Saturday, September 7, 2019

Aug-Sep 2019: Hurricane Dorian

The Early Path Predictions for This Storm Covered a Huge Area.  Marinas &
Boat Owners Had to Make Decisions Early.
From August through October hurricanes are an annoying but normal part of life in Florida.  The damned things are inevitable, and with climate change accelerating at an alarming pace they are also getting more frequent and stronger.  And that’s why we always give ourselves a bailout option.  This year we knew we would be stuck in Florida for the tropical storm season, so we signed up for the hurricane club at the River Forest Yachting Center (RFYC) in Labelle, Fl.  That facility is 40 miles up-river from our Fort Myers (Legacy Harbour) mooring, with two locks (meaning no storm surge) between it and the open ocean, and with an expansive apron of concrete dotted with embedded tie-down anchors.  It was designed specifically to offer safe harbor from big blows.
Our Satellite Tracker Path from Fort Myers to River Forest Yachting Center
Near Labelle, Florida.
When the forecast for TD5 suddenly went from a dissipating tropical storm to a major hurricane named Dorian in the span of a couple of days, it definitely got our attention.  And when the Euro model’s forecast track had it going from Palm Beach on the east coast and straight over Fort Myers on the west coast of the state at formidable strength, we decided to move the boat to RFYC.  We had been intending to take the boat there for some maintenance attention anyway, and this was a compelling trigger.

A Nordhavn 55, Fusion, Heading in the Opposite Direction....for Good Reason.
Thus on Friday, 30-Aug, we were up at 0600 and underway just before the 0700 sunrise, chugging eastward up the Caloosahatchee River at a steady 7.8 knots.  In spite of the two locks (Franklin & Ortona) and a few bridge openings to negotiate, we covered the 40 NM in just five and a half hours, arriving at RFYC by 1230.  Surprisingly there was only sparse boat traffic along the way, one of which was a westbound Nordhavn 55, Fusion, who via VHF told us “no way we were staying in Palm Beach” and were headed to Twin Dolphins Marina on the Manatee River in Bradenton.

We did not have to loiter for any openings; both locks had their western gates open when we arrived, and the two bridge tenders were prompt and courteous.  At the Alva bascule bridge the attendant inquired via VHF: “Aren’t you guys headed in the wrong direction?”  We mentioned our RFYC destination and haul-out intentions and he congratulated us on a good plan.  

Waiting on the Fort Denaud Swing Bridge & Hoping it Wouldn't Get
Stuck in an Intermediate Position.
The only real angst we had was at the Fort Denaud swing bridge (9 foot clearance); that thing is ancient and rickety, and has been known to fail in the closed or partially open position….but not this time.  Even the weather cooperated, with the usual thunderstorms holding off until much later that afternoon.  And Ghost Rider ran perfectly; we even managed to squeeze in a short wide open throttle (WOT) run as we hustled to make the final lock opening at Ortona.

We didn’t even have to wait for the haul-out upon arrival at RFYC….we were directed straight into the well, got Ghost Rider all strapped in, and we were out of the water in short order.  We shut down everything – all AC and DC circuit breakers, plus the inverter.  Except for the battery monitor and a few electrical panel LEDs, Ghost Rider was electrically dead.  There would be no shore power connection, so that was necessary to preserve the house battery bank.
Ghost Rider Hauling Out at River Forest Yachting Center.

It took us about three hours to get the boat prepped after the travel lift had positioned us on their tie-down apron.  We had been through this preparation routine once before with Hurricane Irma in 2017, so we had a good checklist to follow.  We stripped canvas, lowered antennae, stowed loose items, and tied or taped anything that might move or leak.  In the 90+ degree heat it was an exhausting afternoon.  The RFYC staff placed plenty of blocks and jackstands to support the boat’s 80,000 pounds, then ratchet strapped 4 of our beefy corner cleats to their equally beefy concrete-embedded hurricane eye bolts.  We were storm ready if needed.

