In the season of hurricanes and unpredictable tropical storms, history shows there’s more likely to be a miss than a hit. But if you’ve lived on an island for a while, you know that when the weather guy starts calling a storm by name, it’s time to think about stocking up on supplies, closing up your house and securing your boat, just in case.
In the past, boaters found refuge in Hurricane Hole on the northeast side of St. John. During the threat of a hurricane they would tie into the mangroves along the shore and broad cast anchors into the water. But the designation of the area as part of the Coral Reef National Monument in 2001 prohibits anchoring, leaving boaters with few options during storms.
An environmental assessment is due to be completed shortly for the creation of a hurricane mooring system in Hurricane Hole. In severe weather situations, it would provide a secure place for boats to moor without tying in to the mangroves.
“The primary reason for doing all this is to protect the mangrove shorelines. Hurricane Hole has the last pristine mangroves left in the Virgin Islands. They’re important as a nursery habitat for juvenile reef fish,” says Rafe Boulon, Chief of Resource Management for the Virgin Islands National Park and Coral Reef Monument. “It’s likely that most reefs on the south side of St. John are populated with fish that grew up in Hurricane Hole.”
Another reason for the mooring is to make it easier for boaters by giving them an attachment point. They’ll use their own anchoring gear out in the middle of the bay so it hits sand bottom.
Last-minute design details are still being worked out, but to get an idea of what the mooring will look like, picture a one-inch heavy chain lying along the bottom of the ocean. Every 30 feet there’s a large screw drilled 12 to15 feet into the sand. Each sand screw has three plates, an eight inch, ten inch and 12 inch, to resist the pullout of the sand screw. At boat attachment points, there are heavily
designed springs that act as shock absorbers for the system. They’re designed with minimum breaking strength of ten tons. But if the spring breaks, the one inch chain acts as a backup. Boats will be attaching at midpoint between sand screws, creating a 30-foot buffer between vessels.
“In the past, it’s been first come first serve, and a somewhat Wild West approach to finding a spot. You’d always get the rogue who comes in and secures haphazardly, putting other boats in danger,” says Joe Kessler, President of Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park.
At the beginning of hurricane season, boaters will register for a season long permit with the Virgin Islands National Park, and a guaranteed mooring spot. At the potential approach of the first named storm, boats can be moored and tackle put out. The new method will also relieve the environmental stress of setting up and tearing down.
“Once the storm is no longer a threat, you take your boat out but leave your tackle,” says Kessler. “I think the project is one of the most important we’ll do. What’s really important is to find a way for people to continue using those waters while protecting it.”