On August 3, 2020, I had the scariest day of my life! We came "home" July and August to stay on our houseboat at Aqualand Marina on Lake Lanier in Flowery Branch, GA. This gives us an opportunity to enjoy the lake and perform maintenance on the RV, truck, car and Spyders. It also gives us a chance to do a good cleaning and remove items that we haven't used in a long time from our RV.
On this Monday, we had a storm from Mother Nature that was from hell! When you live on a lake, especially in the summer and it's 90 degrees every day, you generally get a thunderstorm late in the afternoon. The weather report says chance of thunderstorms every day. So, you expect it and don't leave the boat in fear of a bad storm every day.
The other issue with the lake storms, is they pop-up in a heart beat and boom you are in it. Very little, if any notice. And some areas of the lake are clobbered and others remain in the sun. You don't always know which way it is going to go and when it will change it's mind and turn direction. Many times you can see "the wall" of rain coming so you can button up and cover your outdoor furniture. In fact, seeing the wall is pretty cool as you watch it approach. You can't tell how bad the wind is until it hits you. Sometimes the wind hits one side of the marina, but not the other.
This storm hit us with little notice. Dave was at the grocery store and I was alone. We have had our houseboat at this marina for 13 years and I, nor those that have been here for over 20 years, have ever seen a storm like this. When it hit, it was terrifying. The first thing I did was put my life jacket on.
Since I video tape so much of our retirement journey, I picked up my video and started to tape the storm. I did it for several reasons: 1 (one) to be able to show people that were not here how bad it really was and why their boat is damaged; 2 (two) to have the storm documented for insurance purposes; and 3 (three) to keep me busy to not freak out. I feel like I remained fairly calm. All I could think about was whether or not our dock would hold together. That was obvious from me saying that over and over again on the video. It has broken off in the past and then you are all just floating around banging into other docks and boats causing a ton of damage.
CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO SEE THE VIDEO OF THE STORM
That is our pontoon just outside the window on the other side of the dock.. It was tossed like a plastic toy. I thought it was coming up on top of the dock or it was going to get caught underneath it and be slammed. Somehow the boat was not dented or damaged. Just the canvas had zippers ripped. I tribute this to using whips, spring lines and extra bumpers. It was a total surprise to us that our pontoon made it through.
Here is the normal view:
Our houseboat is 65 feet long and weighs 44,000 pounds. I felt safe in it. Houseboats have very shallow flat hulls. They are made that way so you can beach them and live on a beach for your vacation. We have a large canvas on the top for sun protection. When it becomes windy, the boat can take off like it's a sailboat. It is possible to flip over with the canvas on top and the shallow hull. So being in dock was probably much better than being out on the open water.
Kind of funny, several people wanted to know why we didn't take the boat out knowing a storm was coming to be able to ride it out. First we didn't know we would have a microburst pop up. So for one thing, the information I just mentioned above in the previous paragraph. Plus, you can't just start the motors and go. You have to run the blower to make sure you don't have any fumes in the engine compartment, start the engines and let them warm up, remove 6 or more lines from the dock cleats which are very tightly connected. There would be no way to remove them with the wind pushing on the boat pulling on the lines. You'd have to cut them. And then you have to disconnect the power line and the water line. And I was the only one on board. Also, there is just enough space behind us and the next dock for us to back out and maneuver on a good day. Could you imagine with the canvas "sail" and 80 mph winds. PLEASE! Oh, did I mention I was the only one on board?
Someone else said I should have gotten out there to help tighten down boats. 80mph winds, you can't see, the dock is rocking like a 8.0 earthquake and breaking apart. Really? You can replace boats and docks...not people. Best thing to do was stay put and hold on.
From beginning to end it was about an hour. Probably 15 minutes was constant high winds and hail. I called Dave and asked where he was and told him that we were having a severe storm with winds of at least 80 miles an hour. He had no idea.
When I saw the first houseboat break loose, I knew there was going to be a problem. The single lady living on the 65 foot houseboat is nearly 80 years old. She hunkered down in the guest bedroom with her two Yorkies and was tossed around like a toy boat. She was scared to death and called Tow Boat US for help. In the meantime, I watched her nearly crash into our boat, then into the dock behind us and then almost floated out to sea. I watched her Bimini top and arch blow off and slide break. Then she blew back in and crashed back into our dock. She was very lucky as she landed sideways against docks that were empty or had short boats in them. Most of the slips have boats that stick out several feet or have slides hanging out. We were all lucky. I called my neighbor and we tied her in place as the storm was coming to an end.
When the second houseboat broke loose, it was floating around between our dock and the one behind us like the other one and ran into each other at one time. Damage was caused to the houseboats and to the boats on the other dock. In fact one of the pointy bows of a cruiser broke through one of the living room windows of the lady's houseboat scaring her to death. The second boat floated towards shore near the dock behind us and was tied down.
One of the scariest parts was watching the dock twist and turn, creaking, popping and looking like it was going to break apart any minute. Somehow it stayed in place (sort of) with damage. However, the gangway did not make it. When Dave finally got here, it was nearly over. He obviously could not get to the boat because the gangway was broken, twisted and under water.
The other scariest part was watching the metal roof peel off the dock behind us as they quickly broke loose and the entire dock started to float back and ran into the dock behind it.
By now the storm had passed and it was calm again. My heart was finally out of my throat. By total amazement, the pontoon boat was not damaged. I was able to get on the pontoon and pick up Dave at the shore to bring him to the houseboat.
We checked out the top of the boat to see what we had lost. The Dish Tailgater Dome had flown off the roof in the front of the boat and landed on to the dock about 30 feet away but not into the water...and it still works. Our very heavy couch was tipped over and blown across the top along with other furniture but nothing blew away, not even pillows. Well, one pillow was on the dock, but none in the water. Our flag was trashed. Lucky again!
Those that were on their houseboats came out and gathered to assess the damage. Luckily the only damage was canvas and front enclosures and a few dents. We were very fortunate as many others had severe damage and several docks broke and ran into other docks and boats. Then the shot glasses came out. Dave and I then got in pontoon boat to see the aftermath and took some drone footage. See "Aqualand Aftermath" video here:
CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO SEE THE VIDEO OF THE AFTERMATH
SO NOW WHAT?
The power and water have been shut off. Many electrical posts are in the water and water lines running down the docks broken. 26 out of 31 docks have gangways that are broken so people can't get to their boats.
There are 3 boats left at our dock that have people living on them. We are all using generators to have power. Fortunately, we had just pumped out our black tank 3 days prior. I suggested to Dave to fill up the water tank right after the storm in case they shut the water and power down. Glad we did as they were shut off a couple hours later. As of Friday 8/7 we still have no power or water.
While taking our aftermath tour on the pontoon boat, we saw several docks smashed into each other, trees snapped off and one boat flipped over.
Aqualand began making repairs right away. First thing was to close the marina while they removed trees and down electric lines. They started to repair the docks that broke off into each other to bring them back into line. Then temporarily fix the 26 gangways so people could get to their boats. I have seen truck loads of dock floats and concrete anchors brought in. There has been tree service here and there are multiple barges working with welders, cranes and swimmers. They are doing a great job.
Temporary repair of our dock.
VIDEO GOES VIRAL
I posted the video to our channel and to Facebook (Lake Lanier Boaters Group) and the video got a ton of hits. I got calls from CBS, WSB in Atlanta, 46 and The Weather Channel. I had 3 interviews and wa on the TV network. Who would have known.
Bottom line, we were blessed to have very little damage and no one was injured.