by Capt. Steve Byrne
Everyone has their own Sandy story; for some the storm's destruction included loss of their home or loved ones. Many had no power for more than a week: many still have no power. And we have had some cold nights. The significance of these losses is far greater than the loss of a boat or even a marina, but this blog is about fishing so that is my focus.
It was close to midnight on 10/29/12 when my cellphone beeped with a new text message. With the storm in full gear it was impossible to sleep anyway. I flipped open the phone and read, "Docks floated off their pilings. All Great Kills marinas destroyed. Nothing left."
I read the words again just to be sure I read it right, and finally fell asleep.
On the Saturday before Sandy arrived, I moved my boat from Great Kills Harbor to the more sheltered waters of the Arthur Kill. Now that's not to say GKH is unprotected - the harbor is a nearly closed circle, with just a narrow inlet on the west side. Still, it seemed that the river would have more protection, and the only other choice was to pull the boat, which would mean the end of my fishing season.
Instead of running straight to Tottenville Marina, I stopped for one last fishing trip before the storm. I fished for an hour and a half, with three keepers out of a dozen ‘tog - including a memorable 24-incher that was stuck in the rocks for a solid ten minutes before I snapped off the sinker and was able to bring him to the surface.
I pulled into Tottenville Marina and secured the boat between the main dock and the next finger. The space would normally hold two boats, but it was empty so I used the extra room to hold my boat off all docks. I doubled all of my lines and took off my electronics.
In the yard was most of the party boat fleet from Atlantic Highlands: the Mi-Jo, Sea Hunter, Prowler, plus others. Their presence reassured me that I was putting the boat in the right place.
At 4:30AM the morning after Sandy, I made my way around downed trees, wires, telephone poles and a few cars that were swept to the side of the road. Even in total darkness, the level of destruction was obvious. The smell of diesel was heavy in the air. "There's no way I'm still floating," I said aloud.
In the marina, boats and docks were everywhere. On their side, upside down, under water, and piled on top of each other. The ramps to the floating docks were missing or sticking straight up in the air. Two large boats went over the side of the bulkhead and were jammed sideways between it and the floating docks.
Part of me was afraid to look, but I got out of the truck and shined the flashlight into the darkness. My boat was right where I left it, bobbing happily in the midst of the chaos around it.
I had to get to Great Kills and see if there was anything I could do at my marina. I parked the truck two blocks away from Mansion Avenue, across the street from a boat that was tied to a tree. There were boats everywhere. In driveways, on the street, in restaurants, tackle shops, lawns, backyards…just everywhere.
Mansion Avenue was littered with boats and slick with oil. The smell of diesel, gasoline and oil was mildly nauseating. If a boat was on blocks or on a trailer, it floated off. If you tied your boat to your trailer - as many failed to do - there was a fair chance you were okay. If you were in the water, well, it was not good. There are easily a thousand boats in Great Kills Harbor, and just a handful - maybe two-dozen - survived in the water. A single string of floating dock in Staten Island Boat Sales seemed to be all that was left of the seven or so marinas. All of the docks were gone.
When I first arrived, it was me and one other boat owner. The crowd built while I was there, and they belonged to one of two categories: the gawkers who came to see the damage, some posing in front of debris for photos, and the boat owners and marina operators, dazed by the magnitude of the damage, and daunted by the financial impact to come.
During the first week after the storm there was little action as owners waited for claims adjusters to arrive, and many dealt with problems at home due to the storm.
As the second week began there was substantial progress as marinas got access to their heavy machinery and began pulling boats from the wreckage and putting them back on blocks, jack stands and trailers. From the chaos, order was once again taking hold. Some boaters began jumping in and removing debris from their marinas themselves, dragging wood, plastic dock floats, etc. out to the street for sanitation to pick up.
Once the marinas have their yards in order, they can focus on reconstructing docks. Many pilings are still in place, but they will have to be inspected to see whether they are still in good condition. Certainly, there will be many pilings that are broken or lost and must be replaced. Some marinas may have to reconfigure their docks entirely. But you can see the progress. It will get done.
The USCG has all but closed the Port of NY & NJ to recreational boat traffic, except for the purpose of moving your boat to safe haven. If you do move your boat, exercise extreme caution - particularly when approaching any harbor or inlet that formerly held boats. There are many partially submerged boats and pilings in the water.
Like many Staten Islanders, Old Orchard Light was one of my favorite places - not only on the water, but also in the entire world. I grew up here, and I have sailed, boated and fished around that light for over 40 years. Unfortunately, Orchard is no longer a lighthouse, and instead a slab of rocks is the only evidence of its existence that remains. Here's a before and after -
If you are navigating Raritan Bay in the darkness, be advised that the light is no longer there and the rocks are a very serious hazard.
Sheepshead Bay party boats are sailing and catching bass & blackfish, so if you want to satisfy that itch to fish, hop on board; they could use your support.