Published – Southern Boating
©2015 – All Rights Reserved – Troy Gilbert
“I’ve got ¾ inch nylon lines that I use for storms and the boat gets so much pressure on it with the ropes getting so tight that they become like piano wires. The lines were actually sawing through the boat in places and they started moaning.”
Dennis Raziano rode out Hurricane Katrina onboard his 34-foot liveaboard oyster boat in the Orleans Marina in New Orleans’ West End. “I was taught many years ago to never leave the boat. Even if it’s floating down the highway – you never leave the boat.”
The miserable and dangerous adventure Raziano and a few other brave souls went through on their boat in New Orleans during and after the storm was ill advised, but a decade after the storm slammed into the Mississippi Coast and the aftermath of the levee failures in New Orleans – their stories are now legend.
A total of 18 of the 33 Gulf Yachting Association’s member clubs and many more marinas were either destroyed or severely damaged from New Orleans to Pensacola and untold thousands of recreational sailboats, powerboats and commercial craft were lost – tossed into homes and scattered throughout the streets and marshes. However, a decade after the storm, the Gulf Coast has rebuilt with new state-of-the-art marinas and towering yacht clubs, and is primed to host national and world championship regattas, fishing tournaments, boat shows and is again home to a resurgent commercial fishing industry
The resilience of the boating community during the darkest days following Hurricane Katrina was demonstrated early when Southern Yacht Club of New Orleans held their 156th Closing Regatta on Lake Pontchartrain within 60 days of the storm’s landfall. Thirty-six boats competed, many showing battle scars, and nearly 300 people celebrated defiantly in the shadow of the club’s burned out husk, overlooking ravaged marinas and enormous swaths of their surrounding city, region and individual homes lying in waste.
Melted within the wreckage of the club were countless trophies and artifacts earned from over a century and a half of racing including four trophies presented to Southern YC by Sir Thomas Lipton in the early 1900’s – one of which was graciously restored by the Lipton Tea Company using the original London silversmith. In the days following the storm, it was easy to find 100 year old trophies and plaques lying among the flotsam and jetsum along the lakefront levees – all looking like they had been mangled and ground up in a sink disposal.
On the Mississippi Coast nearly 1,000 new or rebuilt slips have been constructed or rebuilt and the coast’s boating community heavily invested in their junior sailing programs. Gulfport YC’s longtime Sailing Director, Sam Vazquez, was involved from day one, “Within a few months after the storm, we had our junior’s racing up in Atlanta on borrowed Opti’s. By the next summer we had repaired or replaced our fleet of Opti’s, Vanguards, 420’s and Scots and had restarted our sailing camp with 120 kids.”
“We made the kids a priority, because we had to.” Vazquez adds, “These Katrina Babies are the future of the sport not only in Mississippi, but on the entire Gulf Coast.”
In the heart of New Orleans’ recreational boating district of West End, the venerable Southern YC has a massive new 30,000sf facility and along with neighboring New Orleans YC, the city has been host to multiple national and world championship regattas since the storm. West End with her acres of oak-lined greenspaces and spectating sites is again an ideal boating and regatta venue that had West End selected to host to the 2nd National Sailing Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony in 2011 and as the likely host site for the U.S. Olympic Sailing Trials until the storm forced the pulling of the bid.
However, the large 600+ slip Municipal Yacht Harbor in New Orleans remains the glaring standout. Still sitting unrepaired and without utilities, the management board and the city remain in dogged negotiations with FEMA for rebuilding funds. While waterfront dining has returned adjacent the half empty marina, the local boat business continue to suffer and the management board is now fielding calls from their counterparts in the Northeast that were affected by superstorm Sandy and who are seeking advice on how to navigate the laborious FEMA process.
The recovery has been slow and tedious, and is remarkably still ongoing a decade out from the storm, but the results when complete are re-energizing this large and very boating oriented coastline. New Orleans and the Northern Gulf Coast have endured everything from catastrophic hurricanes to oil spills, but the strong boating heritage, culture and its necessary infrastructure will continue its resurgence.
~ More Post-K storm photos can be found HERE.
~ Photos of the current (2015) state of New Orleans’ Municipal Harbor can be found HERE.
~Mississippi’s marina reconstruction photos can be found HERE.