The destructive power of this season’s hurricanes brings to mind the choices that many sailors have to make when a major storm is forecast to come their way. Do you run to get away from the destructive power of the storm? Or do you find the safest place you can, hunker down and hope for the best? There is no simple answer, and there is no answer that is right for every boat, in every situation, in every place.
How fast is your boat?
In our Amel 53 even in no wind at all, if we need to, we can keep up a speed of 7 knots under engine. With a full tank we can do that for about 500 miles at a rate of almost 170 miles a day. In three days we can be at least 500 miles away.
Where are you relative to the storm and the shore?
The winds around a hurricane rotate counter clockwise, and here in the northern hemisphere, the storms tend to move to the west, north, or the northeast. If you are to the south, or the west of the storm the winds are blowing you away from the center of the storm, into calmer waters. If you are to the northeast of the storm center, you are being sucked straight into the center of the worst of the weather.
Anywhere along the east coast of the USA your options to run are very unattractive. Almost anything you can do puts you at risk of being in the direct path of the storm. Trying to go south puts you between the storm and the shoreline. A very dangerous place to be if the storm track varies even a little to the west of expected. Trying to run north has you running against the winds of the approaching weather. Since there is always a chance the storm can turn to the east, running east is also risky. Best bet? Find the best place you can to hide from the worst of the weather and hope for the best.
From any of the islands in the Caribbean, running south or southwest is a more viable strategy. The chances of the storm moving to the south are very small, and you are on the side of the storm where the winds are pushing you out of the way.
How important is the boat?
Is the boat your primary home? Or just a seasonal retreat? Is it insured? How much financial–and emotional–damage will you suffer if she is lost? Nobody can second-guess the answers to these questions for any individual situation. The lowest risk for the boat might be to run away from the storm, but the lowest risk to life of the crew might be to tie her up and stay ashore.
What happened this year?
We know of boats that tried to hide in harbors in Puerto Rico and Saint Martin. They were all severely damaged or totally destroyed. The boats we know of that ran away to the south all survived. That does not mean that any of those owners made the wrong decision for them, or that the outcome would not have been very different in slightly different circumstances.