If caught in unavoidably bad weather, get creative. With sightlines virtually nonexistent (and little to see anyway), primarily due to an uproarious, buoy-obfuscating sea state and a cluttered-out radar picture, I managed to identify Cameron’s upper and lower range lights blinking through the melee. Safely entering the harbor that night entailed relying on those lights (which were sporadically visible at best) as well as my compass, and the inbound bearing between the ranges lights that I got by using it. Bottom line, range lights are way more reliable in a storm than floating aids to navigation, which may be difficult to see, flat-out invisible, or deceptively off-station.
Duplex or even triplex fuel/water separating filters are invaluable in heavy weather, which tends to slosh bottom-of-the-fuel-tank muck into fuel lines. Installing a new filter element in a simplex unit (with a single canister) with a boat rolling like a bowling ball is seldom successful—it’s very easy to airlock an engine. Simply swapping to a new filter in a duplex or triplex system is virtually foolproof—you simply throw a lever.
Tacking is typically considered a sailboat thing. I’ve used it many times in powerboats, however, to reduce excessive (even dangerous) rolling while waiting for a storm to abate. The technique is simple but requires plenty of sea room. Start by indirectly running into the prevailing seas, say, about 15 degrees to port off their general direction of travel. Then, after covering several miles, go with 15 degrees to starboard. The result is a zigzag track that will get you where you’re headed, but with more comfort and safety than merely forging ahead.
And finally, slow down! Even if the weather is not that bad, there’s no sense snapping off a VHF or other antenna and losing touch with the rest of the world. And leaping across the briny may be fun for a while, but jump one too many waves and you can airlock a raw-water intake and overheat an engine—never a good thing in bad weather.
Every now and again, I hear somebody mention something about “running” from a hurricane. If the interlocutor is well educated, he usually talks about trying to avoid the right-hand side of said storm (often called “The Dangerous Semi-Circle”) and, truth to tell, if his goal is ultimately to get to an especially promising, not too-far-distant hurricane hole, the idea may have a certain plausibility. My personal response to such talk, however, is typically a little crusty. “Which funeral home is sponsoring this extravaganza?” I usually ask.
The snarkiness of the question stems from my personal experience with hurricanes and one in particular. Years ago, with a whopper bearing down on a far-flung oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico (and preventing helicopters from flying evacuation missions due to high winds), I wound up facilitating the evacuation of said rig with a 200-foot tug/supply vessel and trying to beat the storm back to Cameron, Louisiana, with about 30 oil-field workers onboard and a full complement of crewmembers.
Trust me! I will never forget the banshee wail of the wind that night, as the anemometer swept smartly from a brisk 25 knots to 90 knots in a matter of minutes and the storm overtook us about 10 nautical miles south of Cameron. And I will never forget how lonely and scared I felt running the boat that night, with the radar hardly showing a picture, aids to navigation for the most part invisible, virtually everyone onboard terrified and sick, and my seafaring intuition seemingly my only resource.
Yes, we made it to Cameron that night, perhaps by chance more than anything else. And no, I would never do such a thing again unless, of course, I was trapped into it, by job or circumstance.
Running from a hurricane a short distance to find a safer spot to leave your boat during an approaching storm—yeah, that makes sense sometimes. Trying to outrun or circumvent a bad storm, given the unpredictable nature of hurricanes in general—well, you are going to be (and this is the voice of experience speaking) very much on your own.
This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.