Sunday, January 11, 2009

Trip home for the holidays; Bolivar Peninsula post Hurricane Ike

Date Range:  2008-12-11 to 2009-01-11
Title:  Trip home for the holidays; Bolivar Peninsula post Hurricane Ike

We flew home for the holidays on December 10.  Enjoyed seeing all the family members and friends in the Houston area.  Bill's sister, Helene, and her 2 kids and grandson drove down from Dallas for a couple of days.  And Bill's brother, Theo, and his family drove from College Station into Houston to visit.  Even my sister, Jo-Ann, drove down from Michigan and we met up with her in Beaumont for a couple of hours.  It has been probably 5 years since we have seen Jo-Ann and her grandchildren.  We met Jo-Ann's 2 newest granddaughters for the first time, Briana and Hailey.    Jo-Ann's husband does construction management and there is no work in Michigan right now, but he has lined up about 3 years of construction work in the Beaumont, Orange and Port Arthur areas due to the severe damage caused by Hurricane Ike in September 2008.

Bill and I are fortunate to have so many family members in the Houston area where we are welcomed as houseguests and even provided with vehicles to drive.  This saves us a bundle on hotel bills and car rentals.   We could not afford to spend a month visiting home each year if we had to pay for hotels and rental cars.  It is not inexpensive to fly to Texas from New Zealand.

Bill did his annual medical things at the VA hospital and got his script for another year.  We drove to Beaumont and picked up Bill's TWIC and applied for mine -- that ridiculous new requirement that one must have if you hold a Captain's license even if you do not work in the transportation industry and will never enter a secure area of any port.     Just for grins we checked online a week later and were shocked to learn that my TWIC was ready so quickly.  So we made another trip to Beaumont and picked up my TWIC also.  Now we are both set with the requirements for our Captain's licenses until those licenses expire in May 2011.  We will have to make another trip home around April 2011 to handle renewal of our Captain's licenses and renewal of our TWIC.  Spring of 2011 should find us sailing from South Africa to Brazil; so, hopefully we will be able to fly back to Texas from Brazil to do all the paperwork and physicals required for the Merchant Marine licenses.   Wonder if we will ever be able to make a trip home simply for enjoyment and not have a gadjillion "personal business" items to take care of while in Houston.

After picking up my TWIC we met up with my sister, her daughter and her 4 grandchildren at a pizza joint for lunch.  Our son, Trey, and our 2 grandchildren joined us for the day trip to Beaumont.  So we had a large lunch gathering with 6 kids and 5 adults.   It was the first time we had seen the 2 newest girls and it had been so long since the other kids had seen one another that it was like meeting strangers.   It was good to see everyone again.  Who knows how long it will be before we are all in the same place once again. 

We decided to return to Houston via Bolivar Peninsula and the Galveston ferry.   We had seen photos of the damage done by Hurricane Ike last September; and several people had told us that the "beach" no longer exists.  But we wanted to see for ourselves.  "The beach" is where everyone went during our childhood and teenage years.  Bill's father owned several beach houses for rental property for years.    For many years our family vacations were at rental beach houses at various places along Bolivar Peninsula.  Neither of us could imagine all those hundreds and hundreds of houses being completely gone.  Well, they pretty much are completely gone -- both on the beach side of the highway and also on the bay side of the highway.  There are a few pockets of a few houses left standing here and there, although all of them are severely damaged.  But hundreds and hundreds of houses are completely gone.  They are now running new electrical lines and a few people were cleaning up debris, but there is not one commercial building left standing along either side of the entire length of highway between Winnie and Galveston.  We understand that there are still 140 people missing from the peninsula -- assumed washed away in the hurricane.  We cannot imagine what this area must have been like during Hurricane Ike.  We learned later that the reason for so many deaths was that the weather service had predicted the storm to arrive at least 12 hours later than it actually did.  People tried to get out on Friday morning, expecting the storm not to arrive until Friday night.  Cars were washed off the highway as they approached the turn to High Island.  The cars were washed out in the swampy lands that are filled with the old oil horses that still pump and people drowned.  So tragic!  But that was the only way off the peninsula so folks were trapped.

On many piles of debris were placed large American flags on short flag poles.  We pondered the reason for these flags:  were they to mark where bodies had been found?  Our 7-year-old granddaughter showed more wisdom than her years when she told me that "I think the flags mean 2 things.  One is where bodies were found and one is that you shouldn't give up."  I do hope she is right and that the people who made their homes on Bolivar Peninsula don't give up.  There is still room left to rebuild in many areas on that peninsula and I hope that it happens.  Bill and I had always thought in the back of our minds that we would someday return and live on Bolivar Peninsula when we get too old to live on a sailboat.  Here's hoping there will be something rebuilt so we might still have a chance for that to happen.

The absolute strangest thing we saw on Bolivar Peninsula was a 44-45 foot sailboat sitting perfectly upright on the beach between Gilchrist and High Island.   We stopped the car and Bill walked out onto the beach to get a closer look at this boat.  It was named S/V Isabel and hailed from Kemah, TX.  This boat had no outward signs of damage whatsoever.  Heck, even the bimini was perfectly fine and still in place.   Cannot imagine why the owner has not trenched out and refloated this boat by now.  It has been sitting on that beach for more than 3 months.  Made us wonder if the owner even knows it is there.  After all, it is a pretty good distance from Kemah to High Island -- all the way across Galveston Bay and then across Bolivar Peninsula to get where it now sits. 
OMG!!! You would not believe the hurricane damage on Bolivar Peninsula!!  I don't think it can ever come back anything like it was.  Seeing photos doesn't do justice to the actuality of seeing the totality of the destruction.   The damage on Galveston Island (including West End beach area) does not begin to compare to the severe damage on Bolivar Peninsula.  Debris is still piled 15-ft high all along both sides of the highway and FEMA isn't contributing any money to help clean it up.  Guess all the money still has to go to New Orleans instead.  But I guess I shouldn't get started on that.

We arrived back at the marina on Friday afternoon.   Turned on the fridge and walked down to the Chinese superette and bought a few essentials.  By 6:30 p.m. we were in bed and slept for 13 hours straight.  Think we were a bit tired from the long flights?    Sunday morning there was another vendor day at the Hobbs Wharf which is under construction at the end of our dock.  Lots of baked goods, local honeys and local produce and a few craft-type things for sale.  Then we walked a short distance to a couple of small Indian grocery stores and bought all that we could carry back to the boat.  There is a sign on the fence at the end of our dock stating that the footpath will be permanently removed tomorrow so that the newly flooded basin will be open for the new Hobbs Wharf which should open in a few weeks.   Once that footpath is removed tomorrow then we will have no way of walking to either the Chinese superette or to the Indian grocery stores.  That means we won't be able to buy any type of groceries or beer or anything until we buy a car.
Staying at Gulf Harbour Marina means that you absolutely must have a car.  Used cars are very inexpensive here in New Zealand.  People have told us that it is illegal to purchase a used car in Japan, so all the Japanese used cars are shipped to various Pacific islands -- most to New Zealand.  We hope to buy one of the used cars soon.  Bill called on one for sale yesterday, but someone was looking at it when he placed the call; and that person bought it.  The only other car we saw for sale nearby was a Saab convertible, and that is not the type car we want.  This afternoon Bill found an old Toyota on Trade Me, the local version of Ebay; but we haven’t decided if we want to bid on it or not.  At least now we have enough food on the boat to last us about a week.  Then we will have to buy a car just so we can go grocery shopping if for no other reason. 

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