Hurricane Season in the Caribbean

Our insurer, Admiral, have contacted us for our hurricane plans and although we had given them some thought before, the details and practicalities were more hazy. We have read up on the likely scenarios and ports of refuge on both official sites and blogs, plus listened to the wisdom of the more experienced, another reason to socialise with liveaboards here.

Hurricane season is officially 1 June to 30 November but occasionally a named windstorm can occur in May or December. There are maps of the paths they have taken historically and plenty of data on the numbers of lives lost and damage done. Our premium has jumped 1000 GBP and the excess is now 7000 GBP but the risk is so much higher.

The NOAA hurricane centre site http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/ has been bookmarked and we download Grib files daily from zyGrib and will be intently watching the weather twice daily if possible. Admiral will also telephone us if a named windstorm is imminent and check where we are.

So what are our plans, as submitted on the online form Admiral use? Obviously we don’t want to be at sea or in an unsuitable port if one hits. We would rather not be anywhere near one, for the sake of the boat and ourselves. We will be in the hurricane zone throughout the season as the area extends right down to 9 degrees north and for half the time the boat is in commission with us aboard and the remainder ashore. We already planned to haul out in Trinidad but have added an extra month this time, as it is our first season and the thought of sailing about under threat of a hurricane got the better of us. Call us cowards if you like! So, for 3 months the boat will be ashore, tied down into concrete blocks, on compacted ground and sitting on props chained together. She will be stored in an area with other boats which have been professionally prepared to withstand a hurricane. We don’t need to remove the mast but will strip the decks of as much equipment as possible. Our insurers are well aware of the facilities at the boatyard and they are happy with them.

They are also happy for us to continue sailing from the commencement of the hurricane season which is 1 June, so long as we are moving south and the boat is not left unattended. We will head from Saint Lucia to Bequia, the Grenadines and on to Grenada and have already located bays which are suitable for shelter. The boat will be driven into the mangroves and our three anchors deployed astern. Items on deck which may be damaged or create windage, will be removed and stored below. Islands such as Carriacou, Curacao and Grenada are good for shelter and the latter 2 have marinas we could book a double berth in and lace the boat into the centre. Rodney Bay in Saint Lucia is another option but we need to move south anyway.

Life in the boatyard will be interesting. It will be hot and sticky so you can rent air con units for the boat or rent cottages on site. There will be some liveaboards around but many of our friends will be flying back to their houses in the UK for 5 months and leaving their boats wrapped up ashore. We hope to meet some experienced cruisers whilst in Trinidad and make some new friends.

In December, after the season is over, I will update this page with our thoughts and experiences during the 6 months and hope to still be able to do that from our boat in one piece!

Update February 2013
Well, we all survived Hurricane season but it was a ‘low activity year’ according to NOAA. June was nice and quiet but in July we noticed a marked increase in the number of ‘tropical waves’ coming across the Atlantic. They start off near Africa and move towards the Caribbean regularly. The NOAA site is great and we watched the progress and likely track of them daily.

On 3 August we were booked for lift out in Trinidad but planned to sail overnight on 1 August to arrive on the 2nd. Just before we were due to leave Grenada a tropical wave became a ‘named storm’ called ‘Ernesto’ and a threat to the area. It was a tense time but we were well ahead of it and in the end it went further north.

Once in Trinidad we no longer tracked them as we were ashore and in a ‘safe’ area. We did hear from friends who experienced very high winds in Carriacou and they decided to put to sea to avoid the damage inflicted on some boats by others dragging in the bay. They also told us that there was quite a lot of frustration and anger when boats were trying to get into the mangrove lagoon, so that made us think again about using those as a refuge in future. Local boats take priority.

Life on the hard wasn’t that hard!! See posts for 3 August to 6 November for details of our time in Powerboats yard.

We launched again in early November but had to leave our safe area before the end of November to go north to St Lucia. We noticed that numerous american and canadian boats left Grenada on 15 November, which is when their insurance companies deem ‘end of hurricane season’ to be. Ours says 30th. It was quiet in November though so we didn’t worry about going north.

This year we are planning to go to Bonaire, again well out of the belt. The only issue is having to leave St Lucia in July but we can track the weather for a week or two before we make the 3 day passage and download weather en route.

Update August 2013
Currently in Bonaire, happily moored with many others escaping hurricane season. Posts of July and August 2013 have more details and photos. No issues leaving St Lucia at the end of July, just a great passage, squall free and a good sail blasting into the harbour. The moorings cost 10 US$ a night but you can then take your garbage to the marina bins. Only problem could be a wind reversal, usually forecast and warned of in advance. The quickly shallowing water and a long fetch makes the coast dangerous, so most people go into the marina or put to sea. We favour the latter but won’t be staying on the mooring.

We enjoyed being in Trinidad last year but prefer staying afloat, swimming daily and enjoying life on the water. For this reason alone, Bonaire is the better option. Getting back east to Grenada in October or November may be tricky though!

Update February 2015
In the event, it wasn’t too difficult motor sailing back east to Grenada, although we had to motor for 90 hours and the last few hours were tough, as the swell and wind increased nearer St George’s Harbour.

We had used Chris Parker’s weather service and waited for the annual calm, promised by friends who always went to Bonaire and back to the Lesser Antilles. It duly came at the beginning of November and we all left, some went north to the BVIs but we were the only ones going to Grenada. We stopped for lunch at Blanquilla, kept off the Venezuelan coast and just let the autopilot, ‘Cyril’ take us back whilst we read and fished. It was possible, not at all bad and we would do it again if necessary.

Last year we wanted to haul out again and chose Powerboats in Trinidad. Another great stay and we opted not to shoot straight off back to Grenada so we could explore the area. Our couple of weeks in TTSA was really peaceful and we would recommend staying there as Jesse James’ buses pick up cruisers from the gate. More posts on our stay in are filed under Archives for August through to November 2014.

For this year we are heading back to Bonaire so we can enjoy the diving and keep the boat in the water. Hopefully the new harder antifouling will last 2 seasons.

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