Riding out “Irma” in Fort Lauderdale, FL

Riding out
| by Diane Kohlhaas

Written and submitted by: Garry Hubbard owner  “let it Bee” a 2017 Offshore 80 Pilothouse

The first thing that I thought when the local weather guy said the words “Hurricane Irma” was what a weak name for a storm (no disrespect to any Irma’s in the world).  Turns out that there was nothing weak about Irma at all!

 

We are the Hubbard’s and are docked in the Marina Bay Marina several miles up New River in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and by all accounts one of the few “Hurricane Holes” in this area.  Apparently, the marine insurance companies like this area and it must have been true because for 4 days prior to Irma’s arrival, literally hundreds of boats tried to get into the place that was already at capacity.  The whole upper New River was packed with yachts of all sizes including several 200 footers and a host of 100+ footers.  Our new 80 Offshore Pilothouse “let it Bee” has just been commissioned and apart from several sea trials, we have only been on a short trip to the Bahamas, cut short by the news that Irma was heading to the Islands.

 

My wife Libby and I were in a dilemma, do we leave or do we stay?  Each day as we removed all loose items; cushions, covers, antennas, flags etc.… we kept saying maybe we should just drive North.  Each day however, the forecast showed a spaghetti map of potential paths for Irma and all of them went North in Florida somewhere.  Not a lot of comfort!  Flying out was not possible either as the flights were completely sold days before Irma’s arrival.  Locals were saying that any surge in the New River area would be limited by the constraints of the river (probably why it is so popular) and it would be okay to stay.

 

Sixteen roles of tape and voluminous amounts of shrink wrap later, “let it Bee” looked like it did when it came off the delivery ship!  Libby and I had wrapped everything in tape and shrink wrap to protect from the forecasted 130 mph winds.  The process was tiring to say the least and the mental anguish was starting to take its toll on me and my grown kids were questioning my judgement.  Isn’t it amazing how smart your kids become all of a sudden? Now we are the ones listening to well thought out logic!  Pretty annoying when the logic is correct!  I eventually in a “Dad tone”, told them we will be just fine and that they would have to listen to the stories generated from this for the rest of their (our) lives.

 

So, it’s now “contact” (as a local weather guy termed) minus two days (Friday) and spaghetti maps abound. “Will it go to the west or east coasts?” was the most commonly heard refrain.  The most likely now was the push to the Keys and the west “but it could change again” they say depending on which TV channel you were watching.  Bolstered by the kids, Libby had gradually developed this uneasy “smile” that basically said, if I get hurt in this, it’s all your fault idiot!  Such a comforting thought.

 

Now my attention was on the tying down procedure with double the normal lines and fenders (then added two more just in case).  I used four industrial 4” shackles with chafe guards to secure the boat with heavy chain directly to the floating dock with the lines at strategic points along the boat.  This was immediately copied by most of the other boat owners, causing a run-on shackles in the local hardware stores!  Eventually I realized I had done everything that I could.

“Contact” minus one (Saturday) and Irma’s path was now very likely to hit the western side of the state of Florida.  “Hey don’t let your guard down” the weather guys said, “It is twice the width of Florida and we are going to take a beating no matter where it goes.”  That turned out to be quite true!

 

“Hey they have re-opened the marina restaurant and bar for a few hours” said two good friends who had offered to put us up in their well-built and storm shuttered condo right off the marina, where we could have seen “let it Bee” if it wasn’t for a large Golden Rain Tree in the way.  So here we are in a storm shuttered restaurant with only two staff, eating a great blackened Mahi sandwich with Irma several hours away and already the outer bands were starting to buffet the area.  It was a bit surreal, especially as word of the open restaurant got out and half the marina residents were now in attendance.  There was a kind of kindred high spirit among all of us about to go through something none of us could define for sure!

 

Saturday evening, we moved off the boat and went to stay in the condo with our friends.  We watched the wind slowly increase and the never-ending reports from reporters so desperate to find something to talk about they were standing anywhere that the wind was blowing hard (but really was only 20 to 25 mph).  Eventually off to bed for a somewhat uneasy sleep for 4 hours until about 0500 when I heard our friends dog bark and went into the lounge to find them both staring at the Golden Rain Tree swaying pretty violently in the now 50 mph sustained winds with higher gusts.

 

Good time to check “let it Bee,” so off I went assisted by my friend Geoff to check her out.  She was doing just fine.  I adjusted a few of the lines they were not doing much to take some strain off the ones that were doing more.  Retied a fender or two and looked around my neighbor’s boats and did the same thing.  One of them was a 115 foot Hargraves motor yacht, the others an 80 foot Horizon and a 63 foot Bertram Sport Fish.  All appeared to be doing well so back to the dry shelter of the condo.  Then at 0830 the wind started picking up and gusts were easily in the 60 mph range until some kind of micro burst occurred and down comes the Golden Rain Tree straight onto the condo we were in, followed by the power going out in a big green flash.  The tree had lodged awkwardly on the roof lines and had pushed into the next floor down below.  Like all good males who were bored to tears, it presented us with something to do.  So, several of us gathered around the tree with various ideas as to what should be done.  Eventually after some amusing attempts with small saws and hacksaws a friend showed up with a real chain saw and down came the tree, all across the road but clear of the condos.  Another reason to check the boat, so here we go again and still no real issues as the myriad of lines and fenders were still doing the job.  I went aboard to check for leaks and found nothing.

