Interview with Hurricane Ivan Survivors

This is an interview with the owners of Jedi, one of the few boats to survive Hurricane Ivan in Grenada with minimal damage. We asked them what gear and tactics worked, and what didn’t.

During the recent collision of hurricane Ivan with Grenada, one of our Sundeer 64s, Jedi, was at anchor in Mount Hartman Bay. We were able to contact Jedi’s owners, Nick and Josie, through the help of another cruiser in Venezuela. While we’d not wish this experience on anyone, their comments serve to put the blow into perspective, and to analyze what could help if one was ever caught in such a situation.


Jedi was originally called Polaris, and has a slightly shallower draft (by six inches/150mm) than the standard Sundeer 64s. She is ketch rigged. The photo above shows one of her sisterships. Following are our questions for Nick and Josie, and their answers.

Dashew: Can you give us some background on your approach to anchoring?

N & J: Jedi was first anchored on her original Bruce 176 lbs and 3/8″ sched70 chain. We had 120 ft of chain out in 20 ft of water. After a week or so, we also picked up a mooring, which was about 30 feet besides the anchor. It was mainly rope with 2 sandscrews. In addition to the original mooring lines, I put a piece of 5/16 chain through the big thimble and closed it with a stainless link. I put a piece of sanitation hose over it and tied two additional 1# ropes to it with bowlines. One was tied to the bowsprit attachment and the other to the windlass. The original line looped through the big thimble with a piece of hose and was tied to the cleats.

There was no snubber on the anchor chain, as I adjusted everything so that the mooring acted as the snubber. We had tropical storm Earl right over us for testing it and the anchor chain was never fully stretched. It was very strange that Earl came so far south, but we expected no trouble and took a flight over to Holland for a 2-week vacation with family and friends.

Lack of a long snubber in this sort of situation, if the mooring lines became tight so that the anchor was taking the loads, would have increased the shock loads transmitted to both the anchor and chain stopper. This would be especially true in the gusty conditions normally found in a tropical storm. Add to this the wind shift, which accompanies the passage of the storm center, and the loads with which the anchoring system had to cope were truly huge. Snubbers normally require careful chafe protection, and then adjustment during the storm cycle, so that the same area is not continually worn.

Dashew: Did you remove your headsail, mainsail, halyards, etc?

N & J: Headsail was taken off, main and mizzen were on with Doyle cradle covers. They took a lot of strain and the main boom was pulled out of a small gallows we have on the pilothouse roof and destroyed it afterwards. Halyards were left in place.

Dashew: One of the trade-offs with big boats, especially those with fully battened mains, is the difficulty in removing the sails from booms when preparing the boat for a big blow or storage for a period of time. The sails are heavy, bulky, and a real pain to handle. The main and mizzen on the Sundeer 64 weigh upwards of 150 lbs (68kg) with hardware and battens. The Doyle cradle covers offer close to twice the windage of a furled main on the boom.

How hard did it blow?

N & J: They reported gusts up to 140-160 knots! However, it is my belief that those were caused by tornados that came with Ivan. The airport reported sustained 90 knots. Ivan became a category 4 over Grenada and cat 5 just west of Grenada, so it was building quickly when the eye passed right over Jedi.

Dashew: What would you estimate the sea size at in the anchorage?

N & J: It was 6-8 feet (1.8m to 2.2m).

Dashew: The anchoring sprit on the Sundeer 64 is very heavily built. This is a stainless steel weldment, with a heavy strut down to the bow. There are substantial side plates for taking off-center loads. The breaking strength of the schedule seven 3/8″ ACCO chain is 26,000 pounds (11,800kg). So we’re interested in how this stood up to the loads. Was there any damage to the bow roller, or anchoring sprit?

N & J: Yes. The port side of it is bent out and down 45 degrees. One of the locking-pins of the bow roller-shaft broke, after which the shaft and roller were lost, and with it a lot of its structural integrity. It tore at the weld and the chain was buried in there. This damage was caused by either the 180-degree wind shift, or by another boat hitting anchor chain.

