In 1959, Palmetto Bay Marina became the first on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, to offer dockage and charter boats. In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew destroyed it and the boats that were in it.
CBS News reported about 10 sailboats crashed together and washed ashore at Palmetto Bay Marina after the docks broke loose. Other reports included boats stacked on top of a piling. Eyewitnesses said the marina itself was, at one point, entirely underwater. Videos posted online were heartbreaking.
Capt. Bob Bromage of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office summed up the destruction in just five words for The Greenville News: “It looks like it’s gone.”
First responders and marina owners up and down the southeast U.S. coast endured similar scenes after Hurricane Matthew struck last autumn. It was a monster storm, the first Category 5 in the Atlantic since Hurricane Felix in 2007. Hurricane Matthew walloped Haiti, killing about 1,600 people and causing nearly $2 billion in damage. The storm then touched nearly every home on Grand Bahama Island before turning toward America, where it killed 49 people. About 1.5 million homes from Florida to South Carolina lost power, with some damage estimates as high as $6 billion, including parts of North Carolina.
The coastal storm left entire ports at one point shut down; in Savannah and Brunswick in Georgia, the U.S. Coast Guard reported about 50 navigational aids damaged and destroyed, as well as several major navigational buoys pulled off station. Hurricane Matthew also pelted some marinas along about a thousand-mile stretch worse than others—leaving some boating facilities so mangled that several months later, the cleanup phase had yet to give way to the beginning of repairs.
At the Seven Seas Marina and Boatyard in Port Orange, Florida, Hurricane Matthew trashed all the transient slips, damaged boats on blocks ashore and tore much of an exterior wall clear off the dry-dock facility.
“We prepared the best we could, and even then, we still got hit harder than we thought we were going to,” says General Manager Michael Hutton. “Despite how well we blocked things off on land, a 42-foot Hunter sailboat went over. The storm destroyed the docks, and all of that debris came in with the wind gusts and shredded everything.”
As of January 2017, the team at Seven Seas was still trying to overcome the majority of the damage.
“I’d say we’re about 20 percent back,” Hutton says. “Other than losing transient slips, our haul-out is running as normal. We’re overwhelmed with people coming in trying to repair their boats from the storm, still. It might take longer than the summer to get to them all, considering that so many other marinas around us were destroyed.”
Farther north, repairs are also slow to come. Hurricane Matthew so badly damaged the City Free Dock in Southport, North Carolina, that the fixed structure was still completely off-limits as of January 2017.
“The dock is still there, but you’re not able to walk on about a third of it,” says City Manager Kerry McDuffie. “It’s not safe to be on it. It’s mangled wood, hanging down, only held up by one side—there are pieces gone on about a third of it.”
McDuffie says the city is directing transient boaters to Southport Marina, which has floating docks that were hit, but that survived the storm because they could move with the surge. Learning from that outcome, the city hopes to rebuild the City Free Dock with improvements to minimize damage in the future, and has reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help.
“We have to get FEMA’s approval before we can do that,” McDuffie says, adding that there is no timetable in place for the City Free Dock to reopen. “We feel it’s better to do this right than to get in a hurry.”
Harbor Town Yacht Basin at SeaPines Resort in Hilton Head, South Carolina, was also still working on repairs as of January 2017, with no firm reopening date scheduled. Hurricane Matthew slammed into both break walls at the marina’s entry. One had a walking pier atop it; the other had the commercial docks. Both were destroyed, as was a long face dock.
“Our fuel dock took some damage, but we basically have that shored up enough that we can use it to fuel customers,” says marina staffer Cindy Deloach. “As far as dockage, we are still closed, and it’s going to be sometime this spring for the repairs to be complete. Everybody is facing the same battle to get materials, to get the floats that need to be replaced, to get the materials for power—it’s everything. It’s massive.”
She adds, “We’re luckier than some because we weren’t 100-percent destroyed.”
Dataw Island Marina in South Carolina also was still trying to get through the cleanup phase in January 2017, with repairs yet to begin. According to employee Liz Walder, the marina was continuing to remove the debris that was left behind after Hurricane Matthew pummeled all 80 of the wet slips.
About 27 boats were in the marina when Hurricane Matthew struck, she says, some because their owners lived as far away as California and didn’t fly out to move them. The workers tried to tie them safely, but, she says, “with that storm surge, there was no way. Some of the docks lifted above the pilings, and the boats were still tied to the docks.”
The extent of the damage means that full repairs are going to take not just months, but possibly years at Dataw Island Marina.
“First we had to get the boats out—a couple were sunk and on the shore—and once we got that complete, now we have to get all the docks out,” she says. “We have quite a pile, a company that’s getting them off other docks, off the banks, off of everywhere. Once we have all that done, we’ll do a side-scan of the actual water to see what’s underwater that we have to get out, and then we can start rebuilding.”
Despite the enormity of the remaining work, the team at Dataw Island Marina is not giving up.
Walder says: “We’re going to try to get one or two slips built so that by the end of the summer, we’ll have something.”
When the next hurricane approaches, read Hurricane Preparation for Boaters, to make sure your boat is ready to weather the storm.