We had spent days getting the boat ready for the storm that never hit. And I don’t feel the least bit bad about it. Let me tell you how I learned to make a decision and own it.
How I Usually Make Decisions
I make decisions as slowly as a sloth eats peanut butter.
What’s worse? I’m an extrovert. So I need to process every choice I make out loud. (You can imagine how frustrating that is to my introvert family members.)
When weather forecasters start tracking a hurricane with the potential to hit our location, I’m a mess. Especially as I try to wade through every possibility.
But I made peace with my messy decision-making process when we were watching Hurricane Florence. And I’ve learned how to own my choice.
Tracking A Hurricane
As the spaghetti models tightened up, it appeared Florence was going to make landfall on the United States. But what track would she take? And how likely was it she’d turn up into the Chesapeake Bay?
We were spending the month at the municipal docks of tiny, Urbanna, Virginia. And as some of Florence’s behavior resembled Irene’s (the storm that struck the Chesapeake Bay in 2011) we started talking to the locals.
We heard how the storm surge covered all the docks, the building, and the parking lot. And we also learned that if NOAA predicted the storm would hit Urbanna, the town would close the marina and make everyone leave.
So what should we do?
It was by no means certain that the storm would affect the Chesapeake Bay. But we only had a few days to make our plans.
We had a decision to make.
Getting Ready For A Hurricane
Most of the other people in the marina took a “wait and see” attitude. It would have been easy to follow their lead. But what worked for others was a bad fit for us.
We considered three things when making our decision:
Waiting for a certain track
Eventually, the spaghetti models would resolve and weather experts would feel pretty certain where Florence would hit. But if we waited for that point, it would be too late for us to find safety.
We followed Florence closely. We compared what we knew about Irene in 2011. And we talked to locals who remembered the last big storm to hit the area.
Now we just had to figure out whose information to rely on.
Consider the source
In the fall of 2016, we put Meander on the hard so we could paint the bottom. When it became obvious that Matthew would make landfall on the U.S. we watched the boatyard we were in prepare to haul out boats for the coming storm.
It was by no means certain that Matthew would cause damage in the Chesapeake Bay. But the owner of the marina decided to be cautious. And knowing it would take several days for his small crew to haul out all the boats on the list, he made the conservative call.
We saw that other Deltaville marinas were not hauling boats. And many boats in this marina opted to stay in the water (and made no preparations for a potential storm).
But we knew the owners at Deltaville Yachting Center to be cautious and responsible. So we followed their lead.
We lowered our folding dinghy to the ground, found a protected place for it, and tied it down. We took down our canvas and lowered our furling jib.
We even looked for a pet-friendly place to stay within walking distance but had no luck.
In the end, Matthew devastated North Carolina. But the high winds that hit us in Virginia caused no major harm.
Still, sleeping on a boat ten feet in the air while the wind caused us to sway made me glad we had prepped the boat.
I wondered if I would have taken my chances in the marina like the boats who stayed in the water. But I decided that after a major storm, the water is littered with boats belonging to people who thought they could just leave it tied up to the dock with no extra lines.
Besides, part of the reason we couldn’t afford to wait like nearby boats in the marina was that we had special circumstances that pushed us toward being particularly cautious.
Being in the water when Florence formed made our decision making even harder.
Our unique conditions
As full-time cruisers, our circumstances differed from our neighbor who lived nearby and visited his boat on the weekends.
Work – Unlike many cruisers, my husband and I are not retired. We have to get our work done no matter what’s happening on the boat.
We work for understanding bosses. But we need to keep money coming in all the time. Our hurricane plan has to include time for us to work—on non-boat tasks.
No home base – Meander is our permanent home. We don’t have a dirt house waiting for us. So whatever we do, we need to keep our home safe.
Additionally, we have a fuzzy family member who makes it hard for us to find shelter in a hotel.
The dog – Whatever we decide, we owe it to Honey to make sure she feels safe and comfortable. And while she’s very comfortable staying in a Four Seasons hotel, they’re not always comfortable with having a golden retriever guest.
And that’s if we could even find a dog-friendly hotel.
No car – We were lucky enough to find an Enterprise Rent-a-Car location close-by. Did I say close? I meant an hour away.
