Waiting for Gonzalo

One possible track of Gonzalo. Credit: NOAA and Andy Bamba of SV Bamba Maru.

Tropical storm, hurricane, TROF, tropical wave. Gonzalo. Here we are in Grenada.

“When does it start?” our 12-year old son Paul asks.

The timing, strength and location of the upcoming storm, Gonzalo, has been on our minds for several days. Preparing and protecting our boat has been stressful. But, we push on because a storm doesn’t care.

A storm doesn’t care if you are tired, hungry, sick, need to brush your teeth, or prefer to work in the shade. A storm will arrive like an unwelcome guest whenever it wants, and perch right over your bed, if it wants to.

Information from friends, old salts, locals, and meteorological experts play virtual ping-pong in my head. Fortunately, meteorologists can interpret where and when a storm will strike. Of course, there are multiple interpretations.

Staying in place seems unsafe one moment, and fine the next. Still, the weather information keeps on coming and the image of a big swirly cloud, along with grey screaming water, and rain so thick you can barely breathe makes you wonder. What to do?

So you pick up your anchor and move to a better anchorage. But everyone wants a better, more secure, quiet anchorage. It seems there are more boats than space.

You know that sensation at Christmas, when everyone is of good cheer? But, everyone also needs a parking space. That’s a bit what’s it like anchoring prior to a big storm. I mean you might acknowledge that person you cut-off later, and maybe even open the door to the mall. But, the primal territorialism is real.

Here is what some people did to prepare for Gonzalo.

In Grenada, our friends on SV Life of Reilly stayed in place. For this blog post, I asked them about their reasons for staying at anchor, and whether they considered moving their boat.

Terri and her husband, Michael, have two young sons. They have been living aboard their 47 foot Cheoy Lee center cockpit Pedricks design boat for more than a year. Terri and Michael are experienced sailors. Terri once swam half a mile over top of a shark, and worked on a race team professionally for 14 years. She writes:

Megan Garrison and her partner are new to cruising. They moved their boat, SV Caribbean Gem, to the Port Louis Marina. Megan said that the marina was their safest option.

At Fort Louis Marina, SV Caribbean Gem is the catamaran with the big, stylized ‘K’ on the side. Photo: Eileen Vosti

Andy and Joanna Bamba sailed south from Dominica to Carriacou, Grenada. Due to COVID, many of the borders are closed, including Grenada and Trinidad. Fortunately, they had pre-arranged their arrival to Grenada.

The timing of their trip happened to coincide with the formation of Gonzalo. By their description, they secured their boat Bamba Maru “like a spider web” with “12 lines and 2 solid anchors”.

Today, in Carriacou, Andy and Joanna experienced winds around 40 knots. But, that it was “not even enough to get out of bed. After 3 hours the sun came back and everything was back to normal.”

By international treaty, countries, like Grenada and Trinidad, will offer boats safe harbor during a life threatening emergency. But, due to the pandemic, people may shelter in a harbor, maybe even a government-driected harbour. But, they may not step foot on land.

Here is an image posted by our friend Colin Dykstra, which captured a crowd of boats as they headed southwards to Grenada as the storm approached.

Image captured by Colin Dykstra on Friday, July 24th, one day before we expected Gonzalo.

We left Martinique for Grenada a few weeks ago. Last week we were in the new arrivals, quarantine anchorage, in St. George’s, Grenada. After 10 days of quarantine and testing negative for COVID, we had to move our boat. Our first choice was to find a safe anchorage, one without a lot exposure.

Karen, age 9, gets tested for COVID-19. We had the rapid test, not the dreaded ‘nose test’. We all tested negative for the coronavirus.

Port Egmont Harbour was our first choice as a place to anchor but it was full. We were disappointed as this anchorage twists and turns like a giant colon, which helps to slow the progress of a potentially angry sea.

Leaving Egmont, waves crashed into the sea wall that separated one harbor from the next. We motored out way into Calvigny Harbour, followed closely behind by another sailboat.

We set our anchor. We spent the next day doing schooling, laundry and watching the weather report by Chris Parker. In the days leading up to Gonzalo, Chris Parker had some concerns about us remaining in Grenada. Writing to Rick directly, Chris Parker helped us weigh our options. He suggested we could move south, “maybe even past Trinidad. Meanwhile, other people were considering the same option.

