Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Alls Well After Earl

On the way to Halifax we stopped in Liscombe Mills as the weather forecasts were starting to look ominous.  Hurricane Earl was still in the southern Caribbean and it was unclear if it would make it up to Atlantic Canada. Liscombe Mills is seven nautical miles inland along the South-east coast of Nova Scotia.   There is a large lodge owned by the provincial government.  While looking for a safe place to keep the boat to wait out the bad weather we had also happened upon a paradise for the children.  Beautiful walking trails along the river, swimming pool, playgrounds, kayaks and canoes, bicycles and a recreation centre with daily art classes.  

We tracked Hurricane Earl (and Hurricane Fiona and a number of other tropical storms) for four days almost by the hour.  There were few moments when neither Seb or I were checking weather sites or discussing potential storm tactics with fellow boaters and/or the marina staff.  As Saturday, September 4th approached it looked more and more as if we would be hit by some sort of storm, whether it would reach hurricane strength or not was still tied up in meteorological probabilities.   
Coming straight for us
On September 3rd we started to put our hurricane plan into action.  Along with Jackie and Robin, from s/y Black Thorn from the UK we battened everything down.  Jackie and Robin were an invaluable resource for us.  Together we discussed tactics, plans to secure the boats, helped each other with the heavier tasks and shared encouragement.  By the end of the day we had added several extra lines, put out two anchors from both the bow and the beam of the boat to keep us away from the dock in the southerly winds, unhooked electrical equipment, and either lashed down or removed anything on deck that was liable to fly around  or produce any unnecessary wind resistance.   

We bedded down early on the night of the 3rd.  The world around us was incredibly still, few clouds marred a clear view of the starry night and the barometer was holding at 1015mb.  The latest forecast predicted that the Bay of Fundy and Yarmouth areas would be hit but that we would only feel some slight winds along the edge the storm. 

The morning of the 4th showed the expected slight increase in wind. Seb went up to the lodge to check the latest weather.  He came back with the news that the actual storm was moving East and that Liscomb Mills would not, as expected, be on the edge of the storm but right in the middle!  The barometer started falling steadily at around 0900 and bottomed out at 986mb. The forecast was for high winds to begin around 1100. 

And indeed they did.  Starting with 20-25 knots, and gradually building to a sustained 35-40 with gusts up to 60 knots!!! Fortunately in our protected inland hurricane hole the seas did not build so there were no waves, just spray on our decks.  Outside, just seven nautical miles from us, the seas were building up to an average10-12 meters (with a maximum recorded wave just off the coast of 25 meters!!!!)! The winds alone had enough force, however, to twist the dock that we were tied to out of its iron frame and it was touch and go for a while if the entire dock would be ripped off.  Seb spent 1 ½  hours hiking heavy lines through the woods (being careful to avoid being hit by a falling trees) to try to send out a long line to reinforce the two anchors and long line already holding us off the dock.  The lodge lost all power at 1100 and was without power or water for two days. The heavy winds continued for approximately five hours and then slowly started to abate.  I spent most of the time in the hotel with the monkeys and Seb spent most of the time working with the Black Thorn crew to make sure that both boats were safe. 

Fortunately although the winds were high we did not experience sustained hurricane force winds, only gusts to hurricane level, and the duration of the storm was relatively short. Had the weather been any more severe or lasted longer, I expect that the dock would not have held under the pressure. Our plan in this case was to use our forward anchor to pull ourselves off the dock and head out into the wind into a protected spot in the river where we would have enough room to swing and throw our anchor out there. In the end we came through the storm without any damage and having learned a great deal.  It also served to strongly reinforce our conviction to do everything possible to avoid heavy weather, it is simply too powerful.  

** View short video of early stages of storm here

Eye of the storm seen from space

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