Dry Storing a Boat for Hurricane Season in the South, Part I of III
By Capt. Ron Butler
Kismet, our Ericson 38, has survived five hurricanes since we’ve owned her. During two of these storms, we had the boat stored on the hard and survived both with no damage. The first one was Isabel that ripped through Annapolis, MD, just two weeks after we bought her. The second, Wilma, scored a direct hit on Indiantown Marina near Lake Okeechobee—one of the most popular sailboat storage areas in Florida—where Kismet was stored for the season. During Isabel, we were on the hard at Port Annapolis Marina, and not one boat in the marina had serious damage. The yard was high enough that the flooding didn’t reach Kismet. During Wilma, about 40 boats of the 400 stored at Indiantown sustained serious damage while at Glades Boat Storage in southwest Florida,another popular sailboat storage yard. Only a dozen or so of the 300 there had damage. Luckily, Kismet escaped damage from both Isabel and Wilma. She also survived three hurricanes while stored in the water with minimal damage.
I’m Capt. Ron, a USCG licensed captain (50T, Sail) for over 20 years. My wife and I have been sailing together now for over 40 years and have owned a variety of boats and kept them in and out of the water during hurricane season. As I write this in late summer, our Ericson 38, Kismet, is on the hard at Indiantown Marina (again) sitting out the 2007 hurricane season. Basically, we have had many years experience with sailboat storage and hurricanes on land and in the water.
We prefer keeping our boat on the hard during hurricane season for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a sizeable break on our BoatU.S. insurance policy. We have arranged a policy that gives us a decent discount provided the boat is in dry storage from June through November.
This also suits our lifestyle these days. We generally launch the boat in early December and sail to the Bahamas for the winter months returning to the United States in May. During the summers, we’re lucky enough to be able to land cruise to cooler northern climes and so escape Florida’s heat for the most part. With the boat stored properly, we feel we can leave her for extended periods with less risk than if we had left her in the water. Apparently, our insurance underwriter agrees.
Preparing for Storage
Probably the first consideration in storing your boat on the hard is the “where” part. You have to choose a yard. We chose Indiantown Marina on the St. Lucie River just east of Lake Okeechobee (www.indiantownmarina.com). We chose it first of all because of its more or less inland location, and second of all because we’d been there before and have some familiarity with its routine. Indiantown’s inland location behind the St. Lucie lock to the east and the Port Myacca lock to the west means that we don’t have to worry much about high water. Indiantown is also about 6 miles east of Lake Okeechobee so while a breached dike may flood the area, it’s unlikely to flood Indiantown very deeply. On the west side of the big lake, you might consider Glades Boat Storage (863-983-3040). The yard there is just as inland as Indiantown and also protected by locks in the Caloosahatchee River.
Choosing a Yard: Location, Location, Location
They’re not the only yards worth considering, however. Some yards near the coast offer decent protection, too, so perhaps your decision should be influenced somewhat by where you live. Obviously, the most convenient location would have advantages. Your backyard might be great, for example. It’s hard to beat the convenience of working on a boat in your own yard. Of course, a storm that blows your house down likely destroys the boat, too.
That, too, is an issue for us. By having our home and our boat in Florida, we run the risk of a single storm taking out both assets. On the other hand, we have decided that any yard farther away than about two hours’drive time is too far away. We like to check up on our boat from time to time and do the odd boat task on occasion so a two-hour drive is about it. Even at two hours, your workdays on the boat will be limited by the time on the road plus the extra trips because tools or parts were forgotten at home. (Why is it the tool you need is always in the other place?)
We’ve considered leaving the boat in yards anywhere from Baltimore south, and if we were cruising to the Chesapeake, we’d likely try Deltaville, VA. We previously had good luck at Port Annapolis Marina in Annapolis, MD. North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia also offer a number of qualified yards. Unfortunately, there aren’t many haul-out/storage facilities for large sailboats south of Tarpon Springs on Florida’s west coast. It seems that many yards and marinas are now being converted to condos.
Another issue to consider is whether the yard is a sailboat yard or a powerboat yard. I’d recommend picking a yard that knows sailboats and is popular with sailors. It will be more familiar with blocking and moving requirements.
