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EXCLUSIVE: Day 2 in post-Ike Texas

Chris Landry, senior reporter for Trade Only and Soundings magazines, is in Galveston, Texas, for the second day with a BoatU.S. Marine Insurance Catastrophe Field Team reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.

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The crunching sound caused me to turn my head. A crane plopped a Pearson 36 sailboat onto a barge after pulling it from the bottom of Watergate Yachting Center on the south shore of Clear Lake, Texas.

“Salvage is not a delicate business,” surveyor Bill Ballard told me as we watched the crane place the 1988 sloop on its starboard side.

Ballard is a member of BoatU.S. Marine Insurance’s Catastrophe Field Team. He and 10 other surveyors are coordinating recovery efforts of damaged boats along the shores of Galveston Bay. It was my second day in the field with the “Cat” team.

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Moments before the Pearson was pulled, Ballard was on the phone with its owner, Jay Eckols of Missouri City, Texas. He told the sailor that his boat’s hull had been severely holed. The news confirmed what Eckols had suspected: The Pearson was a total loss.

“It’s been a part of our lives for eight years,” said Eckols, 59, who spoke to me after his conversation with Ballard. “It’s very sad to hear the news. It’ll be hard to find another boat like this. My wife and I went through a grieving process. There were tears.”

BoatU.S. has received a couple hundred claims from insured boat owners in the Houston area. The majority of the claims are from owners of boats at the marinas and yacht clubs sprinkled around Clear Lake, said Rick Wilson, the Cat team coordinator.

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Before we explored the marinas of Clear Lake, we spent two hours in Galveston. The 45-minute car ride from Houston took two hours because of a massive traffic jam caused by a check point at the entrance to the island. The snarl gave me a chance to get a good look at the boats lying on the side of Highway 45. The storm had left many in the middle of the road, but they’ve been swept aside or onto the median with cranes and other heavy equipment.

We drove to Galveston Yacht Basin on the north end of the island. Just before Ike made landfall, a boat storage shed — a “botel” — caught fire and destroyed the 300 boats inside. With emergency vehicles unable to respond because of the storm, the boats burned into melted lumps of fiberglass and bent steel.

Elsewhere, small powerboats were strewn about the basin grounds, resting upside down, on their sides … you name it.

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The majority of the vessels were still under the basin’s covered slips. Some were sunk completely, others half-submerged. Dozens had severe hull and deck damage. Rubrails and hull-to-deck joints took a beating, as did flybridges and hardtops. The storm surge lifted the boats and pinned them against the underside of the aluminum roof.

But Ike left plenty of boats nearly unscathed. “That’s the thing about this hurricane,” said Ballard. “The damage is severe but inconsistent.”

Ron Evans’ 1967 41-foot Hatteras had a broken radar radome and a bent tuna tower. “Hey, it’s floating, and I’ll take that,” said Evans, 65, who lives in Houston. “I’ve been here since last Friday, helping everyone else more than anything.”

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Chris Garver had owned his Tiara Sovran 3600 for only three weeks before Ike. The boat had been trucked 1,300 miles from Wisconsin without a scratch. “It was beautiful,” said Garver, 55, of his 2005 cruiser. “I went from being the happiest guy on the planet to being despondent. I think I cried three or four times last week.”

The Tiara’s stern was propped up on the dock, standing on its two rudders. “I’m afraid to get on it,” said Garver, who was still waiting to hear back from his insurance company, Liberty Mutual.

Early this morning, I received an e-mail from Garver. After we spoke yesterday, he hired Land & Sea Services, of LaMarque, Texas. The company was able to get the boat back in the water without damage.

“To say I am jazzed is the biggest understatement of all times,” he wrote. “I guess those prayers during and after the storm paid off.”

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Of course, it isn’t just the boat owners enduring hardship. Ike wiped out Lone Star Yacht Sales, a Bertram and Azimut dealership on the bottom floor of an office building at the Watergate Yachting Center.

“I lost my home and my office, but our boats are OK,” said dealership director Jim Hedges, who had his yachts moved to hurricane holes before the storm. “It hurts, but we’ll go on. I am looking for another location right now. I am committed to this location.”

In related news, the Coast Guard continues to reset aids to navigation in eastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana.

Click here for a Coast Guard update on waterway restrictions in the area.

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