'Kirby was holding on for dear life': Destin captains hang on as waterspout blows through

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

After having to hold on to the pole of a fish cleaning table, one being rocked around in his truck, and another being knocked to the deck by a trash can, three local captains survived a waterspout stirred up by Hurricane Sally early Wednesday morning.

Capt. Curt Gwin of the Only Way, Capt. Jason Rogers of the Great Escape and Capt. Chris Kirby of the Backlash were all down at the docks Tuesday evening and into Wednesday as Hurricane Sally roared through Orange Beach to the west. There were others as well such as TJ George, Matt Champion and Chris Couvillion.

Although Destin didn't get the strike, it did get a waterspout or tornado of sorts that whirled its way around on the docks in the wee hours of the morning Wednesday.

"I don't like leaving the boat ... if the lines break or something (there's nothing you can do if you're not on the boat)," Kirby said. "If it gets bad and you're on the boat, you can cut lines and go."

Capt. Chris Kirby rode the hurricane out on his boat Backlash.

Well it started to get bad after midnight on the docks, and the three captains and others had been running around and checking other boats out to make sure their ropes were holding. 

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Rogers said he and Kirby had just tied off the Reel Chill and then realized the lines on the Sweet William III were about to snap so they put an extra line on it.

"As soon as Kirby got it around a cleat, I got hit with a garbage can and got knocked on the deck," Rogers said.

Capt. Jason Rogers of the Great Escape survived Hurricane Sally and the wind it brought to the docks in Destin.

"(Kirby) had to hold on to the pole ... it about blew him off the docks," he said.

"The wind (from the waterspout) had knocked me up against the fishing cleaning table," Kirby added. "I was hugging the pole."

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Rogers said the cyclone came right over the top of them and snapped the outriggers on the Reel Chill and Gwin's Only Way. The three boats, Sweet William, Reel Chill and Only Way dock side by side at Fishing Fleet Marina.

"That's when the lights went out. Kirby was holding on for dear life," Rogers said.

"After that it wasn't too bad, but when daylight came, it switched ... that's when it really started blowing," Rogers said. "It was blowing strong a couple of  times. It sounded like a freight train coming through here."

Every chance the guys got throughout the night they would run around and check lines on other boats.

Capt. Curt Gwin of the Only Way lost the outriggers on his boat due to a water spout that blew through during the hurricane.

Gwen had gotten to the docks around 1:30 a.m.

"It was getting pretty sketchy ...it was ankle deep on the docks and the power was on," Gwin said, noting that made it a bit scary running around in that water.

"Then it started getting hairy," Gwin said, so he went to sit in his truck and backed it under the back deck of Brotula's restaurant.

Gwin said it was about 3:30 or 4 in the morning when he got word from a buddy that a tornado was near Destin.

Capt. Jason Rogers of the Great Escape rode out the hurricane on his boat.

"It wasn't 10 second later ... lights just blacked out everywhere," Gwin said. "A tornado must have touch down here and went across the parking lot.

"It was rocking my truck so hard I thought it was going to roll over," he added.

Although the truck didn't roll and he was safe, the outriggers on his vessel weren't as lucky.

"It snapped my outriggers in half and blew one of my curtains out," Gwin said.

From there it just got worse, Gwin said, noting he stayed until daylight like the rest of the guys.