Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Dealing With Hurricane Matthew

As I previously mentioned, we were exploring some of the stops of the Albemarle Loop when we decided that hurricane Matthew was likely to become an issue for us.  We were at the dock in Columbia, North Carolina with internet access when we looked at the weather, and forecasts seemed to show that Matthew was likely to come up the coast and make landfall in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  The Albemarle is known for being unpleasant in bad weather, so we decided we should try to head a bit more south and inland.

We made a run south, through the Alligator River Bridge (that closes if the winds go over 35 knots), down the Alligator-Pungo canal, and into the Pungo river.  We stopped that evening at Dowry Creek marina with the intention of making our way on to Oriental where we had a car waiting for us.  We figured a car would be a good thing if we needed to evacuate.  When we got to Dowry Creek, we kept an eye on the weather and by the following morning the forecasts seemed to be turning to follow us. We decided that Dowry Creek and the Pungo river were better protected (and a bit more inland) than Oriental, so decided this is where we would stay.

One of the live-aboard residents was gracious enough to give us a ride to retrieve our car from Oriental.  Then we began preparations for the potential storm.  We gathered up important paperwork and packed enough that we could leave for a few days if necessary.  The winds at the dock were not cooperating and were blowing up to 30 knots across the beam of the boat.  On a slightly less windy day, we ended up tying bow-in to the face dock so we would point into the wind and could remove the sails and stack pack.

The marina we were at, as is the case with many fixed-dock marinas in the area, does not allow boats to remain if a hurricane is expected to hit. There is normally no tide here, so pilings are not all that tall, and a large storm surge could easily cause problems. Instead, a number of the boats chose to anchor in one of the more protected creeks in the area. We watched the forecasts and, for a time, it appeared the storm may veer off to the east before it was this far north.  Then the last couple days, the forecast started creeping north again.

On Friday we decided to anchor the boat as far up Dowry creek as we could, bring the dinghy back to the marina, and then take the car to a hotel well inland. We left the dock and motored up the creek, keeping an eye on the depths as we went.  We found a spot we thought would work and then circled around to verify the depths anywhere the boat might swing during the storm. We dropped our anchor in about 5 feet of water. Since the storm surge was expected to be around 5 feet, we decided a bit more than a 10:1 scope for a 15 foot depth would be the best we could do and still allow adequate swing room. I know that some use multiple anchors for a storm, but lacking multiple Mantus anchors (I have a Bruce and small Danforth along with my Mantus primary), I decided a single anchor approach would work best.  After watching a video on Youtube of a Leopard in the Bahamas swinging wildly at anchor during Matthew after its bridle broke, I did use two dock lines to rig a backup bridle that would take up any slack if the main bridle failed.  We secured everything as best we could and then bid Rover a temporary farewell and headed back to the marina in the dinghy.

After securing the dinghy at the marina, we drove to Raleigh to a hotel we had booked several days before. After a long day, despite the nervousness of leaving the boat, we crashed soon after arriving at the hotel.  The next day it rained like crazy in Raleigh. Apparently Matthew was interacting with a local front to create an obscene amount of rain inland.  In a bit of irony, when we called the marina they reported that the weather was reasonable and they were getting last minute preparations done. That night was a restless night for us. The storm grazed the area, with peak wind gusts around 70 knots and sustained winds in the tropical storm force range. When we checked the weather on Sunday morning, the storm had passed by and was finally dying as it head out into the Atlantic.

The weather was nice that morning, almost eerily nice. The problem was that all the rain was now causing severe flooding in between our location in Raleigh and our boat near Belhaven.  We called the marina to see if everyone and everything was OK. We were told everyone and all the boats, including ours, were doing fine. It would just be a day or two until we could get back. We ended up making a trip up to Virginia to retrieve our other car and from there were able to find clear roads to get us back to the boat.

Approaching Rover after the storm.

When we arrived back at the marina, we drained the water from the dinghy (it was left upright so it would fill with water and hold it down when the winds picked up) and reattached the motor.  We made our way back to Rover and found her where we left her.  One of the lifeline gates had come loose but the netting held it secure enough.  Otherwise, the boat was in great condition!  We removed the secondary bridle (it was never actually used) and fired up the engines.  It took a bit to pull up the anchor as the winds apparently helped it dig in pretty well.  When we deployed the anchor, I added a trip line with a float attached (to mark the anchor location in case any other boats thought about anchoring near us after we left) and used that line to help coax the anchor out of the creek bed.  It came up with a good amount of mud and some decaying wood branches on it. I used about 6 buckets full of water to clean the mud off of the anchor and chain as we pulled it in. I'm very happy with the performance of my Mantus anchor, it has held the boat everywhere I've put it.

A short motor back to the marina and we were once again tied to the dock and plugged in.  Everything turned out about as well as it could have regarding weathering the storm.  What happens next is still up in the air.  With all the destruction to the south of us, we are wondering if it makes sense to try and continue going south.  Will we be able to find marinas and fuel along the way?  Will there be new shoaling or missing markers?  We simply do not know at this time.  So, it is unclear if we will be continuing the trip south soon or if we will need to stay put a while longer.  These are the questions we will need to answer in the coming days.

But for now we are just happy that everything is well and we are once again back on the boat.


  1. That's such good news that all was well with Rover :-)

    1. Yes it is. Glad you were spared the worst of the storm as well.

  2. You should seriously write up a testimonial and send it in to Mantus. That's a great story and a fantastic outcome!

    1. Actually, they picked up and re-shared my Facebook post. But if I can find any extra time, might be able to do it.

  3. Hi Mike,
    Great to hear the anchoring out worked out so well. Assume that waves were limited in the river/creek but holding in face of 60+ mph winds is something, especially given the windage of a cat.
    Perhaps calls to or looking for postings/websites of the Coast Guard and Marinas along the way is in order to determine status of the ditch and markers and how Marinas fared. You still have some decent fall weather ahead of you and doing the Loop gives time for the ditch and southern marinas to be clean up.
    Doug in VT

    1. Waves shouldn't have been much of a problem, but storm surge could have been. Windage is an issue and is why we removed all we could and wanted to anchor so it would nose into the wind (best direction to take a strong gust).

      We have been monitoring Active Captain, Dockwa's marina list, and the USCG to see if we can get a good idea of the condition of facilities and waterways further south. We are south of the Albemarle and won't be going back due to other time constraints now. Hopefully places further south will be able to get back up and running by the time we are there.

    2. Great to hear that you're using Dockwa, Mike. Keep us posted if you notice any information missing or out of date; we'll continue to update with fresh intel as it comes in. Thanks, and safe travels!