Reflections on loss post Hurricane Ian
For most of the last six years my wife Laura, daughters Molly (15) and Madelyn (12) and I have called our 2003 Carver Voyager 570, Have Another Day, home. That ended on Wednesday September 28th when hurricane Ian struck, sinking our boat and destroying the Fort Myers marina we’ve called home since March of 2019.
Just four days before Ian made its U.S. landfall in Florida,, I was in Tampa helping judge the Innovation Awards at IBEX 2022. At noon that Sunday, the decision was made to cancel the show because it appeared Ian was bearing down on the Tampa Bay area. On Monday morning, I drove about 140 miles south to prepare my house and boat for what we thought would be a close pass of a category three hurricane.
We expected an unpleasant few hours with some storm surge and tropical storm force winds. On Monday we added dock lines until we couldn’t get any more on the cleats. We also positioned fenders everywhere we could and generally fretted about what else we could do.
We didn’t give much thought to moving her. Legacy Harbour survived Irma with nearly no damage to the marina or boats moored there. We felt good about the Bellingham floating concrete dock system. For a storm, D dock, the outer dock on the right side of the picture above, is emptied of boats. D acts as a floating breakwater and in previous storms has successfully protected the boats in the marina.
That evening we headed to our house, just under a mile from Have Another Day’s slip at Legacy Harbour Marina. On Tuesday we prepped the house, dropping storm shutters and clearing debris from the yard, while also watching National Hurricane Center model runs. By mid-day, we were concerned that each model run seemed to bring the storm closer and the forecast more severe.
Tuesday evening’s 5pm forecast run showed the storm track headed nearly right at us. We are hurricane rookies and decided this wasn’t a training storm. Within 15 minutes of making the decision to leave, we were on our way to friends on the east coast of Florida. These friends — met during our Great Loop, and experienced with quite a few hurricanes — had been in touch several days earlier to tell us we had a place to stay. They gave us their address and told us to just write it down. So we had a place to head if we needed to flee, and that’s just what we did.
After a somewhat harrowing trip across the state, avoiding the many tornadoes spawned by the storm’s outer bands, we made it safely to their house. The next day, Wednesday, we spent all day watching the storm make its way in. Continuing Tuesday’s trend, the hurricane turned to make an even more direct hit on our area.
At first, cameras and monitoring systems on the boat and house let us see that everything was okay. But around midafternoon, the power went out at both locations, and about all I could see were bilge pump activations (thanks to the boat’s independent power and still online cellular connection).
By 5 pm, the aft bilge pump had turned on just two times for two seconds each time. Also, friends riding out the storm in the high-rise condo building overlooking the marina frequently updated us as conditions got rougher though the boats were still okay.
However, shortly after 5, we learned that the marina’s outer concrete wave attenuating floating dock had been swept away. Then the end of our dock began to break away. I watched our bilge pumps turn on and never turn off. At that moment, I knew we had lost the boat. About half an hour later we got a phone call letting us know Have Another Day had sunk.
Although we’ve had a house and somewhat recently added an RV to our lives, when we think of home, we think of Have Another Day.
Our initial thoughts ran the gamut. We thought about our boat, our possessions, our memories, our community, and so much more. We tried to concentrate on the good things. The four of us and our two cats are safe and we still have a place to live.
Since then, we’ve had waves of emotions. With the benefit of a few days of reflection, we’ve better realized what we’ve lost. We settled in Fort Myers primarily because of Legacy Harbour. We are very happy with Fort Myers, but we’re here because of Legacy.
In our travels, we’ve visited hundreds of marinas. Legacy isn’t the fanciest, the biggest, the cheapest, or the most expensive we’ve visited. But, it’s the one that felt the most like home. There’s a sign when you pull into the marina’s entrance that says, “Welcome Home.” It made me smile each time we passed it because it was true. Legacy felt like home.
My girls have grown up there. We’ve celebrated holidays on the boat, theorized about how Santa gets gifts onto the boat, trick-or-treated at Halloween, and enjoyed thanksgiving dinner on dear friends’ and neighbors’ boats. I’ve heard so many times from our community what a pleasure it was for them to watch our girls grow up. Our girls have learned to play mahjong, been taught calligraphy, pet-sat and so many other activities with their marina family.
