Ready, prep… BUT

It’s not over yet.  Hurricanes continue to rip through beloved islands, home to so many.  The devastation is beyond comprehension.  I’m sure that unless you’ve lived through something like that it is impossible to imagine all of the hardship and perseverance needed before, during and after.  

It’s incredible to see how neighboring islands are the first to show up to help, from Bahamas to Puerto Rico to Trinidad.  Florida also took a direct hit and various areas saw a great deal of destruction.  Many cruisers made it through with their vessels intact while others have lost everything.  It is simply heartbreaking.

We were fortunate to only experience Irma at Category 2 strength, although we were preparing for a Category 4/5 direct hit as originally forecast.  We were also fortunate to have options from several friends for shelter.  This was gladly accepted after a slight change in forecast and serious consideration of evacuating in the car.

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BUT first, we had a few problems to resolve!  Reach had been left for several months on the dock with shore power, solar power and our two lead acid engine starter batteries hooked up to the house system for DC power.  [The LiFePO4 batteries were brought down to 30% state-of-charge (SOC) and taken off-line].  This set-up had AC shore-power running the air conditioners in dehumidify mode, plus the inverter/charger for the lead acid batteries.  Refrigeration was running on DC power.  

To our disappointment we returned to dead batteries AND refrigerator/freezer… ICK!!  (AC power and dehumidifiers still running).  This was the first time the air-cooled fridge has been off since the day it was installed more than 10 years ago!  The biology experiment was permeating our nostrils.  Everything in fridge/freezer went straight to the dumpster.  Even worse, the compressor was out of coolant and is not holding charge as it should so there is a leak somewhere.

We aren’t positive what happened to the charging system.  There were plenty of storms and power-outages while we were gone that might have drawn the batteries down, yet solar should have bridged the gap.  One of the batteries hadn’t been behaving normally, so it might have shorted (?).  In any case, better to lose two inexpensive car batteries than the new ($$$) LiFePO4 bank that we knew would be perfectly stable sitting off-line at low SOC.

{EDIT:  We have since confirmed a slow leak in our refrigeration.  With the coolant gone it’s likely that the fridge compressor was running continuously trying to bring the unit to temperature and drained the batteries dead.}

After a first night onboard, we were ready to move Reach from the fixed docks vulnerable to storm surge out to a mooring to ride out the hurricane.  BUT, we soon realized that we couldn’t move!  The person who was supposed to clean Reach’s bottom and props while we were away did not, due to a misunderstanding.  Reach’s props were barnacle encrusted and needed to be chipped away before the boat could move.  Something Mark would normally do on his own, but the diver had better gear ready for the task so he came by with his dive gear that morning to clear the props and get us mobile.

Finally we made it out to a mooring, surrounded by neighboring boats prepping for hurricane Irma.  The moorings are strong and well-maintained in Vero Beach, typically holding two to three boats rafted in high season.  As boats face into the wind on a mooring it would account for various wind directions that could play out.

Here we sat… BUT we were dinghy-less!  We had sold our dinghy before heading to Bermuda on Roam and expected to be on a dock when we returned to purchase a new dinghy.  At least we had the kayak!  (Friends who know us will recognize this as one of my "I told you so” calls, keeping the lightly used kayak as a backup).  The kayak was useful for working on the lines, but with a one-seater we still needed to find a ride to get back to shore.

Long lines were needed to account for 10+ feet of storm surge. 

Usually we'd short scope a mooring.. so the first night on the ball with extended scope resulted in a massive pretzel of lines in the morning.  

So, that's why the neighbors had pool floats on their lines!  

The next day Mark added pool floats to bridles that were tiered to have different lines take up the load sequentially at increasing pull and stretch.  First, the outer black, fixed bridle was attached followed by a 3-strand white bridle to bow cleats.  Next the middle mooring pennant was run up to the middle cleat and lastly the chain was deployed with soft-shakles to the middle cleat and kept slack as a fail-safe.  Fire-hose was used on lines at the deck for chafe protection.  

He also connected each set of lines to different parts of the mooring swivel to account for possible failure of various hardware.  The final configuration had the mooring pennant and secondary bridle (3-strand) on outer ring, fixed bridles shackled individually to swivel head, chain shackled to bottom half of swivel, and floats to prevent wrap under ball.

We removed all canvas, dodger and shades from the cockpit and deployed our running backstays and all halyards out onto corners of the boat to avoid chafe and rubbing on the mast.  All jacklines were wrapped around the diamond shrouds to minimize all play and slack.  The camberspar jib sail was removed and just fit into our main saloon.  The mainsail was too large for us to deal with on a mooring with no dinghy so it was wrapped tight in place with rope.  Reach was now bare and as ready as possible for Irma.  

This is not to mention all of the personal preparation for the storm and evacuation.  We never unpacked our bags from our travels so we knew we had clothes.  Used to provisioning for self sufficiency, we had plenty of portable foodstuffs already on Reach to take to the car that would last a while.  We reused bottles and pitchers to gather a supply of water. 


Everything we own is on Reach, so we next set out to gather those things that we didn’t want to lose.  This is an interesting proposition when faced with it… what would you take?!  It turns out that we took important papers, passports etc, guitars and computers/hard-drives with more personal records.  Not much else that jumped out that we couldn’t walk away from.  This is probably a reflection of how simplified we have made our lives, and somewhat reassuring in situations like these.  It must be an entirely different experience when this is your forced reality as has happened to so many!  Still, it is something I think about for perspective on where people can find hope after such loss.

Mark and I then helped a few friends secure their boats.  The house we stayed in during the storm was strong concrete and felt like a fortress!  It was very impressive for our second hurricane experience and we felt very safe.  There was a lot of rain, the wind was apparent, yet blocked by the bamboo and strong hurricane windows surrounding the house.  The power went out for about three days (generator backup ran the house refrigerator) and there was plenty of debris and trees down as a result.  We eventually made our way back to Reach to start cleanup there.

© M&M 2019