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Sandy's costly toll on East Coast boats

A damaged boat in the Anchorage Marina in

A damaged boat in the Anchorage Marina in Lindenhurst (Nov. 9, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

Superstorm Sandy ripped Gary Matthesen's 35-foot sailboat from its Oyster Bay mooring and slammed it against a seawall, where its hull was cracked open, keel ripped off and interior filled with debris before thieves helped themselves to accessories.

"We did everything right," said the occupational therapist from Bellmore. To protect the sloop he owned for a dozen years, Matthesen removed the sails and put chafing gear on the mooring lines. But the rope snapped anyway. "The boat ran straight into the seawall and beat itself to death," he said.

Thanks to the unprecedented violence unleashed by Sandy against boats, Matthesen has lots of company among the suddenly boatless on Long Island. The rare combination of hurricane and nor'easter created havoc in many harbors along both shores, sinking or breaking loose hundreds of boats.

While worrying about boats that many see as a luxury -- even when the area hasn't been blitzed by a major storm -- may seem a misplaced priority, it's a big deal for the owners and companies that service their needs.

"This storm will probably go down as one of the biggest in history" in terms of boat damage, said Scott Croft of the Boat Owners Association of the United States, the largest marine specialty insurer in the country.

He said the association had damage claims from Virginia to Massachusetts and even some in the Great Lakes. "The storm covered such a wider area than a typical hurricane. The worst damage was in the Jersey barrier islands, Staten Island and the western end of the South Shore of Long Island due to the record-high surge."

He said that not only did a lot of boats sink or break loose from moorings, but many already brought ashore for winter storage were flooded or knocked off their stands, with some carried out onto the water to sink.

"Everybody is scrambling right now" to get adjusters to visit and find salvors to reclaim their boats.

Rob Boyd, chief executive of Ronkonkoma-based Long Island Boat, said "the claims keep rolling in."

He said has heard from about 100 of his 800 policyholders in Nassau and Suffolk counties. "I've had customers call their marina and the marinas are telling them they have no idea where their boats are and to call back in two or three weeks."

Dawn Riley, executive director of Oakcliff Sailing Center in Oyster Bay, said eight of the nonprofit training association's boats moored on the southern end of Oyster Bay "decided to sink" thanks to "the 96-knot puff that came through, and the 4- to 6-foot rollers in the harbor. The good news is there was no electronics or engines, so we basically just had to pull them, rinse them off and stop any corrosion that had started."

Capt. Joseph Frohnhoefer Sr., founder and chief executive of Southold-based Sea Tow, a national marine towing company, said "in 30 years of dealing with hurricanes, this is the worst I've ever seen." He said his company has already salvaged more than 75 boats in Nassau and Suffolk. "I think this is going to go on for about six months," he said.

Bad news for boat owners could turn out to be a silver lining for boat dealers, who have seen sales becalmed by the weak economy.

"We've had a number of calls where people have mentioned that their boat was destroyed and they'll need a new boat," said Kevin Coneys, vice president of Coneys Marine Corp. in Huntington. "But it seems like a frivolous thing right now when there's just so much suffering and pain out there."

But shopping for a replacement can be therapeutic.

"It hurts," said Matthesen, who also had a tree fall on his garage. The only thing that makes him feel better is that "I got the go-ahead from my good wife to get another boat."

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