Time to Check Your Insurance for Hurricane Coverage

Hurricane Omar Victim in St. Crois, U.S. Virgin Islands

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Michael Grubbs and Petty Officer 1st Class Angela Alonso, marine science technicians at Sector San Juan, Puerto Rico, inspect a vessel that has been tossed into the beach by Hurricane Omar at the St.Croix Yacht Club in St.Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008. MSTs have been deployed to St.Croix in order to determine the extent of damage to the environment and control any damage which has already occured. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Barry Bena)

An updated 2011 Atlantic basin hurricane forecast from Colorado State University yesterday should serve as a reminder to all East Coast and Gulf Coast boaters to check their insurance policies for hurricane coverage.  More importantly, now is the time to create your own “hurricane plan”  — whether it is to move the boat, haul it, secure it; whatever.  You need a plan and you need to ensure that you and your insurer agree on both how your boat will be covered and to what extent the insurance company might help cover the cost of a precautionary haulout.  A haulout, while inconvenient and expensive, is ultimately the best protection for your boat.  Yes, you can suffer some damage to surfaces and fittings, but a properly secured boat on dry land is never going to sink.

Every year, boaters seem to be surprised by the arrival of hurricanes and tropical storms in their area and hundreds of boats are damaged and destroyed, many needlessly.  Granted, Mother Nature is, ultimately, unpredictable, but preparation and vigilance can go a long way toward minimizing the consequences.

Now back to the forecast.  Originally started by Dr. William Gray and now released by him and Dr. Phil Kotzbach, these tropical cyclone forecasts are meant to give the public a sense for the probabilities of these storms, but of course can’t predict them with certainty.  Even lacking certainty, they are informative and useful.  The group issued its first forecast for 2011 last December and this week’s update slightly reduces the expected amount of activity, but only slightly.  All categories — tropical storms, hurricanes, etc., are still forecast to be significantly above statistical averages for the last half of the 20th century.  The slight adjustment for this forecast is predicated on a subsiding La Niña in the Pacific and slightly cooling sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic.

Here are some useful links to see these forecasts and to track the weather yourself.  If you know of others, let us know in the comments and we’ll add them to the list.

The Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University

The Updated (April 2011) Atlantic Seasonal Activity and Landfall Strike Probability for 2011 (pdf)

National Weather Service (NOAA) National Hurricane Center

U.S. Navy Fleet Weather Center (good for all oceans)

Tropical Weather and Hurricane Info from The Weather Underground (great maps and visuals)

Tropical Weather Page at (some interesting historical analysis of specific storms)

Stormpulse Weather Website (good tracking maps and satellite imagery, including cloud cover)

Intellicast Tropical Winds Webpage (great view of upper-level steering currents)

Copyright © 2011 by OceanLines LLC.  All rights reserved.

Posted by Tom in Cruising Under Power, Cruising Under Sail, Environment & Weather, Legal & Insurance, seamanship

Will Your Liferaft Work When You Need It?

Last year’s “Baja Ha Ha,” the fleet cruise from San Diego to Mexico, provides yet another impetus for all ocean cruisers to reconsider their liferaft situation. You DO have one, right?  And it HAS been maintained, inspected and re-certified, right? And you actually know what’s stored in it and how to use it, right? And you don’t keep it in an old valise buried in some locker under a bunch of junk, right?  It’s okay to admit to one of these failings; but not okay to ignore it any longer.  The skipper and crew of J/World, a 40′ J/120 that sank after a collision with whales during the rally, did all of this right and they’re all alive and well today to talk about it.

In fact, the rescue of J/World’s crew is a textbook example of how smoothly things can go when you truly are prepared for the worst. Even some unlucky breaks didn’t prevent a successful rescue by U.S. Coast Guard helicopter. The specific equipment that kept this crew alive and got them rescued was their Viking RescYou liferaft and their EPIRB. The raft protected them in rough seas some 60 miles offshore southwest of San Diego and the EPIRB alerted authorities and brought the Coast Guard right to their location.