Maddy has a dog walking business every winter. Last winter Molly started a baking business at the marina (Baking from Port to Starboard) with another girl her age from down the dock.
I often left the boat to head to work and in the 100-foot walk from the boat to my car I would be delayed for an hour or more talking to my neighbors. Sunday mornings I would brew a pot of coffee and take a walk to the marina office’s front porch and catch up with friends and solve the world’s problems.
All of that is gone. The 131-slip marina is reduced to 10 surviving slips in the lee of the condo buildings next door. We’ve shed tears with the same neighbors we’d shared so many laughs. I’ve now spent countless hours there but still can’t quite believe it’s gone.
My first visit to Have Another Day was far easier than I expected. I was anticipating a time of of immense sadness. Instead, it was more a tactical trip to retrieve as many things as possible, though that wasn’t much as saltwater had reached several feet into the flybridge level and was still about four feet deep in the salon.
If you’ve never seen a sunken boat, it’s shocking how quickly everything is reduced to chaos. We’d just had our salon couch recovered. We got it back five days before Ian hit. But the same couch is floating with all the rest of our possessions. The water smells of mud, diesel, fuel, and everything else that’s spilled in the marina.
Individually, each member of my family has verbalized what we’ve always known. We don’t want to live on land. We spend most of our time on the water because it’s where we are happiest. My 15-year-old daughter, Molly, told my wife Laura and me that she never thought she’d live on land until she went to college.
It may seem the obvious next step is to buy another boat. But, as we all know, the boat market has been red hot for years now. Like many other boaters, I haven’t increased the agreed value on my policy during that time. As a result, my boat is insured for less than it will cost to replace. Once we find a replacement boat, we don’t have a place to put it and we don’t know if we will be able to insure it.
We’ve reminded ourselves, and been reminded by others, that most importantly, the four of us are safe and healthy. The boat and its contents are possessions and can be replaced.
This is true, but, I’m also reminded of what Eric Ravenschlag, the harbourmaster of Legacy Harbour, once told me. He said that the last step in many of his clients’ boat ownership is moving their boat from the marina to a slip behind their house. It seems like a great thing, but they often realize that with the boat and the house so close together, boat use declines until the boat is sold. No longer is the boat a destination with a community attached. Instead, it’s just a smaller living room, a toilet that has to be pumped out, and an expense. As we look for a place to put a new boat, we don’t just want a storage location, we want a community.
We don’t mourn the loss of our boat as a piece of property. Rather, we mourn the loss of our boat as an enabler of a lifestyle. We know we can find a place to keep a boat, but will it be a community? Or will it just be a dock?
I will be back with more updates as we search for another home on the water and navigate the challenges ahead of us. In the meantime, I’m going to do everything I can to keep reviewing marine electronics. I’ll also continue consulting and helping complete electronics and electrical refits, though I suspect I’ll have to travel further to find boats and boaters tackling these projects.
Wow. Sad to see.
Luckily no-one got hurt here and no loss of life. So I guess that is a reason to feel grateful, not everyone was as lucky. Imagine what could have happened if you tried to “save” the boat!
I’m sure the community in the marina will spring back. The owners will definitely need your as customers!
I’m happy to hear you are all safe but sorry for your loss!
Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful writeup and photos. It’s a good reminder that no marina is totally safe from Mother Nature.
Ben, Thank you for sharing your story and glad you are all safe. I hope one day you can look back on this from the deck of your next boat and know it all worked out.
Ben, the pain will remain, but become an echo. The great memories will remain. We lost our sailboat in hurricane storage on land on St. Thomas to Irma and Maria. Insurance helped with the pain. The devastation from direct hits from two Cat 5 hurricanes was biblical. But, the community came together and helped everyone.
Five years later we heard from an acquaintance that he was restoring a boat like ours in that same boat yard. It was our old sailboat that had been a total constructive loss. Hull repaired, engine rebuilt, new electric and plumbing, and a complete redo of the interior. She’ll be participating in the Boy Scouts summer sailing program next year. Time heals.
Ben etc. – so sorry to hear about the boat – on your loop , your large water condo stood out as it charged around – it can be replaced by a decent boat – a trawler I think.
I think your family is the strongest – probably as a result of your water travels – and you will prevail.
