ACROSS a field of mud that used to be a park, a sailboat was washed up against a bulkhead on the eastern side of the Port Regalle townhouse condominiums, perhaps the most vulnerable location on Great Kills, a natural circular harbor on Staten Island’s south shore. Of the dozens of boats wrecked in Great Kills by the hurricane, most had already been salvaged but, for whatever reason, this one remained. Above the boat a man stood on a second-story balcony and threw bread to ducks and swans in the water below.
“I left the day before [Sandy] and came back the day after,” he said. Most ground-floor apartments in the complex still appeared heavily damaged: walls missing, tarp and plywood everywhere. Staircases that should have lead from the balconies to the ground were torn away. The man seemed trapped up there. “They’ve been working nonstop since the storm,” he said, speaking about the contractors, “but my apartment’s fine.” On the quiet bay the din of reconstruction was clearly audible.
Three and a half months after hurricane Sandy, there was still a lot of work to be done. Peach-colored and vaguely Mediterranean, Port Regalle is a luxury housing development built in the 1980s that advertises itself as the only Staten Island condo community with its own marina. Post-Sandy, this marina, and several others in Great Kills Harbor, have been a boon for Bay Harvest, a local salvage company owned by Tim Ryan. A commercial fisherman by trade, Ryan, 31, says his company salvaged 95 percent of the boats wrecked in Great Kills Harbor. He preserved his own boats by sailing them around the southern tip of Staten Island, at Tottenville, and docking them in the lee of the island. The day after the storm his newly painted boat was one of the first to enter the harbor. He beheld a scene of devastation.
“I haven’t had a day off since the storm,” said Ryan in late February. “Christmas, we took a half-day.” He estimates his company salvaged more than 20 boats in Great Kills Harbor, many from the bottom, some from far inland, others from atop 15-foot-high breakwaters. It’s easy to believe when you look around Port Regalle: a patio above the marina and an adjoining park, both at least 15 feet above the water, were littered with boats after the storm. Ryan says boats had smashed through people’s first-floor apartments.
To salvage a boat Ryan first has to figure out who owns it. “The insurance company calls me with the make and model of the boat, and I go look for it and take pictures,” he says. Once ownership has been established, salvaging can begin. If the boat is underwater, Bay Harvest’s divers swim down and place float bags, like balloons that can be inflated from above, under the boat to raise it up. Then, if the boat is holed, Bay Harvest makes whatever emergency repairs are necessary to get it floating and tows it to the nearest boat ramp. Salvaging a boat is not cheap. “Big insurance companies don’t have a problem paying,” says Ryan, “but dealing with an individual we demand payment up front.”
Most of the boats had been salvaged by late February, but Bay Harvest is also tasked with rebuilding the docks at the Port Regalle marina, a job that should keep them busy for months to come. When I arrive, Ryan and his cousin John Malden are dragging a huge beam down the beach. It was part of a wall they had been building at the marina but, before they could secure it, the beam had come loose in a recent storm. (“The last blow popped it out.”) About one foot square and 9 feet long, the piece of wood required two men to drag it, and the addition of Will Muller, another employee of Bay Harvest, to pry it into place at the bottom of the wall. The men then piled “rip rap,” or rocks, along the bottom of the beam to keep it in place. The next day they planned to secure it with long bolts driven through the vertical piling and into the thick wood.
The man on the balcony at Port Regalle looked down at the wrecked sailboat. The sail had partially unfurled; two of the torn ends were tied to the railing above the bulkhead, and it was luffing loudly. “Could you do me a favor,” he asked, “and untie that? The noise drives me crazy.” I untied the sail and let the torn ends fly in the wind. “Thanks, have a good one” he said, and turned to go back inside.