A Guide to Preparing Marinas and Boats for HurricanesClick here to view and print the Hurricane Brochure in Adobe PDF format.
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Boat owners from Maine to Texas have reason to become edgy in the late summer and fall: Each year, on average, two hurricanes will come ashore somewhere along the Gulf or Atlantic coasts, destroying homes, sinking boats, and turning people’s lives topsy turvy for weeks, or even months. This year, who knows? Florida is struck most often, but every coastal state is a potential target.
Experts predict that in the next 20 years there will be much more hurricane activity than has been seen in the past 20 years. Experts also fear that after a number of storm-free years, people in some of the vulnerable areas will be less wary of a storm’s potential fury. But to residents of Charleston, South Carolina, crippled by Hugo in 1989, and people in Dade County, Florida, ravaged by Andrew in 1993, the hurricane threat won’t soon be forgotten.
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Developing A Plan:
Boats are especially vulnerable to a storm's winds and surging seas. Some are slammed into their docks by high water, or flooded and sunk by rain. Others roll and thrust violently against mooring lines until they chafe through the lines and wind up broken on the rocks. After a storm, boats and any valuables left aboard are the first target of looters.
If you own a boat, the first step in developing a preparation plan is to review your dock contract for language that may require you to take certain steps or to leave the marina when a hurricane threatens. Ask the marina manager what hurricane plan the marina has in place.
Planning where your boat will best survive a storm, and what protective steps you need to take when a hurricane threatens, should begin months before hurricane season. The BoatUS Marine Insurance claim files have shown that the probability of damage can be reduced considerably by choosing the most stormworthy location possible.
Where to Keep Your Boat in a Hurricane
Securing a Boat Ashore
A study by MIT after hurricane Gloria found that boats stored ashore were far more likely to be saved than boats stored in the water. For many boat owners and marinas, hauling boats is the foundation of their hurricane plan. Some farsighted marinas and yacht clubs have evacuation plans to pull as many boats out of the water as possible whenever a storm is approaching and secure the rest. There are some types of boats that must be pulled if they are to have any chance of surviving. Smaller, open boats and high performance powerboats with low freeboard, to use two examples, will almost always be overcome by waves, spray, and rain. Fortunately, most of these boats can be placed on trailers and transported inland.
Boats ashore should be stored well above the anticipated storm surge, but even when boats are tipped off jackstands and cradles by rising water, the damage they sustain in a storm tends to be less severe than the damage to boats left in the water. Windage is also a consideration. If nothing else, reduce windage (see “Critical Points”) as much as possible and make sure your boat has extra jackstands, at least three or four on each side for boats under 30’ and five or six for larger boats. The jackstands must be supported by plywood and chained together. To reduce windage, some ambitious boat owners on the Gulf Coast dug holes for their sailboat keels so that they presented less windage. Smaller sailboats were laid on their sides. Recent storms have proven that high-rise storage racks are vulnerable in a storm’s high winds. Several have been completely destroyed in recent hurricanes. If possible, boats on storage racks should be placed on trailers and taken home.
Securing a Boat in the Water
Any boat in the water should be secured in a snug harbor (don’t even think about riding out the storm at sea unless you’re the skipper of an aircraft carrier). The trick is deciding which harbors will be still be snug if a hurricane comes ashore and which will be vulnerable.
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At A Dock:
Members of the BoatUS Catastrophe team estimated that as many as 50% of the boats damaged during Hurricane Fran could have been saved by using better docklines: lines that were longer, larger, arranged better, and/or protected against chafing. If you decide to leave your boat at a dock, you'll need to devise a docking plan that is liable to be far different than your normal docking arrangement. By the time preparations are completed, your boat should resemble a spider suspended in the center of a large web. This web will allow the boat to rise on the surge, be bounced around by the storm, and still remain in position.
Take a look at your boat slip and its relation to the rest of the harbor. For most boats you'll want to arrange the bow toward open water or, lacking that, toward the least protected direction. This reduces windage. Next, look for trees, pilings, and dock cleats-anything sturdy-that could be used for securing docklines. With most docking arrangements, lines will have to be fairly taut if the boat is going to be kept away from pilings. The key to your docking arrangement is to use long lines, the longer the better, to accommodate the surge. (A good rule of thumb: storm docklines should be at least as long as the boat itself.) You will probably want to use other boat owners' pilings (and vice versa), which calls for a great deal of planning and cooperation with slip neighbors and marina management.
