Winter Strikes Back

Kentucky residents pull together following storm

Published in the May 2016 Issue Published online: Mar 17, 2017 Feature Austa Cook

“Snowpocalypse, January 22, 2016...that’s just what it was,” remembers Michelle Henderson, secretary at Conley Bottom Resort in Monticello, Ky. “A layer of ice and over 15 inches of snow blanketed the Lake Cumberland area.”

When this storm hit, it unfortunately brought a lot of trouble with it. Several marinas in various lakes in the area sustained heavy damage due to the weight and rate of the snowfall and ice accumulation.

Though we’re well into late spring now and recovery has long been underway, the memories of the tragedy of that January are still fresh in the minds of many houseboaters who were directly affected. Reminiscing on the damage, however, we can’t help but also remember the stories that deserve to be told of these people who took it upon themselves to do everything in their power to fight the “Snowpocalypse” and help the houseboaters around them. From Conley Bottom Resort to Jamestown Resort & Marina, we spoke with those in the Lake Cumberland area to shed some light on some of the many heroes who took up the shovel and headed into the flurry to fight the storm.

J.D. Hamilton, president of Lee’s Ford Marina, explains that the January 22 storm was the worst to hit in the marina’s history in over 60 years. The rapid ice accumulation followed by up to two feet of snow posed a daunting problem, especially for their covered slips. But that’s when the inspirational happened.  

Working Together

“A lot of people pitched in working for days, just to help out,” J.D. gratefully recalls. Without their efforts, the damage could have been much worse, and that’s something the folks at Lee’s Ford Marina are deeply thankful for.

Ken Vance of Elite Boat Sales remembers that State Dock had checked the lines on their boats and private slips the day before the storm hit. Once the snow started falling, a crew of eight to ten employees spent several hours through the night and every day after doing what they could to move as much snow as possible, alleviating the extra weight on top of the roofs.

“During the night we had people patrolling the marina to make sure everything was okay, and we had employees staying the night at the marina in case there was anything unexpected, to do what we could to monitor and make sure it was okay,” Ken explains. “Not only the employees, but all of our slip owners and slip customers deeply appreciated it. Because of their efforts, the slip owners got together and accumulated about $6,000 to give back to the workers.”

State Dock feels very blessed to avoid worse damage and credit it to the relatively new infrastructure of their marina.

“With the main walkways and the walkways on each side between the boats, there’s also a lot of flotation and that helped hold the dock up,” adds Ken.

Michelle and the team at Conley Bottom were also quick to praise the good deeds of the group that helped on their end of the lake.

She explains, “All of our crew came out from their warm homes, braved the weather and the dangerous atmosphere to help push snow and keep it from causing slips to collapse.”

Armed with shovels and rakes, these people put in endless hours in the cold to remove as much snow as possible from the facilities.

“Conley Bottom is honored to have such a dedicated crew,” she praises. “This much snow creates chaos in so many aspects, but when you have an outstanding crew, it helps diminish the devastating effects of such an event.”

Community Affected

This is the same lesson that Burnside, Beaver Creek and Jamestown Marina appreciated as well during the storm.

“We were astounded by the outpouring of support from not only our marina members and crews, but our neighbors on the lake,” says Bob Faflik, Northeast regional manager for Safe Harbor Marinas. “The disaster response team in our corporate office was quickly mobilized and dispatched bringing structural engineers, divers, salvage teams, dock builders and many other industry experts to quickly address the needs of our members.” As Bob points out, restoring these marinas’ accessibility was their first priority so members could enjoy their boats in the spring and early summer season.

If you were in the area, you would also have found Lisa and Ricky Lee, owners of California Houseboat Services, helping recover houseboats across Lake Cumberland and Norris Lake. Once word of mouth spread concerning the storm and people started reaching out to them for help, they were quick to heed the call.

