Chris Landry, senior reporter for Trade Only and Soundings magazines, spent three days in Galveston, Texas, with a BoatU.S. Marine Insurance Catastrophe Field Team reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. This is his third and final dispatch. Look for a complete report in the November issue of Trade Only.
Packed in a small, one-bed hotel room, eight burly marine surveyors — members of the BoatU.S. Catastrophe Field Team — adjourn their 7 a.m. meeting. They’re eager to get to their assigned marinas and yacht clubs around Galveston Bay, where boats beat up by Hurricane Ike await inspection.
Before they depart, the public relations people want to take a group photo. They gather in front of a tree on the hotel grounds.
“All right, everyone say ‘salvage,’ ” announces photographer Terri Parrow, the BoatU.S. Internet guru who’s documenting the team’s efforts to assess BoatU.S.-insured boats. Parrow and Scott Croft, the assistant vice president of public affairs, have been shuttling me around hurricane-damaged zones for three days.
At 8 a.m. Wednesday — our final day here — we pile into the car and head to a field between a patch of oil refineries and the highway.
This 4-acre makeshift boatyard serves as BoatU.S.’s home for damaged vessels, some that may beyond reviving. It’s a graveyard for boats, really — one that’s infested with jumbo mosquitoes and hungry fire ants. BoatU.S. will sell the boats to an auction company, which will then sell them to the highest bidders. Only eight vessels have been dropped off so far — six sailboats and two powerboats.
Ted Lemmond Jr. heads up the boat-transportation operation. With three hydraulic trailers and three towing trucks, Lemmond expects to haul more than 100 boats to this site when all is said and done. He will spend the next 45 days here. I hope he is paid well, I thought, as I swatted mosquitoes off my calves and then discovered a small army of fire ants on my shoes.
After two fire-ant bites, I’m ready to leave, as are Parrow and Croft. Our destination is the Houston Yacht Club in Shoreacres, which has received major media attention because of the severity of damage to its boats and property.
Ike completely destroyed the first floor of the clubhouse, where showers, restrooms and offices are housed. The restaurant and ballroom on the second floor suffered some damage but are in relatively good shape, said club general manager Ross Tuckwiller.
“Yeah, we got hit hard,” Tuckwiller said. “Some people say we’re through, but we’re not. We’re going to have a better facility than before the storm.”
It’s too early to put a dollar amount on damage that Ike did to the 110-year-old club, said Tuckwiller. About 80 percent of the docks need to be completely rebuilt; the other 20 percent will need significant repairs, too, he said. Though the club has insurance, “it won’t cover everything, like this road,” said Tuckwiller, referring to the paved pier we walk over. Ike peeled the pavement off the surface, now covered with hundreds of stones that once surrounded the pier perimeter.
The club has 350 wet slips positioned along two piers. Roughly a third of the 250 boats that are kept here — about half power, half sail — were moved before the storm, said Tuckwiller.
Most of the boats that stayed were torn from their docks and deposited onto the shore or the club grounds — on the grass, in the parking lot, smashed against the pier rocks. Some sank.
Tuckwiller couldn’t say exactly how many boats were damaged. The club faces east and is exposed to Galveston and Trinity bays. A sea wall consisting of wood pilings, which appears to be about 4 feet above the water, was no match for the storm surge.
John S. John, 54, walks back to his car after checking on his 26-foot Grampian. The sailboat is in the club parking lot on its starboard side. “They want $150 a foot to remove the boat,” said John, who lives in Nassau Bay, Texas. “That’ll be more than the boat is worth.” (He estimates its value at $3,500.) “This is a disaster,” he said. “This could be it for my boat.”
John cancelled his insurance policy two years ago. The premium was $1,000 a year. “Insurance rates get so high, you wonder if it’s worth it,” he said.
John and his wife, Susan, came to the club the night before Ike made landfall. They doubled-up new 5/8- and 3/4-inch lines to secure the boat. “The water was already thigh-high,” said John, a naval architect for a commercial design company. “The surge was 14 feet. There was nothing we could have done.”
Surveyor Fred Wright has inspected all but one of the 25 boats he is responsible for at the club. “There’s one Catalina we haven’t found yet,” said Wright. He has just finished inspecting another Catalina, a 25-footer.
“It’s not repairable for its insurable amount,” said Wright. The boat’s mast is bent, its hull-to-deck joint torn apart, the rails mangled into pretzel shapes.
“Repairing a hull-to-deck joint increases the cost of repair dramatically,” said Rick Wilson, the catastrophe team coordinator, standing near the Catalina. “Repairing a hole in the hull is actually easier and less expensive.”
Of the two dozen boats Wright assessed, about half of them are repairable, he said.
Most of the wrecked boats I have seen are sailboats. I walk to the end of the south pier to check out two motoryachts and a big Sea Ray.
This pier and its docks suffered the same level of devastation as its brother to the north. The aluminum roofs that covered sections of slips were either completely blown off or ripped and dangling from pilings. The surge toppled over all of the electrical transformers and the 4-foot-tall concrete platforms they sat on.
Ike ripped the air conditioning unit off the flybridge of the 45-foot motoryacht at the end of the pier. It hangs off the starboard side along with a gaggle of wires from the upper helm station.
A similar motoryacht in the next slip suffered severe damage to its hull-to-deck joint. The starboard side pilothouse windshield is blown out, but the boat is still afloat.
The Sea Ray 480, however, is not. Only its flybridge and foredeck are visible. A small Texas flag lay on the flybridge hardtop, still attached to the bent-over anchor light pole.
Back at the yacht club, employees are busy cleaning. “We’re going to have a shrimp boil on Saturday,” said Tuckwiller.