First and foremost, we all survived Hurricane Matthew! Whew! But it’s been one crazy first week as cruisers – and here’s the break down.
Week 1 of Cruising – part 2
If you read the last post (part 1, here), you know that we set off to begin our cruising life. Last we discussed, Mark and I headed to Vernonburg and dropped anchor – and started the exhausting job of prepping Luna Sea for our first hurricane at anchor. I suppose, to be fair, we have no idea if this is her first hurricane. She was 11 when we bought her and she spent most of her life in the Caribbean. So maybe she is much more experienced than we are…
Prepping the Boat
Wednesday we stripped the sails (and clearly need more experience flaking them…), stowed the genoa below and lashed the main to the deck, with the lazy jack bag on top of it. We stripped the screen cockpit enclosure but left the dodger attached. We installed the hardtop a year ago, and just honestly were not sure it would take the winds. There have been no problems sailing with it, but would it become a giant wind scoop? It seemed like a smart idea to leave the dodger on to help with the aerodynamic-ness. Because I made the dodger, repairing it would be much less expensive than having the hard top ripped off. We also strapped the hardtop down. Just in case…
Hurricane Matthew 2016
He was a Cat 2 by the time he reached Savannah, GA, USA – and he was not playing around. Typically, hurricanes go around Savannah. We are deep in the westerly curve of the coastline of the USA. There is also a shallow shelf that goes well offshore. Both of these natural formations encourage hurricanes and tropical storms to jump from the eastern Florida coast right on up to South Carolina. This is why Savannah and Brunswick are such great hurricane holes. This is also why so few people tend to evacuate. Shoot, we rarely even have evacuation orders anymore.
Wednesday, (or Thursday?) as Matthew was a Cat 4/5 and barreling straight for us, the government took it seriously. Initially they issued a voluntary evacuation of the islands/inland – but finally made it mandatory that citizens move 100 miles inland. A large number of people loaded up and left their homes.
I briefly mentioned the couple we met – they own the house we anchored behind. Over a glass of wine, we’d all discussed our travels and plans. They even offered us the use of their guest house. We initially turned it down – it is amazing how kind complete strangers can be. They kept checking on us via text, as they already had plans to be out of town the weekend of Hurricane Matthew – as long as their flight didn’t get cancelled.
We chose to wait it out – and potentially ride it out. The storms ALWAYS curve east, right? Matthew was also expected to hit land at least once, if not twice up the Florida coast – which also results in a weakening effect. You can’t make an educated guess about a hurricane’s path – from this location – until the storm makes it at least half way up Florida. The storm moved at 10-12mph, and we had plenty of time to get off the boat if we deemed it necessary. If the hurricane made landfall, it would weaken dramatically – and potentially change course.
Wednesday evening we “relaxed” – after having done every last thing we could think of to secure our home. Food was prepped – there were things we could heat up and things we could eat cold. Snacks were definitely not in short supply. While the solar wouldn’t be charging our batteries, we did have full propane tanks to run our stove/oven and full water tanks. Complete medical kits, a life raft and an epirb are part of our normal safety gear. We had excellent cell phone coverage, thus a Hot Spot to keep us up to date on weather and the news and connected with family and friends. Everything we could need was onboard.
We sat on the couch and read. I kept checking weather. We eventually began to discuss what we could possibly do for our boat during the storm. What if one of the anchors broke loose? Hopefully the other would hold. What if there was chafe and a line broke? Everything was either chain or had chafe protection. Was there ANYTHING we could do? Maybe during a break in the storm – between storm bands…?
What about our dogs? What if the $hit hit the fan, and we had to get off the boat – mid-storm? That would put all of our lives in jeopardy. We could also put the lives of first responders in jeopardy. During a mandatory evacuation, the first responders are told not to react to calls. And they shouldn’t. But what if they did? We were told to leave, and we didn’t. It’s ok to put our own lives at risk, but not the lives of others just because we don’t want to leave our boat.
We left our boat.
I was never scared or nervous about the storm until I loaded that dinghy and we started to motor away. My stomach began to churn and I lost my appetite for a couple of days. I was constantly walking to the dock to check on the boat. But we had a safe place to stay and we were dry. We could see the boat easily by walking across the property to the dock. We even took the dinghy back out to grab some more stuff. The dogs were enjoying the land and they were safe as well.
The cottage we were so graciously provided was built in 1870, if I remember correctly. I has certainly seen a hurricane or two in it’s time. It is well protected – that is the whole reason we picked this geographical area. There is great protection from the north and the east. And good protection from the west and south, as well. In the cottage house, which is easily twice the size of our boat, we had a fridge, microwave, water and electricity. It was a cozy haven from the rain.
