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Good-Night Irene
(And Good Riddance)

A few pictures and lessons


This past August, marina and boat owners along the Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coasts began watching Hurricane Irene with a sense of foreboding. It was a powerful storm that had the potential to do a lot of damage, but as it got closer to the coast, Irene started making a gradual turn northward. A lot of people were relieved but nobody was surprised. The tendency for storms to turn away from the coast and head out to sea had become almost routine, starting last year with Hurricanes Danielle, Earl, Fiona, Igor, Otto, Shary and Tomas and then earlier this year with Hurricane Emily. But unlike the other recent hurricanes, Irene didn’t continue its clockwise turn out to sea. Instead, the powerful storm’s course steadied and on the morning of August 27, Irene came ashore at Cape Lookout on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

For the next three days, Irene went on a rampage, steadily moving up the East Coast. Hampton Roads was hit on August 28 and then Irene went back out to sea briefly before coming ashore again the following morning in New Jersey. New York and Long Island Sound were next; although Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm, it still had significant wind and especially heavy rains. The upper Hudson River was flooded and land-locked Vermont suffered the worst flooding in centuries. By the time skies had finally cleared, Irene had done about $7 billion in damage, including almost $500 million in damage to boats. Below are a few photos of the storm and some of the lessons learned or perhaps relearned.

North Carolina

Irene came ashore at Cape Lookout, which created a nine- to 12-foot surge to the north — the right side of the storm. Marinas in Oriental, New Bern and Washington were much more likely to have been damaged than marinas on the left side of the storm in Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington. According to BoatUS CAT Team member Brian Donnalley, boats on lifts were most likely to have been damaged by the surge as were boats in covered sheds that were lifted to the roofs.

Chesapeake Bay

Much of the damage along the coast was to canvas — biminis and dodgers — and furling headsails. Leaving sails or canvas up during a storm creates windage and also makes it more likely that they will be shredded during a storm. Note that canvas and sails are subject to both depreciation and the boat’s deductible.

Photo: Jack Hornor

Jack Hornor, a BoatUS CAT Team member from Davidsonville, took this photo of a boat that he said was as well prepared as any boat in the water. There were double or even triple lines led to distant pilings to allow for any surge. The ports and instruments were sealed with duct tape to keep water out. All sails and canvas — bimini and dodger — were stripped to reduce windage. The boat was ready for Irene, and as you might expect, there was no damage.

New England

In New Bedford, Massachusetts, TowBoatUS stayed active throughout the storm. Capt. Clint Allen said one of the first things they did was rescue two men who called for help after realizing that staying aboard their boat in a hurricane was a bad idea. The rescue took place in 60 mph winds and seven-foot seas shortly after the storm had come ashore. (A couple of hours after the men were safely off of their boat, it chafed its pendant and broke loose.)

In the photo (above), Capt. Allen had just put another TowBoatUS Captain, Mike McNamara, ashore to help save a sailboat that was on the rocks. McNamara climbed aboard the sailboat in six- to eight-foot seas and secured a tow hawser.

TowBoatUS New Bedford saved a total of 15 boats that broke free of their moorings during the storm. Capt. Allen said all of the boats had chafed through their pendants.

Several other boats in slips were also damaged or destroyed after being bashed against pilings.

Nantucket Harbor

Whether they were on moorings or at docks, Capt. Allen said the boats that weren’t secured with larger, heavier lines added before the storm were most likely to have been damaged.

The news on moored boats wasn’t all doom and gloom. The January, 2010 Seaworthy reported that Nantucket Moorings had begun using Dyneema mooring pendants from the cleats through the chocks where they were mated with traditional nylon pendants using eye-to-eye splices. The nylon is supposed to give a pendant the stretch it needs to absorb shock and the Dyneema, which has no stretch, is seemingly impervious to chafe. Among other things, Dyneema is used to make bullet-proof vests.

Seaworthy contacted the owner of Nantucket Moorings, Dennis Metcalfe, to see how the Dyneema pendants fared when Irene came ashore in Nantucket with gusts to 65 mph. His reply: “We didn’t lose a single boat.” Metcalfe said in the three years Nantucket Moorings has been using Dyneema, he has never seen any signs of chafe.

Burr Brothers in Marion, Massachusetts, was another marina that didn’t lose any moored boats in Irene. Toby Burr said that at the start of hurricane season, they back up their everyday nylon pendants with a second, slightly longer storm pendant that has a stainless steel inner core and a 5/8 inch poly- and woven-steel shell. The storm pendants have eyes at both ends and are made by Hercules SLR US (www.Herculeslr.com), originally for use on commercial fishing trawls. In Irene, two of the boats at Burr Brothers had their nylon pendants fail but both were saved by the stainless back up pendants.

Photo: David Wiggin

Most of the boats in other harbors that wound up on the beach had chafed pendants, but a few dragged their mooring anchors, including the boat shown above that had been secured with a traditional mushroom anchor. Mushroom anchors can provide substantial holding power — up to 10 times their submerged weight — if they are sufficiently buried in mud. (Scope is also a major factor in holding power.) In many harbors with mud seabeds, like Nantucket, mushrooms have been used successfully for generations.

In a harder seabed, however, like sand or clay, a mushroom anchor tends to stay on the surface and will provide only its deadweight holding power. As one New England harbormaster said, “If it isn’t buried, you can tow it around on the bottom like a lobster trap.” Another potential pitfall: A mushroom anchor can become canted — half buried — toward the prevailing summer winds, making it vulnerable when a storm comes out of a different quadrant. The mushroom anchor that failed to anchor the boat (above) was in a harbor that had a mostly sand seabed.

Photo: Dan Rutherford

New Jersey Coast

From Dan Rutherford: Many marinas along the coast took advantage of the long-range predictions from the National Weather Service to haul boats out of the water. This was true up and down the East Coast. At the Avalon Marine Center in Avalon New Jersey, to cite one example, employees worked from sunup to sundown for twoand- a-half days to haul and block 125 of the marina’s boats. Avalon Marine Center staff also sent emails updating the hurricane's projected path and giving advice to slip holders (from the BoatUS web site) on how to prep their boats. The result was that there was no damage to boats or docks.

Photo: David Kacprowicz

Hudson River

The damage on the Hudson River area was mostly the result of heavy rains and subsequent flooding. This is what’s left of an unidentified boat that broke loose when floods swept through marinas, carrying Nantucket Harbor away some of the boats (and docks).


To comment on this article, please contact Seaworthy@BoatUS.com