Lines should also be a larger diameter to resist chafe and excessive stretching. On most boats you should use 1/2" line for boats up to 25', 5/8" line for boats 25' to 34', and 3/4" to 1" lines for larger boats. Chafe protectors (see "Critical Points") must be on any portion of the line that could be chafed by chocks, pulpits, pilings, etc.
To secure lines to hard-to-reach outer pilings, put the eye on the piling so that lines can be adjusted from the boat. For other lines, put the eye on the boat to allow for final adjustment from the dock.
Whenever canals, rivers, or waterways are available, they serve as shelters-hurricane holes-and offer an attractive alternative to crowded harbors and marinas. Your mooring arrangement will depend on the nature of the hurricane hole.
In a narrow residential canal, a boat should be secured in the center with several sturdy lines ashore (the "spider web ") to both sides of the canal. This technique was common to most of the boats in canals that survived Hurricane Andrew. Conversely, boats that were left at docks without the benefit of lines to both sides of the canal didn't fare any better during Andrew than boats at marina docks. The boat should be facing the canal's entrance and be as far back from open water as possible. Besides sheltering the boat, being away from the entrance should help with another consideration, which is the need to maintain a navigable waterway.
Securing boats in canals with private homes is possible only if you make arrangements with the homeowners whose trees and pilings you will be using to secure your boat. This can be difficult if your boat isn't normally moored in the canal. If your boat is already in the canal, getting other homeowners involved in planning for a hurricane increases the chances that your boat (and theirs) will survive. This is important. All it takes to wreak havoc in a narrow canal is one or two neglected boats coming loose.
In wider canals and waterways, boats should be secured using a combination of anchors and lines tied to trees ashore. The more lines and anchors the better. Try to find a spot that is well away from open water and that has tall banks, sturdy trees, and few homes. Moor your boat away from the main channel. Other considerations: a hurricane hole that ordinarily takes an hour to reach may take two hours to reach when winds and seas are building; bridges may not open as frequently once a hurricane warning have been posted; or the bridges may be locked down to evacuate cars. (This was the case on the Miami River before Hurricane Andrew.) Plan on moving your boat early.
At a Mooring, at Anchor, or Both:
Mooring in a sheltered location can also be a good alternative to exposed harbors and/or crowded marinas. A boat on a mooring can swing to face the wind, which reduces windage, and it can't be slammed into a dock unless the anchor or mooring drags.
The first question, then, is will your mooring hold? As a result of numerous moorings being dragged during recent hurricanes and northeasters, a search has been underway for a more secure mooring anchor. A recent BoatUS test using a large tug and several types of moorings found that the moorings that are the least likely to be dragged are the "embedment" type anchors-a helical and an expanding fluke anchor- which are deliberately screwed or driven into the harbor bottom. Traditional moorings- mushroom anchor and dead-weight blocks- were far more likely to be dragged with relatively little effort. A mushroom anchor that isn't sufficiently buried has very little holding power. The holding power of a mushroom or deadweight anchor can be increased by extending the pennant's scope, but you also have to consider the proximity of other boats. Embedment anchors do not rely on scope to increase their holding power, but scope must be sufficient to allow for tidal surge.
If you have doubts about your mooring, the chances of its dragging can be reduced significantly by using one or two additional storm anchors to enhance its holding power and to decrease the room your boat will need to swing.
An arrangement that uses two anchors (or a mooring and an anchor) set 45° apart has been used successfully to moor boats in storms. Three anchors, if they are set correctly, are even better. Three anchors should be set 120° apart (see diagram) and joined at a swivel.
Whatever arrangement you decide on, it is important to have plenty of scope-at least 10:1 if possible- and a lot of heavy oversize chain. Probably 50/50 is the optimum chain-to-line ratio. A riding weight, or sentinel, placed at the chain/line juncture will lower the angle of pull on the anchor and reduce jerking and strain on the boat. To absorb shock, an all-chain rode must have a snubber (usually nylon line) that is about 10% of the rode's length.
