March is almost upon us, and with it comes New Caledonia’s big cyclone month. We have been very, very lucky up until now; only Cyclones June and Ian have come anywhere near us. But the weather has gotten rainier and rainier, and I’m reminded that the country was rocked by Cyclone Erica in March a decade ago. As Mad Eye Moody would say: constant vigilance!
The old wisdom tells us that, in a storm, a boat is safer at sea than in a harbor. And I can see the point: there is less to hit out there. But, as the sad story of the Bounty shows, being out at sea isn’t always the greatest strategy. Even if it were, I’m not about to sail Papillon out of the lagoon or into the mangroves every time the weather looks dicey. So how are we going to get by in the marina without coming out the other end looking like a crumpled bit of aluminum foil?
I’ve talked about stripping the decks, securing lines, taking down sails and so on. Standard stuff. And, while cyclone season is new territory for us, the marina didn’t open yesterday. They’ve been through this before, and they have plans. When we first entered the marina back in December, the lady at the desk handed me a set of instructions. In translation, the title was: “Cyclone Alert. Your boat is your wealth – help us preserve it.” Well, I can’t argue with that.
The marina plans distill down to this: put out lots of fenders, shuffle back from the dock a few meters, and tighten up your cyclone lines. And what, you ask, are cyclone lines?
Cyclone lines connect your stern to a chain that runs along the ground below the dock behind you. But, of course, you aren’t allowed to use any old line from the lazarette. Goodness, no! That would be far to inexpensive. It must be nylon line in excellent condition. No polypropelyne or other floating line (sensible). No low-stretch lines (also sensible). Erik and I looked through the pages of tables and descriptions, and discovered we needed two 80m lines of at least 22mm diameter. (Don’t bother looking up what that costs. You would have a heart attack, and then I’d feel bad. Just have a good shiver as you imagine the contents of your wallet floating away into the ether, and you’ll get the idea.)
(If you look at the picture above, the knot we are all supposed to use is labelled “2 tours morts”, which literally means two dead turns. To my eye, it looks like a round turn finished with a bowline. I couldn’t find the knot in my “Ultimate Encyclopedia of Knots and Ropework” (G. Budworth), but I would love to know the proper name of this knot in English. If anyone knows, please leave a comment.)
Lines in hand, it was time to tie them into the chains. The marina prefers you use one of the licensed divers on their list, and I can’t say I objected. Marina water is best avoided. Aside from the risk of electrocution, the water is just plain yucky. Fuel residue, marine growth, and (despite everyone’s best efforts) blackwater discharge all steer me towards a big “no, thanks”.
But the divers here are made of sterner stuff than I am. On the appointed day, our man gamely jumped in the water, tied everyone’s lines into the chain, scooped his stakes and eased on down the road. Not a bad gig if you don’t mind the ear infections. And our pricey cyclone lines settled happily down onto the mud and began to blend into the ecosystem.
|Tying knots for a living.|
After the line-tying deadline had passed, the marina checked out all of the boats. One happy Saturday in December, we were all required to stay aboard and tighten our cyclone lines while the staff came by to check our names off the list.
|Making sure everyone is tied up and ready for the worst.|
We are tied up, our neighbours are tied up, and we all hope that is the end of it. So far, only the girls have gotten any fun out of the cyclone lines. Indy and Stylish quickly discovered that tiny crabs like living in the algae that grows on the first few inches of line below the waterline. So they draw the lines up every now and again to play with the crabs.
Hopefully that will be all the exercise those lines get this year until May, when we can pay our friendly neighbourhood diver to untie them from the chain again. A boring cyclone season is a good cyclone season.