Don’t forget to consider the water, too. If you draw seven feet, you may not be able to use a marina like Indiantown due to draft restrictions in the St Lucie River, which is somewhat dependent on Lake Okeechobee water levels. In fact, this past spring, the locks were operating on a restricted basis. This meant that we had to plan our travel up the St. Lucie to coincide with the very few lock openings.
Mast height is also an issue. For example, to get to Indiantown Marina you must pass under bridges and power lines that have a mere 55 feet of clearance. This may mean pulling your mast before the trip up river. Other marinas such as the Ortega River Boatyard near Jacksonville also have this issue. Kismet needs 54 feet after we remove the antennas and wind birds.
Obviously, cost is an issue and may be the determining factor in choosing a marina and costs do vary quite a bit. The least expensive yards we found were in Deltaville, VA, with Washington, NC, coming close. Interestingly, we found that Indiantown was less expensive than the more exposed marinas along the ICW between Titusville and Fort Lauderdale. I suppose they charge more because they’re so convenient to the ICW. More than likely, the land is more expensive, too. You will need to look at the total cost though. Storage fees are just part of the equation.
Yards often break down their charges into the small details of storage. Charges broken down to per month/per jack stand are common at every yard where charges are priced by the foot of vessel length or duration of stay—or some combination. Services include haul-out, pressure washing, blocking, tie-downs, moving, reblocking, launching, etc. Then there are repair and maintenance services such as bottom stripping, bottom painting and any variety of repairs, prices for which vary widely.
Just be sure you understand how you will be charged to avoid unpleasant surprises. The yard should have written agreements that spell out all the terms and conditions including things like insurance requirements. Be sure you read these agreements carefully and understand the implications. You likely won’t be able to modify these agreements because the yard owners have carefully set up the terms to fit their own legal and insurance requirements, but you must understand where your responsibilities begin and where theirs end.
Likewise, make sure you get written estimates for any and all repair work that will amount to anything more than a few bucks. The days of handshake agreements are long gone.
Our costs this year will be right around the $2000 mark altogether just for six months’ worth of hauling, storage and launching. This doesn’t include the nearly $5000 worth of transmission and bottom work we’re doing. (BOAT = Break Out Another Thousand, folks.)
One cost factor you should consider is whether or not you can do your own work in the yard. Many yards do not allow you to DIY (Do It Yourself). Some, like Indiantown and Glades Boat Storage, have restrictions. At Indiantown, you cannot work on a boat in the storage area except to load or offload gear. You must first have the yard move the boat to the “work area” and reblock it before doing any repairs or maintenance work. There are extra charges for this, but at Indiantown, they are reasonable.
Likewise, if you want to hire contractors to work on your boat, you need to understand if the yard allows outside contractors or if you must use the yard’s own shops. Some yards, like Indiantown, have insurance requirements that contractors must meet before they can work in the yard.
You should also consider slip rent or the equivalent since you may have a day or two of loading/unloading activity when the boat is in the water. It always takes us a few days of reorganizing, provisioning and loading the boat once it’s back in the water. Some locations like Indiantown have transient slips. Others like Glades do not.
Convenience to shopping, boat supplies, food, sailmakers, diesel mechanics, etc., may also influence your decision. Both Glades and Indiantown are a considerable drive away from much in the way of provisioning or marine gear. Once the boat is launched at Indiantown, we like to take a mooring at Southpoint Anchorage in Stuart (just down river) because it’s especially convenient to shopping, marine stores and the like. It is also convenient if you don’t have a car because they have bus service and many stores within walking distance.
In most yards, like Indiantown, reservations are a must. Very few operate on a “when you show up” basis. Mainly this is because the yard has limited travel lift capability especially at key times of the year. The beginning and end of hurricane season are very busy times for the storage yards. You will need appointments for hauling, moving to work and launching. Be sure to make these reservations as far in advance as practical. Make your launch reservation when you haul out. You can always change it later if need be, but get it booked early. Some yards, like Indiantown and Glades, will require non-refundable deposits for reservations, too, especially if you’re a new rather than returning customer. A non-refundable $100 deposit will likely hold your spot.
In part II, we will discuss a check list, whether to leave your mast up or down, the engine, water tanks, holding tanks, dinghy, sails and canvas, batteries, antennas, deck gear, blocking your boat, jack stands, and tie-downs.