“Hurricane Hole” is the common expression for a secure/safe place to put your boat, but where are these locations and how do you find them?
Your home waters will shortly be included in a Tropical Storm Watch and from the projected path of the storm you will soon be in a Warning status, if not a Hurricane Watch status. You need to get your home secured (lawn furniture in and the like) and you need to take care of the boat.
If your boat is too large for a trailer (or you do not own a trailer suitable for the boat) and the boat floats at a dock, you are faced with whether to move the boat to a more “secure” location or tie it off as best you can and put all the portables in a safer location.
Unfortunately, most are gone, or as one respondent to my question put it, “All of the old hurricane holes are someone’s backyard now.”
However, sheltered areas do exist and you should develop your own personal hurricane plan, including where to take the boat, and have the plan ready to put into action. A dry run is also recommended to ensure that the plan is really workable. There are sources of information that are available if you decide to move your boat. The location and use of these sources is the focus of this article on hurricane hole.
Moving the boat to a more “secure/safe” location involves the logistics of the actual move and then getting home after the boat is secure in its new location. Where to move the boat is the first question. When to move the boat is the next question — and both answers depend on the size of the storm, the probability of land fall that will affect you and the conditions under which you will be making the move. In addition to the wind and possible rain conditions, there are some constraints that could influence where and when you move your boat.
Constraints that will have an impact on your actions include the draft of the vessel, how much clearance it needs to get under obstructions, how much (and how soon) the storm surge will impact your area and bridge closure schedules. For example, the vertical clearance given for a bridge in the closed position is from mean high water and there is the need to factor in any increase in tide height caused by the approaching storm (or decrease in depth caused by the same as a strong offshore wind can lower the local water levels).
Then there is the question of, “How protected from surge and wind is the location?” This is followed by the question of storm debris threat (water- or wind-borne, falling trees, etc.). Of course, the tide schedule as compared to your time envelope to move the boat needs to be considered. And, not to be forgotten is the permission of the land owner to use their location and/or anchor offshore from them.
My Sisu 26 draws a little less than 3 feet of water, and with everything down needs a minimum of 7 feet, 6 inches to get under a bridge. While I can decrease the clearance by increasing the draft (pump water into the bilge or put in some 50-gallon drums full of water to trim the boat down) most people cannot do so easily.
Sailors can decrease the draft and the vertical clearance by hanging a drum (or bag) of water off the boom with the boom supported (main halyard for support) and the boom swung out to put the weight amidships. As a result of the depth and minimum clearance factors, I need to look for a location that allows both adequate depth of water and no low overhead obstructions.
I have a couple of locations, but both are an hour trip across the open water of Apalachee Bay to reach the rivers and then another hour (or two) to get up to a secure area. To move my boat, the time envelope of tide and wind conditions crossing the bay are the main considerations. What are your choices?
Shelter from the storm
Using a local hurricane hole or other sheltered location requires you to get your boat to that location, secure the boat and then get back out. Finding a local location is a matter of reviewing what is in your area.
Aside from the needs of your boat in terms of draft, you have bridge closures to deal with (unless your boat is already above the bridge line for your area). Most draw and swing bridges are locked down when the wind reaches gale strength (Beaufort Scale — 39 mph or 34 knots), which can be long before the storm reaches your area. Therefore, when your local drawbridges lock down and the clearance when the bridge is closed are major considerations. Remember: We are talking about both highway and railroad bridges.
For example, the ManateeRiver (west coast of Florida) is well-marked and goes up into the county quite a ways. However, the United States Coast Pilot notes the following that would affect the use of the river once the bridges are closed:
“Three bridges cross ManateeRiver at Bradenton. The first, U.S. Route 41 fixed highway bridge close E of the municipal pier, has a clearance of 41 feet. The second bridge across the river, the Seaboard System Railroad (SCL) bridge 500 yards above the highway bridge, has a bascule span with a clearance of 5 feet. The third, U.S. Route 301 highway bridge about 500 yards above the railroad bridge, has a fixed span with a clearance of 40 feet.”
The key bridge is the railroad bridge with a clearance of 5 feet. I grew up fishing on the ManateeRiver and I can assure you that even a small (16-foot) boat has trouble getting under the closed bridge at high tide. Either you wait for the bridge to be opened (which it was unless a train was scheduled), fished until the tide dropped enough, or you pulled the plug to sink the boat enough to get the clearance (putting the plug back in before proceeding). The point here is that the lowest bridge is the determining factor in your calculations.
Some counties have taken the low bridge clearance factor into account and have developed “flotilla evacuation plans” where a large number of boats rendezvous at a given point and are then escorted through the bridges. The bridges are opened in sequence to allow all the boats to get safely through and “up river.” Once the flotilla plan has been executed, the bridges are locked down for the duration. Thus, you may want to see if your local government has such a plan in place. If not, you may want to encourage them to develop such a plan.
Hurricane holes are becoming part of the past, or at least more difficult to find, but you can still find a spot if you use the sources noted in this article and remember the three constraints (draft, clearance, time) that affect where your boat can be located.
If all else fails, strip the boat, tie it off as best you can and get yourself (family, pets, etc.) to a safe place on high ground. Do not stay with the boat.