While there Rick sat down with John, the yard manager, and we wrote up a work order to replace or repair the two faulty seacock through-hulls we had discovered back in the spring.  We also added some remedial bottom paint work to the order – upon haul out we noticed excessive ablative wear all along the water line and some on the bulbous bow.  Below that, however, the bottom paint was in excellent shape. 
The Bottom Paint Along the Waterline was Looking Pretty Sad, Although
Below That It Still Looked Very Good.

By 1600 we called it a day.  RFYC is in the middle of nowhere, with no good transportation options available locally.  Fortunately we had dropped one of the cars at RFYC the day before (by automobile it’s only an hour’s drive from Legacy Harbour) so we weren’t stranded.  Coincidentally we had met another Nordhavn couple the day before, George and Christina, who were transient berthed at Legacy; they also took their N35, Sophie, to River Forest, so we gave them (and their cat) a lift back to Fort Myers to retrieve their rental car.

We slept like corpses that night and then spent the next few days relaxing at our Fort Myers condo while tracking Dorian’s progress (or lack of it) across western Atlantic waters.  By the time it reached the hot-tub-temperatures of Bahamian waters (Sunday, 01-Sep) it had spooled up to a Cat-5 storm with sustained winds at 185 MPH and gusts to 220, pushing a surge around 20 feet.  The Abacos and Grand Bahama – places like Hopetown, Marsh Harbor, Green Turtle Cay, West End, that we had so enjoyed during last year’s cruising – got absolutely walloped by the storm as it plowed westward, stalled, and spun a sustained and devastating attack on those small islands.
Ghost Rider at RFYC After Being Relocated to a Covered Spot on the Apron.

Dorian had slowed so dramatically that it wasn’t until Wednesday, 04-Sep that RFYC was able to start unstrapping and splashing boats.  Chelle went shopping for groceries and supplies to drop off for our area’s Bahamian relief efforts, and Rick drove back to RFYC to visit Ghost Rider and to get an estimate of how long our repair work order would take.  The boat was pretty dirty but otherwise in good shape.  Rick began reversing some of the storm preps, ventilated the engine room and got shore power hooked up (to re-charge the house batteries) after the RFYC staff relocated Ghost Rider to a work slot on the apron that was also under cover.  

Rick made one more trip back to RFYC and the boat on Friday, 06-September, to complete reversal of our storm preps and to take care of some interim maintenance to-do's that our Wheelhouse program was nagging about.  The RFYC staff indicated they intended to start on our work order the following Monday, so for now we were done with boat business.

In the interim Chelle had kept extremely busy with the storm relief efforts for the northernmost islands in the Bahamas.  In addition to her shopping trip we posted signs in our condo complex and collected more non-perishables from our neighbors.  One of our local Fort Myers boat yards, Stokes Marine (LINK), was a nearby and convenient site coordinating supplies and transport.  (Owner, Brent Stokes, was interviewed by CNN, a clip is available at the THIS LINK.)  While Rick was distracted with Ghost Rider Chelle spent more of her time helping load up trucks and boats. Their initial flotilla and private plane formation delivered a significant payload to Lucaya, Grand Bahama, today -- it's the only port capable of receiving materials at this point.  But the hope is to keep it going and include the Abacos sometime next week.

Overall they’ve done a fabulous job collecting and transporting a huge amount of critically needed below. Fortunately the weather was cooperating, as Dorian had sucked all the moisture out of our atmosphere like a gigantic wet-dry vacuum on its journey north.  If you want to help and are not sure how, there is a safe GoFundMe site at this LINK.  Or just head over to the Red Cross web site HERE.

Just Some of the Relief Supplies Being Collected at Stokes Marine.
Loading Up the Boats.  Some Would Sortie Across Lake O, but Many Were Trailered Over to
Fort Lauderdale and From There Headed to Lucaya, Grand Bahama.

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