Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Day After Hurricane Irma

Finn sailboat crushed by floating dock section under Coconut
Grove Sailing Club clubhouse; Geoff Sutcliffe cleaning
up displaced boat racks (Click for full-size views)
Following the commotion of the night before, Sunday night after Hurricane Irma had passed was eerily quiet. Erik and I were up early on Monday, drinking coffee and discussing plans. Neither of us knew how our boats had weathered the storm but we were both anxious to find out. Whispering Jesse would be easier to check on, so we grabbed the binoculars, jumped into Erik's car, and, dodging fallen trees along US 1, drove over the Rickenbacker Causeway to a parking lot next to Marine Stadium. We saw several boats washed up on shore on our way there and it was obvious that there were now significantly fewer boats anchored out where Brian and I had anchored Whispering Jesse on Thursday afternoon. I looked out to where I thought the boat should be and she wasn't there. My heart collapsed in my chest. But I scanned more to the east and there she was, looking very much as we had left her. I focused the binoculars and saw that the lines of the secondary anchors were badly frayed and that the anchor snubber was no longer in place, though the chain on the primary anchor appeared to be holding well. The storm surge must have been tremendous, I thought, despite the shallow water and relative protection of the mangrove-covered land to windward.

There was no way for us to get out to the boat at that moment, so Erik and I headed back to his house to park the car and walk down to the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, assuming that the area around the club would still be underwater. The internet was working again and we had received an email message from Vice Commodore Geoff Sutcliffe with a schedule for the day, starting with the gate being unlocked at 8:00. As we passed the Sonesta hotel, I spotted Bruce from the sailing club sipping coffee out front. We stopped to talk with him and he told us through tears that his ketch, Algun Dia, which was secured at Dinner Key Marina, had sunk in her slip. He and his partner Susie had been liveaboards but were now homeless. A friend who owned a unit at the Sonesta had put them up there. We offered our sincere condolences and said we would meet up with him later at the club. We were early getting there, so we walked around Peacock Park to get a look at two sailboats that were washed up on shore against each other and the park pier, which was now just a pile of splinters.

Sailboat with anchor pinned to sea wall in Coconut Grove
Sailing Club yard, with displaced brand-new turf
When Juan arrived and let us in through the gate, we couldn't believe the damage. The club's floating piers were in the parking lot, along with the ice machines and huge piles of debris. Most of the club's smaller boats had been stored safely in the clubhouse's upstairs conference room, but bigger boats left in the yard had been destroyed. The most astounding thing was a good-sized sailboat washed up in the yard, with its anchor tightly pinned to the sea wall.

Geoff arrived shortly after us and announced that the first launch over to the Coral Gables Waterway, where Erik's boat was moored, would depart at 11:00. A launch to Marine Stadium would depart at 1:00. This gave us a few hours to help clean up the mess, but I was preoccupied with thoughts of Whispering Jesse. I was torn between getting her back to the club's mooring field and leaving her where she was for now, in case the other disturbances out in the Caribbean developed into future hurricanes that could threaten South Florida.

Becky in the launch next to Geoff's boat Moon Glow
at the Coral Gables Waterway
Erik and I joined a group on the launch for the 11:00 run to the Coral Gables Waterway to begin retrieving the boats tied up there. Geoff drove us there but needed someone to drive the launch back, so I volunteered. The devastation along the Waterway was unbelievable. Every boat that had been left at a pier was destroyed or sunk. Previously beautiful gardens and landscaping were completely demolished. We passed Brian's boat, Lionesse, and I took a quick photo to text to him with word that his boat was fine. Ms. Mary Lou was covered with mangrove detritus but otherwise in good shape. Erik said he would be able to get her out of the mangroves and back to the club on his own without difficulty. Geoff let off the remaining people at their boats and then arrived at his own boat, Moon Glow, where he jumped into the water and waded into the mangroves to untie his lines, leaving fellow club member Becky and me to return the launch.

