As horrific as the devastation has been along the Gulf Coast from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; and make no mistake, it truly was horrific; houseboats have fared comparatively better than most watercraft. Commercial shrimp boats and fishing trawlers litter the marinas, docks and waterways. Large recreational cruisers, smaller family inboard runabouts and outboard-powered trailerable boats lie ruined like so many discarded children's toys.
Perhaps because of their more solid, stable design, the houseboats this magazine's onsite correspondents were able to visit in person generally survived with only minimal damage.
On Monday August 29 at about winds of Hurricane Katrina were reported to be sustained at 175 mph with gusts up to 215 mph when they crossed Slidell Louisiana!
At that time a 48 X 14 catamaran houseboat owned by Beatrice and Elwood Matherene of Slidell, Louisiana broke its moorings in the Pearl River and was washed ashore. The vessel survived the ordeal virtually intact and undamaged. It did, however, float up onto Rte 90 and came to rest there when the water receded. The Matherne's then had to move it back to where they could refloat it with the aid of only one other friend (Clem White).
Ripped out pilings and uprooted trees were chainsaw cut into roller sized logs to manhandle the houseboat off the public highway because the DOT highway crews were fearful (liability) of using heavy equipment for concern of damaging or destroying it. This work took five or six days. The Matherne's lived aboard the grounded houseboat on Rte 90 during this time, all the while having to watch out for speeding emergency vehicles and construction equipment.
The Matherne's are now living fulltime on their houseboat (along with Beatrice's salvaged prized coffee pot) after their home was destroyed during Katrina. A second houseboat owned by the family and moored across from their first remained unaffected at its moorings.
Further to the west, on Highway 433 at Pirate's Point, a 47' Harbormaster houseboat owned by Vidal Cambre and his wife, Cheryl, was resting out of the water in slings while undergoing some engine room makeover when the fearful storm struck. The high winds of Katrina ripped it loose and dropped its stern down to the ground where it came to rest on and destroyed the removed TMD 40 Volvo engines and a gen-set. The boat remains structurally sound and, with the exception of some water reparable damage, should shortly be restored to seaworthy condition. The couple, who evacuated during the storm, plan to shortly become full time retirement liveaboards.
Down in Iberia Parish, where James and Virginia Decuir Shea dock their custom-built 30-ton 50' X 80' houseboat, it rode out the storm in Bristol-Fashion. Jim Shea, being both a skilled pilot and fully experienced sailor, learned long ago to respect the whims of Mother Nature and leave nothing to chance. Their main regret for the month was that their participation in the annual Sugar Cane Festival Boat Parade was thwarted when the festival was canceled because of Hurricane Rita.
Ray Pelleran's luxurious 85' Somerset houseboat, Beau Reve, was moored in Whiskey Bay in the Atachafalya Basin where it, too, safely weathered both hurricanes.