 

Jumping ahead to noon on Sunday and now Irma was showing some teeth, gusts of well over 80 mph and a constant heavy rain.  We stared out of the window at “let it Bee” (we could see her clearly now that the tree was gone) and she was secure but getting buffeted by the never-ending gusts and rain bands.  Later and much to my wife’s dismay, I felt I should check her again and off I went to check.  As I was standing on the aft deck one of the cleats on the dock sheared off and the cleat and line fell into the marina water which was now at high tide and maximum surge.  I grabbed the line retrieved the cleat and undid it.  I retied the line to another cleat close by but noticed that the wind was putting a lot of pressure on the two (upwind) boats and “let it Bee” and the 80 Horizon (both downwind) were being pulled away from the dock.  My lines were at the end of their shear strength and a couple of times I thought surely, they would give way.  The whole dock was now curving by at least 8 feet and two of the section joints had sheared off the holding plates, creating a disconcerting cheese shaped wedge in the dock joints themselves.  My mind was racing as to what I could possibly do and ended up using spare lines to tie the two sides together.  Not sure if that actually did anything but made me feel better!  I got back to the condo (and the look from Libby) and we witnessed the intensity slowly increase.  Over the next three hours I truly thought that after 4 years of looking for, planning, designing, constructing and commissioning this beautiful yacht, I would be showing some faceless insurance adjuster the anchor light sticking out of the 40 foot deep marina, but she was still hanging in there!

Out I went again later, this time with Geoff and we checked the dock that was now alarmingly bending under the strain.  The boats were okay (except my 1 ¼” bow lines were now about ½” diameter), but there was nothing I could do about it now.  Geoff pointed to a large modern boat down two docks that had severed its stern lines and was being held only by its spring and bow lines.  Geoff and I took off to save the day and were met by another good guy, Ralph and Bob appearing from inside his docked 30 footer who was riding it out.  I managed to get aboard the modern boat and found an unused line and threw it to the guys on the dock.  By some miracle, we managed to get the boat safely back into the dock again (that guy owes us a beer).  The remainder of the afternoon was much the same, except the roof of a marina yard building across from us let go and made a terrific sound that startled everyone.  Bushes and trees were down everywhere.  With no power, we listened to a portable radio and could hear about the destruction from the reporters who finally had something real to talk about!

 

As Sunday evening came, the winds, while still with strong gusts, were subsiding and there were fewer off them.  “let it Bee” and all the boats on our dock were still there but I noticed that the 115 Hargreaves had something not quite right about her.  Upon inspection, a storage locker door on her port bow had let go and had torn the brackets right out of the structure.  It weighed about 300lbs and I tried to secure it but no luck.  At least it was jammed and still on the boat.  Around 19:30, because we were running a generator. I turned on the TV in the boat’s salon and low and behold the Cowboys’ game was on (we live in Dallas normally).  Geoff and I watched some of that before we saw Ralph running towards us waving his flashlight.  The dock next to ours with four large yachts tied to it, was sinking!  My biggest concern was where would the boats go if the lines snapped under the weight of the sinking dock?  Without pumps we could do nothing and the wind was still gusting to 40 mph.  I called the dock master who was stuck in his building by fallen trees and there was a curfew on the roads even if he could have gotten out.  We slowly watched the dock slip down and the strain on the lines of two of the yachts increase but by some miracle the boats’ lines held and the dock, although now underwater, just sat there.

 

I had started my main engines in case I had to get free and away from the yachts that would have blown into to us.  I did not really know where I was going to go but sitting and watching the “let it Bee” get crushed was not going to happen.  Finally, at 0300 I felt comfortable that the other boats would continue to hold the dock and went to sleep on “let it Bee”.  Libby was still in the condo (she’s the smart one) and the power had somehow come back on, so she was more comfortable.

 

The next morning, we all surveyed the mess that was once our little community.  The dock next door was still being suspended by the boat lines, our dock had straightened a little, as the winds had all but subsided.  Trees and bushes were down everywhere and most of the parking structures and awnings had collapsed.  Luckily, we had all put our cars in the Fort Lauderdale airport garage on the seventh floor.  “let it Bee” had come through with zero damage (except for the two bow lines that were retired with honor!).  No one in our community was hurt or took any major structural damage to their homes.  Unfortunately, others in the Fort Lauderdale area took a greater beating and the inevitable loss of life occurred.  The poor Keys and West Coast took the brunt of Irma and it truly wreaked havoc there.  I can only think that if Irma had come over us in the same way she did over the Keys and the West Coast, I am not sure the boat or any of us would have made it.

Now I look back and think it was probably not the sensible thing to do, to go out and retie the lines and check on the other boats, but at the time it seemed to be the right thing to do.  It’s very easy to read this and agree with Libby that I am probably a complete bonehead, but I never once thought that I was in any personal imminent danger.  The other guys felt the same.  During the sustained 100+ mph winds we stayed in the condo but I would have thought differently about venturing out in the 130-150mph gusts they took in the Keys and on the West Coast.

 

Now it’s all over and we have removed the tape and wrap and replaced the cushions and covers and all is right with the world, as far as the boat is concerned.  The region however, is still struggling and could really use some help so please contact the Red Cross and donate something to help these folks!  There are some really great and decent people here that are struggling!

 

Thanks,

 

Garry Hubbard

“let it Bee”

Offshore 80 PH