Disaster at the Butte
A couple of months ago, the marina where Zorro keeps his boat was hit by a freak windstorm. We had just returned from sailing with him and got his boat and our boat securely tied up when the blast hit. The waves and wind had boats surging up and down like manic carousel horses, and boats were breaking their mooring lines, especially along the eastern side of the marina, where Zorro’s slip was located, because it was easier to sail into and out of in a boat without a motor.
In that storm, the marina manager and his two employees were racing to secure boats that had broken loose, and Zorro, Pat, Gerald, and I, along with a couple of other boat owners, stepped in to help. One boat that had come loose suffered severe damage to its bow, but we managed to keep the others on the row from anything more severe than some damage to the gelcoat.
Saturday, the Butte experienced another storm, similar but more severe. There were fewer people around to help the marina manager, and several boats came loose from their moorings and were severely damaged, including Zorro’s boat, Constellation. As he described it, “It looked like somebody took a hacksaw and cut off the front end of the boat. It’s no longer an Etchells 22; it’s an Etchells 19.”
According to Zorro, all but one of the boats on that row suffered severe damage. Ironically, the one that didn’t was the one that had been damaged before. It did come loose, but its newly-repaired bow smashed the dock to splinters. There’s one fiberglass-repair place that will get some good word of mouth.
According to news reports, wind gusts were 75 mph, and waves were 5 feet high – although all reports were focused on the lake’s main marina, which apparently suffered far more severe damage. One of the Albuquerque television stations had some cell-phone video footage that a viewer had sent in, of waves crashing over the marina, which has covered docks. That marina had a massive breakwater constructed of tractor tires; the storm tore the breakwater apart and flung the tires at the marina. Boats suffered damage from being flung upward into the roof. The storm also caused an air-conditioning unit to collapse through the roof into the marina office.
Meanwhile, Zorro’s boat is being kept afloat by dock lines. Carguy’s boat has been on Zorro’s trailer while Zorro has been working on it; now Carguy has lent Zorro a truck, and Zorro will be taking the trailer to the lake, launching Carguy’s boat (and putting it into a slip on the sheltered back side of the marina), and putting his own boat onto the trailer. He’ll be getting help from Dumbledore, who believes the boat can be repaired – and if anybody can repair anything, Dumbledore can.
If you want to read more about the storm, here is Elephant Butte Cleans Up After Freak Storm, from the Albuquerque Journal:
Monday, June 30, 2008
Elephant Butte Cleans Up After Freak Storm
By Sean Olson
Journal Staff Writer
In less than five minutes, a relaxing day for boaters at Elephant Butte Lake turned into a harrowing rush to the safety of shore.
“I've been coming to this lake for 20 years and I've never seen anything like this,” Las Cruces resident Mary Butkewich said Sunday. “... Let me tell you, we're lucky to be alive.”
For those who saw the 5-foot swells, the shudder and sway of the lake's largest marina bending to the wind and waves, and the boats being tossed off the surface of the water Saturday evening, it was a reminder that New Mexico's gusty winds can go from breezy to dangerous in no time at all.
New Mexico Parks spokeswoman Marti Niman said that her department didn't have a monetary estimate of damages Sunday but that there were reports of swamped and severely damaged boats.
Butkewich saw the storm move in from the northeast from her 24-foot boat around 7 p.m. But by the time her five passengers noticed the coming winds, it was already upon them.
“I've never seen a storm come up that fast,” Butkewich said.
The National Weather Service estimated that winds at the lake hit 55 miles per hour Saturday evening, but witnesses on the lake said they thought the speeds were closer to 70 mph.
Butkewich said her boat was in the midst of 5-foot swells as it motored to the Marina del Sur on the southern end of the lake. Soaked and scared, the passengers managed to tie the boat onto a marina dock and back away, she said.
It didn't take long for the ropes holding the boat to snap. Butkewich watched as it was thrown violently into rocks, shredding the bottom, ripping out seats and leaving it half-sunk and lodged against an embankment.
Other boats inside the marina bounced up and down from the wind-driven waves, jumping high in the air and striking the thin metal sheeting that acts as the marina's roof, witnesses said Sunday.
“The boats were going up five to seven feet in the air; the whole marina was going up and down,” said boat owner Michael Williams, who is also a city councilor in Rio Rancho.
The lake's two other marinas were not damaged by the storm and were open to the public.
But at Marina del Sur, the “wave breakers,” a string of huge tires surrounding the marina for protection, were torn away from anchors and deposited on a nearby bank. Docks were also separated from anchors holding them in place and some were pushed as far as 100 feet away.
At least one boat sank near the marina during the storm and many more were damaged, Elephant Butte State Park boating manager Harold Zuni said Sunday. But, he added, no one was hurt.
Zuni said the damage was not surprising after seeing the storm come in with such force.
“It was a wall of brown ... nothing was protected,” he said.
By Sunday, the marina and boat ramp were filled with state park boats, marina boats and equipment, all working to restore the area to a semblance of its original layout.
“We're just trying to get the boat ramp usable again,” Zuni said.
He said the ramp ought to be cleaned up and ready by the Fourth of July weekend, a historically large tourist weekend for the lake.
Niman said most of the ramp was open by Sunday evening due to the efforts of state employees and others working in the area.
Marina owners were not available for comment Sunday, but witnesses said they would be surprised if the marina was open by next weekend.
Damage appeared to be widespread — from the marina dock's entrance there were visible tears in the marina roof and steel support beams had begun to buckle.
Williams said the dock walkways were torn apart in places and the entire structure seemed dangerous. A swamp cooler had fallen partially through the marina's management building on the docks and the office was covered with debris that had been strewn across the rooms, he said.
No one, save a few boat owners, was allowed on the marina docks Sunday — and they were escorted one by one to collect belongings.
Elephant Butte Lake, near Truth or Consequences off Interstate 25 and Highway 195, is a reservoir that stretches 40 miles, with more than 200 miles of shoreline.
It is a popular destination for boaters, fishermen and campers, especially in the summer months.
Local hotel employees said worries about Fourth of July tourism were probably unfounded. They said most hotels had been sold out for months and some marina damage wouldn't deter most boaters.