As Jimmy Ryan scanned the waters recently of his now empty 136-slip marina, with all five piers still needing repair, he felt the clock ticking. In less than two months the mid-April to October boating season begins, when typically the Harbour Yacht Club and Marina is packed with families who come here every weekend to relax and have fun.
“I affectionately call them my condos,” said Ryan. “People come down on a Friday night, and they stay here on their boats all weekend at the Jersey Shore. There’s a lovely beach up the street,” he said. “I have customers who have been coming here for 33 years.”
The Ocean County marina is located in the Brick Township section of the Barnegat Peninsula—known locally as the barrier island—that separates the sea from Barnegat Bay. On October 29 Superstorm Sandy washed tons of sand and the remains of shattered oceanfront homes clear across the narrow island into the marina, leaving a multimillion-dollar mess to clean up.
“We had to move a boat and then move a refrigerator and a piano,” Ryan said. “And then move a boat, and move a hot tub and a set of stairs. And then move a boat, and pick up two windows and a back door, because all the houses were under all the boats.”
Of 135 boats—all covered by owners’ insurance policies—Ryan said some fared well, while about a third were severely damaged or destroyed. One by one the vessels were removed from the marina and transported to the Brick mainland for winter storage. It was nerve-racking, risky work; some boats that had washed ashore had to be lifted by crane over houses and power lines to reach trailers waiting in the street.
“Fortunately in 10 days or so we got all the boats off the island with no (additional) damage, nobody got hurt and it was a huge sigh of relief,” Ryan said. “It allowed us to start to repair the marina.”
Working under tough conditions
That critical repair work began in November as soon as contractors gained access to the island, which until recently meant passing through checkpoints manned by the Army National Guard. Ryan, who said power has only been restored here for the past two weeks, fought back tears as he talked about his contractors persevering under primitive conditions.
“It’s been difficult to get people to even work here,” he said. “One hundred days working in the cold, outside, no warmth, no food, no electric, no toilets. It’s been unbelievable here. They’ve been doing great work.”
Timothy Turner has done boat detailing at Harbour Yacht Club for the past two seasons. Since shortly after Sandy hit, the 28-year-old Howell resident has been working nearly nonstop removing boats and debris to get this marina back on track.
“It’s been pretty cold and miserable most of the time,” Turner said. “Crummy conditions, but you’ve got to get it done. This is my life, this is my business,” he said. “With no marina, no boats to detail, there’s no work.”
Last week with the wind howling more than 25 miles per hour, contractors could not safely continue installing material to repair the marina’s damaged bulkhead. But the frigid temperature did not stop the excavator from doing his work: dredging tons of sand out of the water so it will be deep enough to navigate. Throughout the region, contractors are waging the same battle, clearing away tons of debris to make the waterways safe before summer.
In the marina’s office building, which flooded during the storm, new sheetrock is up but it’s still unpainted, only the plywood subfloor is down, and the rooms are empty of furniture – all ruined by Sandy. For carpenter Ron Bechtle working here has special meaning and urgency: He has rented a slip at this marina for more than 20 years.
“This place is awesome,” Bechtle said. “For me it’s family time. My wife and kids come and we stay the weekend, go to the beach, go boating,” said the Warren Township resident. “You know everybody here. It’s just a really nice atmosphere.”
Putting up the money
While the marina is insured, Ryan said he could not afford to wait months for payment, so at age 68 he’s dug deep into his retirement account, spending $350,000 to date on repairs. He hopes eventually his insurance will cover much of the costs that he said may climb as high as $1 million.
Ryan and his wife Anne reached an important milestone earlier this month, when despite the desolation here, they left their temporary rental on the mainland to move back into their apartment above the marina office. Ryan said with a dedicated team of contractors behind them, they’re determined to open the marina on time, a special place that for so many people is the center of their world.
“My wife and I made a commitment to put it together,” Ryan said. “It’s our lives. And all these people who come to this place, it’s their lives. We’ll clean it up,” he said. “You will see. It will be done.”
Sandy Levine is a freelance writer and television producer who was born and raised at the Jersey Shore.