Every year around June there is a mass exodus of yachts from the Caribbean and Bahamas ahead of the impending hurricane season. Terysa Vanderloo and Erin Carey explore the options of where to go next
For those who choose to stay in the Caribbean, one traditional option has been to head south. Grenada, the southern-most island of the Lesser Antilles, is widely considered to be a safe haven.
In the past 100 years Grenada has only been struck by a hurricane four times, although the Category 4 Hurricane Ivan in 2004 destroyed hundreds of yachts. Insurance policies do vary; some continue to place the limits of the ‘hurricane box’ at 12°30’N, which puts southern Grenada outside. Others define the southern edge of their named winter storm area as far down as 9°N, which includes Trinidad and Tobago.
However, with Trinidad lying within easy sailing proximity of just 100 miles south of Grenada, cruisers can take some comfort in the knowledge that Trinidad has experienced just one hurricane in the past 100 years. Therefore, most cruisers are happy to make a last-minute dash south part of their much-needed contingency plan.
Note that in response to a number of incidents where yachts have been boarded and robbed on passage between Grenada and Trinidad, there is now a convoy process that any yachts planning this passage can take part in. See noonsite.com for more information.
Known as the Spice Island, Grenada impressed us with its vivid sights, sounds, and smells when we spent eight months there, writes Erin Carey. With ample facilities, including seven marinas and four boatyards, it’s an obvious choice when it comes to settling down for the season.
Centrally located, Port Louis Marina is perfect for those who prefer to stay at a dock. With slips for 160 yachts up to 300ft, a pool, bar, and restaurant, the lush tropical grounds are home to superyachts, charter fleets and regular vessels.
If you’d prefer to put your boat on the hard so you can fly home or carry out maintenance, Clarke’s Court Boatyard & Marina is a full-service boatyard offering haul out and launching facilities for boats up to 240 tons. Providing storage for 250 boats, the boatyard is typically busiest from August to October, but can be at near capacity all year round.
Manager Richard Murphy explained the protection the site offers: “The boatyard is located deep within the well-protected bay of Clarke’s Court, with reefs at the entrance to protect us from the worst effects of the sea. We also securely strap down each boat on the hard to large concrete blocks.”
Among those who choose to stay, Grenada is a popular destination for families, last season saw over 60 cruiser kids across the anchorages of Grenada. With kids swinging from halyards and scooting around in dinghies, hurricane season in Grenada resembles a summer camp for children. With an active VHF children’s net, learn to sail classes and regular movie nights, there’s always something to keep the kids entertained after a morning of ‘boat school’.
Prickly Bay lies at the southern end of the island and is large enough to accommodate over 100 boats. It’s a mecca for cruising families with younger children and there’s a wonderful community atmosphere in the anchorage. For those who leave their boat on anchor and fly home, a local guardianage service can look after boats in the bay. Secret Harbour is located in a secluded bay a little further east and has been more popular with teen boats and those without children.
Living in Grenada is relaxed and sociable. Perhaps one of the most popular activities on the island is the ‘Hash,’ a fun run throughout the lush mountainous countryside each Saturday afternoon. There are also numerous other activities almost every day of the week, ranging from volleyball to yoga, dominoes to bingo, and a vibrant music scene.
Grenada’s summer culminates in a flurry of feathers and diamantes during carnival! Conveniently scheduled during the height of hurricane season, carnival shimmies along the Carenage, Grenada’s picturesque harbour. With its raunchiness and sass, carnival is an experience you won’t forget.
Jonas Ball of Pantaenius explains that their Named Tropical Storms Clause offers insurance cover for the hurricane season (currently defined for the 2020 season as June 1-November 30 in the Latitudes 10°N-37°N).
“Hurricane losses have reached a significant volume in recent years, which is why we have to link the cover to relatively strict conditions. Damages resulting from named tropical storms are only covered if the vessel is either at sea and not anchored, moored or aground, or stored on land where special precautions must be taken to keep the loss risk calculable.
“The cost of including the Named Tropical Storms Clause cannot be calculated on a north or southbound basis, but will depend on very different and individual factors. The type of storage is really the most decisive criterion for whether and how a yacht will survive a storm on land and we now have a great deal of evidence of this.
“We therefore make very specific specifications on how, for example, a cradle must be designed or how catamarans must be attached to ground anchors with tension belts. If yacht owners wish to be covered for damage caused by hurricanes, they should have this included in their policy well before the start of the storm season.
“We cannot recommend specific safe regions or so-called hurricane holes, but in the aftermath of Irma we have found that anticipatory route planning is essential.
“For bluewater sailors, and especially those living on board, it is often more advisable, in our view, to develop an individual ‘escape route’ than to fixate on supposedly safe bays. Irma and Maria, for example, despite their enormous wind speeds, were moving at a rather slow pace, so that sidestepping them would have been possible for any bluewater sailor.”
Bonaire: In the Leeward Antilles, Bonaire is a popular destination for cruisers planning on heading west after hurricane season. Anchoring is not allowed, so prepare to pay US$10 per night for a mooring ball. Balls are offered on a first-come first-served basis and often unavailable. The diving is spectacular.
Grenada: The most popular location for liveaboard cruisers, boasting ample anchorages, boat storage and facilities, and a vibrant community. Bays offering the most protection are Mt Hartman Bay, Hog Island, Clarke’s Court and Port Egmont. Prickly Bay is often subject to a southerly swell.
Trinidad: This more industrialised island has a very low incidence of hurricanes and is considered an ideal place to carry out boat work and maintenance.
Carriacou: Located 30 miles north of the main island of Grenada, this sleepy island has a hurricane hole where boats with a shallower draught can tie up in the mangroves.
St Lucia: North of Grenada, St Lucia is affected by hurricanes but Marigot Bay is an option if boats are unable to get further south. This hurricane hole is protected on three sides by forested mountains. The bay is small, so arrive early.
Martinique: At 14°N this French island is well within the hurricane belt, but has numerous semi-protected lagoons, where shallow draught vessels may find some safety.
If you’re an experienced sailor and a proficient weather reader, one option to consider is to continue cruising the Caribbean. Behan and Jamie Gifford of Sailing Totem had almost completed their ten-year circumnavigation, with nearly 60,000 miles under their keel, when they arrived into the Bahamas at the start of the hurricane season in 2017.
After spending the 2016 storm season cruising north, the couple planned to move further south as the incidence of hurricanes increased over the summer of 2017. “Our hurricane season strategy was based on having time and mobility. We were hypervigilant with weather watching, we remained prepared, and we kept a wide margin time-wise while being mobile, to avoid being trapped by making the decision to move too late,” explained Behan.
Cruising the BVIs, the family noticed the formation of what would become Hurricane Irma off the coast of Africa. “That was our cue to sail south to a well-protected bay in St Lucia,” she recalls.
They arrived into Grenada in late September, but Behan stressed the importance of remaining alert and prepared, no matter how far south you are. Watch the weather daily, familiarise yourself with sheltered location options, keep fuel and water tanks full, and your boat in working order.
First published in the May 2020 edition of Yachting World.