Chafe gear is essential on any line, but it is especially important on a mooring line. Recent storms have given dramatic evidence that a boat on a mooring is especially vulnerable to chafing through its pennants (see "Critical Points"). Unlike a boat at a dock, which is usually sheltered and is secured with multiple lines, a boat on a mooring is typically in a more exposed location and secured with only two pennants, which are under enormous loads and will chafe through quickly if they aren't protected.
A trailer is, or should be, a ticket to take your boat inland, to a more sheltered location away from the tidal surge. But your boat won't get far on a neglected trailer that has two flat tires and rusted wheel bearings. Inspect your trailer regularly to make sure it will be operable when it's needed.
If you take your boat home, you may want to leave it, and not your car, in the garage. A boat is lighter and more vulnerable to high winds than a car. If this isn't practical, put the boat and trailer where they will get the best protection from wind, falling branches, etc.
Let some air out of the trailer tires and block the wheels. You can increase the weight of lighter outboard boats by leaving the drain plug in and using a garden hose to add water. (Rain will add a lot more water later.) This has the added advantage of giving you emergency water (non-drinking) if the main water supply gets knocked out by the hurricane. Place wood blocks between the trailer's frame and springs to support the added weight. On a boat with a stern drive, remove the drain plug so that the engine won't be damaged by flooding.
Secure the trailer to trees or with anchors or augers. Strip all loose gear, bimini tops, canvas covers, electronics, etc. and then lash the boat to the trailer.
Boats on Davits and Lifts:
Boats on backyard davits or lifts are extremely vulnerable to storm surge, which will probably reach higher than the boat can be raised. If possible, boats on lifts or davits should be taken off and stored ashore. Another alternative would be take the boat off the lift and secure it at a dock or in the center of a canal.
If the boat must be left on its lift (only as a last resort), remove the drain plug so the weight of accumulated rainwater will not collapse the lift. (If the tidal surge reaches the boat, it will be flooded, but to leave the plug in place is likely to result in more serious structural damage.) Tie the boat securely to its lifting machinery to prevent it from swinging or drifting away. Use fenders anywhere it could come into contact with pilings, lift motors, etc. Plug the engine's exhaust outlet and strip the boat.
Chafe protectors are essential on all lines: at a dock, at a mooring, or at anchor. Nylon stretches and absorbs shock, which is good, but this stretching under tremendous loads also works the line against chocks and other contact points. On moorings or at anchor, the line stretched over the edge of the rail can create sufficient heat to melt the line internally. Polyester (Dacron) has much less stretch, but is more chafe resistant than nylon. By using a polyester line from the cleat through the chock and then joining it with a nylon line (use two eyes) to the piling or mooring, you can get the best of both types of line-the chafe resistance of polyester and the stretch of nylon.
Any line must be protected in a storm. For a super system, if your chocks are large enough, fit a second, larger diameter hose around another hose that fits snugly to the line. Drill holes in both hoses, and use cord to tie them securely to the line. In a pinch you can use a single hose.
If you need chafe protection quickly, use duct tape (a lot) to secure several layers of heavy canvas to the lines. This won't be as rugged as hose, but it is certainly better than leaving the line unprotected.
Selecting rope and chafe gear is complex topic. For more on what types of line work best in which situations and for more information on chafe, click here.
Cleats and Chocks:
Many boats have cleats and chocks that are woefully inadequate. This problem becomes critical when more and larger diameter storm lines are used during a storm. If necessary, add more and larger cleats and chocks now; they'll make securing the boat easier all year.
Asses the ability of cleats to carry heavy loads. This means making sure all are backed properly with stainless steel or aluminum plates. Marine plywood is OK if it's healthy-free of rot and delamination. On sailboats, winches (if backed properly) and even keel stepped masts can also be used to secure lines at a dock. (NOTE: Anchor lines should NOT be secured to the mast, as it creates that much more stretch on the line at the chock, which further increases the chances of chafe failure.)
Don't put too many eggs in one basket by leading numerous lines to a single cleat, even if it is backed properly. Two lines per cleat is probably the maximum. Also, a cleat is not reliable when lines are led perpendicular to the base and the cleat can be wrenched out by the tremendous loads (see diagram). Lines led perpendicular from a cleat can wrench the cleat out of the deck. Two-hole cleats are more vulnerable than four-hole cleats.
One of the first steps when preparing your boat for a storm is to take off all loose gear that will create windage: canvas covers, bimini tops, spray dodgers, outriggers, antennas, anchors, running rigging, booms, life rings, dinghies, portable davits, etc.
