Guess what ya’ll? We are halfway through Hurricane Season! Woot woot!
With only three named storms (and one unnamed tropical depression), I’d say it’s been a fairly quiet season so far. Phew! Needless to say, I am keeping my fingers crossed that it remains the same as we ride out the next three months.
Our hurricane experience thus far (or basic storm experience for that matter) has been very very limited…and I’d like to keep it that way. With any real storm, planning for the safety of your boat is all about location, location, location. We made the decision early on in our cruising journey (after carefully weighing a bunch of different variables) to hunker down in Puerto Rico for the duration of season.
Yes, we realize Puerto Rico is smack dab in the middle of the so-called “hurricane box” and that most cruisers either head back to Florida or book it down to Grenada by the start of hurricane season. Probably a bit just for insurance purposes, who knows. And although those cruisers are definitely making the more statistically wise choice, I’m not going to lie, I’ve really enjoyed our laid back time here in Puerto Real, Cabo Rojo. It’s very quiet here in this small and well-protected bay/fishing village, and it’s been really quite nice not having had to rush our cruising journey and miss out on anything along the way.
Honestly , it’s been extra nice being the only cruisers in town. It just feels more authentic, ya know? And there’s the added bonus of this being a U.S. territory, which just makes life a little easier. Hello, can you say regular cell phone service?! Not to mention, Puerto Rico — with it’s fair share of mangrove protected areas that double as secure little hurricane holes — is actually a really great location (in our opinion) to ride out hurricane season in style.
But after a few quiet weeks loving life in Puerto Rico, we finally came face to face with our first (for us) storm of the season — Tropical Storm Bertha — back at the beginning of August!
^^So Puerto Real is on the west coast of Puerto Rico, in the middle-ish of that side of the coast…and um, pretty much dead center for TS Bertha’s forecasted path of impact. Awesome.^^
Although we might not regularly blast weather related info all over our blog or Facebook page, don’t let that fool ya! We are always keeping a very watchful eye on weather, and in this case, the tropics. With Bertha, we knew our chances were fairly high in terms of whether or not the system would move directly over Puerto Rico, so we were actively planning our “attack” in the days leading up to the storm.
Since we were (and still are) happily docked at a marina here in Puerto Real, Cabo Rojo, we really needed to wait until the system moved a bit closer to the island to get a better feel for whether it was strengthening; how direct and severe the impact would be; and whether or not we would need to relocate our boat from its cozy slip at the marina.
Seeing as Bertha was turning out to be a somewhat weak tropical storm, we initially strategized on staying put at the marina and taking all the necessary “dock” precautions…like doubling our dock lines, making sure our boat neighbors were also soundly secured, etc. This was the plan at least until we sought out the opinions of several Puerto Real locals, and quickly learned that the severity of the tropical storm itself was not what we should be worried about at all. Instead, the after-the-tropical-storm-passes storm surge is the real doozie around here. Since Puerto Real faces west, a strong surge was expected to hit a day following the passing of Bertha as waves barreled back towards the coast. With a serious surge factor in play, we knew we would be much safer anchored out in the bay, so we ended up taking the advice of locals and decided instead to move our sailboat from the marina.
But we did most of our “storm prep” while still tied up at the dock…
- We took down the jib sail and stowed it below deck. Even when furled, jib sails can offer a sizable amount of wind resistance and additional load on the headstay. Or worse, can unfurl itself during the storm and reek all kinds of crazy havoc. We didn’t want to take any chances. However, we still don’t know how to properly fold a sail so that bad boy was pretty much taking up the entire floor space in the main living area while we rode out the storm.
- We tied up the main sail with rope secured around the entire sail cover and boom.
- We removed our bimini canvas since she’s not really in the best condition as is. A strong gust of wind and I’m fairly certain she’d be on her way back to the Dominican.
- We left the dodger canvas in place since we would be anchored directly into the wind (in other words the wind wouldn’t be putting any reverse pressure on the canvas). And keeping the dodger in tact would help shield the companionway from heavy rain.
- We tied down the actual bimini stainless steel structure with rope to help reinforce it against strong winds.
- We did NOT remove our solar panels based on Bertha’s forecasted strength. We would definitely remove them if a stronger storm/hurricane threatened.
- We tied off our halyards.
- We stowed anything and everything that was loose on deck (cockpit cushions, electronics, all the crap we keep in the cockpit cubbies, etc.). We did not remove our grill or dinghy outboard engine.
- We secured our dinghy in her usual spot on deck, with some extra reinforcement to keep her in place.
- Our ditch bag is always ready if we need it so there was nothing to do there.
- We made sure all of our important electronics were juiced up and ready to go…including our VHF radio, cell phone, and computer. Side note, I was very pleasantly surprised to find out we still picked up the marina’s wifi signal out in the bay!
- Speaking of cell phones, we also drove to the Mayaguez Mall to purchase and activate a new cell phone since our one remaining phone conveniently died the same day we were preparing for Bertha. Awesome. Seriously, what are the odds?
Okay, when you see the houses around town starting to move (look closely), you know it’s time to go… ;))
After preparing everything we could at the dock, we got ready to head out into the bay for a night or two of anchoring while we rode out Tropical Storm Bertha. We left the dock around 10AM on Saturday morning, with expectations that we would begin to see conditions worsen by 2PM that day. It took us all of 15 minutes to untie our dock lines, motor out about 800 feet or so from the marina and drop anchor in what we felt was a good spot, with plenty of distance from the few other sailboats that were already anchored.
Once we moved the boat out into the bay, we got to work finalizing our storm preparations.
- We set our trustworthy Mantus anchor with 150 feet of chain. To date, our Mantus anchor has been a star player and held like a champ. We had our second anchor on hand to use if needed, but we pretty much figured we wouldn’t need it.
- We added chafe protection to our anchor bridle using pieces of fire hose and positioning them at the most chafe-prone areas.
- We tightened all of our port lights (windows) and held our breath for no leaks once Bertha rolled through.
- We did a final check of everything and continued to check on weather updates as Bertha approached.
And then we just watched and waited.
Eventually, dark storm clouds began to grow on the horizon as Bertha approached Puerto Real, Cabo Rojo. Luckily for us, Bertha’s passing occurred during the day so we were able to watch as the system moved in and out of the area. We expected conditions to worsen as the storm moved closer, but really they never got much worse than a normal afternoon thunderstorm. We spent the afternoon and evening listening and watching as the rain fell and that’s about it. I cooked dinner, we continuously checked the windows for leaks and tightened any that seemed to be letting in a few drops of water, we perused the internet (still had that wifi kicking!), played with Oliver, and called it a night.
Here’s a quick cell phone clip of the conditions during TS Bertha to give you an idea… Rainy yet super calm, eh???
^^Just noticed one of my little hanging plastic clips was overlooked on our sweep of the cockpit. But I’m pretty positive that particular clip made it through the storm totally unscathed. lol.^^
All that hard work prepping the boat for basically not much more than your typical summer afternoon thunderstorm. Better safe than sorry, right?! :))
I’d say we had a great “trial run” if you will when Bertha blew by Puerto Rico. The storm actually ended up passing a bit south of us, and honestly we didn’t experience much more than a few heavy downpours and maybe a few small gusts of wind. Nothing more than 25 knots or so. Bertha did eventually become a category 1 hurricane after gaining a tiny bit of strength over the Bahamas. But luckily for us, she wasn’t much more than a days worth of rain and some great real-life ‘storm prep’ practice for us newbie liveaboard sailors.
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