We had debated spending the summer in Vero Beach, FL, then Beaufort, SC, rejecting both because of the hurricane risk. Not wanting to travel as far north as southern New England this year, we settled on the Chesapeake with the rationale that it rarely gets hit by a hurricane. Well, by the time Isaias arrived in Maryland he wasn’t a hurricane anymore, but he was a strong tropical storm. And wouldn’t you know it? Cambridge, MD was right in his crosshairs.
Our friends on S/V Minx are cruising in New England and several days before Isaias’ arrival they had kindly offered us their slip located in a true hurricane hole in the upper Chesapeake. We debated taking it but the slip was 75 nautical miles away and we foolishly thought, “What are the odds?” Ultimately it turned out the odds were very good, but by the time we figured that out it was a bit too late to make the trip. With that option off of the table and the marina wide open to the Choptank River, we decided to take our chances in a local anchorage.
The nice thing about the Chesapeake is that there are literally hundreds of navigable rivers and streams leading to an abundance of protected coves. We just needed to find the best one within a reasonable distance of Cambridge. After studying the charts and our guidebooks for several hours, we selected a few potential candidates and cast off the dock lines early Sunday morning, 48 hours before Isaias’ arrival.
Typically the right side of a tropical storm or hurricane has the strongest winds due to the storm’s counterclockwise rotation, so ideally you want to be on the left (or west) side of the storm. In our case though, I wasn’t kidding when I said that the Choptank River area was forecast to be right in the middle of his path. Within eight hours of the system’s arrival we had a 50/50 chance of winds backing counterclockwise from northeast-north-northwest, or veering clockwise from the east-southeast-south-southwest (with veering winds being about 10 knots stronger).
Since we didn’t know which side of Isaias we were going to see, we picked an anchorage at the head of Island Creek which would give us very good protection from veering winds, and pretty good protection from backing winds. It was shallow, but not too shallow, with some tall trees at a surprisingly decent elevation. At this point it was the best we were going to get.
After we were satisfied with the set of the anchor (we backed down at almost wide open throttle for 90 seconds and it didn’t move an inch), we spent the rest of Sunday and a good part of Monday second-third-and-fourth-guessing our choice of anchorage (Should we move north of Annapolis? Would we have better conditions there or would the anchorages already be full?) and reducing Pegu Club’s windage as much as possible.
We removed the jib, wrapped the mainsail tightly with our preventer line, removed the dodger and the bimini, and filled the dinghy with water from the creek and tied it tight to Pegu Club’s stern. Cockpits cushions were shoved into the quarter berth, fenders were tied up next to our jerry jugs, and dock lines were stored.
While the anchorage wasn’t 100% perfect, we didn’t question our choice to leave the marina. However, we did wonder whether we should stay on the boat after NOAA’s forecast discussion Monday afternoon mentioned a chance of isolated tornadoes the next day.
I discovered last fall during a storm in Beaufort, NC that tornado warnings REALLY make me nervous. Were we better off on a boat if we were hit by a tornado, or being in a building with no basement? We discussed the risk with our friends from S/V Aurora who very kindly offered to pick us up and let us stay at their house. We also discussed it with our friends from S/V Lone Star who have MUCH more experience with heavy weather than we do. Ultimately after talking with our friends we felt much better about the true risk and decided to stay on Pegu Club. At this point all we could do was wait.
Waking up early Tuesday morning when the wind started to pick up, we passed the time texting regularly with our friends – some were anchored in various locations not too far from us, others were at the marina, and still others were in southern New England waiting for Isaias to arrive later that same day. It certainly helped knowing we weren’t the only boaters going through this.
It was raining hard but the wind wasn’t bad at all, and when the center of the storm passed over us the sun even came out for a bit. We started thinking, “This isn’t so bad.” Oops.
As soon as the center had passed the skies darkened within seconds, it started pouring rain, and the wind rapidly changed direction and started blowing HARD. Now we were nervous, for us and our friends at the marina. With winds from the north, the fetch from the Choptank was rolling right into the marina and quickly submerging the docks (fortunately everything was o.k.).
With a bit less protection in our anchorage from the north, Pegu Club bobbed a bit and heeled some, but frankly we had been through much worse motion at anchor in bad weather. This knowledge didn’t do much to ease our nerves though, because we were wondering if it was going to get even worse.
Fortunately, however, it didn’t, and the conditions rapidly improved after about half an hour. During the height of the storm the marina saw a few gusts in the 50 knot range (57 mph+) and some sustained wind at mid-40 knots (51 mph), and our wind speeds were likely similar based on the sound of the wind. But even though it was the strongest sustained wind we had ever experienced at anchor, our Rocna didn’t budge an inch. By 1:00 p.m. the sun was shining, the wind was gentle, and it was a beautiful day. We had made it!
After all of the anticipation, the storm itself turned out not to be too bad. Although there were a few tornadoes they weren’t close to us, and we didn’t even get heavy thunderstorms. We had over 4″ of rain and found a few small leaks we need to take care of, but otherwise everything was fine. By the end of the afternoon Pegu Club was back together again, the water was bailed out of the dinghy, and we took advantage of the jib being off to inspect the furler before reinstalling it the next day.
So what did we learn after a rather intense four days? (1) We will never again see a forecast for a tropical storm and think that it’s “just” a tropical storm. It’s a lot of wind, hurricane or not; (2) If it looks like the Chesapeake is going to get another one this summer, we are absolutely making the 75 nm trip to S/V Minx’s hurricane hole marina – it will be a lot less stressful; and (3) as long as we are in an appropriate anchorage for the given weather conditions, we will never question whether our Rocna will hold. That anchor is FANTASTIC.