Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Due to circumstances under control...

The time allotted to thinking deeply about the regularly scheduled blog post was consumed by Hurricane Sandy, so that's what I will write about now, just in case anyone is interested in the exotic subject of riding out hurricanes aboard sailboats at the dock. It's not as exciting as the subject of riding out hurricanes aboard sailboats at sea, but I haven't done that in a while. Nor do I wish that I have. I have a confession to make: I don't like hurricanes very much.

I spent the day biding my time, making sure that nothing would go wrong. A few things did go wrong: two little boarding ladders got blown into the water, and a bit of parachute chord holding down the corner of a dodger failed and the dodger started flapping around in the stiff hurricane breeze. Luckily, the boarding ladders were secured by lanyards; I recovered one, and a neighbor recovered the other. Then I replaced the failed bit of parachute chord with some temporary clothesline, and all was well again.

Aboard, it felt like a day at sea, except that we weren't going anywhere. There was a lot of wind-induced rocking, making it hard to concentrate on anything for very long. Periodically I suited up and went out on the docks, making the rounds, checking the dock lines for chafe and adjusting them (they tend to stretch). It's amazing, but it's quite possible to get a multi-ton vessel to come closer to the dock, even when a hurricane is trying to push it away from the dock, by taking a turn of dock line around a cleat and then alternately kicking it with your heel, then quickly taking out the slack. Since dock lines do stretch and fail, redundancy is key, and so each boat had to have four bow lines, two stern lines, and three or four spring lines. Some people also rigged additional spring lines from the side of the stern facing away from the finger pier to the main floating dock, to try to keep the boats from grinding against the finger piers.

Come to think of it, the motion of a docked boat in a hurricane is quite a lot more annoying than the motion of a boat at sea. The normal motion of a sailboat on water is pleasant, even soothing. (Yes, it depends on the boat; some of the sportier models try to toss you about the cabin and break your ribs.) On the other hand, at the dock, when the wind is howling and the chop is kicking up, there is a lot of snubbing going on. That is when multiple dock lines go from slack to taut and back in rapid alternation, producing sub-audial base notes and jerking the boat around in multiple directions at once. “Doing-doing... doing-doing-doing...” Add to that the pained squeaking and squelching of the vinyl fenders and the clanging of the halyards against masts, and the drumbeat of wind-driven rain against the deck, and it all ends up rather a lot for the senses to deal with all at once. I think I would prefer to ride out hurricanes at anchor (in a suitable hurricane hole) rather than at the dock. At anchor, the boat always points with the sharp end toward the weather, as is intended, and although the combination of chop and high winds tend to make it charlie-horse and hunt around at the same time, that motion is a lot more pleasant than the jerkiness induced by the snubbing and the grinding against the dock.

In all, Sandy turned out to be windier but less rainy than Irene. This time, the wind was from the northeast, blowing at around 35 knots steady, with many gusts over 50 knots, but the direction was such that the fetch (the distance over which waves can build up) was less than 200 yards. And so, it was blowing 50 knots but the seas were 3 inches or less. Eventually the wind started clocking around to the southeast, and there was an hour or so, while it was blowing from the east, that chop built up in the harbor and added steady rocking to the swaying induced by wind gusts and the snubbing and the grinding. That rocking was the normal thing with Irene, which blew in straight from the ocean. At the height of Irene, a two-foot swell was running straight through the marina. Now, two feet is not big, but imagine having to walk around on a floating dock that's doing that sort of dance! Also, the rocking was strong enough for us to wonder whether any of the sailboats were going to clack masts (they never did, but kept looking like they were going to at any moment).

Once again, none of the worst case scenarios came to pass. We had AC power and wireless internet the entire time. At some point a transformer blew out somewhere on shore (we saw the flash, and the shore lights flickered for a moment) but there was no outage. Had there been an outage, our battery banks were fully charged, so we would have had power for a few days. No boats came loose (one derelict-looking trawler lost a stern line, but we spotted it and gave it one). The storm surge was insignificant (under 2 feet) and the floating docks did not float off the tops of the pilings (they are also anchored, so they wouldn't have floated too far, but horsing them back onto the pilings would have been a crazy amount of work). In short, the hurricane was, once again, a complete waste of time.

A lot of people wrote to me wondering how I was doing out on the water in a hurricane. I hope that this answers all of your questions; if not, feel free to ask more. A boat is a reasonably safe place to be during a hurricane; it's all the stuff around it that's dangerous. Boats are designed to float on floodwaters and they are low to the water and streamlined, with low windage, allowing them to deal with high winds. Houses are not designed for any of the above: they don't float, and they have high windage causing them to capsize.

This is my third hurricane aboard. During the first one (Bertha) we were at sea, and the problem was that we were too close to land. Unless there is something specifically wrong with them (bad design, for instance) boats can deal with wind and waves; it's land that kill them. Usually the weakest link is not the boat but the crew. During the other two hurricanes (Irene and Sandy) we were docked. Both were unpleasant and tedious events that required some level of competence, but there was nothing that approached life-threatening. Nevertheless, thank you to all of you who wrote and called, and offered your couches (as if I'd ever abandon ship for no good reason).

