What I learned saving 3 boats in a Force 12+ storm

Gilbert Park has white-knuckle experience saving three boats from Storm Eunice, the most powerful storm recorded in England to date…

Storm Eunice hit the UK on February 18 with the highest winds ever recorded in England at 122mph at the Needles, Isle of Wight. It’s literally off the scale: the Beaufort scale stops at 12 with a top speed of 83 mph.

I live at the top of Chichester Harbour, right on the waters edge. The highest wind speed (Force 11 at Chichester Bar) occurred around lunchtime, at the same time as a spring tide.
The slide at the end of my route was blown by high waves and winds.

The wall where many boats are moored is around a corner. Although still swept by the wind, the waves were not as violent. The storm was well forecast and there was plenty of time to prepare.

Indeed, the day before had been windy (Storm Dudley had just passed) and a small rowing boat had become detached from its mooring. I had watched this boat for many months filling up with water or tearing out its strakes. It seemed like no one cared.

Luckily, as it broke, I was thinking of taking my rowboat to the slipway, so I had oars and a life jacket ready. Off I went to try to get it. At the time it was blowing a Force 6 according to Chimet.

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Storm warning preparations

  • Protect your mooring lines from chafing.
  • Put on extra strings. My wall-moored boat has two lines that go up to pulleys and then down with weights attached to hold it against the wall. There are also bow and stern lines made of 20mm rope attached to strong points to prevent it from coming loose. A dangerous situation should only develop if two of the ropes break.
  • Make sure canopies are either removed or securely fastened with all elastics, snaps and zippers closed.

scoop the water

I picked up the traveling boat and since there was no rope tied anywhere, I passed a rope through the oarlock. I couldn’t tow it due to the wind, the position of the tow line and it was also 60% full of water.

I managed to get the boat to a ladder and tie it down while I tried to row my own boat around the corner of the slipway. I couldn’t get around the corner safely, so I gave up and took my boat home.

Then he was back at the little boat and I started to bail him out, as I made more water come in. My weight plus the water already in the boat meant that a hole near the transom went below the waterline, more water flowed in and started coming over the gunwales.

I thought the boat was going to sink with me in it! Fortunately, I was able to climb back up the ladder and think again! This time I went forward and managed to refloat the boat. I didn’t even try to bring her to the hold, she too returned to the anchorage of my house.

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Violent waves breaking at the slide at the end of Chemin de Gilbert. Photo: Gilbert Park

Eunice’s day arrived and during the morning the wind picked up. I met a neighbor down the street who told me that a Hunter Liberty yacht had come loose off the back of one of the wall moorings and can I help?

This anchorage is atypical because it is a ‘horse’. Two straight, square piles were driven into the mud and fixed to the wall. A board (to which polystyrene is attached so that it floats) is fixed around the piles so that it slides up and down. Attached to the board are rings to which mooring ropes are attached. It’s a bit like a floating pontoon in a marina.

The plank had broken as the wind blew over the stern. The fractured board was still attached to the horse by a fender rope and as the Hunter was blown towards the wall it wedged itself between the wall and the stern of the boat with such force that there was a risk of a puncture. of the hull.

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The Hunter Liberty with the rear part of the board fractured and wedged between the boat and the remains of the horse. Photo: Gilbert Park

As the water was now high, it was easy to get on top of the gate stack at anchor. From there it was easy and safe to get on the bow of the boat, as the wind pushed the stern out and the bow in.

Once on board, ropes were attached to the stern to secure the boat and additional ropes to the bow to reinforce the existing chain. Luckily I had a team of sailors to help me and they were invaluable.

Hat trick

Further on another boat, a Laundau 21, is in trouble. Again, a stern rope had given way. This time, the struggling boat was moored to an old steel-hulled fireboat. The bow was banging against the fireboat making an awful rattling noise – the bell of destruction.

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The horse’s fractured piece of wood. The rope through the fender is the one that needed to be cut. Photo: Gilbert Park

The owner, who was relatively new to boating, had decided, quite wisely, that it was better to let the boat be damaged than to risk drowning or injury.

I offered to help if I could, but since the anchorage was more exposed than the wall moorings, I decided that if it was risky I would give it up.

Getting on the fireboat I could see that getting onto the bow of the Laundau was simple as the wind again pushed the bow against the hull.

One of the handrails was bent outward where a fender rope had become a center line and luckily prevented the boat from repeatedly rocking 180° and hitting the wall .

The most difficult and the most dangerous was to go along the narrow bridge with the risk of falling and being stuck between the two boats. I crossed and as I moved across the bridge there was a huge gust. It was really a white knuckle hold with both hands on the top cab rail until it lowered.

Once in the cockpit of the Landau, I was safe and was able to fit two stern ropes and a spring. Part of the cockpit cover had come undone and with the force of the wind I couldn’t put it back on so I secured it to allow rescue later.

Why had the stern line separated? When I looked it was clear the line had grazed where it went over the edge of the fireboat.

The rowboat and Liberty suffered no damage other than a few minor scratches. The Laundau had a badly scratched area around the port bow and one of the handrails was bent outwards, but compared to elsewhere the boats had sunk slightly.

Lessons learned

1. Stay alive: If you are inexperienced or if the weather conditions are too bad, especially the state of the sea, do not board a boat. In the end, your insurance company will hopefully pay, and even if it doesn’t, you’re worth more than any boat.

2. Life jacket: If you plan to board a boat in these conditions, wear a life jacket in case you fall in. Wet side decks and a sudden gust of wind are enough to knock you off balance. I should have worn one on the Hunter – I asked for one but none was available. I should have picked up mine. On the other two, I wore one.

3. Wait: Be very careful when crossing from shore to boat or from boat to boat. You don’t want to fall between the boats and be crushed. Fortunately, there were no big waves where these boats were despite the strong wind. If there had been, securing the boats would have been much more risky and possibly impossible.

4. Tools: Before you begin, think about what you will need. For the hunter I needed several lengths of rope and a serrated knife to cut the wet ropes holding the fractured piece of plank to stay connected to the rest of the horse.

5. Dress appropriately: Make sure you have the right clothes – it wasn’t raining and the temperature was around 9°C but I still got cold with the wind chill.

6. Save: Always have at least one person ashore who can help you or call for help if you have a problem.

7. Attachment: Thinking of the three incidents afterwards, I also considered using a short lifeline while climbing in these difficult conditions, just in case I slipped off a side bridge.


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This feature first appeared in the August 2022 edition of Practical boat owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving tips, great boat projects, expert advice and ways to improve your boat’s performance, subscribe to Britain’s best-selling sailing magazine.

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Earnest A. Martinez