Early haulouts curb Irene’s toll

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Fast action by Northeast marinas limits boat damage; BoatUS estimates vessel losses at $500 million

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Boatyards and marinas along the Eastern Seaboard prepared well and worked long hours in the days leading up to Hurricane Irene’s arrival in late August, softening the blow of the massive storm.

“We tracked the weather as we do always, so we had plenty of advance notice,” says Larry Smith, service manager of Garden State Yacht Sales on the Manasquan River in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. “We hauled boats as people called, and some called a week in advance. We just hauled as many boats as we could as fast as we could. That’s from 50- to 60-footers to smaller boats. I don’t know what it would have been like if [Irene] was more direct or if we had 100-mph winds. We were certainly prepared for what we were handed.”

Irene hit the United States in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane, with winds as high as 95 mph and driving rain. Similar in size to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, it was an expansive storm. Hurricane-force winds extended outward as much as 90 miles from the center at one point, and tropical storm-force winds stretched out 290 miles, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

BoatUS estimated in early September that the total damage to recreational boats, excluding marina structures, from South Carolina to Maine could be as much as $500 million. The last hurricane to strike the United States, Hurricane Ike in 2008, was estimated to have caused $200 million in damage to recreational boats, according to BoatUS.

The preparation

Damage from Irene could have been worse, but many boaters and marinas heeded the advice experts gave before the storm. “It’s a very large hurricane and is going to be moving parallel to the Eastern Seaboard, so everyone on the Eastern Seaboard needs to keep an eye on this storm and be prepared for the eventual impact,” Bill Read, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center, said in a report before the storm.

“If you can haul your boat, do it,” Jonathan Klopman, a Marblehead, Mass., marine surveyor, advised two days before Irene made landfall. “That’s the best course of action in most places.” Klopman is also a member of the BoatUS Marine Insurance Catastrophe Field Team that recovers and assesses hurricane-damaged boats. He has worked 11 hurricanes.

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Indeed, those who hauled their boats were largely spared damage. “We only have five minor claims for boats that were damaged while stored ashore,” says Carroll Robertson, senior vice president of BoatUS’s Marine Insurance claims division. “The majority of claims we are now seeing are from those who kept their vessels on moorings, which either broke free or were sunk by waves and rains.”

More than 1,000 BoatUS-insured members took advantage of the “Hurricane Haul-Out” feature in their policy that helps defray boat removal costs, the organization says.

Garden State Yacht Sales hauled upward of 70 boats in two-and-a-half days, working from 7:30 in the morning until 8:30 at night, Smith says. “It all — believe it or not — went smoothly,” he says. “We hauled millions and millions of dollars worth of boats and didn’t incur one scratch.”

Garden State has 65 slips (with boats to 70 feet), an engine service center and a marine store. The largest boat hauled was a 61-footer, Smith says. He estimates the highest wind speeds in his area were about 70 mph. The marina fended off the storm well because of its tall pilings, he says. “We did have some boats that stayed in the water,” Smith says. “If our docks came off our pilings we would all be working somewhere else because the place wouldn’t be here.”

Most of the marinas in the Manasquan area were buttoned up pretty well before Irene, says Tom Hurst, owner of TowBoatUS Manasquan and Budget Boat Towing and Salvage. “We fared extremely well,” he says. “All the marinas started hauling boats a couple days before the hurricane hit. All of our boat ramps were busy all day and into the evening. Some of the local boat haulers were doing 30 per day. One hauler had 19 scheduled boats to haul in one morning.

“As a result, we had only three sunken boats, which were under 23 feet, and two boats that were damaged,” he says. “One of them on land fell off its blocks, and another one got pushed against a bulkhead and got dock scars. I do a very large percentage of [salvage and towing] in this area, and I don’t know of any other incidences.”

Hurst says there were more boats high and dry than there are during the winter-storage months.

The boats and marinas in Cape May, N.J., fared very well, says Sea Tow franchise (Sea Isle/Cape May) owner Capt. Jack Moran. “I’ve been out since first light,” Moran said at about 8 a.m. on the day after the storm [Aug. 29]. “We have very little damage — almost none at the marinas. All the marinas in town look good. There are some trees down, but we still have power.”

Moran says the storm surge was not a problem. Winds were about 35 to 40 mph, with gusts to 50 mph, he says. “I don’t think we hit 70-mph winds,” Moran says.

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At Brewer Yacht Haven Marina West in Stamford, Conn., yard workers began hauling and blocking as soon as the National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning, says general manager Todd Breden. “We started early this go-around,” Breden says. “I think we started hauling the Tuesday before it hit. We had a lot of people who wanted to come out of the water early.”

