Issue: December 2003
In the Hole

With its hurricane hole scoped out years before, Watermark Cruises’ fleet of tour boats rode out Hurricane Isabel on the hook - and the tree.


    So you think you were sweating Hurricane Isabel, wondering what to do with your boat? How about the folks at Watermark Cruises, the company that runs a fleet of water taxis in Annapolis - as well as several tour boats, including the 44-foot Rebecca, the 65-footers Harbor Queen, Annapolitan II and Cabaret II, and the 95-foot Catherine Marie. The company had to ready 16 boats, and it wasn’t as if they could just call the local boatyard and get a haul-out. Nevertheless, they weathered the storm with barely a scratch, returning to operation just a day after Isabel drowned most of downtown Annapolis. All it took was planning, plenty of anchors, a few sleepless nights and some stout oak trees.


    A week before the storm’s arrival, Watermark’s owner, Debbie Gosselin, and senior captain and maintenance director Ron Gonzalez, pulled out the company’s hurricane plan and updated it to accommodate several new boats. Then they headed up the Severn River to examine their hurricane hole - Hopkins Creek off the southern shore. “Debbie’s dad and I had picked out that spot in the ‘90s,” Gonzalez says. The high-sided creek has deep water nearly up to the banks, which are thick with tall, strong oak trees. “We were using everything from fifty- to eighty-pound Danforths and we had a couple of aluminum Fortresses, but most important, we had oak trees,” he says. “We picked out the trees, went up into the woods and found ones that were big, but not near the water’s edge.”


    By Monday afternoon, four days before the storm arrived, the biggest boats - the Catherine Marie, Annapolitan II and Cabaret II - were tucked into the hole, and the rest of the tour boats had joined them by Tuesday, nestling in between the larger boats. (The water taxis were hauled out and stored on land.) “We would nose the boats up into the mud, and then tie them off to the trees, and then throw some storm hooks off,” says Gonzalez, who slept on one of the boats to keep an eye on them. As the week progressed, a couple of barges and some sailboats also anchored in the creek.


    By Thursday morning, with Isabel only a few hours away, Gonzalez was joined by eight of the company’s captains, who paired up to stay on the four biggest boats. With handheld radios for communication, flood lights for visibility throughout the night, and a 22-foot Mako at the ready, they could quickly shuttle people to and from any boats that needed help - like the Annapolitan II, whose anchor they reset Thursday afternoon. But the greatest challenge came early Friday, when the wind shifted from the northeast to southeast and the biggest boat - the Catherine Marie - repeatedly dragged her anchors. “It started at about two-thirty [in the morning] and we didn’t get her settled in till about four-thirty,” Gonzalez says. “I pretty much just sat on the stern and monitored the boat till the sun came up.”


    Friday afternoon, as the storm tide receded, Gosselin called the boats home. By 10 a.m. Saturday a water taxi was on duty, and the Harbor Queen took her first tour at noon. Later that day, 100 guests boarded the Cabaret II for a wedding reception cruise.


    Gosselin credited “our fantastic team” for a solid week of preparation before the storm, as well as a long night protecting the boats at its height. Gonzalez also credits firsthand experience: “I used to live in the Caribbean and yes, I had been through hurricanes before. I know what it’s like.”