From disaster to spectacular for club

Otter Point to reopen after two years of rebuilding from storm

September 18, 2005|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,SUN STAFF

Two years ago, when storm surge from Tropical Storm Isabel sent the waters here rising, the boats docked in Otter Point Creek floated up along with them.

The Otter Point Yacht Club, however, did not.

Nearly eight feet of water rushed inside the tiny clubhouse after a part of the front wall gave in. The drenched interior was destroyed - an overturned jukebox, chairs bobbing in the murky waters, boxes of food submerged.

But true to its motto as a "working man's yacht club," a point of pride among members, the club rallied, rebuilding the nearly 60-year-old watering hole by themselves into a sleek new retreat with a stunning view.

"In shambles"

This weekend, Otter Point Yacht Club will celebrate its grand reopening, almost two years to the day after some thought it might have folded.

"It was in shambles," said 20-year member James Barnes. "People decided, we can either tear it down and go someplace else, or make it right again. We did what was required."

The night of the storm, two dozen club members stayed in the clubhouse all night to watch their boats, playing cards by candlelight after the power went out. The winds were fierce and rain was heavy, but it appeared as though the worst had passed. Most of them went home.

Upon returning the next morning, Rolfe Garrett noticed many cars were parked along the road leading down to the creek. As he made his way down the driveway, he saw why.

Wading through the high waters in shorts, he surveyed the damage. Water had overtaken the docks, the clubhouse and the parking lot.

"Everything that could float away did," said Garrett, the club's current commodore and owner of a septic company. An ice machine was later found about 200 yards away on Pulaski Highway.

Underinsured

Like many affected by the 2003 storm, the club found itself woefully underinsured. Estimates to rebuild the club varied from $350,000 to $1.1 million, according to Garrett.

But when the insurance check came, it covered only $50,000. A bank loan contributed $100,000.

The rest was up to the club's members.

"Otters do what Otters do best. They get the job done," wrote Theresa Keyes in a club newsletter. "We will have a new clubhouse before you know it.

"And then we do what we do second-best - PARTY!"

They worked on the weekends and whenever they could during the week, taking their cues from club members with experience in contracting or other construction-related jobs - such as plumbing and electrical work. The wives chipped in as well, in addition to cooking meals.

During an inspection after the storm, the county said the club would have to construct the new building higher off the ground to avoid a similar disaster.

"There was only one place to go. That was upstairs," said Ken Henning, 77, who was the commodore in the late '50s and whose 81-year-old brother helped with the rebuilding.

The result is better than any of the club's members expected.

The old clubhouse was an enclosed, low-lying structure with mirrors around the bar instead of windows. While they initially balked at having to build higher after the storm, the result is a spectacular perspective of the creek from the wide windows that stretch along two sides of the airy clubhouse.

"We can't get over the view," said Doug Price, 63.

New big-screens

There used to be arguments over whether to watch football or NASCAR - now they're surrounded by a half-dozen flat-screen and big-screen TVs. A shiny new kitchen and hardwood dance floor fill out the rest of the clubhouse.

And the club now boasts more members - 106 - than it did before the storm.

After two years of labor, the working men have got a yacht club that radiates luxury. Despite selling his 36-foot-long boat recently, it's the people who keep Henning coming back.

"It's different, but it's still the same ol' bunch," he said.

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