Donald M. Street Jr’s Tips on Surviving Hurricane Season in the Caribbean

 

Image Courtesy of NOAA - National Ocean Service: Category 4 and 5 hurricane tracks from 1851-2016 in the East Atlantic ocean basin.
Image Courtesy of NOAA – National Ocean Service: Category 4 and 5 hurricane tracks from 1851-2016 in the East Atlantic ocean basin.

In late November 1984 Iolaire was anchored on the Northside of St Martin with the wind blowing a hooley out of the south. We were not worried, we had two anchors well set out in a Y to the South, sheltered by St. Martin from any sea. A small launch with two French Gendarmes came along side and warned “cyclone”- hurricane. It was late in the season for hurricanes, November 6 (in those days hurricane season ended Oct 31).

To figure out the hurricane center, I stood facing the wind, spread out my right arm which pointed West. Thus the low, the center of the hurricane was West of Iolaire. Hurricanes in the low latitude of the Caribbean always head West or Northwest, or so I thought. In my mind, the hurricane should be moving West away from us. 

I turned on the radio and discovered I was wrong. The hurricane was heading Northeast, right at us . Our nice anchorage under the lee of St Martin would become a deadly lee shore. Iolaire survived using six of her seven anchors. I wasn’t going to be caught by surprise again.

Lessons Learned from the NOAA book Cyclones of the North Atlantic 1871 to 1975 with loose pages bringing it up to 1983. 

  • They all start off the coast of Africa, below the Cape Verdes. 
  • They track West never changing course more than 5 degrees in 24 hours. 
  • The alteration of course was almost always to the North. If they took a zig to the South, only once did the  zig last more than two days. That one lasted three days. 
  • Once a hurricane went above 19N it was no longer a danger to islands of the eastern Caribbean. 
  • Five hurricanes formed in the Eastern Caribbean and headed Northeast.

Klaus was only the second hurricane since 1871 that started in the Eastern Caribbean and headed Northeast, the previous one Alice, Dec 30 1954, was the first one.

With the exception of the above type of hurricane, I realized it was relatively easy to statistically track hurricanes that will affect the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. 

When is the End of Hurricane Season?

In the last thirty years there have been enough hurricanes in November to justify the insurance companies moving the closing date of hurricane season from Oct 31 to November 31. There also have been a number of December hurricanes. 

Boats heading south to the Caribbean in late November or early December should contact a good weather router in the hope of avoiding a late season hurricane or a violent December storm.

A brief summary of Hurricane Advice.

  • During hurricane season regularly check www.nhc.noaa.gov/gtwo.php for five day hurricane forecast. Track the hurricane. If it is aimed at your island, leave 48 hours before the hurricane hits and head South or Southwest. Do not try to fight your way East to an island or harbour in the islands of the Eastern Caribbean.
  • Hurricane holes… There are NONE. Check the number of boats lost in your so called hurricane hole in 2017. Then, come to your senses and think Marina Puerto del Rey (http://www.puertodelrey.com/). The marina has berths for 1,000 boats, 552 were in the marina 2% total losses  4% major damaged
  • Laying up ashore. Look at how the yard has stored your boat and boats on either side of your boat, for hurricane season and use these four steps 1) Use a Robust Cradle 2) Tie the Boat Down to Dead Men or Sand Screws 3) Dig a Pit for a Fin Keel and sink the keel 4) Take out the Mast! Ask the yard manager how the yard fared in 2017. Again Puerto del Rey yard had 221 boats stored, none suffered major damage
  • Laying up afloat on hurricane mooring? Read that section of my website and forget laying up afloat during hurricane season.

Because of space limitations I have concentrated on advice for Hurricane alley, but the same advice is pretty much the same for all Caribbean islands.

Read all of the hurricane articles of my website www.street-iolaire.com and follow my advice.