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Posted by on Mar 31, 2010 in UK, US |

Winter Storm Damage at La Rochelle

A westerly gale brought huge swells and a storm surge to a full marina last winter.

Winter storms on the Atlantic Coast of France can be nasty affairs. For the thousands of boats that remain in the water all winter, storm-force waves and tides can be a nasty combination. Sailor Michael Briant sent a series of photos showing some of the damage in his marina, Les Minimes, in La Rochelle after a storm on February 28th.

Boats and docks took a beating.

Boats and docks took a beating.

According to Michael’s website: “The spring tides of that night combined with the storm surge from the depression, tracking in with 70MPH winds, creating waves that swept directly at the open La Rochelle entrance between the Islands of Isle d’Oleron and the Ile de Re caused virtually every one of the 43 pontoons in the to float up over the top of the tall piles that hold them in place.”

Docks rose over their pilings and didn't look the same when the surge receded.

Docks rose over their pilings and didn't look the same when the surge receded.

Michael lists eight boats from the marina that were sunk in the storm and another half dozen with “urgent problems.” Several dozen, such as Michael’s own cruising boat suffered minor damage, but I’m kind of amazed the damage wasn’t worse and that so many boats were still floating in the marina afterwards, as shown by Michael’s photos. Anticipating the surge, the marina had evacuated any owners normally staying aboard their boats; Michael had been there the day before and decided to leave as conditions worsened (luckily, because the marina staff would’ve been unaware if he’d stayed aboard).

pulpits and docks

Pulpits sometimes ducked under floating docks in the surging waves.

Michael’s boat Paw Paw is a Westerly Ocean 43, a boat he has cruised on the Spanish Coast as well as to most of the French Islands since he bought her two years ago—and you can read about some of Paw Paw’s destinations on his website.

When Michael first wrote to me, I asked how Paw Paw came through the storm, and he replied “As far as I know Paw Paw is OK at the moment… The problem is that she is towards the end of Pontoon 21, which is severely damaged and likely to break.  The boat next door to Paw Paw and about a dozen others will then fall off down wind and tide to the pontoon (20) astern…  Stacks of jagged aluminum around….  Paw Paw‘s anchor was clearly regularly hammering the base of the pontoon – broken wood on the front edge of the thing and the two securing pins bent… a big fairlead has been partly bent upwards in the middle but the bolts and backing plates have only shifted a centimeter or two – will need further examination and then replacement, I imagine.  If that’s all there is I will be very lucky…  Did you see the list of sunk and damaged boats listed on the bottom of my web page?”

Michael wrote again recently and acknowledged that Paw Paw‘s damage had been slight: “a fair-lead straightened out plus bent pupit and damaged stanchions” and expressed satisfaction with the response he’d had from his Yachtmasters Insurance, who gave him the go-ahead to for repairs over the phone.

“The problem now,” Michael said, “is to get the boat repairs finished before spring. The amount of damaged puplits will keep local stainless works busy for a year.”

Let’s just hope the worst storms of the winter are behind us.

— John Burnham