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Engineer’s Angle: Center hurricane prep on self-sufficiency

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Engineer’s Angle: by JD Anson

The premise of yachting for owners and guests is to experience the beauty of the world and disconnect from stress. But while our “Instagram society” further glamorizes the already outrageously glamorous yachting lifestyle, crew know that not every day is sunshine and light breezes.

Before Hurricane Dorian, several engineers asked what they should do to help insure safe weathering of the storm. As someone who has experienced five hurricanes on yachts and several more ashore, I was able to help these boats think about their plan of action. The captain is ultimately responsible for storm preparations, whether in-water or hauled. But the engineer has a set of responsibilities for preparations as well. 

Once the decision is made that the yacht cannot evade the storm, all crew should be singularly focused on putting the storm plan into effect. A boat with a good crew and a comprehensive plan should be able to implement it in just a couple of days. While carrying out assignments, be cognizant that other departments may need help, especially on smaller yachts.

Engineers should consider all phases of the storm: before, during and after. Putting the plan in action early enough makes the job much more manageable. Consideration now should be given to being self-sufficient for a couple of weeks or more. After Andrew, it was six weeks before power was restored to my home. I had never been more thankful for my Boy Scout training. On a yacht, this means enough fuel and oil to run generators for weeks and to move the boat several hundred miles if needed. 

Water tanks should be topped off at the last moment, as dock water may become contaminated and water makers will be unusable in the debris-clogged water. Any open jobs should be completed to keep the boat in as ready shape as possible. It is always better to do all the preparations and not need them, than to be out in 50 mph winds trying to finish the last details. 

Lately, more hurricane plans have consisted of hauling the boat and closing it up. This negates the ability to run generators. Shore power will almost certainly fail, possibly for weeks, so all refrigeration should be emptied of perishables. It may be several days before the crew can return to the boat, and by then an unbelievable stench can set in that is literally unremovable except by replacing the refrigerators. 

We once had a wind load calculation done for our 40m while engineering a dock. At 90 mph, the wind force was staggeringly high. Keeping the tanks as full as the hull will allow gives mass to the hull and makes it harder to move. Of course, filling tanks or moving fluids while out of the water is bad practice and can result in damage on its own. Therefore the boat should be as heavy as possible before hauling.

Before the storm arrives, think about what may need to be prepared for during the onslaught. While the storm was upon us, we once had to run the thruster for hours on end to help take pressure off the dock. Despite breast anchors fore and aft and the use of the thruster, we still ended up snapping two pilings clean off. This could have been worse – the bow pilings survived because of the bow thruster.

Post storm, recovery phase sets in and an assessment of the situation is made. A list of repairs is compiled and insurance companies contacted. It may be weeks before a surveyor can get by, and insurance does not want any repairs or removal of damaged items done before an adjuster can visit. However, it is the vessel’s responsibility to mitigate any further damage, so some heavy sheet plastic can be invaluable. Expect that even if the boat survived, it may be unable to move because other boats and debris can clog the waterways and make them impassable. 

Watching The Weather Channel 24/7  is a great way to drive yourself mad. The updates are only every six hours, but the network wants to keep eyes on the screen so there is a lot of speculation and rhetoric. The last few days are akin to being stalked by a ferocious turtle. It is coming, and there is nothing to do but wait. Once preparations are made, it then becomes a cruel game in which second-guessing becomes a new norm. But no matter, the turtle will eventually move on, and then so can we.

JD Anson has more than 20 years of experience as a chief engineer on megayachts. He is currently project manager at Fine Line Marine Electric (finelinemarineelectric.com) in Fort Lauderdale. Comments are welcome below.

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