Think Storm Surge

Hurricane Sandy reminded mariners once again that it is very often the rise in water, called the "storm surge," that causes the worst destruction, especially to boats. We have all seen the photos of piles of boats washed out of marinas, boats sitting in places where they were never meant to go, and entire marinas just gone. And, most of that destruction was due to the tremendous surge of water brought ashore by the storm. At New York's Battery (the southern tip of Manhattan), the record-setting storm surge was more than 14 feet above mean high water. Boats hauled out of the water on nearby City Island were no longer safe as waves rolled ashore.

My boat was hauled about a week before Sandy, by pure luck, and the surge was only three or four feet  above high water at the boatyard well up Narragansett Bay. If it had been 14 feet of extra water I have no doubt I would probably still be trying to figure out how to retrieve my boat from well inland.

In retrospect, I think being on a mooring is probably the best place for a boat during a hurricane, as long as the boats are spaced widely enough to allow for extra scope. In the past, I have added extra long lines to my mooring, doubled them up, and then also put out anchors on very long scope. My theory being that in the worst case scenario the mooring would act like a giant kellet, or anchor weight, which is what some boaters use to increase holding power when at anchor. This scheme worked well for me during Hurricane Bob and Tropical Storm Irene. Despite being on a mooring, the pull on the anchors was so great that it took the better part of a day to retrieve the anchors, indicating they had done their work.

I use some big Fortress anchors for this purpose as they have enormous holding power for their weight and are relatively easy to handle in the dinghy. I use long lengths of nylon rode--the more the better--with only a six-foot or so length of chain near the anchor. Scopes of 10- or 20-to-one allow for plenty of storm tide rise.

Is there a huge tangle of anchor lines and mooring painters after the storm? Yes! But, I prefer the tangle at the mooring to the problem of untangling my boat from powerlines and trees ashore.

If you don't keep your boat on a mooring, I highly suggest searching for a spot where you can anchor her before a hurricane. Keep around and handy some big Fortress and/or Danforth anchors for this purpose. I know that not everyone can do this, but as Sandy demonstrated many marinas are not designed for hurricane storm surges. I can remember being in the downtown Waterside marina in Norfolk, Virginia, during one fall gale with the fixed docks completely under water and the tops of the pilings only a few feet above that waterline. That would not be a place to stay during a direct hit by a hurricane.

Assuming your boat and marina was not destroyed by Sandy, now might be a good time to go down and measure how much piling is showing at the next moon tide, and then compare that to historic storm surges that have hit your area. I see and visit way too many marinas that would fail this test. In the future I'm also going to pay more attention to how far above high tide my boat is hauled and stored.

Mantus: A Folding Anchor

I received a new 45-pound Mantus anchor in a surprisingly flat and compact box. A single page of instructions, some nuts and bolts, some lock washers, a container of waterproof grease, and the parts of the anchor were all neatly inside. It was quite obvious how everything fits together, so I really didn't need the instructions, but I skimmed them anyway. Obviously, being able to store a very large storm anchor disassembled would be a nice safety feature on a cruising boat.

About the only non-obvious thing was which way the bolts should pass through the anchor. Should the nuts be on the top or the bottom? I opted for the nuts on the top, though I doubt it would make any difference in use once the anchor hits the bottom. Having the nuts on top means a little bit smoother bottomside, making moving it about the boat a bit less likely to ding things up.

Unfortunately, my box had been busted open and some of the nuts, washers, and the grease were missing. The bolts were standard galvanized one-half inch and my neighborhood hardware store had everything I needed. I substituted marine trailer wheel bearing grease.

Assembly took maybe five minutes once all the parts and tools had been gathered on my foredeck. My first impression was that the anchor seems well made and solid, with a heavy galvanized finish. The hoop is held on by just two bolts, but I suppose it wouldn't normally be treated to great strains. The hoop on these so-called "new generation" anchors make them much easier to move around the boat, in comparison to something like a CQR with its hinged plow, or a Danforth or Fortress with flukes that want to snap back on your fingers if you turn the anchor over. The hoop is a perfect handle for carrying the anchor, and it would also be a good spot to tie on an anchor float, if one was needed (I very rarely use one).

The design of the anchor is reminiscent of the Rocna and the Manson Supreme. Many cruisers sing the praises of this type and I am looking forward to seeing if the reality meets the hype.

The shank is pretty long on these things--a lot longer than on my Bulwagga anchor that immediately preceded the Mantus on my bow roller. For now I have to assume the dimensions are such to improve holding, but it is something to keep in mind if you have a tight foredeck, like I do.

Real world anchoring tests will be coming up.

Born to Run

One recurrent theme on many boating forums is which outboard to choose for the dinghy. These threads frequently begin with someone's sob story about the miserable *#??*$ outboard they already own. And, then someone else will almost always chime in and tell a tale of how they love the exact same motor and have had wonderful service out of it. Frankly, I think most contemporary outboards from the major manufacturers are probably excellent motors to begin with, but they do suffer from the neglect that eventually wrecks so many boating systems.

With the demise of the 2-stroke motor modern outboards have changed, mostly for the better, though I am still a great fan of the simple and sturdy 2-stroke. Putting aside the significant environmental advantages, 4-strokes provide two additional pluses: increased fuel economy and no need to mix oil with the gas. However, these two advantages bring with them a couple of possible pitfalls.

First, that tremendous fuel economy we love in a 4-stroke--often burning half as much as a comparable 2-stroke--means that very little gasoline is being burned at idle. Sounds great, right? The problem here is that to meter that tiny bit of gas the slow-speed jet inside the carburetor is really, really, teensy. The inside of this jet, critical for a proper fuel/air mixture, is very easily plugged or fouled by the weensiest bit of crud. And, the typical outboard on a dinghy does not have much of, if any, fuel filter between the tank and the motor.