USCG Swimmer Hoisted Aboard MH-60 Jayhawk After J World Rescue

USCG Swimmer Hoisted Aboard MH-60 Jayhawk After J World Rescue

In this photo you see the USCG rescue swimmer AST3 Scott Mochkatel being hoisted back aboard the MH-60 Jayhawk after safely getting all five J/World sailors aboard the helo. The USCG Sector San Diego press release has a link to the actual rescue video (just click on the picture in the press release similar to the one at right).

Here’s how it was recounted by the crew to Viking, the makers of the Rescyou liferaft:

The annual Baja Ha-Ha cruiser rally from San Diego, California, to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, turned into a life threatening situation for five, San Francisco-based, J/World Performance Sailing School participants. Thanks to fast-thinking crew members, an eight-person Viking RescYou liferaft and the United States Coast Guard, they’re all alive today after their 40′ J/120 J World sunk, 60 miles offshore.

For J/World instructors Eugenie Russell and Barry Demak and three, adult J/World students, the rally started in fair conditions. Three days in, the team was enjoying swift passage to Turtle Bay, the first anchorage point, with 20-25 knot winds and 10-15′ swells.

On the third morning, just before 10am and about 200 miles southwest of San Diego, the crew encountered a pod of humpback whales. A severe collision caused the rudder to completely dislodge and J World started taking on tremendous amounts of water.

Captain Russell, an experienced offshore sailor, dealt with the situation calmly and methodically. The crew continued to sail the boat with just the sails to get clear of the whales, while attempting to secure the rudder post and stop the ingress of water with a manual bilge pump. Russell went below deck to retrieve the EPIRB and ditch bag, while Demak gathered additional food, water and equipment.

About 40 minutes after the initial impact, Russell and Demak decided the crew needed to abandon the sinking vessel. They activated the satellite-detectable emergency distress signal and deployed their Viking RescYou liferaft just as a large wave hit the submerging boat.

With the aid of the inflated boarding ramp, the five sailors entered the offshore liferaft, bailed out cold seawater and tried to keep themselves warm and dry. They took stock of the offshore emergency pack contents, read the survival instructions and awaited rescue in windy, high seas.

Soon the team saw a USCG Jayhawk flying past them. Demak radioed the aircraft, while Russell fired one of the SOLAS rocket flares. Once the Viking liferaft was spotted, the USCG executed a textbook evacuation of the five sailors.

Fortunately, the professionally prepared and operated teaching vessel was equipped with the best offshore equipment, including the well-maintained Viking RescYou liferaft. Russell and Demak agree that the Viking liferaft was paramount to their survival. “We were fortunate to have the best equipment in perfect working condition,” said Demak, “but it is just as critical to be confident that it will work as designed and to know how to use it.”

If you’d like to read the full account of the J/World sinking and rescue, the December issue of Latitude 38, original sponsor of the rally, has a fantastic article and interview with Eugenie Russell. And the blog of the J World Sailing School itself has an even more extensive account by the participants themselves.

Copyright © 2010 by OceanLines LLC.  All rights reserved

Posted by Tom in Boats, Cruising Under Power, Cruising Under Sail, Electronics, Gear & Apparel, Industry News, Passagemaking News, People, Powerboats, sailboat racing, Sailboats, Sailing Gear & Apparel, seamanship

Passagemaking Aboard a Military Tall Ship

Editor’s note:  Occasionally at OceanLines, we cover one or another of the truly unique forms of passagemaking.  In this case, we introduce you to (or re-introduce, as many of you already know her) the U.S.C.G. Cutter Eagle, a 295-foot, three-masted steel barque.  The Eagle experience is both unique and important for the future leaders of the Coast Guard.  It gives them a chance to be as close to the raw ocean as possible, an experience that will serve them well when they risk life and limb to save those of us in distress on the sea.  Eagle called on Portland, Maine recently and our correspondent Patricia Allen went aboard for a media familiarization cruise.  You can see more of her photos of the Eagle here.  Here is her report.

by Patricia K. Allen

USCGC Eagle in Portland Harbor August 2009 - Photo Courtesy of Patricia K. Allen, All Rights Reserved

USCGC Eagle in Portland Harbor August 2009 - Photo Courtesy of Patricia K. Allen, All Rights Reserved

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle is “America’s Tall Ship.”  Originally built by the German Navy in 1936, and commissioned by Adolph Hitler as the Horst Wessel on June 13, 1936, the Eagle changed hands as a result of war reparations, and was commissioned into the U.S.C.G. on May 14, 1946.  Well concealed today are the signs of her past – Nazi swastikas beneath the main teak deck  and weather deck bulkheads, under layers and layers of white paint.  She is currently the only commissioned sailing vessel sporting the Stars and Stripes.