We were more scared on land
Our boat has seen some nasty weather. We’ve been knocked down with 75 mph winds on the beam. We’ve rocked and rolled and the boat has bucked like a broncho. A boat is supposed to move. She rights herself after she falls over. Continues to float, regardless of what Mother Nature throws at her. But a house on land? A house should not shimmy.
During the hours of raging winds – mostly in the dark of night, the home we were in held strong. We stayed safe. Between storm bands, we always geared up and made a trek to the dock to see if we could see Luna Sea. Usually we could. Back in the house, we tried to sleep. Massive 100 year old oaks fell. The ground shook. Transformers exploded – sounding like shot guns going off around us. Tornado sirens wailed. Winds raged, often sounding like a train going by. Eventually a tree just outside the cottage fell and took the power with it. Thankfully I’d packed one of our Luci lights, and we could still see.
I changed cell phone providers a few weeks ago. They have notoriously spotty coverage here in Savannah – but apparently have excellent coverage in all the places we are headed. Weather updates, as well as FB/Instagram updates for our friends and family, were crucial. The only place we could get that coverage was on the dock. Or on the boat – we had excellent coverage in the middle of the river… To be in the dark, surrounded by crashing trees and exploding transformers/downed power lines in a vibrating house with no weather updates was exhausting.
I could not wait for the sun to come up. Until it did…
As soon as the sun was up, we were on the dock. Our boat had held – as well as the other sailboat near by. But something wasn’t right. She wasn’t nosing into the wind… And the winds were still crazy-strong. A sailboat at anchor should nose into the wind. She was taking these winds directly on the beam. It made no sense. She was exactly where we left her, wasn’t she?
When it got a little brighter outside, we could see that she had drug a little – I think just one of the anchors had moved a bit. And she was sitting with a slight lean on a mud flat. I couldn’t watch. Could she really keep taking those winds on the side and not knock down? And if she knocked down, would the winds keep her there – would she take on water? Had she ridden out the worst of a cat 2 hurricane only to be sunk as the storm passed?
Visiting the crooked boat
There was a lull in the storm. The dinghy was lashed down to our hosts’ dock, but Mark had it free in a jiffy. We hopped in and headed straight for the boat. She was leaning, but not too badly. Mark verified that she was, in fact, just resting on a soft mud bottom. Well, we are Savannah Sailors – one thing we are familiar with is getting our boat stuck in mud. She wasn’t taking on water. I checked our depth. It was dead low tide, at the tail end of Hurricane Matthew. The storm had sucked an extra few feet out of our creek and left her to rest at a slight lean. All we needed to do was wait for the tide to come back in.
She did just what she should. As the tide came in she righter herself, and began to nose into the winds. We headed back to the boat again, and began to clean her up. Somehow, in all of our storm prep, we managed to forget to stow things inside. The floor of the main cabin was full of lazily stored food and couch pillows and anything else we had carelessly left unsecured before we bailed on our boat. Regardless of our carelessness in this regard, she rode the storm well, and survived. Our home is intact and slowly coming back together.
After the storm
Saturday was spent re-installing sails and lines, cleaning, and moving back on board. As thankful as we truly are for our little haven on land, it was amazing to be back on Luna. I don’t think I have ever slept as soundly as I did that first night back onboard.
No damage was found. A haul out to survey the rudder, keel, etc is planned, just to be safe. The only water we took on was rain thru two leaky hatches. We were incredibly lucky. Others nearby lost boats and docks. Some marinas were virtually wiped out by the surge of water that came with Hurricane Matthew.
Sunday was beautiful and we sailed our way back to our old slip. There’s clean up to be done here. One of our rentals sustained some cosmetic damage that Mark is working on right now. We spent yesterday, Monday, helping to clean up around the marina, as well as surveying surrounding damage and letting friends know that their boats here were secure and undamaged. We are going to spend a few days here while we order new batteries and replace our alternator (another blog post altogether). Helping our friends who need it will take priority. And then? Then we set sail again.
Helping after the storm
Our first major destination will be the Bahamas. The plan is the same – to spend as much time as we want truly exploring the area. The only change now will be to load up on anything needed in the islands, so that when we cross the Gulfstream we can lend a helping hand. Hurricane Matthew was still a 4 or 5 when he hit those islands. And we certainly want to help out, if at all possible.
As things settle, and it gets closer to time to head over to the Bahamas, we should have a better idea of what we can do to help. I will post here and across social media to let you guys know. If you are interested in helping as well, we will figure out a way to take donations – whether it be “stuff” or monetary.
For now, it’s back to work. We have a fairly busy day today – and need to get off of this comfortable slip and back to sailing south!