One of the bright spots for us post hurricane is that our 22-foot center console was in my building for the storm. The building, and the boat, were undamaged. As soon I can figure out where to launch the boat and when the waterways are safe, I’ll be back on the water.
I have a lot of testing lined up and I’m looking forward to getting back to what I love to do.
Your thoughtful and well articulated article touched my heart. It also brought a greater appreciation for your family’s chosen lifestyle these past years. Honestly, I hadn’t thought much beyond the loss of Have Another Day itself. This piece provided a broader perspective. Our thoughts continue to be with the Steins and your extended marina family as you navigate the days ahead.
Ben & family.
The loss you have experienced is tough. I can speak from the experience after losing a 44 DeFever in a storage building fire 3 years ago. Your words summarized the loss eloquently. For your kids it will be like selling the home they grew up in. It hurts but they get on with things. For you and Laura it is tougher because of everything you enjoyed with them while on the boat. One of the toughest parts for me and likely you as well is the loss of everything in the boat. For a couple of years I would think of something I needed usually a tool or for my wife some piece of clothing and think about why I couldn’t find it and then realize it was on the boat and lost. I feel your loss and it will get easier every day. Wishing the best to you and your family working your way through this.
This is a poignant commentary about our impotence related to weather. I lost my second sailboat in Alicia in 1983. Although not liveaboards, the immediate sense of loss was profound. The great news is that the Steins will recover and rebuild. Godspeed and thank you.
Ben, be thankful that you are in the people in the tiers below you, it’s not news that many lost more, and have more tears. You have a great attitude, your Family is safe, and life goes on. Best wishes for an emotional recovery and finding your next boat! Tom McD
Thank you for sharing your raw emotions. Your pictures make it real. We were on D dock Jan-Mar this year and became part of that community family. We resumed our Loop in April and are now home in Wisconsin. The day before we left Legacy your daughter and friend delivered to us a “boatload” of goodies which I froze and we enjoyed all the way to Canada. Those two young ladies were so nice and very polite. Even though we’d only been there 3 months, it was very hard to leave the exceptionally friendly people who allowed us into their community. We wish you and your family well in your future decision making.
Hello Ben, I used to read your tests regularly (I liked them) and “have another day” was the link that united us. so I am extremely sad for you and your family, but so happy to know you are safe and sound! our Earth is crazy…
friendly thoughts for you all.
Gregoire from France
Ben, 1st time poster with a boat in Port Labelle. 1st, so glad you and family are OK and recovering from your loss. 2nd, I thought, from a phone call after power/communications were restored that our boat hadn’t had any damage. A phone call yesterday changed that but not to the extent of your loss. We’ll have to replace a HardtoTop and the Bimini framing for it, 3 Xantrex solar panels attached to it and since the marina doesn’t have any dock power, quite possibly 6-L16 AGM batteries. I may have to also replace a Wi-Fi booster. No, I won’t trade you. We are in PA right now, so I am working through a local to check the boat and see if there is anything else that was missed with the dockmasters check. Quite a mess and a long time before any semblance of normalcy is returned. Amazing that we are just about to finish our Loop next year in the Chesapeake after taking 7yrs at this point to get to FL and no issues. Get me out of FL, please.
I do have a question though. What caused your boat sink? Was the hull pierced? Abundant rain? It is amazing how these storms work. 1 of your pictures shows boats across the marina that look like they didn’t suffer any damage.
I can suggest that while your marina is being repaired that you start to get on the phone to find another marina. Not seeing the damage 1st hand, I would still imagine a year or more for marina repairs so if/WHEN you get another boat, you’ll need a place to keep it.
Best of luck in the coming months with your boat search and acclimation to land living, I’m sure all will work out.
Remember, with life, usually when 1 door closes another will open and my guess is that Have Another Day II will be an even better boat.
Keep up your good work. Take care & stay safe out there.
So sorry for you guys. It’s incomprehensible to me — your line about everything reduced to chaos hits. I hope you can stay on the water.
Ben – so sorry to hear that you lost your boat, but glad to hear that you are all safe. What a tragedy for you and all of the other folks affected by Ian. You make a good point about community. I am sure that you will find a new one – hoping it happens sooner rather than later.
First of all I just want to say I’m so sorry for all you have to go through with your family and friends. I live in Sarasota with my family and we know exactly what you were going thru by following the NHC during Ian’s disastrous path moves.
