Hurricane season in the Atlantic is a tough time for cruisers as they navigate both potential wild weather patterns and insurance coverage limitations that keep them away from some of their favorite offshore passages and island locations.
While a hurricane can form at any time of year, the highest risk is from June until November, which is when most insurance companies insist you follow your sailing bliss to places outside the Caribbean.
The following should not be considered insurance advice. Be sure you fully understand all aspects of your coverage and consult with your insurance agent if you have any questions.
Insurance Rules: Know Your Policy
Be sure to reference your own insurance policy to confirm what is and what is not covered.
“Most insurance policies have a strict navigational date restriction which clearly defines the areas you may and may not go during certain dates during hurricane season,” says Hugo Hanham-Gross of the Hanham Insurance Agency, which specializes in boat, yacht and aviation coverage.“ Being outside of your navigational allowance during certain dates can void your policy completely, so be sure you fully understand your insurance navigational allowance.”
Your policy also may have very specific language about how you must store and protect your boat if you live in a hurricane risk zone and store your boat near home, so read the policy carefully and have a plan.
A "named storm exclusion" in your policy rarely excludes damage from non-storm causes. If you hit a rock while inside your insurer’s storm zone during hurricane season, the company should cover the damage — as long as you weren't in the middle of a hurricane or a named storm when you hit the rock. Always be sure to reference your insurance policy though.
The 12 Degrees and 40 Minutes° North Rule
Keeping boaters off the water from Florida to Maine all summer is impossible, but the Caribbean is another story. Cruising during hurricane season there will subject you to navigation restrictions.
Although hurricanes have hit Trinidad, there has not been a truly massive and devastating strike. Prevailing wind and weather patterns push storms north, limiting their effect. Insurance companies often use 12 Degrees and 40 Minutes North as the hurricane limit. They write named storm coverage around this line of latitude and require you to be south of it to get coverage.
So if your boat gets caught in a named storm north of 12 Degrees and 40 Minutes, you may not have coverage. Check your policy carefully, as every insurer writes the rules differently, and you may get another degree or two of latitude to travel or be able to store your boat there out of the water.
Enjoying the Season up North
If you're on the East Coast of the U.S., the further north you go, the lower your chances of encountering a hurricane. Many cruisers favor southern New England and points north all the way to Maine. Any storm that makes it that far north has usually spent most of its fury.
When you head north, always pay attention to the weather and the availability of relatively safe "hurricane holes." Here are two such locations:
Vineyard Haven, MA
Of the three large towns on Martha's Vineyard, Vineyard Haven has the most eclectic mix of artistic shops and distinctive dining. Though the harbor is louder with ferry traffic, it provides a great base to visit the rest of the island. Rental moorings inside and outside the breakwater are available with a reservation, and you can anchor along the edge of the West Chop mooring field. Slips are available but limited.
Ashore, you'll find plenty of dining options with a broad range of cuisine. Vineyard Haven is a dry town, but fortunately, you can bring your own wine into most restaurants. During the day, stroll down the main street and poke into some shops, or if you want a little nightlife, hop on a MTA bus or taxi for a ten-minute ride to Oak Bluffs.
Marblehead is a classic New England waterfront town with quaint history, charm, and a distinct nautical bent. It's one of three harbors in a cluster north of Boston, with access to nearby Salem and Beverly. Though Marblehead is a busy place with many boats moving in and out, you can find moorings and limited dock space to get ashore and explore the local shops and restaurants.
Sunset at Fort Sewall is a highlight, as are parks around the harbor. If you need service or supplies, you'll find plenty of options and several well-stocked chandleries. It's best to book your dates in advance, as there is little room to anchor. Moorings are available through the harbormaster and three yacht clubs - Boston, Eastern, and Corinthian. If you belong to a club of your own, check for reciprocal privileges.
Southern Storm Strategies
Cruisers in the Leeward Islands view the 12°N barrier as more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule. Because the sailing distances between islands are short, it's common for cruisers to venture outside the "safe" zone with one eye on the weather and the other on their distance from the safe zone. This makes Grenada one of the most popular places to spend the hurricane season.
This is an enormous gathering spot for cruisers during hurricane season. Only a ninety-mile sail to Trinidad and latitude 11°N, it's comfortable to settle in for the season and watch the weather. The southern coast of Grenada has the most popular anchorages and cruisers set up for long stays in Prickly Bay and Mt. Harman Bay.
Local restaurants and marine businesses welcome cruising sailors and cater to the community. If a storm builds offshore, you won't miss it - news will ripple through the community and the daily cruiser's nets right away.
Known as the "Spice Island," there's plenty to do in Grenada. Natural beauty abounds, and guides and taxi drivers will arrange outings to national parks, waterfalls, chocolate plantations, rum distilleries and other attractions. One highlight of the season is Carnival, a loud and colorful celebration of music, dance, and pageantry held the second week of August. Officially, it's two days of festivals, but the buildup happens throughout the summer and the weekend before, so get anchored off St. George's early!
Trinidad’s geography, population, and biodiversity set it apart from most of the Windward and Leeward islands. Thousands of years ago, Trinidad was connected to South America in what is now Venezuela. As a result, the island is populated with many species of birds, mammals, lizards and butterflies from the mainland jungles. It's a popular destination for birdwatchers and nature lovers. You may even hear howler monkeys from your boat at night.
Trinidad society is a diverse, rich mix of East Indian, indigenous native, African, and other cultures. Holidays are a big deal. With major Christian, Hindu and Muslim populations, there's almost always a big celebration coming up. And it's common for everyone to join friends and family on almost every holiday, regardless of faith or culture. Trinidad is also known for its spectacular Carnival, but that's the week before Lent, so you won't catch it in hurricane season.
Visiting yachts gather in Chaguaramas, with plenty of services if you need them. You can cruise Trinidad and Tobago in your Leopard or see the island with land-based tours that allow you to taste the local cuisines, see the wildlife, or join a Diwali celebration. There's plenty to keep you busy while the storms blow themselves out up north.
Enjoy the Season - with an Eye on the Weather!
Whether you choose to head north or south for the Atlantic hurricane season, there are plenty of fantastic places to explore and enjoy. Make a plan, keep an eye on the weather and enjoy those waterfalls in Grenada or fine dinners on Martha’s Vineyard. You’ll be back in the Caribbean before you know it.