers!