Preparation kept us safe during the March blizzard

For the most part, it’s been an uneventful, quiet, and moderate winter. We’ve enjoyed beautiful snowstorms, warm sunshine, and plenty of calm winds. Several storms brought wind and waves, but on average it was a more comfortable winter than we had in 2016. That is until March threw a blizzard our way after teasing us with several days of bluebird sunshine.

We always keep an eye on the current weather as well as the short and long-term forecasts, so we had time to prepare the boat. For the most part, the boat is secured with anticipation of winter storms at all times. Still, with winds forecasted to linger above 40 knots, we took the time to check each of our lines, top off fuel and water, grab some extra groceries, and hunker down.

On the morning of the storm, I dropped off Skye at work and went about running errands and completing chores. The forecast predicted a sharp rise in wind strength after noon, but I was surprised to find that Hamilton Marine was closing early due to the weather when I met Skye for lunch. We headed back to the boat as the wind and snow intensified. Ok, we agreed, this storm was getting serious.

Down below we decided this was the most the boat had ever moved at the dock. It was unpredictable, violent, and varied. Up, down, pivot left, up, down, snap back to the right, down…an on it went. One of our bow chocks had failed, sheering the bolts at the deck, so I had led the starboard bow line to the capstan to avoid chafe. However, when I went on deck to check our lines, it was obvious that it was putting too much strain on the expensive piece of equipment. I decided to switch the lead back to the cleat, beef up the chafe protection, and risk the wood toe rail rather than the capstan.

It wasn’t as easy as anticipated, and stupidly I hadn’t asked Skye to help me. She kindly, yet forcefully, reminded me how stupid it was for me to go on deck and attempt something like that without letting her know.  Wondering what I was up to she appeared on deck to check on me. What if I had fallen overboard or dropped a line? She was right, no doubt about it.

Check out this video of our gimbaled stove rocking away in the blizzard!

The severity of the conditions wasn’t apparent until I went out onto the dock to make adjustments and check chafe. The white tipped waves rolling into the marina were 3 to 4 feet high. Before I knew it, I was knee-deep in the frigid ocean while securing the forward spring line to a new cleat.

We added a third bow line to the starboard side and lengthened leads wherever possible to increase shock absorption. We also eased the stern to swing the boat slightly more into the wind and waves. The motion, while still uncomfortable, was much improved. With these minor adjustments there was an obvious reduction in stress on the boat and dock. Nonetheless, we gave in to the reality of hunkering down and fired up the laptop for an afternoon of Netflix in bed.

We enjoyed a brief respite around dinner time as the low tide exposed mud banks and sheltered us from the building waves. It didn’t last long, however, and before we knew it, we were back inside the washing machine. We agreed that if we were offshore, or even at anchor, the conditions would be much more comfortable. The motion of a boat at the dock, broadside to the weather, is simply unnatural, and stressful.

Since I didn’t have to work the following day I elected to stay awake while Skye got some sleep. I knew the the wind was due to shift severely to the East and eventually South around midnight so I waited it out. Luckily, just as forecasted, the wind decreased and changed direction right on schedule. Almost immediately the waves subsided, and the boat relaxed into her normal motion. Exhausted and thankful for the quiet, I drifted off to sleep.

In the morning we looked out to see a blanket of white snow on the deck. The driving wind had found every little gap in the shrink-wrap and blown it into piles inside the cover. As we inspected the boat on our way out in the morning, we found that two of the four stern lines had parted. Of the twelve lines connecting us to the dock, these were the only ones to sustain damage. Had we not properly inspected our dock lines, added new ones, and lengthened leads, we likely would have had more damage. Walking down the dock, we were happy to enjoy the rising sun, look back at our boat surrounded by snow and ice, and know that we had made it through another exciting test of our lifestyle.

Do we enjoy days like this? No, of course not! That was a long, stressful day. But the feeling of accomplishment, relief, and calm after a storm is hard to beat. We won’t soon forget the blizzard of March, but we also won’t dwell on the temporary hardship we experienced in an otherwise lovely winter. Besides, in a few short weeks, we’ll be uncovering the boat, installing our new solar panels, and preparing for a long, beautiful sailing season.

Matt Garand

About Matt Garand

Lifelong Mainer, and professional mariner, Matt Garand is the creator of A Life Aboard, a look at year-round living on a sailboat in Maine. Matt and his wife, Skye, live aboard in South Portland and use every available chance to throw off the lines and explore the coast.