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Antigua: Safe Haven in a Hurricane?

History and modern technology says ‘Yes’ and so do many of the insurance companies. English Harbour was, for two centuries, the refuge of the Royal Navy and it still remains one of the best ‘hurricane holes’ in the Caribbean. Its reputation was slightly marred in 1995 when Hurricane Luis struck the island although, to be fair, the damage to yachts was largely a question of bad seamanship rather than lack of protection in English Harbour.

Too many yachts were inadequately secured both in the way they were roped to the shore and in their anchoring. A few broke loose causing damage to others plus there was some overcrowding. Many yachts only protected themselves with standard fenders rather than the more robust old car tyres. Had boat owners taken more care then damage would have been negligible.

Second only to English Harbour as a ‘hurricane hole’, Jolly Harbour, surrounded by hills and with a long entrance channel which minimises tidal surges, provides good all round protection although many, not all, insurers do not accept the risk if a boat remains in the water.

Technology, albeit quite low technology, has now come to the rescue of an owner wishing to leave a boat in Antigua during the hurricane season. Several yards now provide welded and strapped down cradles where boats and yachts (masts removed) can be stored ashore and remain fully insured. Catamaran Marina has gone one stage further by sinking concrete lined keel holes ashore enabling yachts to almost sit on the ground.

Amongst the yards which provide insurance approved cradles are Antigua Rigging (in association with Bailey’s Boatyard) in Falmouth, Antigua Slipway in English Harbour and the boatyard at Jolly Harbour. Not all cradles are built to the same specification so check your insurance company is happy with the yard of your choice.

Antigua Rigging Ltd supplied All at Sea with computer calculations based on a 66’ boat, without mast, secured in a cradle. These calculations showed the cradle could withstand winds up to 170 knots or 196 mph. Considering a Category 5 hurricane is 155+ knots it would take a very unusual hurricane to dislodge a boat from a properly secured cradle. Even with mast in situ the cradle will stand a wind speed of 117 knots (135 mph) which relates to the bottom end of a Category 3 hurricane. These calculations are available on request.

Many insurance companies now accept that properly secured boats are a reasonable risk and quotes can be obtained from Antiguan companies such as Anjo Insurance, ABI Insurance, ANICOL or FDICIC who place the risk with large overseas insurers or Brysons who insure through Lloyds of London. Admiral and Pantaenius are amongst U.K. insurers who will consider covering boats in the Caribbean.

Insurance is not cheap and some boat owners economise taking the chance of a hurricane passing them by and leave the boat secured in the water but unattended. In that event it is worth employing the services of a guardianage company such as Antigua Yacht Services who will check the security of a boat before and after a hurricane—although nothing can protect a boat from flying debris.

Antigua’s yachting season is traditionally November to May, however, with the improved boat storage facilities this could now be extended to all year round.

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