And today the skies are blue, there is a warm southerly breeze, and the sun is shining, so I think I will wander ashore and take some pictures of the wreckage there. Based on what is currently in the chattersphere, some of it ought to look impressive.

18 comments:

Glenn said...

I'm glad to read you're doing well. Back to Anarchy next week?

No damage from the Haida Gwaii earthquake here.

Glenn
Marrowstone Island

staticwarp said...

Thanks for a great post! I always love to read about your experience living on a boat. I've been trying to convince my insignificant other of the wisdom of this lifestyle for some time. one of her reasons for not wanting to do so is because she doesnt want to be caught in a hurricane. now i can have her read this post!

any thoughts on sinking of the HMS Bounty? it's not often that we see a movie star sailing ship drowned at sea.

John Hemingway said...

all's well that ends well, glad you made it through!
John

Ruben Chandler said...

I'm relieved you are okay. I wondered about you when they were pumping the news full of Katrina like footage here in LA.

Jeff said...

Why did the Bounty try to outrun the storm? Wouldn't it have been better to ride it out? The ship sank, and two crew members were lost.

wuyi said...

rode out 'sandy' at anchor near KeyLargo, FL. 50+ kts at worst and stayed aboard for 48+ hrs. glad to go ashore and get online. the boatlife has its ups and downs like everything else but I prefer it...

Shadowfax said...

All quiet on the west coast(cept for continuous earthquakes off Haida Gwaii.
I agree with the dock comments,some winters we get a nasty westerly that comes straight down the inlet and starts to build up a big swell.
Turns the entire marina into a giant washing machine,most people leave their boats its so stressful.

kollapsnik said...

Glenn -

Yes, the next post will be about anarchy, and boating, at the same time. How will I manage that? Stay tuned...

This just in: the hurricane brought mosquitoes. There is one flying around the cabin right now. It's late October in Boston. Thank you, climate change!

Ien van Houten said...

Glad to hear you are safe.

Spud said...

Spent Francis aboard our boat at dock. Clocked wind at 124 Knots. Yee haw ! Only damage was it ripped the antenna off the mast...that and a severe hang over...The boat was okay because of 600 ft. of extra spider webbing. My head was hurting cuz of all that smuggled Bahamian Rum.

Chaucer said...

My second boat sank when the next door yacht broke free and ran over mine.
It belonged to a doctor who used it as a toy. He left all the canvas awnings up and it's arse into the wind.
I stayed with my yacht until the waves coming over the jetty would have trapped me aboard.
A cyclone managed to get over the mainland and join up with an anti-cyclone that was in it's path.

Patrick said...

When I was a pretty young kid, I'd read books about sailing adventures. At some point in these stories there would invariably be a point where the seas kick up, and the sailors become fearful of getting too close to land. I wondered then, "but isn't land where it's safe?" When I got older and started sailing small boats myself, I came to understand it quite well.

DeVaul said...

Interesting eyewitness accounts of what is involved in riding out a storm in port. I learned a lot.

However, what happens if the storm surge hits the port your in? Do you try to sail out of the harbor or do you just get washed ashore with all the other boats?

Eduard Florinescu said...

Now I have a picture http://inapcache.boston.com/universal/site_graphics/blogs/bigpicture/sandy/bp52.jpg

flipjack said...

Dmitry,

You posted a white paper earlier this year about the cascading nature of the breakdown of "just in time" inventory systems.

The paper talked about gas shortages, grocery stores going empty, and extended blackouts as posing a risk of systemic failure. Since, just now, there are a lot of news stories up about gas shortages, grocery stores going empty, and extended blackouts in the Big Apple, do you care to weigh in on this?

Sir Tagio said...

flipjack,
The results of the storm are a small hint about how bad things could get. Let all those with eyes to see, see.
I live in Westchester County, north of NYC. My particular town was not badly hit by the storm, and in our neighborhood, we never lost electricity. However, lots of other places in the county have been and still are without power. Because so many gas stations cannot pump, the ones that have power are the focus of everyone's gas needs. We waited nearly 2 hours in line to get gas the other night. Everyone by now knows about the lines. The interesting thing about this is that lots of local police have been diverted to the gas stations to deal with the traffic problems and to keep the peace. Before police were deployed, there were reports of fist fights breaking out because of line cutting and other less than orderly behavior. Fortunately, the police are available because they are not needed to attend to more desperate situations. The tree removal forces of local govt and the local electric utility are able to do their work without police assistance, and most people can handle intersections where the traffic lights are out without a leader.
However, the gas shortage points to what could happen if police are supposed to keep order over too wide a field. People seem to be taking a week or two without electricity in pretty good stride - because it's not out absolutely everywhere and they can still go to places that have it. So the thing that sticks out most for me in this is how critical gas availability is. In any significant breakdown that has any sense of extended continuity to it, I expect gas availability to be the place where the first real savagery breaks out.

Lizzy said...

Vocab exercise! I had to look up chord, lanyard and cleat.
This was a great article as always, thanks.

Concerned academic said...

Hi Dmitry,

Good to hear you folks made it safely through Sandy. Looking forward to another piece on anarchism and sailboats - In particular, I'd like to hear your views on how (a significant segment of) society will make the transition from present-day clusterf**k to a way of mutual cooperation such as that envisaged by Kropotkin (whose work I currently read).