I don’t own a boat and probably never will but I do own an RV and we have a lot of emotional connection to it by the exact same things that you mention you and your family spent with that particular boat you guys lost. With my family always wondered, when visiting Marina’s, if people with boats felt the same way we feel about our RV, do they know all the laughs that were shared in there? All the emotions that you go through when re-upholstering the couch and seeing installed there in the living room and how much it changes the whole room now? Do they feel the same way, when you travel, to have the same pillows the same sheets anywhere you go and still feel at home like you haven’t even moved even when you look through the window and see a completely different scenario? Mmmm do we invest this amount of money in upgrading this fridge or should we go with a newer boat or RV?
This post you’ve made makes me feel that you feel the same way about Have Another Day the same way we feel about Dorma, our 30 years old RV, it is part of our family, is like losing a member of the family and while not alive it is difficult to express that to the world. Some people will tell you that you should be happy about all members of your alive family to be OK and fine and that is true, but on the other hand part of your lives is also gone, an important one, that piece of wood and fiberglass allowed you and your family to have that many laughs aboard, that many conversations with your family so many meals that got you even closer as a family and so much more.
We were worried about our Dorma as well and we discussed at length what we would do if we lose it to Ian, 10 minutes later we were on our way to pick Dorma up from our lot in Arcadia, FL and droving away from the hurricane. On our way back that lot had 12′ of water thanks to the Myakka River overflowing. That water took almost 10 days to go down.
I really hope you guys have the chance to go back to another vessel and still have the time to mourn Have Another Day at the same time. In the same way when family members leave our lives remember Haver Another Day on their best days, when it was full of sounds, kids running around love and happiness on board.
Wish you the best!
Just to add to Juan’s comment, I had an unfortunate incident on Lake Michigan at 2am last weekend, heading south to beat bad weather. I ran into a 1200ft long fishing net which tangled up both props, leaving me dead in the water. The Coastguard were kind enough to send a boat out, but despite 2 hours of cutting, the boat wouldn’t move under tow. The chief insisted that I leave the boat and return to port with them. I collected my toothbrush and razor and was filled with emotion as we left my ‘house’ for seven years all alone in the lake. Fortunately, I managed to procure 2 divers the following day and the boat is now safely back in port.
I cannot imagine how you felt when taking that photo of the swimming salon.
However, you have the strength of the family around you and prevail you shall.
ps – I can’t believe that your slip of a daughter is now 15.
You mentioned you couldn’t imagine how it felt to take the picture of the flooded salon. That brings up an interesting thing I’ve noticed. Each time I’ve been to the boat, it’s been fairly unemotional. My most recent visit did leave me with a feeling of sorrow for what the boat had been through. It’s an inanimate object, but it’s served us so well.
But, looking at the pictures some days later is another story. As I see pictures of the boat in better times and then look at the recent pictures, it’s very tough. Made more so by the reality of not having a boat to which we can return. We’re currently in our RV, travelling for a few more days before returning to Fort Myers. I think we’re all dreading that return and the return to our new reality.
Any update on how it sank? Holed from the docks breaking loose?
Yes, I’m pretty sure I understand what happened. Like most failures of engineered systems, it was a multi-step evolution. Legacy Harbour was completed 24 years ago with the then state-of-the-art Bellingham floating concrete docks. 60′ concrete pilings were used and these were driven at least 30 feet into the bottom of the harbor. The result, was pilings that sat about 12-14 above the dock’s surface.
In the 24 years the marina was around, a lot was learned about how to best prepare for and ride out storms. After some of the early storms, the marina staff learned that the safest plan was to remove all boats from the span of D dock that runs parallel to the river. In the picture above, that’s the long span of dock on the right side of the picture. That left D to act as a floating breakwall and knock down the worst of the seas that come in during a storm. The storm surge was estimated to be around 12.5 feet during the storm. In addition, there were very large seas in the river. Those large seas lifted D dock over the pilings and allowed it float free. D dock broke up as it floated off and mostly ended up in the park to the northeast of the marina.
