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Sandy aftermath: Sadness over boats lost in the storm

Boats lay strewn around the Washington Irving Boat

Boats lay strewn around the Washington Irving Boat Club on the Hudson River in Tarrytown after Tropical Storm Sandy flooded the area. All boats were accounted for. (Nov. 1, 2012) Photo Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

An Occasional Peace, a 30-foot long motorboat, blocked the entrance to the Washington Irving Boat Club in Tarrytown. It was lying on its side, like a child's discarded toy. Wanderer was sitting a stone's throw away on Green Street, next to a baseball field. A few boats were in the field's parking lot. Inside the club property, pleasure craft were strewn about randomly.

"Do you want me to cry now or later?" said Vice Commodore Bill Petrovich, who for 40 years has been a member of the club near the foot of the Tappan Zee Bridge. "We don't know what to do yet. We don't even know where to start."

Three days after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the region, sending a late-night storm surge up the Hudson River and Long Island Sound as high as 12 feet in places, Petrovich and others were lifting boats with cranes, cleaning mud out of clubhouses, checking electrical systems and calling insurance companies to determine how their waterside havens might bounce back from the storm.

"I don't think there's a boat club on either side of the river that didn't take a hit," said Steve Cross, owner of the Striped Bass restaurant at the Tarrytown Boat Club, as his employees cleaned up the muck left in the dining room by five feet of water.

Boaters were happy nobody on the water was seriously injured or killed. They were sure their clubs, some more than a century old, would continue to operate years into the future. Yet their descriptions of the boathouses dotting the river and sound were tinged with sadness over the disarray the storm brought to a part of their lives they cherish.

Ordered to evacuate the riverside and sound on Monday night, boaters said they were shocked when they returned Tuesday morning.

"What haunts me is not where the boats were or where they are now, it's the four or five hours when they were bobbing, bumping into each other," Washington Irving Club member Julie Scherrer said.

For some, the experience doused their enthusiasm for the water, at least for now.

"I think it's time I hang up my oars," said Jerry Donnellan, whose three-floor houseboat sank in Nyack's village marina on Monday night. "We had some great memories of it, a lot of Fourth of Julys, Christmases with a big wreath, time with my family. But it's time to let it go. I don't think I'm getting a new one."

Most clubs had cranes and lifts that could venture out and pick up boats moved hundreds of feet inland by the storm surge. If they had to hire a crane or lift, it came with a price tag of a few thousand dollars, especially if the crane arrived on a barge, said Michael Ankuda, a trustee at the Yonkers Yacht Club.

At the Shenorock Shore Club in Rye, on Long Island Sound, building and grounds manager Martin Vidales said one boat was missing from a mooring.

"We're still looking for it," Vidales said.

Boat owners said they usually need to foot the whole bill for retrieving their boats. New York State doesn't require boats to be insured, and even where clubs require insurance, the policies customarily cover damages caused to others, not the boat owned by the policy holder. The Federal Emergency Management Agency doesn't reimburse for lost pleasure craft, the agency's website says.

FEMA might cover repairs to clubhouses and other facilities, but that's not clear, said Commodore George Farrell, of the Tower Ridge Yacht Club in Hastings-on-Hudson. Sandy's surge damaged the club's boathouse beyond repair. The club had a $100,000 insurance policy, so the clubhouse can be rebuilt.

"It's minor damage, considering what I heard about New Jersey," he said.

But the surge also deposited three feet of mud in the club's marina, making it too shallow for boats at low tide, Farrell said. Twenty years ago, he said, the club spent $70,000 on surveys and environmental impact studies focused on dredging the marina. Ultimately, the project didn't go through. Now, without dredging, the club might have to close down.

On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would issue emergency permits in New York City, Long Island and the Lower Hudson Valley to allow property owners to make repairs without going through the usual lengthy application process. It's not clear if dredging or other large-scale work is permitted under the permits. Tim Judge -- an environmental specialist hired by the Washington Irving Boat Club to help the club file for an emergency permit -- thinks it ought to be.

"It's to make things whole so you don't have more damage," Judge said.

As Judge spoke, the club's secretary, Dann Soldan, smiled. Sandy was gone, the sun was shining and the river was as beautiful as ever. "I've been telling everyone we're devastated," Soldan said. "But this is a very resourceful club, with smart people. We'll figure out what to do."

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