When boat owners choose to keep their boats in the water, Brewer Yacht Haven moves them to the safest slips in the marina, Breden says. “They have the right to stay in, but we have two areas that are open to the south/southwest and they get destroyed every time,” Breden says. “So we move them. Most of our customers have been through this before.”

The marina hauled 55 boats, most of them from 38 to 50 feet. The largest was a 70-footer. Crews moved about 20 boats to safer slips. Damage to the boats and marina was minimal, Breden says. “We lost a lot of dock ramps, but we had only one boat sink,” he says.

Boat and marina damage was more significant to the north in New Bedford, Mass., according to Capt. Clint Allen, owner of New Bedford Marine Rescue, a TowBoatUS franchise. “There were about 35 boats that broke loose from their moorings in this harbor, which is a hurricane-protected area,” Allen says. “We recovered most of them during the storm.”

Four loose boats crashed into a marina, Capt. Leroy’s, and “just devastated it,” Allen says. “The docks are just completely destroyed. The sailboats were tangled together and one of them was sunk. The other three were floating but completely mangled. One was dismasted and it looked like a bomb hit. You can’t believe the damage.”

About 10 days after Irene hit, Allen had taken on 21 salvage jobs. Most of the boats are owned by transients who had rented municipal moorings in New Bedford because of its hurricane-protected harbor, he says. “I think a lot of these boat owners were misled, thinking that because they were behind this hurricane barrier it would be like having their boat on drydock,” Allen says. Instead, many ended up destroyed on the rocks, he says.

Slow business

• Irene was the first hurricane to hit the United States since Ike struck Texas in September 2008. • Irene was the first storm to threaten the New York City area since Hurricane Gloria in September 1985. • On Aug. 27, Irene’s hurricane-force winds extended outward as much as 90 miles from the center and tropical storm-force winds extended outward as much as 290 miles. Irene was similar in size to Hurricane Katrina nearly six years ago to the date. Katrina’s hurricane-force winds extended about 104 miles outward and tropical storm-force winds were felt 230 miles outward. • Flooding records were broken in 26 rivers — 14 in New York, eight in New Jersey and four in Vermont. • An estimated 40 people died as a result of the storm. • About 3.5 million customers were without power; that’s about 9 million people. • 2.3 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders — 1 million in New Jersey, 315,000 in Maryland, 300,000 in North Carolina, 200,000 in Virginia, 100,000 in Delaware and 300,000 in New York City. • 10,000 flights were canceled Aug. 27-28. • Irene will be the 10th U.S. billion-dollar disaster in 2011, breaking the annual record, which dates from 1980.

In North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the best course of action is to move boats to more protected areas rather than hauling them, says Sheryl Branstetter, who owns Scott Boatyard in Buxton, N.C., with her husband, Daniel. Hauled boats can float off their blocks and stands if the water rises high enough, she says.

“Hatteras is a vulnerable place,” Branstetter says. “The boatyard is fairly sheltered, but the problem is the boats are a threat to the property of others when they start moving around. This has happened over the course of this boatyard’s history. Last year, a couple of boats floated off stands, and their owners had no insurance.”

To prepare for Irene, the Branstetters made sure their customers were informed of the forecast so they would move their boats. The couple also secured the boats that were in their dry storage facility. Preparation for Irene began a week in advance, Branstetter says.

“You step it up as the storm approaches,” she says. “It’s mostly a lot of hard work. You lose thousands of dollars,” she says. “You don’t know what you are preparing for. There are a lot of what-ifs.”

Business will be slow for weeks, Branstetter says. “We were debating whether we should close the yard now and take some time off rather than be a burden on the local resources,” says Branstetter, whose marina has 10 wet slips and dry storage. “We have had a little bit of business but not enough to keep this business going.”

The story is the same for Maria Rosell and her husband, Paul, who operate Hatteras Parasail and Hatteras Marine Towing and Salvage. She and her husband also serve as the TowBoatUS contractor for the area. They had no calls for salvage work, a sign that boat owners acted early. “The road won’t be open for another two weeks, so we don’t have anything to do,” Rosell said a few days after Irene had passed. “No business, no money.”

Hatteras Parasail also offers PWC and kayak rentals. The Rosells hauled all of the vessels and dockage — eight floating docks, two ramps, 12 kayaks, three Yamaha WaveRunners and a parasail boat — before the storm. “We have to prepare early because we are so far out in the ocean that we get the effects early,” Rosell says.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue.

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