Small Stuff

NOAA photo of Tropical storm Ana 2015Tropical storm Ana churns off the South Carolina coast on May 8 this year.

Anchor symbol It's the time of year when everyone at BoatUS is trying to read the tea leaves to figure out what kind of hurricane season lies ahead. Colorado State University (CSU) releases an annual forecast of tropical storm activity, and they are predicting seven named storms compared to 12 in an average season. Most other forecasters agree, citing lower than average temperatures in the Atlantic and a still-developing El Niño event in the western Pacific, both of which are believed to decrease hurricane activity. That should be good news. But as we discussed in the January 2014 Small Stuff, some statisticians have argued that forecasters would have been more accurate in their pre-season forecasts over the past several decades if they had simply predicted the historical average every year.

Without forecasts we can believe in, we tend to fall back on gut feel and superstition. And from any perspective, we've had an uncanny run of luck. The "hurricane drought," as the long period since we have had a "major" hurricane (Category 3 or higher) make landfall in the continental United States has come to be called, is just shy of 10 years old. There have been hurricanes in that period — 59 to be precise — but only a few have actually made landfall and those that have were all Category 2 or less when they came ashore.

Just how unusual is this? NASA researchers ran 1,000 computer simulations of the period from 1950 to 2012 to simulate 63,000 separate Atlantic hurricane seasons. They found that a nine-year period without a major landfall is likely to occur once every 177 years on average. They didn't calculate how often a 10-year streak would happen, but you can be sure it would be rare indeed. Sounds like too much to hope for ...

If you're looking for signs that our luck may have run out, how about Tropical Storm Ana, the first tropical cyclone of the season that made landfall on South Carolina on Mother's Day, more than two weeks before the official opening of the 2015 hurricane season. But there have been 21 pre-season tropical storms in the past century, and those seasons ended up being almost evenly divided between active and not. Ah, but there's been one other pre-season tropical cyclone named Ana. That one opened the 2003 hurricane season and ushered in three of the most destructive hurricane seasons in history, including the one-two-three punch of Charley-Francis-Jeanne that slammed into Florida in just over a month in 2004, and Hurricanes Wilma and Katrina in 2005.

If the hurricane drought has left you with a case of hurricane amnesia, download our Boater's Guide to Preparing for Hurricanes, sign up for hurricane alerts to come right to your inbox, and browse the many articles on hurricane preparation at www.BoatUS.com/hurricanes/

Anchor symbol Most marine surveyors will tell you that one of the best parts of their jobs is the varied work — no two days are ever the same. Bill Gates (no, not that Bill Gates), a longtime surveyor and BoatUS Cat Team member, was near Albany, New York, on his way back from an assignment when he came upon a traffic jam. Being from New York City, Bill has seen plenty of traffic jams in his life, but this one was ... well ... different. Stampeding across local roads on their way to the New York State Thruway was a herd of bison that had escaped from a farm. Bison are no-nonsense bulldozers on legs and had apparently decided that a mere fence was not going to keep them penned in. The bison, which are about as big and heavy as a car, proceeded to bust through the fence, ford a river and a major highway, and then stampede through a public park, pursued by police.

Bill was slightly delayed, but made his next appointment. The bison did not fare so well, regretfully. They are, according to the farmer who lost them, "Not herdable."

Anchor symbol So you know how it is. You're living on your boat in a marina in South Carolina, and you get a hankering for some wide open seas and some fishing, so you slip the docklines and head off. And that's the last anyone sees of you for 66 days.

At least, that's what happened to Louis Jordan. He had been living in a marina aboard his sailboat, Angel, when he decided to head for the Gulf Stream, "where a lot of fish are." He left the marina on January 23 after telling his family he was "going into the open water to sail and do some fishing." Describing himself as "an inexperienced sailor," Jordan found himself in a storm that dismasted his boat, and broke his shoulder. Jordan's father, Frank, notified the Coast Guard in Miami on January 29 that he hadn't seen or heard from his son in a week. One week later, Jordan was still missing. Alerts were issued from New Jersey to Miami to be on the lookout for Jordan and his sailboat. On February 8, a search was begun but was abandoned after 10 days when no sign of Jordan or the Angel had been found. Despite reports from other sailors claiming to have seen Jordan's sailboat, none of the sightings was confirmed, and the case was suspended. Jordan hadn't filed a float plan so there was no way to narrow down his whereabouts.

It turns out that Jordan spent more than two months living on rainwater, fish he netted from around the boat, and some food he had stored for his voyage.

On April 2, the Coast Guard's Fifth District Command Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, received notification from a German container ship saying they had spotted a man and a sailboat some 200 miles east of Cape Hatteras.

The crew of the German ship, the Houston Express, took Jordan aboard. A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew launched from Air Station Elizabeth City, in North Carolina, and hoisted Jordan from the deck of the ship before flying him to Sentara Norfolk General, where he was recovering from a shoulder injury and dehydration. Next time Jordan has a hankering to go fishing, we're betting he'll file a float plan. 

— Published: July 2015

Seaworthy, the damage-avoidance newsletter, is brought to you by the BoatUS Marine Insurance Program. For an insurance quote, please call 1-800-283-2883 or apply online at BoatUS.com.

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What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Here's our newest photo to challenge you to find out what could possibly go wrong. It's obviously a bilge area, and it has at least four safety-related issues. See if you can find them. They may be American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) standards violations, USCG violations, or just things that make you say, "Really?"

We'll post the answer in the next issue, along with a new challenge. For those who can't possibly wait for the next issue, we'll also post the answer on the Seaworthy magazine website.

Photo of a bilge pumpPhoto: Alison Mazon