Guy Davenport is a Brunswick Corp. employee living in Florida and working at Boston Whaler. Not long ago he lived in Houston, and during Hurricane Harvey his old neighborhood was forced to evacuate.
After the floodwaters overwhelmed Houston and surrounding suburbs, many boat manufacturers, including Lowe Boats (another Brunswick company), sent equipment and personnel to the devastated areas to help.
“As someone who knows so many people in need in Houston, my heart swells to know that the kind, hardworking folks in Lebanon, Mo. (Lowe’s hometown) have sent those roughnecks down south,” Davenport wrote in an email to his fellow Brunswick employees. On behalf of those currently trapped in inundated areas, thank you!”
Davenport continued saying that many friends and family were waiting in their homes with no path out except by boat, so the Lowe Roughnecks were welcomed. “I have never been more proud to be a member of the Lowe family,” Davenport wrote in a separate email.
Ben Cast, the president of Lowe in southwest Missouri, says his company sent boats down to its Houston dealer, Captain Kirk’s Marine, which is run by Glen Kirk and his son, Troy. They gave up every boat on their lot to the rescue effort, and because the dealership is just outside the flooded area, it could receive product and dispatch boats to help rescue stranded flood victims.
On Aug. 28, Lowe scrambled three truckloads of aluminum fishing boats (12 in total) ranging from 16 to 20 feet. “We put props and batteries on these things,” wrote Lowe president Ben Cast in an email to Trade Only. “Literally all they had to do is put gas in them and drive away.”
Lowe was not alone, as companies throughout the marine industry stepped up to help. Bass Pro Shops sent more than 80 Tracker boats to government agencies, including police, fire and rescue teams.
Bass Pro Shops has seven retail locations and boating centers in Texas, including three in greater Houston. The company is supporting affected associates through its Bass Pro Cares Fund, which provides support for team members in terms of critical living expenses in times of devastating need. Additionally, Bass Pro Shops donated $40,000 worth of relief supplies.
The contributions supported Convoy of Hope, a Springfield, Mo.-based humanitarian organization and the American Red Cross.
Mercury Marine provided numerous engines and rigid hull inflatables to the relief efforts and worked closely with area Mercury and Brunswick dealers, says Brunswick spokesman Daniel Kubera.
Gus Blakely, vice president at Suzuki Motors of America, says the company was in touch with all of its Houston-area dealers to make sure they were OK. The dealers that were outside the flooded region donated boats, motors and time to the rescue effort. Additionally, Suzuki’s motorcycle division provided ATVs. Suzuki also provided outboards for Carolina Skiff boats that were on their way to Ron Hoover Marine to help with relief operations. Hoover has three dealerships in greater Houston and locations in Corpus Christi, Donna, Rockport and San Antonio, Texas.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association ranked Texas second behind Florida for total new boat, engine and accessory sales, at $1.4 billion in 2016. Additionally, there are about 573,000 registered boats in the Lone Star State.
The NMMA, a member of the National Association of Manufacturers, says NAM recommends that its member companies that want to help do so through the American Red Cross.
Marine industry companies that couldn’t directly provide equipment for the rescue efforts were helping to raise money for the victims. West Marine made an initial pledge of $5,000 to the American Red Cross and followed that with a pledge to match 100 percent of donations made by all West Marine associates. Additionally, West Marine Pro Team members and stores in the affected area have been helping with recovery efforts.
Suntex Marinas, which is based in Dallas, is collecting donations for relief efforts from employees, members and customers through YouCaring.com. Suntex also planned to donate 10 percent of all marine center sales made during the Labor Day weekend to local relief efforts. To coordinate the donations, a social media campaign was launched with the hashtag #suntexcares.
To keep rescuers properly outfitted, Cabela’s worked with federal, state and local officials donating clothing, boats, bottled water and safety gear. Orvis encouraged people to donate waders, boots or rain jackets to its San Antonio location.
Members of the National Marine Lenders Association, including Bank of America, BB&T, SunTrust Bank and Wells Fargo are among 30 corporations donating a million dollars or more to the Harvey relief efforts. According to CNN Money, as of Aug. 27 those 30 companies have pledged an aggregate of more than $65 million, and that amount was growing.
The money certainly will help, but for members of the marina industry the ability to provide boats and engines that saved lives was more than rewarding. Jeff Wasil, emissions certification and regulatory development manager at Evinrude, says that on Aug. 28 he and some engineers at Evinrude finished some engines they had started working on Friday when they heard about Harvey’s initial landfall.
“We worked feverishly to build up some Evinrude engine models that we don’t even normally produce,” said Wasil in an email to Trade Only. “We made up some pump-jet rescue outboard engines by mixing and matching various parts around engineering and production.”
Early on Aug. 29, two members of Evinrude’s engineering team, Ric McChesney and Jerry Oliver, left for Texas. An Evinrude sales representative who lived just outside Houston, worked with the local fire department in Hardin County to arrange for boats and the custombuilt engines to be delivered.
Wasil stayed in close communication with Oliver, who had been with Evrinude for 51 years and lived through Hurricane Andrew in Florida. “He was absolutely stunned at what he saw as they got closer to southern Texas,” Wasil wrote in an email. The boat and supplies were delivered to the Hardin County Fire Department, and as soon as Oliver and McChesney pulled into the parking lot with the boat in tow, the firefighters hooked up to it with their own truck and headed out to deliver food and supplies to the local hospital, which was inaccessible except by boat.
“Listening to Jerry and Ric explain this on the phone moments after the fire department put the engine to use was very emotional, knowing how much the engine and boat were needed,” said Wasil. “This certainly made the 21-hour drive and assembly of engines and the boat worth every second.
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue.