POST STORM JOY: Thom Strange looks delighted as his 60-foot motor-catamaran Cora heads back into the water after last year’s storm.
Photo supplied
POST STORM JOY: Thom Strange looks delighted as his 60-foot motor-catamaran Cora heads back into the water after last year’s storm. Photo supplied
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When it comes to battening down the hatches, no one knows the importance of this more than Bermuda’s mariners.

And some storms are so powerful that this means removing your boat from the water entirely.

At the island’s boatyards this involves a military-style operation to bring as many boats as possible on to dry dock, as quickly and safely as possible.

It is strenuous, demanding physical hard work but it is also a time that brings out the best in the local community, and nowhere is that more true than at Dockyard.

Liveaboard boat owner Thom Strange told the Bermuda Sun what happens when an evacuation is necessary and how people rally to one another’s aid when adverse weather is on the horizon.

Mr Strange, 42, owns Cora, a 60-foot motor-catamaran moored at Pier 41 Marina. A senior claims analyst for Allied World Assurance Company Ltd, he has lived on the boat for the past seven years.

“There’s probably been three or four hurricanes when the boat has had to be hauled out of the water,” said Mr Strange. “We have to be ready to haul if an evacuation is ordered, but it’s a tight-knit community here and we all pull together to haul the boats out and put them on the trailers and stands.”

Evacuate

In the West End, the decision to evacuate is taken by dockmaster Willy Freeman, who notifies all the boat owners by e-mail.

Mr Freeman told the Sun: “A hurricane has to be imminent. We need four-and-a-half days to do a complete evacuation and so the call has to be made early on. But if the storm falls off and the wind drops to 40 or 50 knots, we usually drop the evacuation.”

Dougie Sutherland, manager of West End Yachts, said: “If there is a named storm, all the boats in Pier 41 Marina have to leave, either to a hurricane mooring or be hauled up.

“It’s a joint effort with Chris Roque who runs Spar Yard. We are more effective this way because it’s a real effort. Everyone comes together and helps.”

Mr Sutherland has a staff of eight while Mr Roque has 10 to 14 workers.

Mr Sutherland said: “There are also half a dozen guys who own boats here in Dockyard who take time off work to help us.

“It’s a real community effort, and is very nice to see. Some of the wives also make food for everyone.

“Chris has a trailer with more capacity than us but we have the Travelift which is also a useful thing.

“Anything over 30 feet comes up in the Travelift and anything under that we place on the trailer. Sometimes we bring boats up on the Travelift and then put them on the trailer.

“When we come together we have the capability to do 200 boats. Last year with Hurricane Leslie we moved 150, and if the evacuation hadn’t been called off we would have done 200 boats.

“We work right up to when the hurricane hits. Every storm is different and moves at a different speed, but usually we can remove 50-60 boats from the water each day, so in four days that’s the equivalent of 200 boats. Normally we are hauling right up to the last minute.”

Vulnerable

He said: “During the storm I then go round checking all the boats, especially the sailboats as they are very vulnerable because of their masts. I check the stands, to make sure they are tight enough.”

He admitted going outside in a hurricane was “a little hairy”.

Mr Roque, who manages Spar Yard but owns boat trailering company QRS, said the mechanics at KM Marine Solutions also team up with the workers.

“We all work closely together,” he said. “The Dockyard community really pulls together to bring all the boats out of potential harm’s way.”

Mr Strange explained that boats travel from all over the island in search of a dry berth, and all the available space in Dockyard tends to be used.

“At any point there could be 30 boats waiting to get hauled out. I’m sure it’s just as busy in the East End at the boat yards in St David’s and St George’s.

“Some people will call ahead to get an appointment and Dougie will give them a time to come, but others will just show up, so it’s like a waiting game.

“Some people also pay for a service, such as at Spar Yard, to get their boat moved from its mooring up to the boatyard.

“Dougie coordinates where each boat has to go. Hauling everything out of the water is quite an ordeal; I liken it to an orchestra in which he is the conductor.

“It depends what kind of boat it is as to where it is placed. For example, all the yachts might be placed down one street, in a more sheltered area from the wind.

“The smaller boats are usually placed in the Victualling Yard, as they can fit through that passage. It’s a lot of coordination, trying to get all the boats to fit into these spaces.

“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, and it’s hard to walk along the street when the boats are all pulled out as all the space is taken up.”

When it comes to the haulage, Mr Strange said the boat owners will move their vessels up to the trailer on the slip at Dockyard.

“If it’s a small boat the owner will drive the boat onto the trailer. It is then hooked up and driven to its position.”

Once on land, a combination of wooden and cement blocks are placed underneath the boat and it is lowered into place. The trailer then drives out. Metal stands, or props on blocks, are placed either side of the boat and at the bow, while blocks are placed under the stern.

The larger boats are hauled by the Travelift — a large truck with slings.

“The Travelift can handle several tons,” said Mr Strange.

“The slings are in the water and once the boat has driven into position, the owner turns off the engine and it is lifted out, and onto its props and blocks.”

It costs $500 to $1,000 for haulage, depending on the vessel’s size. A 20-foot boat costs $325, 30-foot, $500 and 50-foot, $1,000.

Mr Strange said: “If it’s a bad storm I will take time off work to help hauling the boats out. In my case usually I will be standing chest-deep in the water, helping to guide the boat owner to get their boat into position for the trailer.

“There’s probably about 30 liveaboard boats at Pier 41. If I wasn’t on the island, someone else would help to haul Cora, as I will have given my permission.

“You can get hurricane-strength conditions in the wintertime as well, so we have to put more lines (ropes) on our boats or move them.

“One time I was away and got a call from a friend at two o’clock in the morning, to say one of my ropes had broken in a storm. As the stern was moving to starboard the boat was in danger of hitting another, but my friends at the marina made it safe.

“That’s the type of community we have here. If someone is in trouble, everyone comes running. We know our neighbours and everyone wants to help each other.

“Also, some people are elderly, or have young families, and so are unable to do this kind of manual labour.

“It is hard work, and you don’t need to go to the gym for several weeks after!”

Mr Strange said there are times when he has ridden out storms aboard Cora while in dry dock.

“A lot of times I will stay on the boat in case something happens, so I will live in the yard,” he said.

“Some boat owners will get a hotel room, so they can have a hot shower.

“It can be nerve wracking staying on your boat because it’s loud and the boat will move more than normal in the wind. The lines move more because they’re being pulled and stretched by the wind, but it’s also comforting to be there in case a line breaks off or you have to add more bumpers (fenders).”

His advice to fellow boat owners is: “Be prepared and have an action plan in place. And make sure your insurance is up to date in case you are unable to move your boat.

“Some people choose not to move. There are different kinds of moorings available, such as an insurable mooring in a protected area. However, places such as Harrington Sound that are open to the elements don’t have this. But if you are in Dockyard there are lots of people here who can help you. It’s a close community; everyone just comes together to help out.”