Grenada & Tropical Storms

An active underwater volcano lies directly between Carriacou and Grenada, called “Kickem Jenny”. It has erupted 13 times since 1939, most recently in 2015. It is a safety concern for boats, as the volcano periodically emits gas that fills the water with bubbles. Bubbly water is less dense than regular water, so much so that your boat will sink! So the prudent sailor simply goes around the volcano rather than over top of it.

After safely passing the danger zone, the sail down the east coast of Grenada was fabulous. Great wind and relatively benign seas. Windancer left about half and hour ahead of Panache. We chased her for 4 hours, but were unable to catch up. Panache is a slightly larger catamaran than Windancer, and in theory this should give us an advantage. The problem for us is that John MacKenzie is a very skillful sailor and try as I might, the best I could do was maintain the gap. If I had fallen further behind, I wouldn’t be telling this story!

We had arranged to get some warranty work done on Panache in Grenada. The manufacturer asked us to go to Clark's Court Marina, on the south coast. By the time we tied up at the dock, the weather service was forecasting Tropical Storm Brett would hit or brush Grenada in about 3 days. The docks at that marina are old and we were told we would have leave if TS Brett arrived. Options were to anchor in the bay or move around to Port Louis Marina (“PLM”) next to the capital city, St. George’s, on the island’s east coast. While we would likely have been fine at anchor, problems might arise with other boats in the harbour. Many are typically not well anchored or otherwise poorly prepared and can drag across the bay in strong winds. A boat dragging down on you can either damage your boat directly or dislodge your anchor and send you drifting ashore. PLM sounded like the best option, so we contacted Windancer, who were already there, and asked them to secure us a spot before they were all gone.

We arrived at PLM with two days to prepare for TS Brett's arrival. Peri and Steve McHale helped us with our preparations. John MacKenzie also lent a hand taking down our genoa. The McHales flew home, as scheduled, on the morning of the day the storm was due to hit.

After 3 great weeks of fun-in-the-sun, we were definitely sad to see them go. Thanks for coming, guys!

Here is what I wrote to some family and friends the day after the storm had passed by.

“Tropical Storm Bret turned out to be a complete non-event in Grenada due to a late shift in its track. Below is what I wrote last night, before the change in direction. I didn’t send it as I didn’t want to get people worried.

Last Night

It’s 7:30 p.m. We are in Port Louis Marina in St. George’s, Grenada. Tropical Storm Bret is currently grinding over Trinidad and Tobago. We are forecast to be hit by Bret’s north-west quadrant – the most powerful sector of the storm. Winds are expected to be 40-50kts, gusting to 60+kts (that’s about 120 km per hour). A hurricane designation starts at 62kts.

We have been preparing Panache to be able to handle the coming winds for the last two days. We have 9 lines out, some to the dock and some to mooring balls. The genoa has been taken down, the mainsail storm-wrapped, all the canvas work dismantled and taken below, chaffing guards deployed on all the lines and all other outside gear removed, stowed or tied down.

It’s been a lot of work, but necessary IF the storm materializes as forecast. The problem is that forecasting the strength and path of a Tropical Storm or Hurricane is very tricky. Things can change rapidly and the storm can veer off it’s predicted track and started heading in a completely new direction when least expected.

Bret’s impact on Grenada is currently expected to peak around 5-7 a.m. tomorrow morning. Right now, it’s dead calm – “the calm before the storm”. We shall see what the night brings. One thing for certain is that it won’t bring a peaceful night’s rest.

Since we have already done everything to prepare, we are sitting in the forward cockpit enjoying a glass of wine and some foie gras with onion confit – very Panache!”

This Morning

We ended up having one of the best sleeps of our entire trip. The temperature was down, the rain on the cabin roof was soothing and we were, of course, exhausted. P.”

The chart below from the US National Hurricane Center on the day after TS Brett past by shows the probability of tropical storm force winds. The purple colour means there is a 90% chance. From the chart you can see that Grenada was impacted, but our experience at PLM ended up being a complete non-event. However, back on the south coast, where we had briefly considered anchoring, many boats dragged their anchors and a fair bit of damage ensued.

Almost exactly 4 weeks later, Tropical Storm Don was forecast to hit Grenada. Here is what I wrote that time.

“Tropical Storm Don had been headed our way for the last couple of days. It was due to hit Grenada at about 8:00 p.m. last night. We had just been through this drill a couple of weeks ago with TS Brett, so had already figured out what we had to do to prepare for the winds, forecast to be 35-45kts, gusting to 55kts (same as the last time).

Technical Note: 55kts (equivalent to 100 kilometres per hour) is a lot of wind. “Hurricane Force” winds start at 64kts. We regularly sail in 25kts of wind, which is a really windy day. In Canada, that is already above the “Small Craft Warning” designation. The increase in speed of the wind is not proportional to the force of the wind. Doubling the wind increases the force of the wind by more than 4 times. So 50kts of wind is more than 4 times “stronger” than 25kts - WOW!

Yesterday, boats came streaming into the marina all day. The dock crews were run off their feet and the cruisers and professional crews were getting gear tied down or put away. In our case that involved: (i) taking down the jib (not a small job on a big cat), (ii) removing all exterior canvas (of which there this is a lot), (iii) stowing all the cushions and pillows (dozens!), (iv) tying down everything else that could blow around/off (like the dinghy) and (v) putting chafe protection on all the dock lines.

I also checked my engines to make sure they were functioning in case the boat broke loose and we had to move in a hurry. Good thing I did, as the port engine wouldn’t even turn over. We had a fan installed in the port engine room a week ago to dissipate heat from the power cabinet (which connects us to shore power) that is also in the same compartment. The electrician incorrectly connected the fan directly to our port starter battery (the one used solely to start the port engine), rather than the house batteries (the massive bank we use to run everything else). The house bank is connected to our solar panels, and so is constantly being replenished. The starter battery is only charged when the engine is running or when I specifically turn on its charger. The fan had been drawing on the starter battery all week. Suffice to say the starter battery was dead as a doornail. Once discovered, I ran the charger and the battery was fine, but we will definitely reroute the wiring.

Once all the preparation had been done, we headed to the restaurant at the marina for pizza and beer. We swapped stories with our cruiser friends and then went back to the boat for one last check and then into bed, awaiting “The Arrival”. Same as with TS Brett, NOTHING SHOWED UP! It was a total non-event - nada, squat, bupkus, zilch, zip, buggar-all!

Although we are delighted there were no issues, all these dress rehearsals are getting a bit frustrating. That said, we need to continue to fully prepare before each possible storm, as the first time you don’t will be the time one finally arrives! P.”

This time the National Hurricane Center predicted there was only about a 20% chance that Grenada would experience tropical storm force winds. They were right!

Hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from June through October. Most of the events happen in August, September and October.

The most southerly islands of the Caribbean, Trinidad and the “ABCs” (Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba), are the least likely to be hit by a tropical storm or hurricane. Our next stop is Bonaire, where the average tropical storm frequency is about 30 years, and most of them pass to the north, causing very little damage. The chart below shows the tracks of past tropical storms in the Caribbean.

And, yes, we do have hurricane insurance!

Click on a photo to see a larger view.

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