At 03.00 on Sunday 28th February 2010 a deep low tracking up Biscay from Spain and Portugal veered off to the East and came ashore some miles north of La Rochelle causing devastating flooding to the Charante Maritime area and drowning some 50 plus people before moderating and heading off towards Belgium and the Netherlands.
The day before I was launching my boat Paw Paw after anti-fouling and hull polishing etc and moving her to the new permanent berth in Les Minimes - the La Rochelle Marina - on Pontoon 21. We had intended cleaning the decks and polishing her stainless fittings but because of the light rain and cold together with the fact the forecast low would be passing off shore during Sunday making it even wetter we decided to return to our home in Saujon. The marina operates a SMS/text system and sent out an message saying strong wind warning in force - 'check your lines and make sure your boat is secure.' I put an extra line on the small rib we have stowed on the foredeck and doubled the lines to the pontoon. We left Paw Paw neatly tied up and secure in her berth.
Had we stayed the night we could have lost our lives.
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. The marina staff who had been preparing for the eventuality following a similar storm damage on two previous occasions, evacuated all the liveaboards to shore around midnight. They would not have know about us on board Paw Paw and if we had attempted to leave the boat for the comparative safety of the land we would not have made it down the pontoon. Several boats including a large Halburg Rassy on 21 were stuck with their bows under the pontoon jammed there by the anchors so the movement must have been dramatic. The Road on the external dyke du Bout Blanc which separates the marina from the approaches to the Vieux port has had the tarmacadam lifted by the force of the waves sweeping down it from the sea - The chandlers 'Big Ship' at the end of the digue on Rue de la Huguenotte had every window smashed and was flooded out like other business's in the area. All the cafes and restaurants facing the Vieux Port were flooded out to the height of their counters around one and a half metres.
The Photographs below were taken on Monday 1st March on our 2nd visit. Frankly I was more interested in securing Paw Paw as pontoon 21 looked as if the extremity might break away next to Paw Paw's berth. The highest spring tide was for the early morning of Tuesday 2nd before decreasing. The pontoon, like most of the others, had lost it rollers onto the pile and was only hanging in place against the incoming tide and stiff breeze by the alloy sheets on the edge.
end of my copyright
Some minor damage to Paw Paw which is a bent pulpit, a bent fairlead, bad scrapes to 6 stanchions, a couple of badly bent anchor retaining pins and a very minor cosmetic scrape of a couple of inches...
'Yachtmaster Insurance' are being very helpful and I understand my no claims will not be affected and because she was in her marina berth the excess will not apply!