Roll in your extension cords and put on your waders! The view of Zombie Lake from the shed. No, the tide never gets that high, not even in hurricanes. But the concrete lot and shed often flood after heavy rains, at least giving me a brief glimpse from my helm of sun glinting off an expanse of water.
You can’t see them from the main office or the docks. You can’t see them from the pool, or from the food truck that currently fills the void created when Sandy destroyed the small restaurant, built on the remains of an old river barge. But they’re there, nestled in the far far corner of the boatyard, a stone’s throw from the twin rail lines where passing freight trains drown out even compressors and power tools as they rumble past several times an hour. It’s the northwest corner of the yard, and it’s where they put ‘certain’ special boats, and the people who go with them. In some institutions, they separate the mentally questionable from the ‘death row’ inmates. But not in my little corner of the river. No. The hurricane came through, shaking up the dynamics of the boatyard, and a new type of customer has emerged, and a unique variety of boats.
Boating was already taking a hit long before the storm shook things up. Many boat owners, faced with harder economical times and rising fuel prices, couldn’t afford to operate their boats anymore. Pre-2012, more people wanted to sell and get out than there were buyers. Some boats sat on the hard, their owners still paying for storage until something changed, and others became stationary floating summer retreats. But other boats, once well-maintained and enjoyed, were simply abandoned. Owners stopped stopping by, stopped paying storage, stopped answering calls. Eventually the boats became yard property, but brought in no revenue in an already hurting industry.
Then Sandy hit, and everything changed. Some, trying for years to unload unsellable boats received the news that their boats had been totaled. Insurance companies compensated the yards for storage and labor, and owners for their loss. Boats were transformed from burdens to checks in the bank, in many cases for more than they’d be able to sell in an ideal market. Many got out of boating temporarily, others for good. The word on the water is that most yards lost roughly 30% of their customer base. Some boaters found their treasured boats totaled, and promptly used their settlement checks to buy a replacement, or else buy their original boats back at pennies on the dollar and repair them, either themselves or through the now booming fiberglass repair business that sprang up. Yards brought in fiberglass teams from other regions of the country, even housing them as they fixed the fixable. Some boaters had no insurance or had let their policies lapse at season’s end, and abandoned their boats on yard property. And a handful of new boaters appeared, lured by an abundance of now affordable vessels to pick from and fix in whatever degree and manner they deemed suitable. Which brings me back to Insanity Row.
Way long ago, back B.S. (before Sandy) it was known as Death Row. It’s usually the furthest corner where boatyards put those sad vessels so far gone that it’s unlikely they’ll ever see water again, unless it comes to them, which in some cases it does. (See above photo.) But a few, blocked on the highest elevation, right outside the shed, survived. And in the last year, others have arrived at ‘Concrete Beach’— boats that Sandy chewed up and spit out, and now someone is trying to resuscitate. Extension cords and hoses criss-cross the lot, radios battle with sanders and passing locomotives, and gradually work progresses as the boats written off as dead return to life — sort of. Zombie Boats, once shrouded in shredded blue tarps and peeling shrinkwrap, shedding scabs of peeling paint and rotted wood, and each time one is revived and launched it’s a victory… and a new spot for the next arrival. People help each other out, share admiration, commiseration, and cold drinks as we each regard our fellow inmates as just a bit crazier than us. Sanity is a relative thing, especially when it comes to old and/or damaged boats. Some are starting to truly shine, and you can see the pride their owners take in their work. Others — uhm….no, you don’t back a fiberglass repair by stuffing wadded newspaper into the hole so the patch won’t fall through. You don’t put twin 454s into an ancient Chris Craft with a hull so rotten and hogged it’s heartbreaking. At least, I wouldn’t. But no matter the approach or philosophy, there’s one thing everyone in that corner has in common…we’re all mad here. We have to be. And judging by the company I’m in, I’m starting to believe the yard is putting us all back there, where no one can see us, for a reason.
You weren’t actually expecting I’d say the decks are glassed? Honestly? That’s okay, I wasn’t either. Had EVERYTHING gone perfectly, had all the stars aligned, then perhaps, just maybe. It’s nice to be optimistic. But in the real world, the shed Annabel Lee occupies is also used by the yard for their own repairs. And when the owner’s boat (technically a Sandy-wounded replacement of his totaled boat is brought in for a full gelcoat respray,) and they ask that we refrain from any grinding for a few days, that sort of threw the whole schedule off. With boats, you learn to roll with these things, or you’ll just go mad. As for me, it’s already too late.
Share on Facebook