Sails also create a lot of windage, especially when they come unfurled, and should never be left on deck in a storm. The boat in this photo broke loose during Hurricane Hugo and "sailed" downwind into a marsh. (Salvaging the boat was very difficult.) If there's time, windage can be greatly reduced on a sailboat by unstepping the boom and mast.
Electronics and other valuable gear should be taken home for safekeeping. Not only are electronics vulnerable when vandals comb through boatyards after the storm, they can also be wrecked by all of the water. Personal belongings and other loose gear (potential missiles) should be taken home and the cabinets and cabin doors secured. All ship's documents should be taken off of the boat.
Preventing Water Damage: Remove cowl ventilators and seal the openings. Use duct tape to cover instrument gauges. Duct tape should also be used around hatches, ports, lockers, etc. to prevent water damage below. Close all but the cockpit drain seacocks and bang a plug into the engine's exhaust ports. If the boat does take on water, it will sit lower, and water could back-up into the cylinders. (Remember to remove the plug before starting the engine when the storm has passed.)
When to Take Action
"The time for taking all measures for a ship’s safety is while still able to do so. Nothing is more dangerous than for a seaman to be grudging in taking precautions lest they turn out to have been unnecessary. Safety at sea for a thousand years has depended on exactly the opposite philosophy.
A hurricane "warning" advisory is posted when sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are expected within 24 hours or less--too late, in most situations, to head for the boat. Securing the house, gathering emergency provisions, and evacuating the family will need attention at this point.
A hurricane "watch" is posted when hurricane conditions pose a threat to a specified coastal area, usually within 36 hours. Some hurricane observers believe waiting for a watch to be posted also may be too late to head for the marina or to move the boat to a safer location.
Even watching the barometer, which is helpful for some weather patterns, can’t tell you when to prepare for a hurricane. The extreme low pressure associated with a hurricane occurs close to the eye of the storm; too late to predict landfall.
The best advice is to prepare or move your boat when a hurricane is a substantial possibility, even before a watch is issued. If you wait longer, and your plan includes relocating the boat, bridges may be locked down and the hurricane hole you chose may be inaccessible. Or, if you planned to have your boat weather the storm ashore, you may find the marina is too busy to haul your boat.
Learning From Experience: A Guide For Preparing Marinas and Clubs for Hurricanes
Philip Hale says he sometimes stands in his boatyard and imagines it under four or five feet of water. Philip looks at all of the yard’s valuable equipment that would be transformed into deadly battering rams by a storm’s fierce winds. And he looks at the boats. What could be done to secure all of those boats?
It’s a scene that isn’t difficult for Hale to imagine. His marina, Marthas Vineyard Shipyard, has been pounded recently on at least two occasions, by Hurricane Bob in 1991 and then by the big “No-Name” storm that swept up the coast in early 1992. Other marina owners in areas like Charleston, South Carolina and South Florida who were hit hard by Hugo and Andrew are plagued by the same sorts of questions. Hurricanes do that to people. What if it happens again?
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- Experience: The Teacher That Gives You the Test First and the Lesson Afterward
- Hauling Boats
- A Model Plan: The Houston Yacht Club
Experience: The Teacher That Gives You the Test First and the Lesson Afterward:
One mistake that any responsible marina owner would never make twice is to wait until a hurricane warning is posted to think about hurricane preparations. An extraordinary amount of work has to be done in a short time, perhaps only a few hours, and important decisions have to be made months in advance. Where will boats be stored? If boats are going to be stored ashore, which boats will be pulled first? What arrangements have been made with the owners?
Any hurricane plan ultimately involves people, and one of the first things Hale did after Bob was to put together a list of emergency employees, including many former employees and some local boat owners who are familiar with the boats and boatyard. This emergency staff is organized into teams, each having a specific assignment and leader, who can be called upon to join the regular staff whenever a large storm is approaching.
Most marinas don't have the personnel available to attend to all of the boats, and they depend on boat owners to strip their boats and add extra lines and chafe protection. James Frye, who runs a group of Westrec marinas in South Florida, says that in addition to evaluating their own procedures, one of the biggest parts of their new hurricane plan is getting the name of a local alternate for each boat owner who will take care of hurricane preparations if the owner is out of town. There isn't enough time before a storm, Frye says, for marina personnel to take care of all of the boats and still have time left for their homes and families.
