Galveston - Salvaging after Ike

Galveston Yacht Basin after Hurricane Ike passed through
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Technically, Cliff Rodrigue’s offshore boat is still tied to the same dock where he left it before Hurricane Ike roared ashore. But now, the dock and Rodrigue’s boat, Hot Sauce, are resting on the shoulder of Interstate 45, yards away from the marina.

Rodrigue, who bought the boat six months ago, had never gotten a chance take it for a spin.

Across the island, salvage crews are trying to move hundreds of boats from their new resting places, where they were pushed inland by Ike’s tidal surge. There are boats in roads, in yards, in parking lots, in medians and on the base of the causeway.

Working to clear the paths for rescue crews, debris removal crews unceremoniously shoved landlocked boats, worth more money than some homes, into piles along roads.

Boat salvage crews, when they were finally allowed back on the island, hastily recovered what was left.

Boats docked at Payco Marina, 501 Blume Drive, washed ashore at the base of the causeway, dragging with them pieces of pilings and piers.

State authorities told salvage crews they had until Monday to clear the wreckage before they demolished what was left, said Chris Cotter of Land and Sea Services, a boat salvage company based in La Marque.

On Saturday, Cotter’s crew worked frantically to lift luxury yachts and fishing boats to safety. They first calculated how to position a 95-ton, over-the-road crane in the ditch next to the causeway so they could safely retrieve the vessels. The crew then used shovels to dig earth from underneath the boats and slipped thick lifting straps and miniature air bags underneath the hulls.

They inflated the airbags, lifting the massive boats ever so gently from the hard ground.

Slowly and carefully, crane operators lifted the boats in their harnesses, making sure they didn’t take a violent roll to one side.

Swinging the crane, operators lowered the vessels onto waiting tractor trailers and trucked them to any available dock space. Crews spent hours trying to lift some boats.

Vessels were trucked to marinas and placed atop blocks if it seemed they could be salvaged. If they were in good enough shape to stay afloat, salvage crews set them afloat.

Most were so damaged that crews trucked them to yards and laid them on their sides so their owners could identify them and make insurance claims.

Some boat owners weren’t afforded the luxury of a last look at their prized possessions. Cotter estimated 25 percent of the boats on the island sank.

At Galveston Yacht Club and Marina, 601 N. Holiday Drive, hundreds of boats were burned in a fire that raged uncontrollably during Ike’s landfall. Many of the docked sailboats were dragged away during the storm.

'It looks like an atom bomb was dropped on this place,' said James Foley, who lives and works at the basin.

Foley, who has been working security at the basin since the storm hit, said Saturday boats were still falling off their slips into the water, leaking diesel and gasoline into the bay and sinking. Foley, who was working the front gate, tried unsuccessfully to describe the deafening 15-second crash of a boat falling into the water.

Foley had planned to ride out the storm in his boat tied to a dock at Galveston Yacht Club and Marina. He stayed until Friday morning when the water rose to his waist. He tossed his possessions into a wheelbarrow and floated to safety. He left, expecting the worst. He came back to find his boat in surprisingly good shape.

'I was just praying,' he said. 'I said: ‘Lord, this boat is yours. If you want to take it down, do it. If you want to leave it, that would be just fine.’