Today marks the one year anniversary of when Hurricane Sandy formed last October and it still looms large in collective memory. Not only did it kill 285 people in seven countries as it roared out of the Caribbean and northward along the U.S. East Coast, it took a sharp, almost unheard-of left turn and slammed in to the Jersey Shore, pushing a 14-foot storm surge into New York Harbor during a full-moon high tide.
Gadi Zofi, operations manager and spill supervisor for Ken’s Marine Service in Bayonne, New Jersey, had a front-row seat for that historic night. A year later, the 53-year-old Israeli salvage expert and his team are still working hard on cleanup efforts in the worst hit areas.
Despite a lifetime on the water, Zofi says the monster storm was his first experience with a hurricane.
“It was quite an experience,” he says,” to see that eye come ashore and to see how it pushed all that water into Long Island Sound and the Jersey Shore. The docks floated over the pilings, and the surge tore the moorings apart.”
To save their fleet of approximately 30 work boats, the Ken’s Marine Service team put steel pipes through the spuds on a barge. They rafted all the boats together off that barge, so the entire group would ride up and down in the surge.
“We were up all night, but by the next morning, we were ready for calls,” Zofi recalls. “We didn’t lose any boats or equipment.”
One particular memory stands out. On the morning of the storm, Ken’s Marine got a call from a yacht club in Bayonne, where a large Hatteras was dragging its mooring. It was full of fuel, so a crash into the rocks was a major concern. At that point, the wind had already reached 50 to 60 miles per hour.“We took an inflatable out there, because they’re low and stick to the water,” Zofi says. “We got on board and took the boat off the mooring.”
The boat was too big to take into the local yacht club, so Zofi’s team drove around the peninsula from Bayonne into the Hudson River’s Upper Bay, heading for the Liberty Landing Marina.
“The U.S. Coast Guard had raised conditions from X-ray to Zulu, which are hurricane conditions,” Zofi remembers. “There was no vessel movement in the harbor, and there we were, driving around on a pleasure boat!”
Unfortunately, the boat couldn’t make it under a closed railroad bridge, so the team’s last resort was a nearby municipal marina — which reported that it had no room. They went in anyway.
“The police came down, and the chief said, get the boat out of here or get arrested,” Zofi says. “That’s the only time I’ve ever had handcuffs on! But it was temporary. The mayor’s office made arrangements, and the boat survived with minimal damage.”
In the months after the hurricane, Ken’s Marine Service kept busy picking up heating oil that floated off houses and cleaning up heavily damaged areas in the Rockaways, at Breezy Point, in Jamaica Bay, at the Statue of Liberty, at Ellis Island and at Liberty State Park. They also spent time defueling boats. Many were put onto barges and sent to a staging area on Staten Island, where some were collected and others left derelict. Still others were defueled and put right back into the sea.
“There’s a lot involved to make a boat stable and keep it afloat,” Zofi notes. “And there are still boats and ships out there that need to be dealt with. We had maybe 20 boats in Jamaica Bay alone.”
When the next hurricane does make a beeline the Northeast, however, take the appropriate precautions. And that includes insurance. As a final note, Zofi cautions owners to avoid undervaluing their boats, even if that means higher insurance rates.
“Insure your boat for what it’s really worth,” he advises. “Don’t cut yourself short.”