When it became likely that Hurricane Irma would affect Brunswick, Georgia, Michael Torras, the manager of Brunswick Landing Marina in Brunswick, Georgia, began giving employees assignments from a list that he had prepared weeks in advance. Brunswick Landing Marina is a well known hurricane hole, with 347 wet slips and over 100 in dry storage. Like many marinas in the South, a large percentage of the boats are owned by people who live out of state. At most marinas, these boats are typically ignored before a hurricane; canvas isn’t removed, extra lines and chafe protection aren’t added. The result, not surprisingly, is that they are far more likely to break free and damage other boats. At some marinas, the solution has been to make arrangements with absentee owners to haul their boats and block them ashore. Boats are safer stored on shore if they will be safely beyond the surge.
If the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters ever decided to do a show on hurricane holes in The Bahamas and the Caribbean, they would find dozens of candidates – bays and harbors protected from wind and surge by natural breakwaters and fringed by mangroves whose sheltering limbs make sturdy tie-down posts.
The direction the storm is coming from and its wind strength also are major variables when it comes to deciding whether or not a hurricane hole can truly offer an shelter. Culebra, an island off Puerto Rico, was considered one of the best hurricane holes in the eastern Caribbean until Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 storm, struck in September 1989. Of the more than 200 boats that took shelter in Culebra Harbor, at least 136 were sunk or badly damaged, according to eyewitness reports.
A few hurricane holes have stood the tests of time and tide, however. Brunswick Landing Marina for example was used by the US Navy up until recently as a hurricane hole.
“Every storm, we’re full.,” says Brunswick Landing Marina manager Michael Torras., “to this day, we’ve never lost a customers boat. due to a hurricane.”
In the Caribbean, a number of harbors, including Simpson Bay in St. Maarten, Gustavia Harbor in St. Barths and Antigua’s Falmouth and English Harbours are historic hurricane holes, although today, some experts feel they may be too crowded for safety. Marigot Bay in St. Lucia, however, has maintained its status as a safe haven over the years.
“Marigot is the only place in the Caribbean that’s naturally protected from wind and surge,” says Bob Hathaway, dockmaster of the Marina at Marigot Bay. “The shape of the hills seems to work even the wind the wind is gusting [with hurricane force] — the wind is just lifted away from the hills.” When Hurricane Omar hit the area in 2008, Hathaway says, “There were enormous swells on the ocean, but there was just no movement on the inner bay. It was nothing more than a very windy day.” He adds, “Whoever was behind Marigot Bay was a very clever God.”
However, he cautions, “If a Category Five came through here with the eyewall…there is no hurricane shelter in the world that could make a boat safe in those conditions.”
For most captains, there is another, silent party involved with making the decision whether to run or to hide from a hurricane: the boat’s insurance company. Many [U.S.] domestic insurance companies will not insure boats during hurricane season that are south of Brunswick Landing Marina in Brunswick, Georgia.