During our 6+ years aboard Que Tal, we were within 50 miles of the center of a tropical storm/hurricane 5 different times. Several of my first published articles came directly from those experiences, and I’ve posted a number of them here in a mini-series on hurricane preparation.
As I was recently doing some (much-needed!) reorganization here on TBG, I realized that I have never written about prepping the galley for a storm. And while a few of the tips below will apply even in a squall, I’m really thinking of a tropical storm or hurricane situation where you’ll be taking off sails and so on.
RULE NUMBER 1: Prepare the Deck First, then the Galley. Taking care of the boat itself is always the first priority if a storm is coming. While there are a few things that you need to do almost simultaneously (such as getting food out of lockers before you pile sails on top of them), most of the galley work can happen after the deck work is done. Getting food is no excuse for failing to prepare the boat — twice I’ve seen people going to the grocery store while the sails were still on their boat. You can always borrow food, but no one is going to prep your boat for you. The consequences of not prepping the boat are much more severe than anything that can happen in the galley!
RULE NUMBER 2: No Alcohol. I don’t want to come off as a prohibitionist here (we like our beer, wine and margaritas as much as any sailor), but our rule has always been that if we’re prepping for a storm, we don’t need even the slightest impairment. Storms can speed up and/or change their track — and your decisions will determine the safety of both you and your boat.
A few other things to remember, even if you’ll be off the boat right during the storm (if there’s a safe place ashore, go there — we were on Que Tal for several storms as there were no better alternatives):
- Get Food Out of Lockers that will be Inaccessible. Some lockers will become inaccessible when stuff get piled on top of them; others because they’re hard to get to in a rolling boat (such as one where you have to lift the bed mattress while you dive in headfirst). If you’re going to need anything out of these lockers, get it out now and put it in a safe but accessible location.
- Make Sure Seasickness Medications and First Aid Kit are Accessible. If you need either of these, you want them right at hand. If you take any daily medications, keep them available, too.
- Secure Potential Missiles. Make sure that knives can’t go flying and cans are really secure. Both can cause serious – even life-threatening – injuries if they are hurled across the boat at you. We learned to use duct tape over the twist latches. If you pile sails on a settee, tie them down so that they won’t slide off when the boat rolls. Stuff rags in everywhere you can to keep locker contents quiet.
- Secure the TP. A bad day is just that much worse if you suddenly discover that your entire stock of toilet paper is soggy (ditto for feminine hygiene products). Split it up between a couple of different lockers in case one develops a leak. And put some, a roll or two, in a Ziploc bag or dry bag.
- Make Snacks and Drinks Accessible. Make sure that you have a stash of easy-to-eat snacks (granola bars, nuts, dried fruit) and drinks in a place that is easily accessible, but safe (you don’t want drink bottles becoming missiles). Remember food for any pets, too! Don’t put heavy items (such as drink cans) in gear hammocks that could conceivably swing and hit someone in the head. If you’re going ashore, take snacks and drinks with you.
Even after the storm passes, it’s likely that it will be several days before everything returns to normal — and that’s if there’s no real damage. Just putting the sails and canvas back on can take several days. And if there is any damage in your marina or anchorage, you’ll probably be helping friends (hopefully it’s not your boat that sustained damage).
Having some quick and easy food somewhere you can easily get to (those sails, canvas, cockpit cushions and everything else from up on deck take up quite a bit of space) will help a lot as you’re putting things back together!