SAN DIEGO —Our mild SoCal climate, with temperatures in the 90s in November and 80s in December and only a hint of rain, can be deceptive, deluding us harsh winter storms will never come.
While the current long-range forecast calls for La Niña conditions with lower than normal rain, we should remember long-range weather forecasts for the last two years were wrong. Two years ago forecasters predicted a strong El Niño season, with extra rain. Arv and I altered our boating plans because of such dire predictions. After one or two strong storms, the rain petered out. Last year forecasters promised us a dry La Niña year. Instead we were pelted with “atmospheric rivers,” causing dangerous flooding and mudslides.
So, how should boaters prepare? Winterize our boats, but, unlike the full-scale winterization required in colder climes to help boats to survive hard freezes, we need to protect our vessels against high winds and heavy rains.
First and foremost, look for and seal water leaks. If you’re not sure whether your hatches and window frames are tight, take a hose and run water around them to check for possible penetration. Try a high pressure hose at different angles since sometimes near-horizontal wind-driven rain can find unexpected entry points.
Also inspect your bilge for leakage. Is there standing water? Do you know its origin? If not, track it down.
Be sure to clean out all your deck scuppers and drains to allow water to escape. Clogged drains can cause water to pool where you don’t want it and create greater problems and damage. Use a snake, spiral wire, straightened wire coat hanger or high pressure hose to clear them.
During the first storm after we bought the Burgundy we had a massive rain flow through the escape hatch above our master stateroom, soaking everything underneath. Arv discovered the hatch gasket was filthy and the drain clogged. After cleaning both and keeping the drain clear, we’ve avoided further problems.
Check your lines. Are your lines frayed? Frayed lines can snap in high or gusting winds, causing both dinghies and boats to break loose from moorings and drift onto land, float away or damage other vessels.
Don’t leave anything loose on your deck or dock that winds can pick up and blow, turning otherwise benign objects into missiles. Bring loose objects inside or tie them down.
How’s your canvas? High winds can rip holes in canvas and tear apart weak seams, something we’ve experienced repeatedly with our bimini.
Seeking tips for sailboat owners, I called Greg Coleman, service director of South Coast Yachts of San Diego and Newport Beach, a thoughtful man with broad experience overseeing maintenance for Bénéteau and many other lines of sail and power yachts. He’s a gold mine of maintenance information.
He strongly advises sailors to check their sails.
“Make sure your sails are furled correctly,” particularly the headsail and jib. “If it’s not furled straight it will catch the wind and can ruin the sail,” he explained.
For all boats he recommends topping up lead acid battery cells with water and brushing, cleaning and applying dielectric grease to the connections.
Coleman also stressed that the slower winter season is the best time to order new canvas or arrange for haul-out and fresh bottom paint.
“If you discover a problem that needs attention, the boatyard is more likely to have time to take care of it, rather than force you to return later and pay for another haul-out,” he said.
Look for more of Coleman’s recommendations for winter preventive maintenance projects in my next column.