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What Can You Do When a Hurricane Is Coming? - PART 2

Prepared by Peter Bowyer, November 21, 2003

Alderney Marina Ltd.

Looking out the harbourside windows from the Canadian Hurricane Centre, one can see a small marina with about 50 boats: the Alderney Marina Ltd. About once each year, as hurricanes or tropical storms come near to Nova Scotia, the marina manager, John Owen, with the help of the members, "ties down" the marina to prepare for the storm. Generally, it's only a precautionary measure as a direct hit by a full-fledged hurricane is rare.

On Sunday, September 28, Mr. Owen and a couple dozen of the boat owners took matters a little more seriously. They had heard the forecasts that Juan would almost certainly make landfall near Halifax, bringing with it hurricane force winds, high waves, and a record-level storm surge. Based on their experience with past storms and armed with a lot of ingenuity and a team-work attitude, Mr. Owen and the marina members did a great job protecting their boats and docks.

Glimpsing occasionally out the window to see what people were doing to prepare, we could see a number of boat owners pulling their boats out of the water and hauling them away on trailers. More interesting, however, was the beehive-like activity with a dozen or more people stringing ropes all over the place. As John Owen described, "We created a spider web of ropes, tied the boats to the docks and the docks to the shore." But what we couldn't see was even more interesting–downright clever, actually. They extended the dock pilings with floating risers. To understand, take a look at the first picture.

Creating a spider web of ropes, tying the boats to the docks and the docks to the shore at the Alderney Marina, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Creating a spider web of ropes, tying the boats to the docks and the docks to the shore at the Alderney Marina, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Long metal pipes (pilings) are anchored into the harbour bed. The docks are attached to these pilings via chains and metal loops. As the harbour water rises and falls with each tide, the docks rise and fall, kept in place by their attachments to the pilings. Believing that the water level in the harbour was going to exceed that during Hurricane Hortense (1996), and likely come close to the all-time record water level, Mr. Owen realized that the pilings might not be high enough. He surmised that the docks could rise so high that the chains and loops would slip over the tops of the pipes, thereby freeing the docks to float aimlessly in the storm. The result would be a marina full of smashed or sunken boats, in spite of the spider web of ropes.

Bernie Dockrill, a contractor and marina member, brainstormed with Mr. Owen about a solution. Mr. Dockrill then raced away to get some lumber that was fortuitously at his home and returned with a number of 14-foot lengths of 6x6s and 8-foot lengths of 2x4s. He cut the 6x6s into 7-foot lengths, cut the 2x4s into small pieces, and nailed the 2x4s across one end of the 6x6s. Next, both men, along with some of the other members, dropped the 7-foot lengths into the open tops of the pilings. Their creations dropped down to the cross pieces. Then they waited for the storm.

The plan was simple–should the harbour waters rise above the level of the pilings (between the surge and waves it was inevitable), the chains and loops would catch the cross pieces. They expected that as the cross pieces lifted off of the pilings with the rising waters, the 6x6s would also rise, creating an additional few feet of piling and keeping the docks and boats in place. To get an appreciation of the height that the waters rose during Juan, look at the second picture. It was taken after Juan during a low tide.

Planning for a possible rise in water levels at the Alderney Marina, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Planning for a possible rise in water levels at the Alderney Marina, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Before looking at the third picture, look again at the other two and notice the trains in the background along the Dartmouth shoreline. Now look at what happened at that shoreline during Juan. (Note: the Canadian Hurricane Centre is located atop the tall building in the background).

Trains along the Dartmouth shoreline, after Hurricane Juan
Trains along the Dartmouth shoreline, after Hurricane Juan

Had no action been taken, the docks and boats likely would have suffered a fate similar to that of other marinas in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Mr. Owen said that during the height of the storm the waters rose to the tops of the pilings, but waves continuously pushed water above them. Because of the mitigative action, only the outer row of docks broke up, none of the boats sank, and at least 75 percent of the boats escaped damage altogether.

Alderney Marina is a small commercial marina and not a club. In spite of this, the boat owners feel a sense of proprietorship and are always ready to assist with any projects. Preparing for the hurricane was big project. On the night of Juan, many of them weathered the storm at the marina.

It's amazing how a bit of lumber and a lot of ingenuity can go a long way to saving hundreds of thousands (or perhaps, millions) of dollars.

Well done Mr. Owen, Mr. Dockrill and the members of the Alderney Marina Ltd.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank George Parkes of the Atlantic Storm Prediction Centre for bringing to my attention the effective mitigative actions taken by the Alderney Marina Ltd.

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