Friday, August 30, 2019

Dorian Update

Every year at the Lovely Laura Lee's family farm, where her mother and brother and his family live, there is a huge pig roast on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. LL and I were to go there today, and she is on her way now. I stayed behind until early tomorrow to get the boat and house in as good a shape as I can to prepare for Hurricane Dorian, now a Category 4 Hurricane bearing down on the northern Bahamas.

The storm's path is gradually becoming more clear. See is now expected to make landfall, or nearly so, Tuesday in south Florida, and turn northward running up the state of Florida very slowly. What is unclear is whether it will be over land or water as it moves north. Over land, the storm would be weakened while over the ocean it could continue to maintain its strength. Officially it is expected to be near Jacksonville, Florida, Wednesday afternoon with 105 mph winds. Jacksonville is roughly 120 miles south of our location near Savannah, Georgia.

It is impossible to overstate the seriousness of this situation. Should a category 4 or 5 hurricane travel up the east coast of Florida just offshore, the devastation could be unimaginable. Should the storm travel north over land, it will be weakened somewhat, but storm surge and wind damage would still be catastrophic.

We are not taking this lightly. We are hopeful the our house and boat will be safe, but we fully expect that we might not be able to get back home for maybe a week. I've battened down the hatches as well as I can. We will just be following the storm to see what happens here and when we can return.

Good luck to everyone in the path of this mess. Worry about your personal safety first and property second.

Saturday 5 AM Update -- The NHS discussion released early this morning shows a remarkable change stating: "The global models the NHC normally uses, along with the regional HWRF and HMON models, have made another shift to the east to the point where none of them forecast Dorian to make landfall in Florida."

Let's hope this eastward trend continues.


I had little idea when I wrote in my last post about hurricanes that my decision-making would be tested so soon. And yet here we are, as always, closely following every bit of news we can get on Hurricane Dorian. The National Hurricane Center advisories come out every six hours, at 5 and 11 AM and PM, EDT. This particular hurricane has been a surprise that no one was concerned about five days ago, and it has been very difficult for forecasters to narrow down its future path. The 11 PM advisory has just been released, and here is where we are according to the NHC:

At 1100 PM AST (0300 UTC), the center of Hurricane Dorian was
located near latitude 23.3 North, longitude 68.4 West. Dorian is
moving toward the northwest near 12 mph (19 km/h), and this general motion is expected to continue through Friday.  A west-northwestward to westward motion is forecast to begin by Friday night and continue into the weekend.  On this track, Dorian should move over the Atlantic well east of the southeastern and central Bahamas tonight and on Friday, approach the northwestern Bahamas Saturday, and move near or over portions of the northwest Bahamas on Sunday.

Maximum sustained winds have increased to near 105 mph (165 km/h) with higher gusts.  Dorian is expected to become a major hurricane
on Friday and remain an extremely dangerous hurricane through the weekend.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 25 miles (35 km) from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 105
miles (165 km).

The latest minimum central pressure estimated from Hurricane Hunter data is 977 mb (28.85 inches).

What is making this hurricane so difficult to forecast is that its course will be affected by its speed. The storm is expected to turn westerly because of a high pressure ridge north of it that will keep it from going north. However, the ridge is expected to fall apart and stop influencing the storm by Tuesday, allowing it to turn north. If the storm moves quickly, it would likely cross south Florida into the Gulf of Mexico before turning north. However, if the storm moves more slowly, the high ridge could dissipate, allowing it to turn north while over land in Florida or even before reaching the coast of Florida. 

All of this makes planning extremely difficult, and people along the coast all the way from Louisiana to North Carolina could be in the line of fire. The NHC does, however, need to draw a cone. The latest one shows that The Ford Plantation is in an area with less than a 20% chance of having tropical storm force winds.

The more detailed cone showing estimated times has tropical storm force winds reaching our area, if at all, some time around 8 PM Monday. This time has changed from the 11 AM forecast, which had us at an 8 AM arrival time Monday:

As you can see, while we are not on the forecast track, we are just barely outside the cone. Statistics show that in 2/3 of cases, hurricanes make landfall somewhere within the cone. So we are not at all out of the woods yet. However, it's even possible for the storm to really slow down over the weekend and then make a sharp turn north, missing land altogether. Let's hope that's the case. This will come ashore as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, that can be totally devastating.

A final note on surge. We learned here painfully two years ago that even a tropical storm that travelled up near us from the Gulf coast can cause serious tidal surge when strong offshore winds coincide with high tides. Here, the river rose over its banks, flooding parts of our Club property. Unfortunately, with no surge at all, we are having very high tides right now on the Ogeechee River. Our normal tidal range is from a low of around sea level (0) to a high of six to seven feet. Based on Ft. Mcallister tides that occur about two hours before ours, the Monday tides here are:

1:28 AM High 8.6'
8:23 AM Low -0.8'
2:03 PM High 8.2'
8:52 PM Low -0.5'

So we enter Labor Day weekend on edge. Here's hoping this storm takes a more favorable turn, and that our winds and tides don't conspire against us as they did in 2017.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Home Again

I am home at The Ford Plantation, after a three-day trip alone from John's Island near Charleston to Beaufort Thursday, then to Thunderbolt Friday, and to Ford yesterday.

People I meet, and friends, often ask me where I "keep" the boat. We don't really keep the boat in any single place. So far, I have mostly kept her in boatyards (a total of 134 days this year). But the real answer is that we expect Division Belle to be in Florida and the Bahamas in winter and in New England in summer. This year, as we have continued to get things fixed on the boat, we missed the chance to go north. We fully expect to be heading south after the hurricane season into Florida and on to the Bahamas in January. Other than a few short trips she will likely be here at Ford until late in the hurricane season, which officially ends November 30.

