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> How The Southern Yacht Club Rebounded From Katrina... And How You Can Learn From It
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How The Southern Yacht Club Rebounded From Katrina... And How You Can Learn From It
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
US SAILING Communications Manager
How The Southern Yacht Club Rebounded From Katrina...
And How You Can Learn From It
The Southern Yacht Club (SYC) is the country’s second oldest yacht club. Founded in 1849 in Pass Christian, Miss., the club relocated to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, La. in 1878. The clubhouse has been rebuilt five times since making the move. The most recent reconstruction was the most challenging and emotional transition the club has ever faced in its long, storied history.
This August will mark the fifth anniversary of one of the most devastating natural disasters to ever strike U.S. soil. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina left a trail of destruction in its path throughout the Gulf Coast. The SYC suffered the same fate as many other establishments in New Orleans, especially those who reside close to Lake Pontchartrain.
High winds and heavy flooding, including four feet of water greatly damaged the SYC. In the hours following the storm, a fire broke out and completely decimated the club. Countless trophies and priceless, historical artifacts were destroyed. The fallout from this catastrophe sent reverberations throughout the club’s membership base, staff, and local sailing community.
Before the storm hit, the SYC had a staff of 75 employees. The club did their best to retain the core of their staff. Commodores Ewell “Corky” Potts and Hjalmer Breit, general manager Tim Fitzpatrick and others were left with an enormous task of communicating with members, assessing the damage, taking inventory, and developing short term and long term plans for a new facility.
Shortly after the storm hit, the SYC held board meetings in neighboring towns outside of New Orleans. The club’s leadership needed to make the necessary decisions on how to keep membership together, communicate with them and ensure them that they had a plan to arrange for a temporary facility to be erected and eventually build a brand new club.
A committee was organized to take on the project of setting up a new interim modular facility on the front lawn. By the end of March 2006, the facility was up and running. This forward progress allowed the club to hire back most of their employees.
Commodore Potts was optimistic about the future of the club after the interactions he had with members. “The interim facility was erected from the overwhelming support of our members. They were so positive,” said Potts. “Any help that could be rendered was made available. There was no doubt we were rebuilding the club.” As one would imagine, a substantial number of members lost their homes. Remarkably, the club lost only 40 of their 1,750 total members.
This support was evident when the club and its members decided to move forward with hosting the 156th annual SYC Closing Regatta from the front lawn with no facility. Less than two months after the storm hit, over 400 total sailors participated in one of the oldest regattas still regularly contested in the U.S.
“It was important to show membership and the entire sailing community that we may be burnt out, but we are not dead,” Potts explained. “We wanted to make the most of what we have and move forward. We wanted to provide an outlet for them. This was an emotional time for everyone.”
Potts was quick to point out the generosity of the sailing community throughout the country. The New York Yacht Club and Newport Harbor Yacht Club donated trophies to SYC so they could rebuild their trophy base. Other clubs and organizations provided funds and various signs of support. “The most moving thing to me was that the employees of the New York Yacht Club gave up their Christmas funds and sent thousands of dollars to Southern Yacht Club employees,” Potts mentioned tearfully.
The SYC was properly insured through The Burgee Program, which is managed by Gowrie Group. They immediately opened the communication lines with Gowrie and Chubb Insurance, and collected everything that was made available. The club was faced with sky-rocketing construction costs in New Orleans, and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) requirements added to the increase in expenses. However, this did not affect the unwavering commitment from their members.
The SYC hired two local contractors to handle the project. The new clubhouse opened on September 12, 2009 with a number of FEMA standards implemented for this new facility. The structure is clad in cement plaster and metal panels with large expanses of high impact glazing to withstand high wind and water velocity conditions. The first floor was built 22 feet above sea level for flood protection.
There are a number of impressive features associated with this new complex. The building’s enclosed area is approximately 33,000 square feet, with an additional 13,000 square feet of open space beneath the structure for outdoor dining, entertainment, and sailing instruction. The enclosed area consists of dining and banquet rooms, administrative offices, meeting rooms, a fitness center, and a bar. A large cupola sits on top of the clubhouse to serve as a beacon to sailors on Lake Pontchartrain. The complex also includes significant parking improvements, an outdoor six-lane competition pool and children’s pool with landscaped decks.
When asked what he learned from this process, Potts had a few suggestions for clubs who are preparing against a disaster or simply interested in rebuilding their club. Potts cited the importance of organizing a Hurricane Preparedness Committee to create an effective and practical evacuation plan customized to fit your respective club. An evacuation plan should include a chain of command with contact information and a list of resources such as weather radio station outlets and where to find yacht club updates online. The plan should also include a pre- and post-storm timeline that details assigned responsibilities for club personnel.
Potts suggests that clubs should create a Building Committee that is separate from the general Governing Committee. “Our general Governing Committee was too busy with rebuilding the club,” added Potts. “Our sailing activities didn’t always get the attention they needed during this time.” Ideally, the Building Committee would include appointed staff and members with construction and/or engineering backgrounds.
The SYC generously shared their own evacuation plan with US SAILING for our members to use as template or reference.
About US SAILING
The United States Sailing Association (US SAILING), the national governing body for sailing, provides leadership, integrity and advancement for the sport in the United States. Founded in 1897 and headquartered in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, US SAILING is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization. US SAILING offers training and education programs for instructors and race officials, supports a wide range of sailing organizations and communities, issues offshore rating certificates, and provides administration and oversight of competitive sailing across the country, including National Championships and the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics. For more information, please visit www.ussailing.org.
Southern Yacht Club Evacuation Plan
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