Superstorm Sandy standard for yacht crew

Nov 20, 2012 by Lucy Chabot Reed

Sometimes, you end up where you don’t really want to be.

For Capt. Martyn Walker of the 258-foot M/Y Pegasus V, that was New York City at the end of October.

Actually, he was the one who talked the boss into visiting the city for a few weeks after their summer in the Med and before heading south. He’d spent last Christmas in Ft. Lauderdale and admits to being a little bored.

He was anything but as “a few weeks” turned into a few more weeks, and by then Hurricane Sandy was on the radar and crossing his path. Best just to sit tight and see where she heads.

When it was clear Sandy was heading for New York, Capt. Walker cast off from the dock to find some room. He knew his heavy yacht could handle the wind; he’d made it through Hurricane Wilma in Ft. Lauderdale just fine.

So Monday morning, he set off to find someplace to handle the water. The floating dock he had been tied to couldn’t handle much more than 9 or 10 feet of surge. Forecasters were predicting 11.

He headed up river, but the U.S. Coast Guard kept chasing him away from the spots he chose. Too much traffic in this one; tugs and barges parked in that one.

He needed space, so he kept going north.

“When I drag, I want room,” he said, still in NYC in mid November. “It wasn’t if I was going to drag, but when.”

Finally, he found a spot 10 miles up the Hudson with no one else around, a designated anchorage near

Riverdale, just north of the George Washington Bridge. Winds had picked up so the Coast Guard didn’t chase him away. He set his anchors and about 750 feet of chain and held in the muddy bottom in about 12m of water.

Then he waited it out, through 45-50 knot winds before noon, 55-60 knots after noon, and 85 knots by 9 p.m.

“We dragged when the tide came in,” Capt. Walker said. “It felt like 10 knots. I’ve been in Alaska where the current runs 10 knots in some of the passes. I don’t know how fast it was. It could have been 4 knots, but it felt like 10 to me.”

The tide changed four times over the course of the storm and his anchorage. He kept the engines running the whole time, and ended up re-anchoring in the height of the storm.

By midnight, the worst had passed; they had made it through safely.

Tens of thousands of smaller boats didn’t. BoatU.S. declared 65,000 recreational boats destroyed, saying the storm caused $650 million in losses to boats, making the late October storm the single-largest industry loss since the group began keeping track in 1966. The 2005 storm season was slightly more costly, at more than $700 million, but it included two storms, hurricanes Wilma and Katrina.

Shoreside, the story was even worse. More than 100 people were killed and 8.5 million people were left without electricity across 21 U.S. states, not to mention the deaths and outages across the Bahamas and Caribbean islands. In New Jersey, the iconic boardwalk in Atlantic City was washed away, as was the pier in Seaside Heights.

But marinas, at least those targeting the crewed-yacht sector, survived the storm. Though they, too, faced power loss and flooding, docks and the boats in them were relatively unharmed.

Dennis Connor’s North Cove, a marina on lower Manhattan in front of the World Financial Center, was spared the brunt of the storm.

“The marina is protected from the wind, so the 70 knots in the harbor only registered about 30 in the marina,” Commodore Michael Fortenbaugh said. “We had no damage to vessels or docks, but the electrical boxes were all underwater.”

The marina was still out of power in mid November, but all its transformers, meters and panels were being replaced. Fortenbaugh expected to be fully operational before yachts head back north in the spring.

“It was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The staff at South Jersey Marina in Cape May, N.J., couldn’t agree more.

“The eye went right over us,” said Bob Glover, the marina’s marketing director. “We had some wind and high water, and sand on the roads in town, but here at the marina, there was virtually no damage at all.”

Though the ship’s store suffered some flooding and power went out for a few hours, the marina was back up and operational the same day.

“When we reconfigured the marina a few years back, we put in floating docks and higher pilings,” he said. “At the highest, we still had 3-to-4 feet left.

“Fortunately, the storm hit where it did,” Glover said. “I hate saying that, but for us, we were very lucky.”

Effects of the storm were felt as far away as Lake Michigan, which saw 20-foot waves, and in the Chesapeake Bay.

But again, despite reports of widespread damage and flooding, marinas and yachts fared well.

Capt. Randy Steegstra and the 130-foot Westport M/Y Tsalta summers in Annapolis every year, but this year, the boss wanted to have a dinner party in late October in Washington, D.C. Those plans were cancelled, but the yacht was still docked at Capital Yacht Club when Sandy blew ashore Monday night, Oct. 29.

“It wasn’t that bad, honestly,” Capt. Steegstra said. “Reagan [National Airport] saw 50 knots of breeze but I only saw 35, maybe 40. The key that saved us was we didn’t get any tide or surge.”

The next day, though, water came up over the dock, but by then the wind had died down so it was just a matter of paying attention and handling lines.

“For us, it was pretty much a non-event,” he said.

The only concern was heading south. Because of the rain, the rivers were running out and there was a lot of debris on the upper Potomac.

“That was my worry leaving,” he said. “The next day, as we were heading down into the bay to come south, they were talking about opening the floodgates on the Susquehanna. When they do that, the bay is just a mess.”

But he made it out unscathed and back to Florida, where it’s safer.

“Getting out of Florida for the summer isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” Capt. Steegstra said, noting that he survives a storm every summer up the Atlantic coast, including last summer in Boston, and back-to-back storms in Nantucket two summers ago. “There’s not been one summer hurricane in Florida the past six years. But every August, I’m chased by one up there.”

Sandy blew over the Caribbean first, including Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas, killing more than 40 people on the way, most because of flooding.

The worst of the weather seemed to hit Cat Island and Exuma. Crops were destroyed on Long Island and power was out nearly everywhere. The Associated Press reported that docks on the western side of Great Inagua island had been destroyed.

Sandy was a category 1 hurricane as it crossed Cat Island and Eleuthera. The British CEO of an investment bank was killed in Lyford Cay after falling from his roof while trying to repair a window shutter, the AP reported.

Despite devastating damage to upland facilities, marinas and large yachts mostly survived.

Docks and yachts at Errol Flynn Marina in Port Antonio, Jamaica, survived in tact, though the uplands “took a severe beating,” General Manager Paul Dadd said.

For Capt. Walker, the worst part was thinking for a moment at the height of the storm that he couldn’t use his port engine.

“We had a fire alarm when I started to maneuver and the engineer radioed up to ask if I could stay off the portengine for a minute,” Capt. Walker said. “I said no and asked him why. There was like two minutes of silence on the radio.”

Turned out that fuel was dripping on the manifold, but the experienced crew worked it out. And they rode through Hurricane Sandy unscathed.

Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this article are welcome at


About Lucy Chabot Reed

Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher and founding editor of The Triton.

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