Ratlines Running Aloft Aboard USCGC Eagle in Portland Harbor -- Photo Courtesy of Patricia K. Allen, All Rights Reserved

Ratlines Running Aloft Aboard USCGC Eagle in Portland Harbor -- Photo Courtesy of Patricia K. Allen, All Rights Reserved

The Eagle now serves as a training ship for future Coast Guard officers.  She is home for a permanent crew of six officers and 50 enlisted personnel.  Training is provided for up to 150 cadets and “swabs – students at the Academy during the summer prior to their freshman year,” and she routinely sails with more than 230 hands on board.  The commanding officer is U.S.C.G. Captain Eric Jones.  As a barque (or bark), Eagle’s fore and main masts carry square sails, while her mizzen mast carries fore-and-aft sails, a rigging enhancement that enabled sailing ships to keep the advantages of the square sails when before the wind but also maneuver somewhat closer to the winds when heading upwind.

USCG Cadets Get it Done the Old Fashioned Way Aboard USCGC Eagle - Photo Courtesy of Patricia K. Allen, All Rights Reserved

USCG Cadets Get it Done the Old Fashioned Way Aboard USCGC Eagle - Photo Courtesy of Patricia K. Allen, All Rights Reserved

According to Lt. Commander Mike Putlock, one of Eagle’s six commissioned officers, the tall ship typically sails at 10 knots under power, and 17 knots under full sail.  When asked how long it takes new crew members to gain their “sea legs,” LCDR Putlock replied that it “depends on the person,” but usually takes one day.  Swab John Mack agreed with LCDR Putlock, adding that many of those new to the Eagle also suffer from seasickness.  For this reason, medications are offered, but are optional.  He disclosed that he opted in, and was thankful based on what he witnessed.

The daily routine onboard begins with 0600 reveille, followed by breakfast and a military training period.  The academic day begins at 0800 and ends at 1540, followed by the evening meal, more training, and then an evening study hour.  Taps sounds at 2200, with lights out at 2400.  On Saturdays, reveille is at 0630, followed by more military training from 0800 to 1200, after which liberty is granted.  Sundays include religious services, and following the evening meal, the study period begins again.


Ship's Bell Aboard USCGC Eagle Alongside at Portland -- Photo Courtesy of Patricia K. Allen, All Rights Reserved

Ship's Bell Aboard USCGC Eagle Alongside at Portland -- Photo Courtesy of Patricia K. Allen, All Rights Reserved

or each crew member, the time aboard is different.  The swabs typically sail for six weeks before entering the academy.  This summer’s cruise began April 20, and arrives in New London, Conn. on August 14th. This summer, The Eagle set sail for Rota, Spain on April 20th. Ports included Monaco, and Cassis, France,  Bermuda, Charleston, S.C., Boston, Mass., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Rockland and then Portland, ME, Portsmouth, N.H., and home in New London August 14th.


Copyright © 2009 OceanLines LLC

Posted by Tom in Boats, Passagemaking News

Navagear on PLB vs. SPOT: Differences?

SPOT Satellite Messenger Device

SPOT Satellite Messenger Device

Tim Flanagan, managing editor at my of my favorite blogs, Navagear, has a post today that addresses the question some boaters have about the new SPOT Messenger; namely, whether it’s any different from a personal locator beacon (PLB).  The answer of course, is ‘yes’ it is quite different.

Tim points to a nice piece in the USCG 13th District blog that goes into detail about the differences. There is no question that SPOT is a great new tool for many outdoor folks, including boaters, but please don’t consider it a replacement for a reliable, working PLB.  Yes, it HAS saved lives, but the system has limitations as a PLB-replacement.

You can read Tim’s post here and have a look at the SPOT Messenger service here.

Copyright ©  2008 by OceanLines

Posted by oceanlines in Technology