Time is critical. At Marthas Vineyard Shipyard, preparations start at the beginning of the boating season by requiring that all boats in the harbor use extra pennants and chafe gear. At other yards, like Burr Brother in Marion, Massachusetts, a second, extra-heavy pennant is added to boats in the beginning of August, when the hurricane season gets started in earnest. Although boats would still have to be stripped, sails stowed, ports taped, etc. adding extra lines and chafe gear gives marinas and boat owners a valuable head start before a storm.
In the likely event that at least some owners won't be available to prepare their boats, many marinas will haul and/or prepare boats for a fee, but this should be arranged at the start of the season, not in the waning hours before a storm is due ashore. One marina in a particularly exposed Florida location has arranged to have several paid captains available to move boats to a more secure marina further inland. In this case, the agreement was written into the hurricane contract but extra services usually requires a separate agreement.
A study by MIT after hurricane Gloria found that boats stored ashore were far less likely to have been wrecked than boats stored in the water, and for many marinas hauling boats is the foundation of their hurricane plan. Toby Burr at Burr Brothers in Marion, Massachusetts has a list of boat owners who have agreed to have their boats hauled by the marina whenever a hurricane threatens. The decision to haul boats is left to the marina, and Toby Burr says it puts an extra burden on them to decide at what point a storm might pose a threat. The responsibility is more than offset, however, by the additional time it gives them to evacuate boats.
While almost all of the boats hauled by Burr Brothers for Hurricane Gloria escaped with relatively little damage, boats that were stored ashore during Hurricane Bob were not so fortunate. Unlike Gloria, which came ashore at low tide, Bob came ashore at high tide and many of the boats stored in the yard got knocked off their cradles by the surge. To prevent a recurrence of the damage done by the rising water, Burr Brothers has arranged to receive NOAA charts that predict when and where the surge is likely to be highest. If the surge predicted could be a threat to boats stored ashore, Burr Brothers has a contingency plan to unstep masts so that boats can be moved further inland to higher ground.
Ashley Marina in South Carolina, doesn't have the facilities to haul boats, and even if it did, Ed Rhodes at Ashley says the grounds are too close to sea level to offer even minimal protection from tidal surge. Rhodes recommends boat owners take boats to nearby Ross Marina, which has a travellift and a storage areas that is a much safer 15' above sea level. David Browder at Ross acnkowledges that many of his regular customers have already made arrangements to have their boats hauled and stored at his yard whenever a storm threatens.
A Model Plan: The Houston Yacht Club:
Probably the best known and most comprehensive hurricane plan for a facility was devised by the Houston Yacht Club after Hurricane Alicia wrecked the club's docks and 141 of its member's boats in 1983. The plan, now used as a model for many other marinas and yacht clubs, is anchored by the individual efforts of all its members, each of whom is required to submit a hurricane plan with their harbor rental agreement. Each plan must include details on where the boat will be kept, what equipment is available, and the name of a "boat buddy" who will take care of the boat if the member is sick or out of town. The plan must be approved by the club's Hurricane Committee.
Individual plans must conform to the overall guidelines set by the club. For example, boats in the outer harbor have to be evacuated, and arrangements must be made to move them to hurricane holes and alternative dock sites further inland. During hurricane season, owners of boats in the outer harbor are required to keep fuel tanks topped off and extra mooring gear aboard.
In the event of a storm, boat owners report to one of the 14 dock captains, who coordinate the preparation efforts at each of the club's docks. There are other captains and teams to haul and secure boats in the club's one-design fleets and strip them of masts and sails. Each captain has a back-up.
In addition to the dock and fleet captains, there are also crew chiefs who are responsible for the crane operations, harbor operations, and securing the clubhouse and grounds. The crew chief for the grounds, for example, is responsible for seeing that volunteers board windows, store outdoor furniture, shut off electricity, store emergency water, and provide sources of electricity.
The captains and chiefs report to the hurricane operations group at the clubhouse, and the entire effort is coordinated by the club's Commodore and Vice Commodore. Preparations are implemented in carefully planned phases, beginning 72 hours before the hurricane's ETA.
