Friday, September 25, 2020

Saving Midnight Sun III - Hurricane Sally

Hurricane Sally (landfall September 16, 2020)

I wish I was writing this post under  better circumstances, but as they say, "it is what it is".   Let me first say that Janet, Austin, and I are fine as are our dogs Salty and Annabelle.  

We had been carefully watching the development of Hurricane Sally.  This was the storm that came from nowhere, moving across Florida as a disturbance and stalling in the Gulf of Mexico.  The National Hurricane Center first gave it a track towards Louisiana, about 350 miles west of us.  But we watched as slow but sure the model runs started trending east.  Equally worrying, this was a slow moving storm - first predicted to be a Tropical Storm.  But as it moved at a snails pace over the Gulf (3 mph), it grew in magnitude and its path became unpredictable.

Here's what we got

The storm path went just east of Mobile Bay through Orange Beach and pretty much over our home which is located on Perdido Bay.  Unlike most hurricanes, this storm was a very slow mover.  Official reports to date clocked this one as 
a strong Category 2 storm.  Unofficially, we are pretty sure it was a Cat 3.  We know we had winds that lasted for over 4 hours in the 100-130mph range and on either side of that, winds in the 70+ mph range for 3-4 hours on each end.

While we were safe in our house, the noises were incredible. Wind, debris hitting the house, shingles tearing off the roof.  Of course all of this happened in the early hours of the morning and after the power blew out.  We were also watching the rising surge water.  Our floor slab is about 9.5 ft above sea level and a
4-7 ft surge was predicted.  We are on the water but on a bay about 2 miles inland from the I thought we may get 5-6 ft at the house given attenuation from the bay and time needed for water to reach us through the Perdido Pass inlet.  Well that was not the case.  We got about 7-8 ft at the house and water was 6-8 inches from flooding the house (accounting for waves).  We had water in the garage and shed with waves.  

We had moved one car to higher ground - just in case.  The 2 in the garage got wet tires, but didn't flood.  

Fortunately we had made a last minute decision to put up storm shutters and during the storm we braced the garage door with 2 x 4 timbers to prevent it from blowing in.  Strongest winds came from the east across Perdido Bay bringing waves and debris from neighbors' docks that typically run 300-400 ft into the Bay.

We were watching the boat, Midnight Sun III carefully in her slip.  I had tied her in with just about all the lines that I had - about 18 lines in total.  Our dock is very protected and perhaps one of the better spots to ride out a storm.  The boat was tied to the dock, the boathouse and trees.  She was doing very well, then with the water above the dock, and at the height of the 130mph winds, I noticed something was wrong.  With a flashlight, I could see the stern of the boat sitting up and the bow down.  It took several minutes peering in the dark with winds howling to realize that a large tree had fallen on her. With the wind noise, we didn't hear the tree go down.  It was a very stout 50+ ft high oak tree, measuring almost 4 ft in diameter at the base.  Holy crap!....but we could do nothing.  I suspect but can't confirm that we had a tornado amid the storm, and flood waters had definitely saturated the soils and loosened the tree's root structure.   On closer look the mast of the boat was gone, but the boat seemed to be pinned by the tree but floating.

As Morning Light Came

Midnight Sun III pinned by tree

Tree laying across Bows

Debris in our yard

Everyone had debris from destroyed docks

About 50 percent shingles missing from roof

View from Roof

I can't describe it in words, but to see out paradise destroyed was simply overwhelming.  Where do you start?  I remembered the old joke - how do you eat an elephant?   Answer - one piece at a time.  Two weeks earlier I had surgery for a hernia - my instructions were not to lift anything over 2 pounds for 6 weeks.So add overwhelming frustration to those feelings.

When Friends Really Count

Our phones lit up with messages from friends checking on us.  Thank you everyone for your concern.  Janet and I can't thank you all enough!
But what really was amazing was the people that showed up to help.  So I must mention them - with apologies to anyone that I miss:
  • Our daughter Helen immediately loaded up with tarps, chainsaw, gas, rubber name it; and drove down (10 hours) from Tennessee.  Then climbed on the roof with Austin (our son) and I to tar holes and place tarps.  Helen and Austin - we love you and can't imagine what we would have done without you!
  • Friend and former colleague Jeff Simons similarly drove from Birmingham and helped for 3 days.  Cutting and moving debris and anything else he could lend a hand with.  Jeff was similarly amazing - thank you so much.....words can't describe!
  • Sailing friends Larry and Tracy and their son Taylor were there despite having damage to their own boat.  They started the process of cutting away tree limbs off the boat........and many other things - thank you guys!  You are the best as always!  The job was looking too big and we needed a heavy lift, so I started the search for a crew with a crane.
  • Jared Patterson came to lend a hand with removal
  • Shaun West and Casey Kimberley arrived.......on a tractor loaned to them by Pirates Cove Bar..  now that was a true "God-send"  Shaun spent the better part of a day 
Shaun and Pirates Cove Tractor

moving and stacking debris, with help from Jeff.  Without the tractor, we would have still been moving debris.  Thank you Shaun and thank you Pirate's Cove!
  • And of course all of our neighbors helped each other where we could.  Mike, Cathy, Ron and Cindy - thank you!  But a special thank you to neighbors Paula and Kenny for allowing heavy equipment access by their driveway!
  • Pirates Cove Bar made burgers for the neighborhood and gave away beer for 2 days, despite having their bar/grill essentially destroyed.
  • The adjacent neighborhood (Stone Quarry) made BBQ for several hundred people
  • The Red Cross showed up with meals, tools, water and supplies.

Saving Midnight Sun

I worked the phones.....filing insurance claims, and trying to find a way to get the tree off the boat.  While Geico (boat insurance) were good, they would not commit to what they would pay to get the tree off.  So I took it into my own hands - it had to come off and quickly if we were going to save her. We will argue about money later!

I got a couple of tree services to quote......after sticker shock, I hired the one that had the crane available.  4 guys and a crane from Trinity Excavating worked for 2 days to remove the tree, and recover the mast from the canal.  They did it "piece by piece" (just like eating an elephant).  They caused no further damage - which was amazing!. 

 More amazingly, it seems that damage to the boat is fairly superficial.
  • no holes!
  • bent stanchions and hardware
  • scratches seem superficial
  • some damage to solar panels
  • broken mast
  • and I am sure we will find more as we get into it
  • After tree removal, it took 60 man-hours to clean off the sawdust and staining from the tree and debris.  I pressure washed her 3 times, and had to chemically clean the decks, coachroof, and cockpit.

The bottom line is - she is saved and repairable!  Midnight Sun III will sail again!  How long it will take to get a new mast from France......????  we shall see.  But our good friends at Zern Rigging are already starting the process.

Our insurance adjuster has now seen the boat and has approved us to commence estimates and repairs.  I know it will take several months, but we will get there.

Branches removed

The Root Ball

Now to start Repairs

The trunk

Mast Recovery

I will keep you posted as we make progress!.....Thank you everyone for your support and encouragement.   More to follow!

We are Thankful

Our  hearts go out to all of our friends that are in worst shape than us.  There are many.  We are thankful to be living, thankful for no injuries.  For those of you that know us, you will know that sailing and the sailing community here on the Gulf of Mexico is a huge part of our lives.  Unfortunately, about 50 percent of our sailing friends have had major damage or a total loss of their boat plus (in some cases) damage to their homes.  I will not name all the boats that have been lost, as everyone is still dealing with it in their own way.  Although they are fundamentally inanimate objects - boats have a special place in the heart of their owners.  Especially the ones that have carried their owners safely across oceans!