Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Between Storms

I know I'm behind on the blog, and, really, I haven't caught up with everything else far enough yet to be posting. But we are getting so many emails and other communications asking if we are OK after the storm that it's best I get this out post haste. The short version is, yes, we're fine, and so is Vector.

Children playing in the fountain at Vendue Range a couple of days ago, as the city returns to normal.

Now is a good time to remind everyone that during these sorts of events, we update the Twitter feed more frequently, and we did post an all-clear there after the storm passed. Some readers have mentioned that they do not have Twitter, but Vector's feed is public, so anyone at all can see it. All you need to is follow the link to read the updates, no Twitter account required.

We tied off this loose tender in the parking lot the day before the storm, afraid it would float away in the surge.

After my last post here the winds increased steadily throughout the day and overnight. We ate aboard, although we noted a number of other crews headed ashore for dinner. That would include the large yacht that arrived after the marina staff had gone, tying up to the outside of the Megadock (the only yacht on the outside) in moderate winds. The crew struggled to get it to the dock, then did virtually nothing to tie up for the storm.

Parking lot, along with a half dozen vehicles, flooded at the height of the surge.

The brunt of the storm arrived Monday morning. Power went off at the docks just before 9am. We could see that it was still on ashore, in the parking lot, the Rice Mill, and the Yacht Club, so we assumed that a marina staff member had turned it off while they still could, in anticipation of the transformers and switch gear being inundated later in the day.

Another view of the lot, from the apartment tower across the street. Vector is at top center.

Winds steadily increased throughout the morning, peaking in the afternoon at about 40 knots steady with gusts registering to 60 on our anemometer. We spent the day looking out the windows at what was going on around us; during the heaviest winds, several sailboats dragged out of the anchorage near the Coast Guard Station, across the channel, and towards the lee shore. A couple of boats in the main anchorage across from the Megadock also cut loose.

Salty Mikes, the bike racks, and an unfortunate car with his brake lights on, all under water.

Damage to boats in the marina was minimal. A couple of skippers failed to remove dinghy covers which got shredded. The aforementioned yacht that barely tied up did nothing about their bimini, which steadily self-destructed throughout the storm. We saw a couple of cushions blow off boats, and we rescued three errant fenders that came loose and floated toward us.

Large yacht at the Megadock with its bimini shreding. They detached those Tide Rider steps at the last minute, too, before they rolled right off the dock edge and did more damage.

The storm surge unfortunately coincided with a high astronomical tide. The parking lot flooded, as we had anticipated, inundating several cars. A rack full of a dozen or so bicycles disappeared completely under the water. The marina office flooded to nearly three feet, and one of the ice machines came afloat and tried to escape.

Marina office under water. That's the top of a picnic table just in front of it. Ice machine at right is afloat.

That same surge, nearly four feet over normal high tide levels, allowed the boats dragging across the anchorage to make it all the way onto what would later become dry land. And those were the lucky ones; one boat sank just off the channel; it was still awash the day after the storm, well into the morning, but no one came to rescue her and down she went, with only her mast protruding to mark the hazard to navigation.

Ketch at right dragged across the anchorage and was left high and dry when the surge went out. The owner has been out trying to get it afloat. Boat at left was in the marsh already from Matthew last year; Irma floated it and then put it even further aground.

During the worst of the flooding, I wanted to go out and walk the docks, so we could see just how bad things were ashore. The wind was so strong, though, that despite our nine lines, Vector was being held a good four feet off the dock, and we had no way to safely get off the boat. We had to settle for looking around with binoculars, which I did from the flybridge, doing my best Marcel Marceau imitation.

Dock is a long way away. Black fenders attached to the boat are our usual; we attached the two red ones to the dock for the storm.

By Monday evening the storm had all but passed. The flood waters receded with the tide, Vector came back alongside the dock, and even most of the rain stopped. We walked around the marina and the parking lot surveying the damage. In addition to the shredded canvas and the boats at anchor, there were a number of tree limbs down and random items strewn about. The Sea Store had been flooded, along with Salty Mike's bar. The Rice Mill seems to have been spared.

This was a planter box at the corner of the Battery. Water pouring over the seawall to the right undermined it and carried off all the plants.

I saw video during the storm of water pouring over the seawall at The Battery, and when I rode around town this week I could see plenty of evidence of flooding in the French Quarter. East Bay Street, one of the main drags, was closed at the Custom House with a giant cleanup machine in the middle of it that's been scooping the mud off the streets.

East Bay closed. Custom House to the right; the cleanup machine is in the road.

Monday afternoon, after the bulk of the storm had passed and while the batteries were still at 75% charge, I started up the generator so we could top the batteries back up to 80% or so and run a little AC to dry things out. In very short order, our smoke alarms started blaring, and I could smell exhaust gas in the engine room. We quickly shut down the generator, followed by any non-essential electrical loads to preserve the batteries.

