*Hurricane Irene Aboard a Tiny Ship*
After Action Report
By: Gottin_Himmel
11 September 2011

Various government agencies and the media have been criticized for inflating the danger presented by Hurricane Irene. Originally forecast to hit the East Coast as a strong Category 3 storm, she lost strength and changed course before making landfall on North Carolina's Outer Banks as a Cat 2. We lucked out, but 40 people died and $12 billion in property was destroyed.

My dockmates and I were riveted to the radio during the three or four days before Irene came calling. Wind speed and direction were only two factors. Several inches of rainfall runoff would mean locally higher water. The projected storm surge was four to five feet above normal. Ma Nature's twisted sense of humor gave us a full moon at the same time which would mean even greater tidal effects.

Two days before she hit, I already had several plans in place. If it looked as though Irene were a Cat 3 when she hit the Outer Banks, she would be a Cat 2 as she blew over our heads. I would take my boat out into deeper water in the middle of our cove, set two anchors and wish her well as I sheltered ashore on higher ground. Alternatively, I could have evacuated further inland. However, liveaboards have a difficult time abandoning ship. I wanted to be close by.

NOAA, the National Weather Service and AccuWeather provided excellent coverage and alerts for the Virginia coast. By Friday, the day before the storm, I already knew that I'd be staying aboard because Irene was losing strength. Once that decision was out of the way, I could fine-tune my preparations.

Everything loose on the boat was stowed elsewhere or lashed down. Awnings and the AC unit were moved to higher storage shelves in the shop area. The container garden got dumped or moved inside.

I'd ordered some extra dock lines on sale the previous week ( they arrived the Monday after the storm). Meanwhile, what to do? I scrounged a couple of 25' lengths of dockline left behind by former residents.The local hardware store was out of 1/2" braided line, so I indulged in overkill and bought 25 feet of 5/8." This probably saved some damage during the height of the storm.

I also repacked my bugout bag with season-appropriate clothing. I doubled-checked the external media containing personal and financial data. The vacuum-sealed plastic bag holding a quantity of cash was intact and watertight. I pre-positioned the bag in the cottage on the hill just in case.

We topped off our water tanks and filled tea kettles before the dock water was shut off. I always fill two 5-gallon collapsible water carriers from Wal-Mart before a storm. These are worth their weight in gold.

Shore power was going to be shut off on Saturday evening. Most of us have at least some solar power capabilities but Irene's outer bands gave us total overcast for two or three days. Having generators on the docks or onboard was out of the question. I went through my routine of checking the house batteries and charging up radios, phones, laptops and rechargeable batteries. A Grundig dynamo radio/cellphone charger/light is worth its weight in platinum.

I chose analog solutions for comfort items. I don't function, really Don't function, without coffee. I didn't want to sacrifice any house-battery juice using the digital built-in coffeemaker. I could always use my backup French cafe' press, but the thought of pouring boiling water and stirring ground coffee on a wildly pitching boat didn't appeal to me. I ought to hang my head in shame but I resorted to instant. I'd already pulled out ready-to-eat food from the onboard storage lockers for the same reason.

My notebook computer is my entertainment center most of the time. Rather than using battery power to keep me amused during the storm, I loaded up on good ol' paper books from the town library.

I called my family to tell them where I was, what I was going to do and when I'd contact them after the storm. Rubicon members knew where I was as well. This was all done before 2 p.m., a few hours before the storm hit because our ISP went offline at that time.

Okay. All set. Ready as I was ever going to be. I kept adjusting the docklines. I reset the lines attached to pilings and wrapped around the starboard and port winches. Finally, it was time to get below and pretty much stay there for the next 16 hours.

What was it like? It was pretty thrilling most of the time. My boat and I'd been through a couple of Nor'easters, a downburst and the tail end of a hurricane together. She's an older thick-hulled fiberglass sailboat made in the Netherlands in the '70s. She was also designed as a North Sea coastal cruiser so her broad beam and low cabin profile make her very stable.

The marina owner was watching from the safety of the bath house for a while and swore she heeled over 60 degrees in a big gust. He's an excitable boy. Anything more than 40 degrees and the tea kettle falls off the stove and bonks me on the head after I've been flung to the cabin floor. That didn't happen.

My hair was wet for 16 hours straight from crawling out into the cockpit and winching the boat away from the dock as the water level changed. I read for several hours by the Grundig's light, had a hot dinner, snacks and breakfast. Periodic checks of NOAA and local emergency frequencies kept me abreast of weather conditions and evacuations. At 11 p.m. Saturday, I finally turned in and slept lightly. Hurricanes make a lot of noise, and there was always the storm surge to consider.

A Cat 1 is the upper limit for staying aboard, I think. Boats and docks are not always the best of friends in high winds.

I made my decision and stuck with it. Changing your mind at the last minute is a very bad thing to do during a dangerous situation. I knew I'd have to deal with any consequences on my own. Emergency personnel and the Coast Guard should not and do not risk their lives after an evacuation notice has been issued.

All materials at this site not otherwise credited are Copyright 1996 - 2011 Trip Williams. All rights reserved. May be reproduced for personal use only. Use of any material contained herein is subject to stated terms or written permission.