Day #358: The eye of a hurricane heads towards Yucatan

Daryl and Tracy watched down at Vu and me from their cockpit. He looked knowingly, she was terrified.

Vu and I came over in our dinghy to ask for the checkout procedure. ARGO will leave Mexico around next Thursday.

We stumbled into a heated discussion. Darryl and Tracy where locking on this picture.

Forecast of the European Weather model 101kn = 184km/h! This would be a devastating hurricane category 3

The discussion led to the insight that we need to leave for the South. But this is in 10 days – isn’t it to early to come up with a decision yet?

An abundance of weather information

The morning started at 8.00h with a broadcast on VHF radio by another boat , coincidentally named WIND MAGIC. The skipper nows the island very well and has experienced a hurricane here. Luckily, only the adult part of the crew was listening in. The conclusion is very frightening: a boat might survive a category 1 or 2 hurricane inside the lagoon, above category 3 boats will be thrown on land.

Same forecast time, GFS weather model. The difference is 100kn.

In conclusion, rule no 1 for cruisers in the tropics – never ever get into a hurricane. Just watch the flashing lights.

Since hurricanes have been so devastating in the recent years (we witnessed the traces of IRMA and MARIA 2017 in Tortola, British Virgin Islands), the governments have made significant investments in research, forecasting and warning infrastructure. Prediction of wind speed and the track of the hurricane are still difficult, but all the best information and advise is available on the internet.

Only 8 hours later, the ECMWF predicts track across Cuba and maximum wind speeds of 51kn.

Decision making

We use for the forecasting three tools: GRIB files in apps, namely Windy and PredictWind. Then, the website of the National Hurricane Center in Florida. And finally, we discuss with our friends the Interim Tropical Wx update newsletter of Chris Parker.

The forecast of the National Hurricane Center. See the little yellow cross? This is the suspect, still South of Cabo Verde, 3.500nm away with a probability of 40% to start spinning

More information is not what we would ask for, but more reliable information. At the other hand, a hurricane is a cloud of moisture, that moves with 10-25kn and is influenced by a hundred variables. Very difficult to predict.

Lastest weather routing simulation combining four different weather models (for comparison) with the speed data for our Hanse 461

Our plan is to watch the developments closely and to set sails next Thursday or Friday morning. We are waiting for the trades, that typically blow from the South East, to shift into the North East. We could than cross the Gulf Stream to the Caymans and then cross it again to Isla Provedencia.

The current first sets with 1,5 to 2,5 in to the North , and South of Caymans with 1 to 1,5kn to the West.

A wind from the North would help us to sail through the currents. If the system would pass East of us, meaning that we sail on its West side out of the danger zone, we would be pushed by a nice gentle Northerly breeze.

Bail-out plans

Under any circumstances, we would cross any possible track of a system 48h in advance. Remember rule #1? Don’t meet a hurricane. It’s eye is even worse.

If we would be forced to stay, we would bring ARGO into the lagoon. A tropical storm we could weather on our three anchors, with landlines tied to the mangroves. Any hurricane we would go into the marina. With a cat 3 hurricane, we would leave the boat and island behind and travel inland.

Hurricane prep: Very cheap and effective anchor gear of neighbor Herman. These weights of approx. 40kg each get attached on the anchor chain between anchor and bow roller.

Once under way, always plan for bailout spots if something substantial breaks on the boat or a crew member requires medical assistance. On the passage to Isla Provedencia aren’t many bailout anchorages or harbors. We can go to the Caymans or to the island of Roatan (Honduras). Otherwise, the international shipping lane to Panama is under surveillance of the various coast guards and the US Coast Guard.

What next? Iteration and updates of the plans. And than you can follow the track of ARGO here.

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