It is the Fourth of July, 2017 and I drinking espresso on ice and grabbing a bowl of yogurt and cereal while I take advantage of the free WIFI at Cafe L’Oubli in St. Barts.
My friends often ask what about hurricanes? And my cruising friends ask where will you spend “the season”?
At the moment I have three guest teenagers on board, and I was updating their parents on how we are handling the possible storm. And I thought it might make a good post to share…
As you can see from above it has an 80% chance of forming something cyclonic, and most likely sweep just north of the Leeward Islands. But a good portion of the probability cone includes Saint Martin. Thus, we must activate a storm plan. What will we do?
Currently there is a high-pressure ridge that is keeping this low that is cross the Atlantic on a course for the northern Lesser Antilles. Right where we are at. The storm is forecasted to reach Antigua / Sint Maarten / Anguilla sometime in the night between the 8th and the 9th of July.
I have on board 5 kids: Kyle and Max, Abby (17F), Isaac (17M) and Eloy (13M). I have no other adults on board until July 9th when my wife rejoins the boat at Sint Maarten.
- July 8-9th – probably storm event
- July 9th – Kaiwen joins Ad Astra
- July 12th – Christine joins Ad Astra
- July 18th – my Lithium cells arrive in SXM
- July 19th – Abby departs Ad Astra
- July 20th – Christine departs Ad Astra
- July 21st – Isaac and Eloy depart Ad Astra
The first two questions I have:
- What is the likely track for this storm?
- How big is this storm going to be?
On the first question – all the expert and detailed forecasting declare that it is still too early and far away to tell which way the storm will go. Currently tracking to hit north of the general SXM area.
How big will it be? Well, it is early season, so the assumption is that it would be smaller than normal. That being said what is small really? Do I want to ride out a Tropical Storm, Cat 1 or Cat 2 hurricane with kids trying to learn the basics of sailing and diving? No, not ideal.
If I did ride it out, where would I go? From my experience last year in Point Egmont in Grenada, I think I would feel comfortable all tied up deeply in a keyhole mangrove swamp – even with less experienced kids as crew. But the Simpson Bay Lagoon does not have anywhere near like that in terms of a true hurricane hole, it is a vast lagoon with large fetch and not much wind protection. Except one spot – Mullet Pond – where our very good friends Frank and Charlotte just moved into a couple of hours ago. There is space for 4 more boats. But, it will be hot and muggy and full of mosquitos and a far dinghy ride away from anything fun, and we would have to go today to get a spot and be tied up until the 10th – 5 days in a swamp with 5 bored teenagers. Hmm.
Road Bay on Anguilla has great holding and a short fetch in front of me from east winds. And if it was simply a gale with only east winds to worry about, I think I would stay there even over Marigot Bay as the fetch is much smaller and the holding excellent. But with a cyclonic storm the northwest winds and later west driving swells makes Anguilla untenable. In that case, the Simpson Bay Lagoon is better. But still open. So, that really isn’t a plan – scratch.
There is no time really to haul Ad Astra out, and frankly the logistics of managing 6 people on short notice on the hard in and out of a yard makes other options below seem much more palatable.
We could also tie up in a Marina in SXM as suggested by two of my much more experienced captain friends. Their idea is that it the storm is likely to go north or be a weaker early season storm, or both. And so being tied up in a marina and taking loose bits down from the boat is less effort than sailing south with some inexperienced crew. The unsaid thing is if it turns out to be a stronger storm and there is damage to Ad Astra – well that is what insurance is for. We do have insurance, but the named wind damage has a deductible of $20k, so that just means a big bill for me. The other two captains are professionals working on someone else’s boat (and the expenses are not their direct burden).
We could run Ad Astra south. And by South, there are three main variations:
- Straight to Bonaire (480 nm)
- Straight to Islas Los Roques (450 nm)
- Hop down the Leewards (various)
pros: very far away from any possible storm event. Dutch territory – so easy flights for these crew transfers occurring in SXM, better diving training opportunities for the kids, true blue water experience for the kids, modern facilities, easy provisioning
cons: a long 480 nm passage with just myself and Kyle as full crew, the others will have a range of helpfulness to a distraction depending on how they adjust to open water crossing, challenging for me to get my Lithium cells, and we would need to take on the costs 6 flights between Bonaire and SXM, and Ad Astra would be 90 nm dead down-wind of the Islas Los Roques which we have our heart set on exploring. The winds are generally even stronger down there and I doubt we would take on a windward passage. This decision would likely mean that we never see the Los Roques Archipelago. Unless I sailed BACK to SXM after the storm passes to collect my Lithium cells and sail again for Los Roques. This is possible, but it means that we would be crossing the Caribbean Sea three times in July – would not make the list of Good Plans.
Straight to Los Roques
pros: same as Bonaire – far away south and far from any possible storm events. It is supposed to be as beautiful as the San Blas islands so these kids would get an even more amazing experience on Ad Astra. Kyle, Max and I would not miss the Los Roques, but Kaiwen would.
Cons: all the same cons as above, but with more cons: while the security at Los Roques is great, there should be assumed zero provisioning and very little in the way of services. Crew will NOT be able to fly in and out, and I would have to have a pretty short stay in Los Roques and go to Bonaire to do the transfers, and I still have the problem of my Lithium cells in SXM. Unless we do the sail back to SXM and back down again for the dumb idea of a triple Caribbean crossing in July.
Hop down the Leewards
pros: much shorter sailing distances – using just day sails:
- July 4th St Barts to St. Eustatius 26nm (first country to recognize the American independence)
- July 5th St. Eustatius to St. Kitts 22nm (or go to St. Kitts today – the 4th)
- July 6th St. Kitts to Montserrat 50nm
- July 7th Montserrat to Deshais, Guadeloupe 33nm
- July 8th Deshais, Guadeloupe to PTP Guadeloupe 45nm
And barring the storm shifting SOUTH, we would be well protected up inside of PTP
And if the storm shifts NORTH, or weakens we do not need to keep on going south, we can wait and see
And if when the storm passes, or turns into a nothing burger, we are an easy broad reach sail back to SXM, and utilizing an overnight passage we are 24 hours away from being back in SXM
And the Kids get to see a bunch of new places!
Might be moving the boat too often/fast for the kids to really get to know these places (on the other hand, they will get more actual sailing experience), if the storm shifts SOUTH we might be rushing to find a good spot, but this is really a moot point, as a south running storm in the Windwards would likely rake the Leewards even harder.