I had two uneventful days of travel alone Friday and yesterday. There were threatening thunderstorms yesterday that caused me to simply stop and wait for about 45 minutes at the mouth of the Little Ogeechee River. The storms eventually moved on or dissipated, allowing me to continue. Friday night my bride drove down to Thunderbolt to join me for dinner. I continue to be amazed that it took her roughly 30 minutes to drive home after dinner but it took me a full five hours yesterday to get the boat home. Here's a view of the path from Thunderbolt to Ford:

Hurricane preparedness has been an obsession with me of late. I seriously considered keeping the boat at Brunswick Landing Marina in Brunswick, Georgia, advertised as a "hurricane hole",  for the next few months, but I came down in favor of Ford being the safer alternative. My biggest fear is a storm surge that lifts the floating docks above the pilings that hold them. At Ford, the docks are about seven feet below the top of the pilings at high tide, while at Brunswick the distance is about eight feet. Importantly though, Ford is about 15 nautical miles from the ocean as the crow flies, while Brunswick is more like six miles. More important is the height of the pilings above the surrounding land, because once water rises and begins to spread over the surrounding land, it rises much more slowly as it spreads over land. The pilings at Ford are as far above the surrounding ground as those in Brunswick. So here we shall sit and keep our fingers crossed. Obviously in a direct hit from a category five storm, all bets are off for both our home and our boat. But there aren't many options for dealing with that kind of catastrophe.

It's good to be home. Let's hope it stays safe here this season.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Finally ...

I am at Lady's Island Marina, across the river from Beaufort SC. I am finally back on the boat, after it has been in a boatyard since the end of June. I arrived in Beaufort at about 6 pm today.

Today was the first time I have operated Division Belle totally alone. Although I miss my bride, my Bosun Paul Hamilton, and our chef (and valves and fittings guy) Jim Trolinger, I do really enjoy running a boat alone at times, in far more measured doses than when I was young and crazy.  

I once moved my 55-foot Fleming from Key West back to Orange Beach, Alabama totally alone. It was a 500 nautical mile trip due north across the Gulf of Mexico at 10 knots (to have enough fuel). So 50 hours alone at sea, non-stop. My navigation system at the time, a LORAN receiver, had something called a "watch alarm". I would set it to go off every 30 minutes so that I felt free to doze off if there was no traffic around. I am wiser now, or at least older, and I value my sleep much more. This trip is all in the Intracoastal Waterway and should be a day from John's Island near Charleston to Beaufort (completed today), a day to Thunderbolt (Savannah), and a day or two back up the Ogeechee River to The Ford Plantation, depending on the timing of the tides. 

I have made every effort here to avoid writing about maintenance and repairs. This has been a saga of dealing with two particular problems that I have now had fixed for the third time. If anyone really wants the gory details, drop me a note and I'll fill you in. I'm just hoping everything is finally right with my stabilizers and sanitation pump-out system. I have been very pleased with the good work at Ross Marine on John's Island. They seem to have a staff that is experienced and well-trained. It is a third-generation family-owned business, and good people to work with. I'll be back for any work that requires hauling the boat out of the water in the future.

Cruising alone is not at all frightening to me. Rather, it provides the kind of stimulation that keeps me on my toes. With one or two helpers on board, any issue is easier, but there is a challenge to going it alone. And besides, I can operate on any schedule I like and throw together any kind of meal I want at any time. It's not a bad way to spend a few days.

However, today reinforced my belief that it is generally best to have some helpers along. Late this afternoon, in St. Helena Sound, I was confronted with massive thunderstorms to my west, right in my path. There was a bunch of lightening ahead along with strong winds, and I could see on my own radar that my path was blocked for awhile.

As it turns out, I could have simply idled where I was for awhile. The storm passed without hitting me directly. However, being prudent, I thought it best to get near shore and drop the anchor until the storm passed. The problem came when I tried to retrieve the anchor with the windlass and it would come up to a certain point and stop. I thought the chain might be bunched up in the locker, but upon inspection that was not the issue. I also found that some previous owner had put various wire ties on the chain, I suppose marking lengths. I thought maybe these plastic wire ties were somehow jamming things up, so I got some cutters and removed them in the area where the chain was stopping. No luck.

I finally discovered that the anchor chain had come off one of its rollers, so it was jamming between the roller and the bow pulpit. This is not something easily dealt with. The anchor itself weighs nearly 200 pounds, and it was dug into the bottom and attached to the boat with very heavy chain. There is no way to simply lift it by hand. So the solution was to maneuver the boat to where there was some slack, allowing me to get the chain back onto its roller. At one point I put the boat in gear, ran out to the bow, and the boat moved too far forward, so the anchor chain pulled out maybe another 100 feet before I could get back to the pilothouse and put the boat in neutral. All in all, it would have been great to have the lovely Laura Lee, Bosun Paul, or JT to handle the boat or windlass while I did the other.

By the time this episode was over, I had lost more than an hour and the storm had moved on. I suppose it was better to go through this nonsense than to be struck by lightening. So here I am. I've had a shower and a good dinner at the restaurant here. I'm going to bed soon. I continue to think I like moving the boat alone, but truly, I need all the help I can get.

I'll try to get to Thunderbolt or Isle of Hope tomorrow and back to The Ford Plantation Saturday or Sunday depending on the tides. It's good to be using the boat again, and I'll soon get this nonsense of going it alone out of my system.