Yachts sunk and tossed at Dinner Key Marina
The 1:00 launch run to Marine Stadium was crowded. By this time, I was leaning toward leaving Whispering Jesse there but I still wanted some time to check her out. I asked to be let off first and then to be picked up again on the way back. Approaching the boat, the frayed secondary anchor lines were shocking, as they appeared to be holding on by mere threads, but the strangest thing was that the top of the foredeck's dorade box had been sheared off and was lying upside down on the deck. The storm surge had been strong enough to clear the five feet between the bow and normal water level and then pound the foredeck with significant force. Opening the companionway to look inside, there was a surprising amount of disarray in the cabin. Items that had not been secured were now on the floor, and heavy things like the generator and air conditioner, which are stored on the floor along the port settee, had shifted to starboard. Everything up in the V-berth had jostled around and there were traces of salt in the corners, making me think that the boat had been through one hell of a ride. I went back on deck to pull the secondary anchor lines in past their frayed sections and resecure them, and I was trying to figure out what to do about the open dorade vent, which would leak when it rained, when the launch returned and it was time to go back to the club.

Dev Ocean, an expensive motor yacht, sunk at her slip
in Dinner Key Marina; the cabin top is blown off!
Erik had Ms. Mary Lou safely back on her mooring and was working with me again to clear the debris at the club when it was time for a second launch trip to the Waterway. I volunteered to drive back again and went with the group led by former Commodore Paul van Puffelen. The first boat we stopped at was friend Alex Perez's Nordic Spirit. She looked fine except that an older Cape Dory pilot house-style sailboat was butted bow first into her port beam, with her anchor and chain flipped onto Nordic Spirit's deck. Alex was none too happy about that, swearing as he worked with his girlfriend to separate the boats. We discovered later that the Cape Dory had been anchored near Dinner Key Marina but had somehow found its way the few miles down shore and up the Waterway to rest against Alex's boat. This was one of several inexplicable situations that were left in the wake of the storm.

By the time the other sailors had been dropped at their boats and I was returning to the mooring field, it was late afternoon and Alex and his girlfriend were already securing his boat. They waved me down for a ride in to shore, but instead of heading in, we went for a ride around Dinner Key Marina to assess the damage. The photos in this post are just a small sample of the devastation we saw and include one of Bruce and Susie's boat sunk in her slip.

Bruce and Susie's ketch Algun Dia sunk bow down
at her slip in Dinner Key Marina 
Erik had gone home to see Karen, who was finally able to leave work after almost four days, so I walked back to their place alone from the club. I offered to buy them dinner at Flanigan's, which appeared to be the only open restaurant within walking distance, having their "Hurricane Response" generators running full-out in the parking lot, but the wait was too long and we were too tired. Back home, Erik whipped up a pasta dish and we called it an early night.

During the day Monday, I had received a voicemail from American Airlines telling me that my Tuesday morning flight had been cancelled and would be rescheduled after the airport reopened later that day. This would give me extra time to move Whispering Jesse back to the mooring field if that was the right call. Talking with other sailors throughout the day, many expressed concern about theft if I were to leave the boat at Marine Stadium. Juan told me that nine club boats were missing and unaccounted for. It was unknown whether they had been blown away, sunk, or stolen. After talking it over with Erik, we agreed that the smartest plan would be to get out early on Tuesday morning and move Whispering Jesse back to safety.

Expensive fishing boats piled up and sunk at Grove Harbour
Marina; boats in racks were spared
We arrived at the club early but were told that the launches would not be available for a run to Marine Stadium until late morning or early afternoon, so Erik proposed motoring Ms. Mary Lou over there instead. A half-hour later, we were pulling up to Whispering Jesse and rafting alongside. It took some serious effort to extract the port-side secondary anchor from the deep mud and get it back aboard, including improvising a way to pull up chain using the beefy jib sheet winch. To get over to the anchor, we had eased out the starboard-side secondary anchor line, including the frayed section. When we went back to it, the few threads still left intact came apart in my hands and I watched the line sink into the muddy water, gone for good. I rationalized that a lost anchor was a small price to pay when so many others had lost everything.

The primary anchor chain came up grudgingly on the windlass and was a muddy mess, but there would be time to deal with that later. I fired up the engine, Erik jumped back aboard Ms. Mary Lou, and we motored separately back to the mooring field. Safely back on my mooring ball, I zip-tied a plastic bag over the open dorade vent up on the foredeck and straightened up the mess of lines and muddy secondary anchor in the cockpit, then caught a ride back to shore with Geoff, who was passing in the launch.

Erik drove me out to the airport in plenty of time to catch my flight home. We stood at the curb to say good-bye, shaking hands and smiling broadly at our crazy shared adventure and the tremendous good fortune that our boats had survived their first hurricane.