Typically, by the time November rolls around, I’m well clear of the Northeast and headed south for the winter. This year, though, various factors delayed me, so that when Hurricane Sandy swept through in late October, I was still in Lake Erie. I’ve made this trek a dozen times, and had I been on schedule, I’d have had a much closer look at the storm. Sometimes it’s just plain good luck that gets you through.
Traveling down the Hudson River in Sandy’s wake, I encountered a substantial amount of debris starting 75 miles north of New York City. Large logs and dock timbers floated just under the river’s surface and even watching carefully, I struck several of them. I was grateful for the sturdy skeg protecting my rudder.
At the Nyack Boat Club, a member-run sailing club 30 miles north of New York, Sandy had ripped off the roof to the balcony and 19 boats were lost. A mast was jutting out of the water 50 yards from where I anchored. Sailing i
nto the city itself, I saw a 35-foot sailboat six feet out of the water, lying on her side near Pier 4. I was surprised to not see more of this, but I suppose most of the easier salvaging had already been done.
At Sandy Hook Yacht Sales, boat broker Dave Kingdon told me that his newly refurbished 34 Irwin, Rascal, had been found in a field two miles from the marina and appeared to be unsalvageable. However, during the November full-moon tide, a salvage company managed to bring in a barge and offload two large lift vehicles onto a “road” they constructed with 10in x 10in beams. The machines then lifted Rascal in slings and, working in tandem, carried her 100 yards back to the river. “The boat is a mess,” Kingdon said. “We’ll have to see what insurance says before deciding what to do.” Moments later, the phone rang and he was explaining to a prospective buyer that, “No, we have no idea where that boat ended up, we can call you when we find it.”
Meanwhile, directly across from Lower Manhatten, Liberty Landing Marina was one of the only marinas in the lower Hudson that stayed open post-Sandy. According to dockmaster Michelle Purinton, it had been touch-and-go. “The surge lifted our docks nearly off the pilings,” she explained. Had that happened, the damage would have been much more severe. Florida-based cruiser John Thornton, whose Island Packet Excalibur was at Liberty Landing, called the storm “terrifying.”
As I continued south down the New Jersey coast, sailing about a quarter-mile offshore, I could clearly see the destruction on shore through my binoculars. In the community of Sea Bright, New Jersey, a dozen vacation townhouses had been tilted back at a 35-degree angle, shoved completely off their foundations. Large buildings had been reduced to piles of concrete and splintered wood.
Even worse, the beaches were gone. As I cruised by at low tide I realized the beaches I’d seen the previous spring had been reduced to narrow strips of sand. At high tide, there was, at most, only a few feet of beach remaining. Farther south, I saw hundreds of dump loads of sand on the beaches, with dozens of dozers pushing it back into place, desperately attempting to rebuild.
At Manasquan, just south of the most severe damage, I found a sliver of hope: the inlet was clear of debris, businesses were up and running, and the small anchorage seemed unchanged. Farther inshore, though, the damage was staggering, with boarded-up windows and flotsam everywhere. In Atlantic City, there was also plenty of debris onshore. Significant sections of the boardwalk were simply missing.
I felt humbled as I reflected on all the damage I saw. According to Scott Croft, vice president of marketing at Boat US, 65,000 boats were damaged or destroyed, at a cost of some $650 million—and that’s only recreational boats, not working vessels, marinas or other marine infrastructure. There are rumors of new inlets in places like Fire Island, New York, and most of the area’s docking infrastructure is either being repaired or rebuilt. Few marinas are operating and those that are, like Liberty Landing, are still working at less than full capacity.
However, on my trip south I also saw how resilient boat people can be. I fully expect the marine industry will rebuild and be fully operational by the time boat traffic returns in the spring. Sandy knocked the East Coast boating community down, but not out. I am confident it will eventually be back, and stronger than ever.
Map by Judy Nielsen/International Mapping; Photos by Wally Moran