“I’ve got ¾-inch nylon lines that I use for storms, and the boat gets so much pressure on it with the ropes getting so tight that they become like piano wires,” says Dennis Raziano. “The lines were actually sawing through the boat in places and they started moaning.” Raziano rode out Hurricane Katrina on board his 34-foot liveaboard oyster trawler in the Orleans Marina in West End New Orleans. “I was taught many years ago to never leave the boat. Even if it’s floating down the highway—you never leave the boat.”
The miserable and dangerous adventure Raziano and a few other brave souls went through in New Orleans in the summer of 2005 during and after the storm was ill-advised, but a decade after its landfall on the Mississippi Coast and the levee failures in New Orleans, their stories are now legend. After this terrible chapter, the recreational boating community on the Northern Gulf Coast has made great advances toward rebuilding and now holds thousands of state-of-the-art marinas and mended yacht clubs.
In Mississippi alone, nearly 1,000 slips have been rebuilt in marinas from Pass Christian to Pascagoula, and an entire new marina has been constructed adjacent to the historic and quaint downtown of Bay St. Louis. Out of the 33 Gulf Yachting Association’s yacht clubs from New Orleans to Pensacola—including 3 of the 5 oldest clubs in the Western Hemisphere—18 have been rebuilt or repaired. The 166-year-old Southern Yacht Club of New Orleans has a new 30,000-square-foot facility. Many of the more than 150 years of historic trophies and Olympic medals lost in the dual calamities of fire and water are slowly being replaced, including a Lipton sailing trophy, which was generously rebuilt by the Lipton Tea Company using the original London silversmith.
On the coast, junior sailing programs have been re-invigorated. Fishing tournaments and 150-year-old regattas have quickly returned with participation now getting back to “Pre-K” numbers as boats have been replaced and boat shows have boomed, including the Gulf Coast Yacht and Boat Show that relocated in 2010 to Gulfport, Mississippi.
The one outlier has been the Municipal Yacht Harbor in New Orleans and its 600+ slips. One of three public marinas in the city, the marina’s management board has been battling with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for rebuilding funds and now stands as a flashing beacon of bureaucracy, still without utilities and half empty.
The New Orleans’ boaters and the many businesses that serve them have struggled but learned to make do. New Orleans and this heavy boating community along the Gulf Coast will have endured everything from catastrophic hurricanes to oil spills, yet the strong boating culture and its infrastructure will continue their resurgence. The love of pulling in those red snappers or racing sailboats in century-old regattas will never be quashed on this coast—we are boat people.
By Troy Gildert, Southern Boating Magazine September 2015