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Shelter from the Storm

Most boaters go with a plain ol’ haulout at their marina prior to a hurricane—then they go home. Not these folks.

Let me tell you one thing for darn sure,” says Brett Freece, in a voice that comes straight from the shoulder. “If the winds had gotten over 70 miles per hour, or even if the forecasters had predicted winds over 70 miles per hour, we’d have been outta there in a heartbeat. I was keeping two separate escape routes in the back of my mind all the time. With no low-lying roads between here and there. Brick houses. Just in case. When you’re the father of a little four-year-old girl, you gotta be really careful. You gotta be on top of stuff like that.”

The Freece family: Lauren, Brett, and (inverted) four-year-old Koral.

Freece is talking about a decision that he and his wife, Lauren, made back in mid-October to ride out a significant hurricane in a rather unusual manner. Instead of motoring up one of Jacksonville, Florida’s twisty creeks so they could drop a couple of hooks in a hurricane hole, or applying a cat’s cradle of extra mooring lines to the slip they normally tie up in, the young couple chose to have their 37-foot President Aft Cabin Motor Yacht hauled out at an accommodating old boatyard, stowed in a spot that was reasonably protected from the wind directions that were likely to be most vociferous, and then simply remain on board.

“The truth of the matter is we were gonna get the boat hauled anyway—I gotta say that,” continues Freece. “We hadn’t owned ’er that long, and I figured she needed a bottom job and a repower on one of her Crusader 454 gas engines. But then we got to thinkin’—hey, why not do the haulout as scheduled, if the boatyard wasn’t too busy with storm preparations, and then ride the thing out in the yard instead of in the water? Such a thing might be more comfortable. Maybe even a little safer, too.”

Despite their 30-something ages, Brett and Lauren are far from neophytes. He’s a super-busy marine mechanic and she’s a super-busy boat cleaner and detailer. Moreover, together they moonlight as “boat-flippers,” meaning they buy old boats and fix them up to sell while living aboard with their daughter, Koral. The flipping began about five years ago, not long after Brett’s ad for a “secretary for a marine company” turned into a happily marinized marriage. So far, says Brett, they’ve flipped six boats in five years. 

Prior to the scheduled haulout at the boatyard, the couple dealt with several pre-storm issues. They made sure that both their water tanks and batteries were topped off, in case of a lengthy, storm-related power outage. They made sure that they had plenty of propane for their barbecue grill, so pulling the shorepower plug on their electric cooktop would not preclude meals. And they pumped their holding tank bone-dry.

Once their boat had been removed from her element and put on the hard, the couple dealt with some other issues as well. Lauren removed all the exterior canvas on board and everything else that could get blown away by the wind. And she went shopping at a local grocery store for enough food and other supplies to see the family through a week or so. Meanwhile, Brett monitored the VHF and other sources of weather information and, to thwart the effects of a possible storm surge, used mooring lines to secure their motoryacht and the jackstands supporting her to the tarmac.  

“Once the storm started in earnest, we were cool and comfortable the whole time—we never lost power,” Brett says. “We’ve got two conventional air-conditioning units on board, one with a 12,000-Btu capacity and the other with a 16,000-Btu capacity. But we actually used a Senville 12,000-Btu, ductless, split-mini system that I really like a lot—it draws way less amperage and there’s no cooling water needed. It’s a simple system and extremely effective. Somewhere down the line, I hope to use batteries and an inverter to run it. And add solar power so we’ll be pretty much self-sufficient.”

What’s it like to ride out a hurricane on board a boat that’s blocked and jacked up on a concrete slab behind a marina’s office and tied down tight with a bunch of ¾-inch mooring lines? With powerful winds blowing for 10 to 12 hours? And even brawnier ones blowing for four?

“Koral loved it,” Lauren says. “But then she’s a real boat kid and she had the whole V-berth area to herself—she slept on one side and kept all of her stuffed animals and toys on the other.”

“Yeah,” agrees Brett, “It was a nice experience. And although the wind at the tail end was blowing about 60 miles per hour, we were tucked away in a fairly protected corner. Like Lauren said, Koral enjoyed it—watching the rain blow off the rooftops and stuff. I’d say we all enjoyed ourselves. It was cool.”