With Jimmy Buffett music in the air, and hamburgers, hot dogs, and sausage sizzling on the grill, Harbour Yacht Club & Marina owner Jimmy Ryan threw a party Saturday to welcome his boaters back, and to thank the people who helped with the Herculean task of repairing his facility that was completely devastated by Superstorm Sandy.
“We wanted to gather all the people that helped us rebuild,” said Ryan, “and give them some recognition and invite all our friends and neighbors here (to show them) that we’re back in business and we’re shining like a bright, new penny.”
Last year on October 29, Sandy shattered oceanfront homes and washed them across the Brick Township section of the barrier island into the marina, leaving an unimaginable mess. Ryan assembled a dedicated team of workers who toiled seven days a week to remove 135 storm-tossed boats, and rebuild the marina and its flooded office building. They worked for months in frigid weather without heat, power, water or toilet facilities.
“It’s amazing what people do,” Ryan said, after he and his wife Anne presented framed certificates of appreciation to some of the workers in the crowd. “It’s amazing how they rise to the occasion. It’s amazing the generosity of people. It was hard.”
On Saturday, a picture-perfect summer day, the marina sparkled with repaired docks and new plumbing and electric hookups at every slip. A new bulkhead is in place and the storm-damaged marina office is renovated. Boaters could be seen relaxing on their docked vessels, catching up with old friends in adjoining slips.
The party was a rare break from unrelenting pressure and stress for Ryan whose troubles are not completely in the past. Additional construction work remains to be done, including rebuilding the marina’s garage. Ryan said he has received $300,000 in insurance payments for work that has already cost him about $1 million. The marina is only a third full, with many boat owners still in the process of repairing their damaged vessels.
“I would think it will be another year or two ’til we’re fully occupied,” said Ryan. “But I think that will happen. We were full for 30 years. Our business plan has always been to make the place the best place to be for the best price. And if you do the right thing you’ll get your market share.”
The Ryans met their goal of reopening the marina by Memorial Day weekend. Anne Ryan said Saturday’s official welcome back party marked a major milestone in their recovery.
“I’m thrilled that we’re having the party, I’m overwhelmed because it’s been such an emotional eight months, and I’m also exhausted,” she said. “The hardest part for me was taking care of Jimmy. I know how tenacious he is,” she said. “I knew he would get things done. My biggest fear was that he was going to have a heart attack and die, that I was going to lose him. I thank God that nothing happened and we’re here to celebrate.”
Michael Young of Lavallette, who has been a customer of Harbour Yacht Club for about 30 years, said he’s happy to have the marina back, where he docks his fishing boat and spends time with his family. “I think it’s a spectacular accomplishment,” he said. “It is the most uplifting opening I have ever attended.”
While many Barnegat Bay boaters remain concerned about running into storm debris, John Lamiera of Bedminster said he has had his 33-foot boat out on the water many times post-Sandy, and has not seen any problems. “We’ve been back and forth between the Toms River and Mantoloking Bridge,” he said. “The water’s been deep enough. I’m hoping that it’s going to be perfect for the rest of the summer.” Still other boaters at the gathering spoke about seeing pieces of asphalt sticking up from the bottom of the bay at low tide.
The party’s formal presentation ended with a ribbon cutting, signaling Harbour Yacht Club & Marina’s return. But Anne Ryan knows it’s probably not a sign that it’s time to relax. “Everybody keeps saying ‘now you need to take a break,'” she said. “Knowing my Jimmy, we’re not taking a break. Fourth of July is coming in a couple of days. This is our season…so…it’s all good.”
Sandy Levine is a freelance writer and television producer who was born and raised at the Jersey Shore.