Lessons Learned from Hurricane Ivan in Grenada

Ivan wreaked havoc on the Caribbean and the Southeastern US, including Grenada, an area that was previously known as a hurricane-safe zone. Here’s an analysis of the storm, and the tactics used by the sailors caught in it. We’ve also got suggestions for anchoring in a hurricane, and what to do if you’re in the unfortunate position of needing to salvage your boat.

We’ve been receiving e-mails from some of our friends in the Southern Caribbean with early reports of what happened in Grenada. News is still sketchy, but we’ve picked up a few details. First, our prayers go out to all of those in Grenada, and to everyone who is worried about friends and loved ones in the area.

The bottom end of the Caribbean (including Grenada and Trinidad) is considered out of the hurricane zone.


However, as with all generalities that deal with weather, and as recent events have shown, this has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Tropical storms can hit almost anywhere, at any time of year. That shouldn’t cause anyone to stop cruising, but it does warrant keeping the boat prepared, and having a plan of action.

We spent the summer season of 1979 in New Guinea to avoid the South Pacific hurricane season. At the end of our stay we visited a lovely, protected anchorage on the east end of the main island, the foliage of which looked like it had been leveled by an atomic blast. Turns out a category 5+ cyclone had come through a few years earlier – this was out of season, in an area that was supposed to be safe. Folks used to think French Polynesia would never get a cyclone, until the late 1980s when a succession of storms hit during El Nino years (we followed a cyclone into Papeete bringing Sundeer back from New Zealand in 1987).

Ivan’s history

From the feedback we’ve gotten from Grenada, it appears there was a warning of a couple of days. The following four storm track projections are from the National Hurricane Center.


Above is an early forecast from September 4th. Grenada shows it is in the risk area. The question is, do you move now, or wait and see what happens? Given the vagaries of forecasting hurricanes, the most conservative thing is to get ready to leave.


Twelve hours later and the track is getting uncomfortably close. This forecast is early Sunday morning. You’ve got two days to move, or potentially be forced to stay put by poor visibility.


24 hours later and we’re looking at a 36-hour window until the hurricane hits. If it follows exactly on the forecast track, Grenada will be OK, except for some squalls and torrential rain. Given Grenada’s reputation as a haven from tropical storms, you can see how it would be possible to be lulled into a sense of complacency – especially if everyone else was staying put. But you can never tell for certain with tropical storm systems.


Tuesday morning and the forecast track is now showing a direct hit. Even though Trinidad, with its more protected anchorages, is only an overnight sail away, it is now probably too late to move. The southern end of Grenada, where most boats are stored on dry land or in marinas, is not well protected. For those whose boats were stored (in or out of the water), moving was not an option.


Time has run out. If the storm track had veered just 50 miles to the north, things would have been manageable.


But as you can see in the satellite images above, this was a direct hit.


All of the boats left at marinas and on dry land suffered moderate to major damage. Most of the boats at anchor were blown into the mangroves.


One exception is a Sundeer 64, which rode out the blow tied to a mooring and using their 176-pound (80Kg) Bruce anchor (which probably did most of the work).

Tropical storms (hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones) are a fact of cruising life. They can exist almost anywhere in the tropics – and often in the temperate latitudes. While the normal season encompasses mid-summer to mid-fall, tropical storms can occur at any time of the year. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the dangerous sectors of these storms are very concentrated. Often hurricane-force winds only extend 30 to 50 miles from the eye of the storm (Pacific typhoons tend to be larger and stronger than Atlantic hurricanes), so the odds of taking a direct hit are pretty low. Still, if you do experience a hit, there are many things you can do to protect yourself.


The SetSail Cruising Correspondents took up the subject of hurricane preparation in 2003. (Click here to read their comments and suggestions.)

For us, there are several key ingredients to improving the odds any time we’re cruising with even a remote risk of a tropical storm.

  • First, have a hurricane hole picked out.
  • Move into it early, ahead of the traffic jam that will occur later on. Usually, this ends up to be a waste of time – the storm doesn’t pass close by. But we figure the first time we break this rule is when we’ll get nailed!
  • Next, our biggest concern is always with the damage that can come from other boats. Hopefully our hurricane hole will provide protection from others who are dragging.
  • Prepare the boat by stripping of anything that adds to windage. Stow roller-furled sails, removing all but one halyard. Stow covers and awnings.

We’ve always been proponents of BIG anchors, and heavy anchor-handling gear. Most of the time this is excessive. But if we are ever caught in a hurricane at anchor, we’ll be glad for this gear (and the rest of the time it gives us a higher factor of safety). We covered this subject in Practical Seamanship – you can download that chapter (a 424k PDF file) by clicking here.


For those with boats blown ashore, the question at the forefront is the salvage operation.


Practical Seamanship (pages 561-584) has sections, which may prove helpful, on salvage and getting a boat off the beach.


Here are some photos and drawings from Practical Seamanship that show a few approaches. If you’re interested in more details, click here for a PDF file (1.1mb) of this chapter.


If a powerful tow is being used, the boat will need to be strongly built to withstand the pounding that often goes with getting towed into deep water. And the bridle must be attached to a very strong point (in the photo above, the keel is used as a primary attachment point).


The tug can be seen in the background ready to tow this Deerfoot 2-62 into deep water.

More Resources:

For reports on how Ivan has impacted Grenada (as well as other Caribbean nations), see StormCarib.com .

  • The Tropical Prediction Center has a wealth of data on hurricanes.
  • Excellent satellite images are at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/satellite.shtml .
  • Mariner’s Weather Handbook: Read the sections starting with Tropical Forecasting and ending with Hurricane Avoidance Tactics (pages 316-448), especially the “Hurricane at Anchor” chapter (starting on page 434).
  • Practical Seamanship has a section on Anchoring (pages 366-449). Above you can download the chapter on Hurricane at Anchor (as well as the Salvage chapter).
  • For ground tackle advice, see Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia pages 39-57.
  • Surviving the Storm discusses Heavy Weather Tactics from page 259 to 420. Drogues and Sea Anchors are covered on pages 421-478.

To all of the folks in the Caribbean affected by Ivan, know that you are in our hearts and prayers.

Posted by Steve Dashew  (September 15, 2004)

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