Rainstorm Lashes Lakeshore

October 8 and 9, 1977
The Milwaukee Journal
By Alice Anne Conner

Saturday, October 8, 1977: Heavy winds and lashing waves tossed boats about like leaves Friday evening at Port Washington's WI Harbor. Photo by Vernon and James Biever.  Picture 1
Saturday, October 8, 1977 (above): Heavy winds and lashing waves tossed boats about like leaves Friday evening at Port Washington's Harbor. Photo by Vernon and James Biever.

Saturday, October 8, 1977: Heavy winds and lashing waves tossed boats about like leaves Friday evening at Port Washington's WI Harbor. Photo by Vernon and James Biever.  Picture 2
Sunday, October 9, 1977 (above) Photo by Allan Scott (above). Associated article below.

About 15 sailboats stacked like matchsticks on the dock at Port Washington harbor told the tale Saturday morning of high winds and heavy rains that swept a long stretch of the Lake Michigan shore, including the Milwaukee area, early Friday evening.

In all, about 21 boats, most of them single masted sailboats, were destroyed or considerably damaged by the rough waters. Dennis Cherny, commander of the Port Washington Yacht Club, said auxillary police and other people tried to save the boats, starting their efforts about 7 p.m. Friday, but had to give up when the storm worsened.

"It's just one of those kinds of storms that sneaks up on you," Cherny said after a sleepless night. "It's not like a tornado or anything. It just got rougher and rougher. There where a lot of people standing around crying out here last night."

He estimated the value of the boats at about $40,000 each, with a few considerably more expensive.

"Port Washington has always been a questionable harbor - that means in a storm, you don't go there - and we've lived with it for years around this place. But I talked with some of the old timers and they said there hasn't been a storm as bad as last night's since 1940 when one just about as bad destroyed more boats."

As many boats as possible were hoisted from the water onto shore by a crane borrowed from a local firm. Had the boats been left moored, some said, none would have survived the storm.

The Coast Guard spent three hours of the night fighting its way to a sailboat stranded by the storm about 12 miles off Kenosha. Aboard it was a Lake Forest (Ill.) man, Robert G Hempel, who left Holland, Mich., Friday afternoon, headed for Kenosha.

When the storm got worse, he radioed the Coast Guard, and the Chicago station sent a helicopter to locate him. The Coast Guard boat, however, did not reach Hempel for three hours because of the six to eight feet high waves. Hempel reportedly jumped from his boat onto the Coast Guard craft with the aid of a swell that raised his boat several feet higher than the coast guard boat.

Hempel abandoned his boat, by that time about two miles from the Kenosha harbor, and found it about midnight washed ashore near North Chicago, Ill.

The gusty winds also caused power failures in the Milwaukee area. A spokesman for Wisconsin Electric Power Co. said power failures were scattered.

Most of the failures were caused by falling tree limbs and power lines.

Most people, however, were without electric power for only about an hour, the spokesman said.

Winds were clocked at 40 to 45 miles an hour between 7 and 9:45 p.m.

The National Weather Service reported 1.21 inches of rain here between 7 a.m. Friday and 7 a.m. Saturday.

Winds will still be a bit brisk this evening and tonight, but calm is expected to prevail on Sunday.
Brian R. Smith added comments
I remember going down to the west slip in Port Washington Wisconsin with my father Lincoln Delos Smith. We had our fish tug moored in that west slip which was notorious for heavy wave action with an eastern blow - like this storm was packing. We would often "baby sit" the tugs watching and waiting to see that they would hold to their moorings. Ever since the sinking of the Bert S in 1967 we, as a family, did this a lot. When we left the West slip Dad followed the lake shore north - and came across this disaster in the making. What I remember next was joining 10 or 15 other men pulling on the lines of one of the sailboats that had washed up on the shore. The waves were so big and strong that even with the combined might of the men on the lines - each time a wave hit the sailboat would rock and move down the beach a few inches. Each time a few inches closer to rocks. The progression continued until the sailboat ground itself into the rocks to stay. At that point, we gave up. In 1977 I would have been 15 years old.