Limbs down in the parking lot. That standing water behind them is right where we've been parking the scooters.

Inspection revealed what I already suspected: the cast iron exhaust elbow, where seawater mixes with hot exhaust gasses to cool them down, had corroded through and was leaking raw exhaust into the engine room. We had been forewarned this would happen when we bought the boat, and shame on me for not having the spare to replace it on hand. Supply issues with the preferred cast stainless replacement had derailed a previous order and I put it on the "someday before going offshore" list.

Cast iron elbow literally broke in two in my hand as I removed it.

With no way to know when dock power would be restored, we resorted to our backup method of battery charging just before bed time, which is to run the main engine at 1200 RPM. That puts a full 100 amps or so into the batteries, the same amount that the charger does when the generator is running, albeit at a fuel penalty of a bit more than double. (As it happened, power was back on mid-afternoon Tuesday and we ran the main engine less than an hour total.)

Exhaust elbow removed. That's the heat exhanger at top right, and the exhaust outlet below it. Old hose is at lower left. Soot and rust stains tell a tale.

Tuesday was an absolutely beautiful day. By 8am the marina was a hive of activity, with the entire marina staff on board to get everything cleaned up and back in working order, as well as owners or crew of well over half the boats in the marina checking on their boats, cleaning up as needed, and removing storm lines and other measures.

I got a lift back to the Marion Park garage, adjacent to the Francis Marion Hotel and across the street from the eponymous park, and retrieved the rental car, safely ensconced on the third floor. The pay gates had been removed for the storm, making the garage free, so I paid nothing for the four nights of parking. We ended up paying for a week on a rental car that spent more than half that time in a garage, but at less that $150 it was cheap insurance if we needed to bug out.

Our first steps ashore as the storm passed. Some cars are still under water.

We used the rental car to go to dinner in West Ashley, and I was able to drop Louise off at the airport Wednesday morning for her flight to California for a week. I got the car back to Enterprise, also in West Ashley, with a half hour to spare on the contract. This side of the river is out of their pickup territory (the closer downtown branch wanted another C-note for the same rental), so I had them drop me at the Holiday Inn across the river.

It was an interesting walk back from there, about a mile and a quarter, over the drawbridge and along a concrete walkway over the marsh. As long as I was at the Holiday Inn I took the elevator up to the top-floor bar and restaurant for a view. They were closed for cleanup -- apparently 60mph winds drove the rain right through all the window gaskets.

A lovely sunset on the Ashley a few days post-storm.

Since Louise left I've been mostly putting the boat back together from all the storm preps. It took the two of us nearly three full days to get everything ready, and it took me alone a bit longer than that to put it all back in order. Putting the flybridge back together gave me a good chance to carefully assess any wind issues on Vector, but I did not find a single problem. Even the questionable flybridge canvas came through unscathed.

Flybridge back together, with cushions, pillows, and table in place, extra tie-downs removed from the boat deck, bicycles back on board, and dinghy console cover in place.

The storm brought together the handful of people who rode it out here at the docks, and I made the acquaintance of the husband-and-wife professional crew on a 92-footer on the Megadock, mostly by running into them every time they walk their cute little dog. When they learned I was stag, the stew took it upon herself to send some home-cooked food over and I enjoyed a nice meatball sub as well as some spring rolls. Otherwise I've been eating in town; I've already plowed through all the leftovers.

Now that the boat's back together from the storm I'm back to doing projects, chief among them repairing the generator. I ordered the parts Tuesday morning and I had them by Friday. I spent the weekend replacing the elbow, and as long as the hose was off I ordered a new one, which arrived yesterday, and put that on this morning. The generator is working and buttoned back up now.

Shiny new cast stainless elbow, with new hose. Cleaned up some of the soot stains, too.

Louise returns Thursday evening. Between now and then I am going to try to take some time off and do a little sightseeing. It's Pride Week here in Charleston, and I put a couple of the events on my calendar. Louise will be back in time for the parade and festival this weekend, so we can enjoy that together.

This was my "go bag," packed with a few essentials and a single change of clothes (other clothes were already in the car) plus room for my computer, to be grabbed at the last minute if we had to abandon Vector to her fate. I made the mistake of leaving it on the settee as I was unpacking it.

Between the storm and its preparations and the California trip, we've already overstayed our two months by a fair margin, and now it makes sense just to stay a third (the monthly rate is significantly better than the daily or weekly rate), which will take us to the first week in October. By then many of the storm-induced hazards will be marked or removed. The Corps of Engineers survey boat Swart stopped here at the marina for a couple of nights, busy surveying the channels.

This evening's track model run for Maria from State of Florida.

There is another storm on the horizon, Maria. While the NHC has not projected it out this far, the models consensus is that the storm will turn back out to sea rather than endanger the Carolinas. As it stands we are staying put. It's been a miserable storm season thus far, and we'll be watching each new system carefully as it develops.

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