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Posted by on Sep 3, 2010 in Sailboat, US | 1 comment

Hurricane Earl: Boat Watch in New England

How do you keep track of a hurricane that's headed your way? How do you know when to pull your boat out of harm's way or simply batten down the hatches?

Hurricanes get our attention in New England when they take aim at Cape Hatteras because that means they might well land on our shores next. Fortunately, Earl didn’t quite make landfall at Hatteras last night, and it looks as if its hurricane-force winds will mostly stay east of New England. How do I know? I haven’t been watching the TV news or the Weather Channel; I’ve been at my desk in Newport, Rhode Island, trading links with my boating friends.

The best animated storm tracker I've seen this week, from Sailing Weather Services (free to US SAILING members and, this week, as a courtesy to everyone with boats).

The best animated storm tracker I've seen this week, from Sailing Weather Services (free to US SAILING members and, this week, available as a courtesy to everyone with boats).

This tracker from Sailing Weather Services isn’t always available for free, so if you’re reading this later, you might not be able to see the stop-action animation and the way it shows the millibars around the low pressure so I can see which way the wind is going to blow. Southeast this afternoon as it approaches, east and northeast as Earl goes by us to the southeast, then northwest and west, filling the vaccuum left by this big storm after it departs.

Stormpulse.com can show you the spread of different weather-model predictions.

Stormpulse.com can show you the spread of different weather-model predictions.

The truth is that I haven’t been at my desk the whole time. I’ve been down at Newport Harbor every day, prepping our 30-foot boat for high winds and thinking, “OK, even if the hurricane seems likely to miss Newport, how strong will the winds be, and how long will they last as they shift around from southeast to northwest?” Our mooring is in Brenton Cove, but it will get rough there when the wind shifts north and northwest.

I’ve been watching storm tracks like the one above at StormPulse.com, which shows you all the different weather model predictions for the storm track if you click on the “on” button in the upper righthand corner (not shown) — plus I’ve been monitoring Sailflow, WeatherUnderground, NOAA marine forecasts, and the National Hurricane Center. And you can be sure I’ve been talking with half a dozen boating friends whose opinion I respect—and some of them have private data sources, such as Commander’s Weather, a weather service used by many sailors.

Newport Harbor, Friday morning: The classic calm before the storm

Newport Harbor, Friday morning: The classic calm before the storm. Many moorings are empty as boats have been hauled or moved.

As I write, I don’t know how windy it will be tonight. The storm has weakened according to recent reports, and its track has shifted a little farther east of Nantucket than previously forecast. Although my friends out on the island are still expecting hurricane-force winds, every mile the storm veers eastward is good for all of us. Here, the winds could be anywhere from 25 to 50 knots and our boat, Grace, is going to be pitching hard for several hours. We don’t think the winds will be excessively strong for too long, but obviously, there are no guarantees, and I’m sure I’ll wake up a few times tonight thinking about the boat.

A doubled-up line leads from the mast to the mooring chain, backing up the mooring pennant. Another backup line leads from mast to pennant loop in case the cleat pulls out of the deck.

A doubled-up line leads from the mast to the mooring chain, backing up the mooring pennant, which has extra chafe gear on it. Another backup line leads from mast to pennant loop in case the cleat pulls out of the deck.

It’s a funny way to get set for a holiday weekend. Lots of “hurricane adrenalin” in the air and a sense that everything is kind of on hold until Earl makes his pass. Hopefully everyone’s boats will be intact on Saturday morning, so we can all enjoy the last big weekend of the New England summer.

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