Perhaps the most notable accomplishment of the Houston Yacht Club is that their plan wasn't written and then left on a shelf to gather dust. Although it has been over a decade since the club was devestated by Alicia, the plan continues to be examined and revised. Members must still submit individual plans whenever they bring a boat into the facility. And every year at the start of hurricane season, the entire membership gathers together to rehearses the plan.
Axiom: Never Stay Aboard in a Hurricane!
One of the most dangerous mistakes a skipper can make is to stay aboard his or her boat during a hurricane. Several accounts given in claim files indicate that there is little, if anything, a skipper can do to save a boat when winds are blowing 100 mph, tides are surging, and visibility is only a few feet.
What can happen? Consider the case of a 68-year old skipper in Charleston, who together with his grown nephew, took their trawler up the Wando River to ride out Hurricane Hugo in what they thought would be a sheltered hurricane hole. He reported that the boat seemed to be doing fairly well, but later that night the wind picked up to over 100 mph and 15’ seas sent the boat crashing completely over.
The two men were trapped briefly in a pocket of air underwater when another wave rolled the boat back upright.The two men scrambled onto the deck and were eventually rescued, but not before almost drowning and being overcome by exposure.
Another skipper who stayed aboard his motorsailor at a marina during Gloria had to jump overboard and swim through breaking waves, drifting boats and debris after another boat broke free and rammed its mast (the boat was on its beam ends) through his boat’s pilot house window. Again, he was lucky to reach shore alive. Two Miami men who stayed aboard a Sportfisherman (not insured by BoatUS) during Andrew were not so lucky. Both drowned while trying to escape their sinking boat.
When a hurricane is approaching, you should certainly do everything you can to protect your boat: secure extra lines, set out anchors, add chafe protection, strip the boat above and below decks, etc. Do whatever you think it takes, then head inland. Your boat can be replaced; you can’t.
After the Storm
Marinas that were visited by the likes of Hugo, Andrew, Bob, and Gloria had to contend with downed power lines, blocked roads, and stacks of wrecked boats. Henry Finch at Wild Dunes Marina said that after Hugo his marina’s clean-up operations were given a considerable boost by portable generators that provided power for the clean-up crews and operations center.
Widespread looting is a problem after a storm, and personnel should also be available to protect the marina and boats. Boat owners who did not take home expensive equipment before the storm should be encouraged to do so afterwards.
Broken ports and hatches on boats should be sealed to prevent further damage below. Engines should be pickled as soon as possible. And if a boat is underwater, it should not be raised until someone is available to pickle the engine.
The BoatUS CAT Team
The various insurance companies that insure boats at the marina coordinate most of the hurricane salvage efforts. The BoatUS Catastrophe Field Team will be on scene immediately after a storm and can help the effort to get boats cleared and the marina back in operation.
BoatUS CAT team member Dave Wiggins
In better times, this could have been done in a jiffy (well, almost a jiffy), but immediately after a hurricane, with boats piled everywhere, powerlines down, and mountains of debris blocking roads, locating a crane and getting it into position to hoist a 54’ sailboat off of somebody’s lawn can take a little longer.
So the BoatUS employee at the headquarters in Alexandria took down the information from Mr. Myers and said that someone on the BoatUS Catastrophe team (CAT team) would be contacting him to arrange salvage.
Moments after they hung up, CAT team member Dave Wiggin happened to be driving by on his way to one of the many inspections he had scheduled that day. When Mr. Myers stepped outside, he noticed the BoatUS sign on Wiggin’s car and waved. Wiggin, who didn’t have a clue who Mr. Myers was, pulled over.
Among the many reasons that Wiggin, a marine surveyor from Massachusetts, is on the BoatUS CAT team is his ability to work quickly, deal with dozens of complicated salvage problems, and, never, ever be fazed by something unexpected. So when Mr. Myers thanked him for coming by so quickly (“You guys are GREAT!!”), Wiggin just shrugged his shoulders, smiled modestly, and took out his notebook and pen. As luck would have it, a barge and crane were nearby, and in short order Wiggin arranged for Mr. Myers’ 54’ boat to be lifted gingerly off his neighbor’s lawn and placed back in the water. All of this was done while most boat owners were still trying to contact their insurance companies.
Exceptional service? Dave Wiggin wouldn’t say so; he’d just shrug his shoulders, smile modestly, and move on to the next salvage problem.
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