We can be Heroes

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I typically use this column to introduce the theme of each month’s issue. The copy in your hands has multiple stories about emerging technologies that we hope will give you concrete ideas to apply to your business.

As I write this, however, the boating industry is actively responding to the Hurricane Dorian disaster in the northern Bahamas. This will be old news by the time you’re reading this, but what struck me most about this story — besides Dorian leveling much of the Abacos and devastating thousands of lives — was the response by U.S. boaters and our industry to an event that, technically, wasn’t our problem.

The response was immediate, albeit disjointed. Go Fund Me accounts appeared as soon as it was clear that Dorian would wreak havoc on the northern Bahamas. Flotillas of boat owners in South Florida also planned to head over with relief supplies, hours after Dorian had passed up the Florida coast.

According to reports, many boaters were turned back by the Coast Guard out of West Palm Beach, Fla., because of devastation to the islands’ docks and hazards to navigation following the hurricane.

Others pressed on, regardless. Duane Kuck, CEO of Regal Boats, and a small group of friends chartered two helicopters the day after the storm and flew to the Abacos. Kuck, whose wife grew up in the Bahamas, had a personal connection to the islands. His father-in-law lived there, and one of his wife’s cousins watched his own marina get obliterated by the storm.

“What we’ve been doing is grass roots, so we can do it fast,” Kuck told Soundings Trade Only a day after his helicopter evacuated 20 from the Abacos (and continued to evacuate them all week). “It’s all privately funded. We pay for fuel for the planes and the boats. We can’t wait for others to respond. We’re very thankful for the bigger organizations helping out.”

At AIM Marine Group, our chief editors and publishers got on a conference call as Dorian churned to discuss how we could help.

Many of us had cruised or fished the Abacos, so there was a connection to the islands. At first, we floated the idea of running a boat over with supplies, but we quickly realized it was too soon.

We reached out to Bob Denison of Denison Yacht Sales for advice. Denison was already deep into relief plans as Dorian was happening. “We initially had a ton of clients say they wanted to take their boats over with supplies,” Denison said. “But that was the exact wrong thing to do.”

Instead, Denison asked those clients to offer their boats for cruising or fishing for a day, as prizes for a Go Fund Me account he’d started. In days, he’d raised $53,000 for relief efforts.

Another group Denison was involved with, Hope 4 Hopetown, raised $382,000 for Abacos relief, in a week. After due diligence, AIM Marine Group decided to support that fund, which takes a long view to rebuilding the Abacos.

Mobilizing the industry

Other industry groups mobilized. NMMA, Maverick Boat Group and Contender Boats threw their finances behind Third Wave, a South Florida volunteer group with search-and-rescue capabilities, and access to C-130 transport aircraft and boats. As the Bahamas opened, Third Wave organized a flotilla of boats with supplies.

The Marine Industries Association of South Florida, local nonprofits and businesses also raised $200,000 just days after the storm to help fund the 110-foot True North, a vessel that would become a “floating relief campus” for medical and other aid personnel.

Then there were dozens of individual efforts. The crew of the 240-foot superyacht Laurel rescued 55 dogs abandoned after the storm, while offloading 30 tons of supplies. The yacht typically charters for $700,000 a week, so the owner’s choice to donate it for relief was generous.

At the same time, U.S. boaters living in Eleuthera evacuated 500 souls from the Abacos. About 15 boats searched the chain’s smaller outlying cays for days. “It’s encouraging, the numbers we were able to rescue,” Adam Darville, one of the boaters, clearly exhausted, told local media. “We did what we had to do. It was a team effort.”

The team-effort component may be a missing link in a relief effort that was primarily responses from individuals and private companies.

“The marine industry is doing a lot,” Denison said, when asked about the individual responses. “Collecting supplies. Fundraising. Spreading awareness. Donating boats. I won’t criticize any of it. There’s definitely some overlap happening and for sure some inefficiencies, but everyone I know in the thick of it is doing the best they can with the intel and resources they’ve been given.”

Would it make sense to have an industrywide disaster relief fund? Especially given that we’re seeing fiercer and more frequent storms?

Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boat Group, thinks not. “People need to be moved by events and are resistant to what might be viewed as a tax,” he said. “Saltwater boatbuilders like me also owe a lot of our success to the incredible boating opportunities in the northern Bahamas.”

I’m proud that builders and brokers stepped up with such ferocious generosity. It was a humanitarian response from the heart. I know the efforts will intensify as Florida boaters cross the Gulf Stream to offer aid and assistance. 

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue.


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