06/01/2006, Bequia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
“Hurricane season is here! Hurricane season is here! June 1st is the start of Hurricane season. And that’s tomorrow!” No sooner had we dropped the anchor in Admiralty Bay, Bequia (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines or SVG), than we heard the local Emergency Response Team (ERT) on the loudspeaker driving through the community in a van making this announcement. They were announcing the start of Hurricane season which officially started the next day and would last until the end of November. And families needed to be prepared. As part of their message, the ERT listed items that families needed to have in their homes – candles, flashlights, extra batteries, plenty of bottled water & food, and a transister radio in case of a power outage. This was the first island where we had heard of the Hurricane contingency plan and it was somewhat of a relief as well as a stark reminder of what communities have to face each year. For us, hearing this message was confirmation that we also need to be prepared.
Since leaving Toronto, our destination has been Grenada or Trinidad & Tobago for hurricane season. After you leave the Bahamas, one of the only options for hurricane season is to go south. In addition, Amanzi had to be below latitude N 12.30 (Grenada) for boat insurance coverage by the first of June. So, if our boat were to be unexpectedly damaged in a hurricane at this latitude, there is some coverage for her. That’s a relief when you consider that Amanzi is our home.
AMANZI’s Hurricane Preparation Firstly, as always, we need to access accurate weather information. In the same way as we monitored the progression of cold fronts when we were in the Bahamas, now we are watching WAVES. These are weather disturbances, not waves in the ocean, that develop across the Atlantic near west Africa. WAVES move across the Atlantic at a speed of about 15 knots or about 5 degrees of longitude a day. So 5-7 days after their formation they will likely be in the Caribbean Windward Islands (where we are now). WAVES are of a major concern to us because they are the seeds that can form into a tropical storm or a hurricane. In their first stage of development WAVES bring very strong winds, rain and resulting big seas. So far, we’ve been through 5 WAVES and the most recent WAVE brought winds gusting up to 40 knots while we were at anchor. As before, our key source of weather information has been Chris Parker from the Caribbean Weather Network. Interestingly, Chris’s service steps up a notch when a WAVE likely develops into a tropical storm or a named storm which just happened recently with Hurricane Alberto. Chris does SSB (single sideband) broadcasts and email updates 2-3 times a day in the morning and evening to keep everyone informed and up to date.
The second key element of being in the Hurricane Belt is knowing the location of hurricane holes. These are anchorages that are considered safe for boaters in the event of a hurricane. Hurricane holes have very little exposure to the ocean and often are surrounded by Mangroves. Mangrove trees break any swell from incoming waves, absorb the pounding from heavy winds and with your boat tied to their roots, they are better than any anchor you can purchase. Being in Admiralty Bay, Bequia, we knew our closest hurricane hole was south of us in Carriacou, Grenada, just 38 nm away or about an 8 hour sail.
The last element in our preparation is ensuring that we have enough anchors, chain and heavy-duty rode (rope) onboard. After speaking to more experienced fishermen and sailors, they confirmed what we felt – we have enough of what we need to keep us all safe. Our locker includes 4 anchors with enough chain and rode for all of them. We feel good about our preparation for the start of Hurricane season and we’ve made it to our southern destination just in time.