Hurricane Irma: the decisions taken for safety reasons

On 7 September, hurricane Irma struck the Dominican Republic. A week prior to this date, whilst we were moored in the military port of Santo Domingo, busying ourselves with boat maintenance and checks for wear and tear, that day’s weather report alerted us to the fact that a potentially dangerous weather system was forming. Given the forecasts, we abandoned our plan to sail to Samana, to the north of the island. Indeed, the grib files clearly showed a vortex forming, which was set to grow over the coming days. The ensuing period only served to confirm the approach of hurricane Irma. On the weather charts we were watching the fierce winds sweeping across the heavenly islands as they turned into a hellish situation, severely impacting on the local populations. The first consequence of this in the port of Santo Domingo was that the entire military fleet moved to a more sheltered zone.

Grib file indicating the strength and direction of the winds from hurricane Irma

 

We ended up on our own on what had turned into a long, deserted dock. We studied and checked the various options possible, but nothing seemed to us to be suitable for such a special boat. Indeed, the floats on the Race For Water are ‘wave-piercing’ and sit very low to the water, the deck barely 70cm above the surface. This unique feature meant that we couldn’t keep our fenders in position in the event of heavy seas. As such, we couldn’t tie the boat alongside with such little protection. One of the possibilities was to leave port and sail due east in order to distance ourselves from Irma, but that didn’t seem necessary in our view.

SIT AND WAIT

As a result, we took the option to remain in the military port. We positioned the vessel at anchor, stern facing towards the dock, which was a good distance away, tripling up on the mooring warps for added safety. The harbour authorities were quite concerned by the fact that we were staying in the military port. However, the forecasts were not a worry for the south coast of the Dominican Republic where we were located. Irma’s trajectory was due to take her to the north of the island. 20 knots of southerly wind were announced, whereas we had 35 knots of established wind in reality. When the wind picks up like that, well beyond the forecasts, it’s a little worrying. However, the weather isn’t an exact science. It does make you wonder how far it’s going to increase to. At that point, we decided to add our towing warp to the mix so as to bolster up our mooring system. “Too strong never failed” as any sailor will tell you. Shortly after that, the wind eased and dropped back down to the forecast 20-knot southerly wind.

The stormy skies of the hurricane have rolled through now. Aboard the boat we were all too aware of how lucky we were to be on the right side of the island. The port of “Sans Soucis” or ‘No Worries” is aptly named….

Jean- Marc