Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Vergennes Story

Marathon, Florida
24 42.40 081 N 05.68 W

I never told the complete story about Vergennes and Hurricane Irene from last summer.

Just to review; the free docks on Otter Creek in Vergennes is one of our favorite places to visit in summer.  Everything about it is nice.  The ride up Otter Creek.  The picturesque setting, and the charms of Vermont's smallest city.  It is also well sheltered with towering hills surrounding in all directions.  I think I remarked before that a hurricane could pass overhead and we would hardly notice it in there.

However, in face of the approaching storm, we decided instead to ride it out at anchor in Porter Bay nearby.  That worked fine.  There was only one other boat within 1/2 mile of us in Porter Bay.  We were perhaps the safest people in the whole state.   Other boats chose to seek shelter in the "hurricane hole" in Vergennes.  Big mistake.

Why was that a mistake?  Because Otter Creek extends another 100 miles or so upstream of Vergennes.  It drains an enormous basin of mountainous territory.   Thus, soon after the storm passed, the flood waters reached Vergennes.

We visited there, 10 days after the storm, and took the pictures below.  That was just a day or so before Tropical Storm Lee dumped more rain and the creeks swelled once again.  I think the trawler was stuck there for three weeks.

We  talked to the boaters there and this is what they told us.

All the places at the docks were taken by boats seeking shelter.  Several had to be turned away as nobody was willing to raft.  One such boat was the Lois McClure, an 88 foot replica of an 1862 canal schooner.   The boats were tied up to the floating docks provided by the city.  These docks and their fittings are home made by locals who are not experienced in salt water environments.   In one place they are attached to vertical pipes bolted onto a steel wall.  In other places they are tied to posts driven into the mud.  Attachments to the pipes or posts is done by chains, secured by padlocks.

The first problem was that the floating range of these docks was designed to be only 4 feet.  The creek rose more than 10 feet at the crest.   Therefore, the docks and boats attached to them threatened to be pulled under water, if they didn't break loose. However, a heroic city worker came three times in the next few days and at great risk to himself, he loosened the chains to prevent a disaster.

The next problem was that the creek widened until the people on the boats were separated from dry land by 50-60 feet.  At first they used planks as bridges.  When that became overwhelmed, a nearby homeowner lent his row boat and they started a ferry service.  The fastened a line to the base of the flag pole, and the other end to the large trawler in the picture below.  Then they could ferry people back and forth in the row boat while holding on to that line.

It took a long time to drain all that water from the mountains.  On the day we visited, 10 days after Irene, the boats had just started leaving.   That was the first day currents had slacked enough that they felt safe.  

We heard stories from Catskill Creek and Rondout Creek on the Hudson River after Irene.  In those cases entire marinas with boats still attached to the floating docks were ripped loose from the shore and floated down stream.

So, bottom line: Creeks and rivers that drain mountainous watersheds are the last place you should go to seek shelter from a major rain storm.  The post-storm floods can be much worse than the storm.

Tarwathie was docked at this exact spot several weeks ahead.

This Krogen 49 trawler is from Vero Beach.  We recognized it.

The Lois McClure departs with the aid of a tug boat (not visible).
It was touchy, she almost ran into the river bank.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, great pics Dick. And good advice as well. I'm really surprised that the Lois McClure was in there.

    I loved anchoring in Porter Bay and it's just a short hop from Westport. For the life of me, I don't know why most people seem to prefer Kingsland Bay.


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