Connecticut's Marine Industry Impacted By Hurricane Sandy | Connecticut Public Radio

Connecticut's Marine Industry Impacted By Hurricane Sandy

Mar 4, 2013

When Hurricane Sandy blew across the Northeast it caused devastating damage to the boating industry. The losses could amount to more than half a billion dollars. And as WNPR’s J Holt reports, Connecticut’s marine industry is still feeling the effects four months later.

The approach of a hurricane sets in motion a predictable chain of events for threatened boaters and boatyards. Historically boats fare the best in hurricanes when they're on land, so there is often a last minute rush to get them ashore, and the lead up to Hurricane Sandy was no different. At Norwest Marine in Norwalk,

Justin Bennet- "We prepared for the storm." 

That's Justin Bennet, the service advisor at Norwest. Many boats had already been hauled for winter storage, but the days leading up to the storm were spent filling all available space. They started turning boaters away on the afternoon before it hit. In addition to preparing the boats, Bennet and other yard workers prepared their workshops for flooding. Based on the storm surge expected to come with Sandy,

Justin Bennet- "I figured two feet inside the workshop was pretty safe to say, because the workshop is already raised off the ground. I was wrong. Dead wrong." 

The surge went a foot higher than they'd planned for, and parts, tools, computers, and paperwork all wound up under water. The flooding made a big difference out in the yard, too.

Justin Bennet- "Where we're standing right now, if you look at that white shed, you can see where the door handle is, there's that line? So the water where we were standing right now, is about up to your shoulders. So this whole area here, as the tide came up, the water was flowing toward the street and out. so it took those boats that were kind of low, in the low lands over here, and they were all brought up towards this entry way." 

Sally Patrignelli- "We had boats across the street, we had boats down the street, we had boats piled probably six high in the parking lot." 

That's Sally patrignelli, Norwest's Controller. She says that, of the 180 or so boats stored at Norwest, about 50 were damaged. Issues ranged from simple gelcoat scratches, to more complex fiberglass damage, and bent propellers and rudders.  3 boats were deemed to be total losses. 

Sally Patrignelli- "In about three days we were up to where we could actually let customers come in and look at their boats." 

Damage to the yard itself was extensive. All of their docks needed replacement. And both their electrical and phone systems were ruined by the flooding. Over $200,000 later, all has been repaired, but the yard had to pay out of pocket in order to get back on line quickly. Even now they're still waiting for full reimbursement from their insurance company. But if there was one good thing,

Sally Patrignelli- "it's that it happened at a very slow time in the season." 

While their parts store stayed closed that whole time, the loss of sales would have been much worse earlier in the year. They were able to stay on pace with winterizing while making repairs, and expect to be on schedule for spring commissioning which starts this month. 

As much damage as they suffered, it was light compared to many marina's more directly in Sandy's path.

Rieves Potts- "Right after the storm hit I got calls from two or three of our customers from northern new jersey and staten Island. All the boat yard facilities down there, and there aren't many, were flattened." 

That's Rieves Potts, the manager of Brewer Pilots Point Marina in Westbrook, about 60 miles east of Norwalk. They experienced flooding, and some electrical damage as well, but it was minimal in comparison, and no boats there were damaged by the storm. With Pilot's Point being part of a network of 22 boat yards that stretches from New York to Maine, they found themselves in a good position to help. 

Rieves Potts- "As soon as we started getting the calls we polled all of our yards to see what their capacity was, how full they already were, what type of work they could take on. Some could take on mechanical, some fiberglass, some painting,"

And those joint capabilities allowed them to take on a lot of work. They've been able to get it, too. Some individual owners have sought them out, but a lot of the work has come due to referrals from insurers, surveyors, and operators of damaged facilities. So far, the Brewer yards have brought over 50 boats out of the hardest hit areas, and more than 30 of those are being repaired here in Connecticut. Another half dozen will be arriving next week. 

Rieves Potts- "It's a bit like a doctor in an epidemic. You get more business, but are you really happy about it?" 

Happy or not, repairing boats damaged in Sandy is definitely adding to Pilots Point's business right now. Workers are putting in 50 to 60 hour weeks, and the yard has been able to hire some full time employees it had been hoping to take on for some time. Potts says a couple dozen have been employed company wide, and those positions are intended to be permanent. 

Rieves Potts- "We're just hoping that people won't get discouraged by this and get out of boating and play golf! We'd like them to stay in boating, and we're going to do everything we can to make them enjoy it."

The number of boats needing repair indicates the work could last well into next winter, and if it does, Potts thinks it could provide a lift to the marine industry region wide. Even to businesses, like Norwest, that up till now have had to focus on getting back to normal.