“It was a pretty massive event. It was like a 100-year snow, the way it came,” Ricky recalls. “At Holly Creek, we had to shovel all the snow and ice off the boat ramp to even get to the ramp.”

Helpless From A Distance

One houseboat the Lees recovered was owned by Tim and Nadine Fogt at Grider Hill Marina. Being hours away from their houseboat like so many others, the Fogts could only watch events unfold from a distance.

“A lot of us were watching the docks collapse from Facebook pictures, web cams, or people who happened to be there,” explains Nadine. “We had an older 34-foot Nautaline that was under cover and the slip right next to it had our 22-foot runabout, which was dry-docked for the winter.”

The covered slip had unfortunately come down on the houseboat and pushed it into the water. The walls were loosening from the hull of the Crabby Shack, so the Lees and their recovery team tied ropes around the houseboat, put air bags in the bow so it wouldn’t plunge to the 140-foot depths, performed a controlled sinking, then worked it out from under the dock and aired the bags up. With winds gusting up to 50 mph, they weren’t able to bring it through the marina. Instead they tied the Crabby Shack off in a shallow cove and picked it up after the storm passed.

“We were working in pretty bad conditions,” Ricky recalls.

Unfortunately, the Fogts had only owned their houseboat for three years—most of which was spent remodeling it from the floor up and finishing with touches like the curtains Nadine had sewn. It was an emotional blow when the houseboat was lost, but the Fogts didn’t lose quite everything.

Picture Perfect

“When Ricky Lee was pulling the boat out of the water onto the trailer, we were there sitting in the parking lot in our car,” Nadine remembers. “It was dark and cold, and Ricky’s son came up to us and said, ‘Hey, my mom said you might want this.’”

It was a wet, grimy sandwich bag containing a picture of Tim and Nadine sitting on the front deck of the Crabby Shack—the only picture they had taken together onboard. The woman who snapped the picture had just seen the Fogts earlier that day and consoled Nadine at the abandoned dock.

“Well, at least you have the picture I took of you on your boat,” the woman had said.

“Oh, the picture, I put it in a special frame and it’s still in the boat,” Nadine replied sadly.

“Well, I gave you an extra picture. That’s at home, right?”

“No, it’s on the boat,” Nadine replied.

And here the picture floated up a few hours later, giving the Fogts a tender memento of their old houseboat.

After a battle with their insurance company, the Fogts were grateful to have monetary compensation for its original 2013 state, though they lost the thousands they put into its refurbishment.

“It’s very frustrating when this happens to you, when you think you’ve got everything covered and then you have to go through this other stuff. It’s like insult to injury. It’s important for boaters to know what their insurance coverage is. Thank goodness for Ricky Lee and people like that,” says Nadine. “They’ve become our extended boating family.”

Time To Rebound

And despite the tragedy, the Fogts are far from throwing in the towel. As the aftermath has settled and more of the details have been worked out, this couple is more than ready to take on another houseboat.

“I’d been going to that dock since I was a little girl back in the ‘60s when my parents started boating. Lake Cumberland and Grider Hill dock have been a special part of my life,” Nadine says. “We’ve been to the lake almost every weekend houseboat-hunting, looking for a place to call our home.”

And as the Fogts will tell you, with every terrible snow cloud comes a big silver lining.

“I’ve made a lot of new friends I hadn’t met yet through this situation,” Nadine smiles. “There’s another woman I’d never met before whose houseboat sank at the same dock, and now we’re almost best friends because of what we’ve gone through. Those kinds of relationships have formed and are good from this experience.”

Despite all the marinas and houseboaters that were hit hard this past winter, anyone can see that with the right people at your back, you can see good come from the tragedy. Rather than tear down their devotion, it only served to build it up as the damaged marinas in turn are being built up to regain their former glory. And all across the area, you can just hear the pride in their voices as they tell you so.

“Everything’s good, everything’s back to normal, and spring has sprung,” Ken grins. “Things are starting to look up!”