Nestled over our anchor in Calvigny Harbour we were visited by “Steve” who has lived in Grenada for 25 years. He owns a house overlooking this bay. He left us his phone number. I told him that we had not decided whether we were staying or heading for Trinidad.

Steve owns a boat in the anchorage, and looks after another boat. He has a catamaran on a dock below his home. We trusted Steve’s judgement as he had seen, first hand, when, in 2004, Hurricane Ivan ripped apart an ominous-looking concrete structure across the bay.

At Steve’s suggestion, we moved to the mangroves. He said that the hillside would help to break up the storm and we would be well protected. Once our primary anchor was planted, the decision was made. We were staying in the mangroves, in Calvigny Harbour in Grenada for the storm system.

Calvigny harbor is dotted with mooring balls and looks, to me, to be quite small. But, Steve said that there were 62 boats in this anchorage during Hurricane Ivan.

Entrance/exit to Calvigny Harbour. Our boat (not shown in this photo) is also tied into the mangroves for shelter.
Henry in front of a row of catamarans. Our catamaran is SV Aphtrodite on the far left of the photo.
SV Aphrodite tucked into the mangroves.

Beneath a clear blue sky – whether they be at anchor, docked at a marina, or tucked into a mangrove – cruisers all around — were removing their sails, setting multiple anchors, and eyeing their neighbours, looking for signs of sanity and safety.

We tied ourselves into the mangroves. We used chain and thick lines. We put out two anchors. The anchorage is silty with a muddy bottom. It seems to provide great holding.

“Shouldn’t we tie down any hanging lines,” I suggest to Rick. “I saw that someone on Facebook tied their lines like macramé….

“I think they’re fine,” Rick says, clearly sick of the busy-work we are doing for the storm. He walks to the end of our deck and secures a line to the rail.

The fate of the fleet is in the hands of the wind, weather. The weakest link could be the strength of the lines that are holding one of our neighbours in place. Sometimes boats drag. I don’t want to chat with my neighbor in the night as we struggle to separate our boats. Spotlights reveal that they aren’t always fully dressed. In fact, Rick discovered this firsthand once helping another boat from the view of our dinghy.

Neighbours. We weathered Tropical Storm Don in Egmont back in 2017. And, the comradery from this shared experience was amazing. We had ice cream and popcorn on our boat with several cruisers, including Fatty Goodlander and his wife Carolyn.

Later, Fatty wrote an article about Tropical Storm Don that includes a fairly accurate description of our family:

…a private yacht from Canada with four kids. Well, that’s what their parents claimed, but I think there were 12 or 16 kids aboard, with only four of them allowed on deck at any one time.

How else could they manage to scream and cry so loud 24/7?…

“The Crazy Reality of Tropical Storm Don in Grenada.” All At Sea magazine. October 2017.

The vibe is a little different this time around. People seem to be preparing for storms sooner. Our guess is that people have dropped their insurance coverage and are more fearful of losing their property. They have to take evasive action themselves or risk losing their home.

One large catamaran in Calvigny Harbour has used space for several catamarans with their lines. I’m not going to name names but they are the catamaran shown in the pictures with the large tent over their deck. I had thought perhaps they were reserving space for their friends. But, they have actually monopolized the safest corner in the anchorage. It’s Christmas in the parking lot!

Due to COVID, people are a lot less sociable. When you ask someone if they’d like a drink, for example, they look apprehensive, like curious deer, being handfed oats for the first time. COVID has affected the cruising community in more ways than one. No one knows what the new normal is anymore.

*** Gonzola was a non-event for us. It passed us around noon today.

We are now waiting for another storm that is set to occur in a few days. Our kids are showing no signs of stress. They have picked mangoes, and limes. They have seen iguanas and parrots. The DVD player is going strong. But, we will soon be settling back to our normal school routine.

3 comments

  1. I read every word, but it wasn’t until I read ‘Gonzola was a non-event for us. It passed us around noon today’ that I realized I had been holding my breath throughout – I released a big sigh of relief to know my family was safe and like everyone else was sorting out the new normal. Christmas in the parking lot. What a fabulously descriptive line.

    Like

  2. Preparing for the tropical storm in 2017 with you in Egmont was one of our best storm memories. Ice cream and popcorn…the best distractions ever! Glad all went well with this storm too. Stay safe!

    Like

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