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In awe of Sandy’s rage

Just a little over a week after Superstorm Sandy barreled ashore and just hours before a nor’easter was to hit the Northeast, I was having an email conversation with New Jersey boater Bob Keck.

Keck, of Pennington, keeps two boats at the Hinckley Mantoloking yard in New Jersey, which took a serious hit from the storm. Keck’s house survived without incident, although it is still without power — he has a large generator to power the house — and he reports that there were an “unbelievable” number of trees down, many of them across power lines.

But nothing, he said, prepared him for the damage he saw at the marina last weekend.

“It looked like a war zone with massive destruction,” Keck wrote. “Boats were everywhere, some piled on top of one another. A few had sunk. A couple were on the other side of the road. Others had floated off their supports and ended up far from where they had been, and the lucky ones were sitting peacefully — some in the water, some on blocks, totally unscathed.

“A few sailboats had obviously floated far from their blocks and had ended up sitting on their keels and rudders without any supports, seemingly with little damage. One sailboat’s mast was entwined in power lines and a transformer. Those boats that had been stored inside were not immune from the rising waters and, while still in the buildings, had been floated above their blocks and were free to run into other boats that had suffered the same fate.”

Roe O’Brien, Hinckley’s marketing director, says the workers at the Mantoloking yard have been “just incredible, working nearly round the clock despite the fact that their personal circumstances are so difficult.” Hinckley president and CEO Jim McManus spent two days there last week helping to organize the recovery efforts.

“I had never witnessed anything like this before — and hopefully never will,” Keck told me. “The unprecedented surge, partially due to a sand dune (across Barnegat Bay from the yard) being washed away and allowing the ocean direct access to the bay, floated many boats off their blocks and left them at the mercy of the tropical [storm] force winds.

“Therein lay much of the problem, since the Hinckley yard sits directly across the bay and was left vulnerable to both wind and a water surge that was unprecedented. From what I have been told there may have been a couple of feet of water in the yard during the storm of the ’90s, but it appears that Sandy produced a water level of at least 5 feet, perhaps more, in the lower sections of the marina. Unimaginable. And it was that totally unexpected storm surge, coupled with high winds, that produced the unbelievable level of damage and destruction.”

Keck said his boats fared pretty well. His Tiara 5200 Sovran express survived without damage, having been in fully enclosed wet storage, protected from rain and wind and able to rise with the tidal surge, he notes. Keck’s new 28-foot Chris-Craft launch, though also inside, floated off its blocks and supports and is resting on an angle on the ground.

“While I have seen her, I was unable to fully investigate whether or not she was damaged, but it appears that whatever damage she incurred was repairable — at least I hope so,” Keck reported.

He continued: “I have not spoken to the yard, not wishing to distract them from the massive job of restoring order out of chaos and preparing for the nor'easter due to arrive today with high winds and probably more flooding.”

For a number of reasons, Keck is ambivalent about global warming. “But it does appear that the incidence worldwide of destructive weather — be it drought, monsoons, superstorms, significant temperature variations, etc. — seems to be increasing,” he said. “Whether or not this is part of a cyclical pattern remains to be seen. However, given the indisputable rising in the ocean levels, new marina construction and repair of existing marinas damaged by such events should evaluate these ‘what if’ scenarios in their plans.”

With some luck, Keck said he hopes to leave Saturday to run his Tiara down to Fort Lauderdale for the winter, providing he can get out of the bay. “There is much debris in the water, including several houses washed off their foundations by Sandy. The bay is fairly shallow, and given my 5-foot, 1-inch draft, it may not be possible — time will tell.”

One thing for certain is that Keck will not be deterred from his passion.

“I am 67 years old and have absolutely no intention of giving up boating,” said Keck, who owns an investment firm in Princeton, N.J. “There is something very calming to me in being on the water! However, I have learned to have great respect for the sea and its power and force, and follow my adage of ‘When in doubt, stay on land.’ ”

We wish Bob Keck well on his journey south, and our thoughts are with those still dealing with the aftermath of Sandy.



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