Luckily, they were willing to pick us up and drive us that long distance. But without a car of our own, buying supplies or doing hurricane prep chores became more difficult. Especially in a remote area.
Meh ground tackle – Smart cruisers choose to leave a marina to anchor in the path of a coming storm. We’ve talked to several and know what’s involved.
But while our ground tackle is excellent for regular cruising (we’ve never dragged anchor in 4 years) it’s not up to withstanding a hurricane. And even if we wanted to add two hundred feet of anchor chain, we would not have the time to add it (and a windlass) with less than a week’s notice (especially in a remote area with no car).
Finally, we thought about money. It turns out that it would cost about the same amount to haul Meander out and store her above a potential surge as it would be to invest in new lines and chafe guard to protect her at a dock—if we could find a dock we felt comfortable staying at.
Deciding To Haul Out
Based on the spaghetti models for Florence’s track, talking to locals, and our special circumstances, we decided it would be wise for us to haul Meander out.
After a quick bit of research (how did anyone live and travel on a boat before the internet?), I found a boatyard and marina across the Rappahannock from Urbanna.
It was Friday. I called the owner to ask about hauling out. He told me that on Monday he’d start hauling boats already staying in the marina. So if we wanted to haul out, he could do it if we arrived on his dock by 2:00 p.m.
It was 10:00 a.m.
By 11:00 a.m. we were backing out of our slip and headed to Yankee Point Marina, across the river.
Yankee Point was an excellent hurricane hole. Located up a small creek off the Corrotoman River, several miles up the Rappahannock River, it was in a protected setting. The boatyard was up a hill and surrounded by trees.
Most importantly for us, we were able to rent a car and find a pet-friendly hotel about an hour away in Tappahannock.
While waiting to be hauled out, we chatted with a liveaboard in the marina. He showed us the high water marks from past storms. And he mentioned that he had stayed in his boat at the slip for the past several years. He didn’t see himself hauling out for Florence.
The next day, while prepping Meander for the storm, we saw the liveaboard sailor’s boat being blocked right next to ours.
We owned our decision to haul out. Perhaps our neighbor did too?
Preparing Our Boat For A Hurricane
I made a checklist of things to do on the boat after poring over posts on one of my favorite boating websites, The Boat Galley. Check out their posts on prepping for a hurricane.
In the end, we did the following:
- removed sails and canvas
- folded the dinghy and stored it below
- stored the outboard engine below
- stored books in plastic bags
- opened all cupboard doors
- blocked cushions up so air could circulate around them
- put bags of Damp Rid everywhere
- emptied the composting head compartments
- cleared drains
- took important records off the boat, and
- tested the bilge pump.
Our last job was to remove the solar panel which we had specially installed to be easily removable in case of a storm. But after a week of prep, it became almost certain Florence would not hit the Chesapeake Bay. So we left the panel in place.
Most importantly, we took pictures of everything we did so we could reassemble it when we returned to the boat.
Once the boat was secure, we returned to the hotel where we could concentrate on our work knowing that Meander was taken care of no matter what.
I can’t complain that Florence didn’t hit us. We’ve met many people devastated by the damage. Nearly a year later, home and marina owners are still repairing the damage.
In the end, I’d rather prepare for a storm and not have it hit us than be hit by a storm no matter how well we prepared.
Owning Your Decision
Why do so many people fail to prepare their boats properly for a storm? Maybe it’s because they think they’d feel like a sucker if they did all that work for a storm that never hit.
But if you wait too long, you lose your window of opportunity.
Want to know how to own your decision?
- Understand that there are many options, not just two. We often become desperate trying to decide between two options when there are many shades of different choices.
- Make your choice based on what makes sense for you—not for anyone else. After all, you have to live with your decision.
- Realize that once you step out on a path, it becomes the correct way. You can alter your course along the way. But you can’t remake a decision differently.
After watching the storm track, gaining local knowledge, and factoring in our unique circumstances, I feel good about our decision. I hope the dozens of other boat owners hauled out alongside our boat felt the same way.
But I can’t worry about anyone else’s decisions. I can only make my own. And own them for myself.