December 20, 2014

Pettipaug Yacht Club Still Showing Effects of Irene

Debris taken out of the water by club members

Hurricane Irene visited the Pettipaug Yacht Club in a big way on Sunday, August 28, and the club is still feeling the after effects. For one there is literally a parade of floating logs coming down the river, and clogging up with debris the club’s boat ramp to the river.

“We have to clear the boat ramp at least every two days,” says Paul Risseeuw, who is the Director of the club’s Sailing Academy and informal caretaker of the club.  A pile of the debris that has been collected by club members is kept next to the boat ramp. The sizes of some of the pieces taken out of the river by club members are impressive.

However, as Risseeuw admits, some of the whole trees that pull up at the club’s docks are simply too big to handle, Reluctantly, they have to be pushed back into the river to continue their journey towards the sound.

Paul Risseeuw points high water mark at club

When the Irene’s storm water reached its highest, it was up to the second step from the top of the stairs at the club house. The club house itself is on a platform some four feet above the ground, and no water touched the deck.  However, all the grounds of the club were completely submerged during the storm period.

When the water on the grounds reached a certain point although anchored in some fashion, the boats began to float. (All of the boat’s masts and been removed before the storm.) This meant that some 120 boats were floating around during flood periods. The boats afloat included: Blue Jays, 420s, Lasers, as well as several Boston Whalers.

Although anchored to the ground, because of the leeway in their painters, the floating boats began to sway, and a number of them banged into each other. A few boats were damaged in this fashion. Also, a storage shed, where wind surfers had been kept, was badly banged out by wind, water and swinging boats.

However, saved from banging boats on the flooded grounds, were the small Optimist sailboats. They had been stacked on the floor of the clubhouse and were unharmed.

The story was very different for one boat owner at the club, who decided to keep his boat in the water in spite of Irene. It was a big mistake. Early in the storm the boat was flipped over to its side, and a floating tree coming down the river dragged the capsized boat and mooring down the river, and eventually hung up on another mooring. The owner found his boat after a hunt only to learn that the boat’s mast had been broken into three pieces. The boat owner had to hire a floating crane to get his boat out of the water.

Some club grounds still a jumble

Meanwhile the club’s docks completely avoided any damage, although the poles that are driven into the river bottom to hold the docks in place now appear bent. If the poles themselves had failed, it would have meant the loss of the club’s docks.

With the exception of the single boat left in the water, and the only minor damage caused by the boats anchored on the club grounds banging around, the club got away pretty easily from the visit by Irene. As Risseeuw puts it bluntly, “We got away cheap.”

A second chapter to Irene

There was also a week or so later, a second chapter to Irene. Some are calling it, the “Vermont mud slide.” Because of the heavy rains during Irene, the Vermont shore of the Connecticut River, way up north, flushed an enormous amount of sediment, i.e. mud, into the river.

In fact, there was so much Vermont mud coming down the river, the waters out in front of the club turned brown for a number of days.

Also, according to Risseeuw, there was a layer of Vermont mud dumped on the grounds of Pettipaug. There was also a second surge of high water, but nothing on the scale of Irene.

With its grounds scarcely above high tide levels, it is inevitable that future hurricanes will again completely flood the grounds of the Pettipaug Yacht Club.

Entrance sign of the Pettipaug Yacht Club

Risseeuw says that before another hurricane hits, which is inevitable, the club has decided to order all boats off the club grounds, and moved to higher elevations. Whether that means storing them in private driveways, or even in well elevated marinas, it won’t make any difference. “The boats are not going be allowed to be left here,” Risseeuw says.

Also, there will be strict rule that all boats, when a hurricane threatens, must be hauled out of the water, no exceptions. Some sailors simply have to be saved from themselves.