Bracing For Impact

radarAs we locked up the boat yesterday and started walking to our rental car, Claire said, “Mom, can you promise that we’ll come back to our boat?”

I didn’t know what to say. I hope for the best, but didn’t want to make a promise that I couldn’t keep. We’ve been trying to keep Claire aware of what’s going on in a way that she understands and that doesn’t scare her, but even at her age, she gets the seriousness of the situation.

As I sit here typing this from our hotel room in Columbia, South Carolina, the winds in Brunswick, Georgia, where our boat is, have already reached 30 to 40 mph and it’s been raining steadily for a few hours now. The conditions will get much worse before they get better, and all we can do is wait.

When we shifted our life gears and bought a boat in Florida, Aaron and I spoke a lot about hurricane plans. We decided to wait out the season on the east coast, heading north to decrease the likelihood of us being affected by a named storm. Aaron even put together a hurricane evacuation plan – a requirement for our insurance company – and something he did not take lightly.

If we were to rewrite that plan now, it would look much different – one of those things that you unfortunately learn best through experience.

Clarity currently sits in a “hurricane hole,” which is a marina or anchorage that’s designated by insurance companies as a safe haven (relatively speaking) during a named storm. Location, location, location – not just a real estate tenet. The marina sits miles away from the ocean inlet, past Saint Simons Sound, through Fancy Bluff Creek, and up a channel that dead-ends just past the marina. The waves and the storm surge have a lot of ground to cover before they reach our marina. The surge is still our biggest fear at the moment. But more on that in a minute.

Getting your boat to an optimal location is only the beginning. Before evacuating, Aaron and I spent two-and-a-half days preparing the boat for the storm. Some of it was common sense, some of it we learned after researching, and some of it was insight we gained from the other boaters in our marina, many of whom have been through hurricanes before. Here’s the list:

  • Double and triple up all of our dock lines, sometimes reaching not only to our dock but the next over, to spiderweb the boat in and prevent as much movement and bucking as possible, accounting for waves, tides, wind and storm surge.
  • Put chafing gear anywhere the lines touch anything, including other lines, cleats, the boat, etc. With tremendous winds and pressure on the lines, chafing could quickly compromise the lines, rendering them useless.
  • Minimize gear on the topsides to reduce windage as much as possible. For us, this included taking down the furling head sail; removing many excess lines (ropes); stowing all covers including winch covers, the grill cover, hatch (window) shades, sun shades, and more. Anything can become a projectile.
  • Our boat has a hard dodger and bimini, which is a blessing in many ways, but with a hurricane, can be dangerous. After Aaron put considerable time into determining which direction the wind was most likely to generate from at the height of the storm, we turned the boat around, facing the bow into the wind and allowing the gusts to pass right over the dodger.
  • Plug all vents (dorades) that normally allow for fresh air to pass in and out of the cabin.
  • Fill our water tanks to make sure we have full supply upon return, as we may not be able to fill up for days.
  • Close and lock all hatches and lazarettes (our storage areas up top).
  • Down below, close all seacocks (throughhulls) except for bilge pump exits.
  • Check all boats around us in the marina, to make sure they are as prepared as possible. If they don’t reduce windage, for example, anything on their deck could become flying debris. If they don’t tie their boat properly, it could come barreling right into ours.
  • For insurance purposes, take pictures of absolutely everything, to submit with a claim, if needed, and prove that we prepared as much as we could.
  • Book a rental car and hotel room in advance.
  • Pack for evacuation, planning on two or three days but possibly more. This also includes packing up any essential documents and items (passports, boat registrations, computers, portable hard drives) that we would be devastated to lose should we return to a total loss.

By the time we hit the road on Thursday afternoon, we were EXHAUSTED. Also worth noting, though, is not only what we were doing to plan, but what we were planning the boat for, a lot of which wasn’t even on my radar before this. Here are those considerations:

  • The winds: Both the force, and if they’re gusts, or sustained winds.
  • The rain, which causes immediate flooding and raises the overall water height.
  • The waves, which can get as high as 15-20 feet due to the force of the winds on the water. This is certainly more of a concern for the coastal communities, less of a concern as the waves work their way to the inland waters.
  • The storm surge – our biggest concern. As the wind and rain and waves build offshore, they push more and more water toward the coast, creating a surge above and beyond the forecasted waves and tidal fluctuations. For Brunswick, the surge is supposed to be six to nine feet, and it’s looking like it will hit close to the worst time – high tide.
  • Inland tornadoes that can be caused by the systems generated when the hurricane hits land.
  • Loss of power and water, which can last for a few days or even a few weeks, depending on the severity of the storm.
  • Compromised roadways (either by flooding or debris) that prevent us from returning to our boat.
  • Security. With mandatory evacuations, many homes and businesses are abandoned, leaving a wealth of property for vandals and looters.

We are confident that we did as much as we could to secure our boat. Our biggest concern right now is the storm surge. Our marina consists of floating docks, which in theory is ideal, as it allows for the boats and docks to rise along with the increased water. However, the pilings are only about six to seven feet higher than the waters at high tide. If the surge hits at high tide, as it’s supposed to, and it reaches higher than that, which is a possibility, our entire marina could then float up and off the pilings and break apart.

Conditions will peak overnight, and come morning Matthew should have moved up the coast. We’ve planned to hit the road early in the morning tomorrow and get back to the boat as soon as possible to assess things. As long as the damage is minimal, we will be fine, even if the power in the surrounding area is out. Our water tanks are full and we generate our own power. Our batteries will also keep our fridge and freezer running for days.

This is the first hurricane of this magnitude, with this trajectory, to hit the Georgia coast in more than 100 years. Of course it is.

Plan for the worst, Hope for the best. And remind yourself that homes can be rebuilt. All that truly matters is your health and your heart.

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