Without D to protect the other docks, they became very vulnerable. With 140 mph winds and six to ten foot (I’ve heard lots of numbers and seen some video that make it safe to say at least six foot) seas battering the remaining docks and the large boats tied to them, it was only a matter of time until the remaining docks failed. The main impact of the forces on the section of dock Have Another Day was secured to, was to force the entire dock towards shore and the marina office building. That force shoving the docks towards shore and breaking up the docks also caused the 60 foot pilings sunk more than 30 feet below the surface to eventually lay over. I’d estimate the piling on our finger pier laid over 40 degrees or so.
Our slip also had a wooden center piling intended to allow better securing the boat and to provide separation (and potentially protection) from the boat sharing the well. That center piling was wooden and in normal conditions only protruded 6-8 feet above the water’s surface. Before the storm hit, I lost some sleep over that piling. I didn’t want to tie the boat too securely to the piling because as the water came up, I knew the piling would be under water and I didn’t want the port bow held down by it. I eventually decided to run a line from a mid-ship cleat to the bow cleat around the backside of the piling, but not to wrap the line around the piling for fear of it binding.
In the end, I think my lines were irrelevant. When the concrete piling on our starboard side leaned to port, it allowed the bow of the boat to float to port. The water was high enough that the center piling was under water. I believe the bow floated over the center piling and then the violence of the storm battered the boat up and down on the piling, eventually holing the bow and sinking the boat.
In my estimation, the engineering of the marina was pretty sound. Unfortunately, the larger and larger storms we’ve had recently proved too much for the quarter century-old engineering assumptions. The main pilings need to be taller and larger. The center pilings probably should be at the same height as the main pilings. I’m certainly hopeful Legacy will be rebuilt, and we will have the opportunity to see how the engineering will be updated.
Ugh, that’s terrible. Thanks for the insightful post-action assessment on it.
Hi Ben, thank you for your reflections on your family’s loss and the destruction of Legacy Harbour Marina. So many slip mates lost boats and a lifestyle at “our marina”. Our Grand Banks 42C, Hannah Jane, was lifted out yesterday (10/28). She was rolled on her port side and partially flooded – a wreck. I was able to only safe a few memories. Not sure what we will do next. All the best.
I understand the emotions of a boat loss. In the mid 90’s the Seattle area had a two day snow storm with rain mixed in that put an immense load on the roofs of many of the covered marinas in the area. Because all the docks are floating, many were pushed below water level and were held up only by the dock lines of the boats. Others collapsed on top of the boats and sank many. One of my good friends had a 30′ Chris Craft bull nose which was his home and it had sunk. After it was raised and set on shore, I went to see it. As an engineer, I expected to have a somewhat analytical inspection of the damage. As soon as I saw it, I burst into tears. It was truly like seeing a living thing that was mortally wounded.
Have Another Day was raised on Monday of this week. I’ve been through it a few times now and it’s an experience I don’t wish on anyone. I know there are plenty of people who can relate, who have experienced similar loss, but going through the boat is tough. Seeing the places we used to live, destroyed, is tough. Seeing our things caked in mud, growth, and more is difficult. I’m also saddened by the dead fish throughout the boat. I think they serve as a reminder of the toxicity of the boat’s sinking. It’s very sad what that many sunk boats have done to the waters of the Caloosahatchee River.
Sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing about living on the boat and about this horrible disaster. I am currently boatless as we decided the cost of maintaining and storing our 29′ Regal was too much for our retirement income (let alone premium fuel costs!). We still enjoy reading Power and Motoryacht with the hope that maybe someday we can get another vessel. Wishing all the best to you and your family and keep on boating!
I think they serve as a reminder of the toxicity of the boat’s sinking. It’s very sad what that many sunk boats have done to the waters of the Caloosahatchee River.
Just found you after your excellent Starlink Interview on Great Loop Podcast and had to find your article that detailed your loss. Thank you for sharing your tough experience and knowledge gained for all of us to gain a better understanding of the terrible experience. It could happen to any of us–after moving our 52 Hatteras to our hurricane hole marina inside Clear Lake in 2020 that were false alarms, we decided to stay put and onboard when a little popup tropical storm (Nicholas) threatened late in 2021. The forecast near miss tropical storm with 2-3 surge shifted and strengthened, turning into a direct hit and 5ft surge that trapped us onboard at 3am, floated us to the roof of the boatshed, and damaged our cars & floated away the dockboxes. Could have been much worse and we were caught complacent and at risk. Glad you and your family are safe!
Wishing you and your family all the best as you regroup after this loss.