LESSONS LEARNED ON CHEZ NOUS
WE MAY HAVE BEEN safer during that tornado in our well-anchored, well-built boat han in a typical house! The boat is aerodynamic and will move and yield while a house is rigidly attached to its foundation. I’m not suggesting leaving a house to go
to the boat, only talking about this one case.
■ Secure everything aboard, and on deck, to avoid flying missiles as your boat is catapulted about. Tie the helm in position to avoid damage to the steering system — don’t
rely on a wheel lock. Coil, secure, and store all lines so that they don’t get tangled or trail
overboard. If you have roller furling and enough warning, drop the jib and stow it below.
Otherwise, wrap the jib sheets around it securely (half a dozen turns at least), and cleat
off the furling line.
■ When a storm or severe weather is approaching, don’t leave your dinghy tied behind your
boat, or it could flip in the wind and sink. Bring it aboard, take the engine off and secure
it, flip the dinghy if possible, and lash it down with multiple ties.
■ Use all available resources to track the weather from your boat. All boats should be
equipped with a VHF radio and you should monitor the weather channels. Radar can help
you track storms as they are approaching. If you have a smartphone or other mobile
device, you can track the movement of thunderstorms and see where they are forecast to
go. You’ll know when the worst weather is approaching, and you may just be able to pick
a more secure anchorage before the fact.
■ Prepare anything you might need to abandon ship or signal for help before the fact and
position it close to the companionway.
■ Stay near the companionway, so you can make a fast exit. When anything happens
aboard that could cause a serious threat to your life or boat, immediately locate your life
jackets, and be prepared to abandon ship, but only if necessary.
■ We cannot emphasize enough the importance of proper anchoring techniques, the use of
a storm anchor, adequate swinging room, and sufficient scope. — T.N.
ably no more than a minute or so. The wind
continued to howl and the seas were still
huge. We pulled open the companionway
and climbed back up, expecting the cockpit
enclosure to be gone. It was totally intact.
In the lightning flashes ahead, I could see
the boat that had been closest to us pitch-
ing wildly and heaving, waves sweeping its
deck. We were so close I briefly considered
putting out fenders, but didn’t because
they’d be worthless. The fellow on the boat
came on deck, wanting to help, but was
barely able to hang on. Because of our size,
we were relatively stable, but the other boats
in the harbor were having a terrible time,
bows bucking and burying into each wave.
Everyone had been showing anchor lights
except one single-hander whose boat had
disappeared downwind. We, and the boats
near us, put on our spreader lights.
Everyone had dragged. We began to
check in with each other on the VHF to
make sure everyone was safe. One skipper
said his GPS told him he’d dragged 158
feet and that his boat had been on its beam
with spreaders submerged. He’d been “sit-
ting on the wall” rather than the deck. Mel
and I knew that we weren’t going to drag
anymore, and that we had plenty of water all
around us. But there was a sunken wooden
derelict sailboat behind us, marked with
white PVC pipes.
We told the others we were going to
move, powered up our 200-horse Yanmar,
pulled in more than 100 feet of extremely
muddy chain, and re-anchored — even far-
ther out this time. Anchoring in the dark can
be difficult. But it’s treacherous in weather
like this. You can’t communicate over the
howl of the wind. We used our headsets and
that night they were, possibly, a lifesaver. Mel
controlled the boat and I worked precari-
ously with the heavy gear up on the bow.
The next morning we turned on the
TV. Digital air came in; the satellite dish
was a twisted mess. The news showed that
much of the surrounding area was rubble,
with people still trying to figure what had
been where, and who hadn’t made it; 24
people were reported killed. A few people
have asked, “How did you know it was a
tornado in the dark?” All I can say is, “Man,
BoatU.S.’s Ask The Experts tech-team leader
Tom Neale has lived aboard for more than 30
years with his wife, Mel.
boat heeled far over to port, as we dove
down the companionway and tried to cap-
ture the wildly sliding hatch boards. As I
put them in, hanging on as we went farther
and farther over, the snaps holding down
parts of the ballooning cockpit enclosure
started popping open. Suddenly the door
flap exploded out.
Chez Nous seemed to right, then swung
far over to port. Then she snapped over to
starboard, veering, turning, and heaving
crazily. Suddenly she righted herself and we
could tell that the tornado was gone. We
didn’t know how long it had lasted, prob-