The bow roller shafts were held in place by split pins. The split pin on the port side appears to have been sheared by the bending action of the side plate(s). If this were a threaded bolt, this would not have happened.

Dashew: Any damage to the Bruce anchor?

N & J: I can’t retrieve it right now but I’m sure it’s undamaged. I will let you know later.

Dashew: Any other damage to report, or comments in general?

N & J: From the mess inside we could see she went flat on both sides. The 5/16 chain we used on the mooring was deformed and the stainless link was bent open with the threads pulled through (it’s advertised with higher working load than the chain). The original mooring line was chafed where it touched the stainless part under the anchor roller (the forestay chainplate part). The additional lines were braided 8-strand and didn’t show any chafing. The chain stopper did its job and was undamaged, although it saved the boat, without any doubt.

Dashew: We have long used a special soft weave for mooring lines. This material, originally developed by Gleistene in Germany, offers good energy absorption and more stretch than other types of rope construction. It is also easy to flake and handle in general. Often referred to as a “brait”, it is interesting to see that it held up well in this situation.

N & J: The SSB whip antenna exploded exactly halfway between upper and lower supports. Winds were definitely higher than spec’ed for it. It was still complete though. Leaves and wood splinters were forced between everything, like between mast and rope clutches. It shows how bad it was.

The Glacier Bay compressor froze some hours after we started it up. I think most of the oil got out into the lines because of the knockdowns.

Although we were also tied to the mooring, it was the anchor that took the high strains. The mooring cable was just stretched so far that the anchor took it all. There was a 36ft Catalina on a similar mooring next to us and it was put ashore, as was another, 43’ish boat on our other side. They pulled the sandscrews out or broke the mooring lines. People who were here reported Jedi riding the storm with the bow always into the wind, not shearing at all. I’m told she looked like an arrow pointing upwind.

Dashew: That these smaller boats dragged the moorings is not surprising. Even huge engine blocks, concrete moorings, or sand screws do not come close to the holding power of a proper anchor. Although this was an extreme situation, this is one of the reasons we always prefer to trust our own ground tackle.

N & J: I have some statistics. There were 680 yachts in Grenada when Ivan hit. Half of them were lost or badly damaged. There were 90 yachts in Mt Hartman Bay where Jedi was, and only 4 escaped with little damage, including Jedi. We had the best spot with protection from north and south by 200ft hills. 84 people died, including 4 cruisers. Eighty percent of the houses were lost or badly damaged and 60,000 of 90,000 residents are homeless. Every tree is down or stripped from all its leaves. Even the mangroves are stripped at some places; we think that they were hit by tornados (can see their tracks).

Dashew: The comments about embedded tornadoes is quite interesting. These are often responsible for the majority of the destruction on tropical storms.

N & J: We want to thank you so much for designing our boat the way she is. Everybody is stunned by the good state she’s in after Ivan, even us. Your “bigger = better” philosophy for the anchor is what saved us. All other boats that survived with little damage were attended during the storm. Jedi only had 3 cats aboard.

Dashew: Using oversized anchors pays dividends in everyday usage, not just survival storms. That “excess” capacity allows you to anchor on shorter scope than is otherwise the case (important in deep or crowded anchorages). In poor holding it gives you an extra margin of security. And, you sleep a lot better at night. When you consider what a small percentage of the total ground tackle package the anchor is, the big anchor concept makes even more sense.

Consider Jedi’s system. The anchor weights 176 pounds. The windlass, associated reinforcements and wiring, another 150 pounds. The chain, 250′ of 3/8″ is another 400 pounds. The anchor roller weldment adds about 90 pounds to the pot. Secondary anchors, chain leads, and rodes are another 200 or so pounds. That’s a total of 1016 pounds, out of which the primary anchor is just 18%. If you reduced the anchor to a 110 pound model – which would still be considered huge – it would have about half the holding power. And remember, it is the anchor which does 90% of the work here. Although we’re very weight conscious, we think this is one area where extra displacement really pays dividends.

For more info, see the Anchoring section of the SetSail Cruiser’s Q&A Forum.

Posted by Steve Dashew  (September 26, 2004)

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