Inevitably means that if you aren't meticulous in filtering the gas as it goes into your tank, and then meticulous in keeping any crud out of the tank, including water, eventually that low-speed jet will get plugged and/or some other critical passage in the carb. In my experience, this will happen--it is only a matter of how long before it happens. I can almost guarantee that if your newish 4-stroke outboard has become harder and harder to start, and maybe doesn't idle all too well either, it is time to take that carb off and clean it, and it is time to seriously think about putting in a quality inline or fixed mount filter. It is not a crazy idea to consider putting a large, spin-on type of engine filtration set up on your dinghy transom.

However, even with this level of care, we sometimes must leave the boat longer than we would like. Today's gasoline is often laced with 10% ethanol and this gasoline is just not very durable. In my experience you only have about 30 days before it starts to deteriorate. And that's where the second pitfall emerges. The addition of 2-stroke oil in the past actually provided some stabilization of the gasoline mix as well as providing needed lubrication. The way around this is to add some fuel stabilizer to every tank of gas, whether 2- or 4-stroke. I have been using red StaBil for years with good success, but I now use the blue marine-grade StaBil that also claims to be better with ethanol gas. Adding this to your outboard tank will also help prevent phase separation--a condition where you get a layer of ethanol/water mixture with a layer of gasoline over. Once this happens you have to get rid of the whole mess and start over with fresh fuel. It goes without saying that you should be extra careful to keep water and moisture out of your gas, especially when it contains ethanol.

Do these two things and you will find your new 4-stroke outboard will keep running better and longer, but you still must be prepared for the inevitable carburetor cleaning periodically. This should become a routine maintenance item if you have a 4-stroke, and I highly recommend you learn how to do it yourself and that you keep the needed tools and parts onboard.

Get Out of the Box

I frequent some online cruising forums and there are often long discussions about how and where to leave one's boat during hurricane season, or how to cruise hurricane-prone waters during the season. 

The real answer is simple--don't! I was involved in one such online discussion the other day and someone linked to NOAA's online historical database of hurricane tracks. Fascinating stuff! Go over there and play with it a bit to see how your area has made out, but please don't use it to determine whether or not it is "safe" to be in a particular harbor during hurricane season.

Insurers study this stuff for a living, and you can tell what they think about the idea by the dramatically different insurance rates they charge above and below Cape Hatteras during hurricane season. There are slight variations in policies, but generally you can count on your deductible doubling when a named storm is coming, and/or your premium going up for that period. That should tell you all you need to know about the dangers of being in what some folks call "the box."

The box is the region that insurers use to determine what constitutes a special hurricane rate area. Inside the box you pay more. Outside the box you pay less. Stay outside the box and you and your boat are safer during hurricane season.

It doesn't matter how few or how many hurricanes have hit a particular harbor or area. They are inherently unpredictable, even with today's excellent weather services. This unpredictability means that even if the storm is hundreds of miles away you have to make preparations and/or run to your hurricane hole. You don't know if this next one will follow the historical tracks, or be the exception that proves the rule. Sure, you can roll the dice and take your chances, but it is gambling.

Think for Yourself

If you have read some of my previous posts you know that I have been involved in battling anti-anchoring ordinances, mostly in Florida, for many years. It is an ongoing fight, with new regulations now in effect in St. Augustine, and proposed ordinances being considered in Stuart and Martin County, the Florida Keys, Sarasota, and St. Petersburg.

However, don't be discouraged! It is still possible to anchor out in wonderful places all over the world, and even within or near many of the most popular harbors in the world. Even in Florida. Despite the apparent magnetic attraction of other boats, all it takes is a little imagination and research to find thousands of anchorages that nobody is using, or almost nobody.

A few summers ago my wife and I discovered a new and wonderful anchorage in Narragansett Bay, close to Newport, with a beautiful beach, perfect protection for the weather, and we were the only boat there after dark.

How did we do it? There are a few techniques we use. First, we carry onboard just about every chart and cruising guide there is for the area we are in. I don't use one guide over the other--I tend to buy them all, and I keep old guides forever. For example, one of my favorites is Julius Wilensky's cruising guide to Cape Cod (covering the islands too) published in 1976. He reproduces in black & white detailed charts that are long out of print, yet they are much better than anything currently available from the government. Sure, the information on marinas and services is totally out of date, but I'm not interested in that stuff. Instead he talks about all sorts of interesting little anchorages in places like the Elizabeth Islands where you can still be the only boat after nightfall even in July.

Second, we scour the charts for places that few, if any, writers have ever mentioned. There is no reason you can't anchor someplace new, is there? You will notice lots of coves and shallow areas that aren't mentioned in guides, yet some of them can be perfect if the weather cooperates. That's a big caveat in a lot of these unknown anchorages, but in the right season with the right forecast it can be very nice in New England to anchor in some bight where the wind whips across some spit of sand and behind you is nothing but open bay or ocean for miles. We have found places like this in the Caribbean, in Florida, and all up and down the East Coast. Monitor your weather and anchor someplace that maybe wouldn't be a good storm hole, but if there is no bad weather coming, who cares?

Third, you have to develop a mindset of thinking for yourself when cruising. There are some interesting interactive online cruising guides out there, and some of them are touting following the actual routes of folks who uploaded their's. Frankly, that would bore me--who wants to just follow in somebody else's wake? Blaze your own course to someplace new!