GLASTONBURY, Conn. (AP) — The deep freeze that gripped the Northeast last winter dealt a severe blow to marinas and yacht clubs: Ice snapped pilings in half, shredded wooden docks and left behind wreckage that many compare to the effects of a hurricane.
After a scramble to get ready for the all-important Memorial Day weekend, most marinas are back in business, although many are behind schedule and still in need of costly repairs to operate at full capacity.
"It's been tough. It's been very tough. The marina was destroyed," said Mindy Kahl, co-owner of Birbarie Marine on a river in Branford, Connecticut. "We will be operational this weekend but nowhere near where we should be."
Hardest hit were yards in rivers and coves that became choked with ice during a record-breaking stretch of frigid weather through February. Crews fought the ice with chain saws and devices that circulate warm water up from below the surface, often to no avail. As the ice rose and fell with the tide, it wrecked pilings and tore apart docks.
Veterans of the waterfront say the damage is the worst they've seen in decades.
Peter Morris, general manager of the Bay Pointe Marina in Quincy, Massachusetts, has had two crews working six days a week to repair damage that he estimates at $1.2 million. The ice pushed his marina off its steel pilings several feet out into a river.
"It's put us a behind about a month and a half," he said.
Since the thaw, demand has been running high for marine construction workers, cranes and replacement pilings — with a run on long, wooden poles in coastal New England sending some to go knocking at farms and telephone companies.
Gary Wetmore, who runs a marine services company in Norwalk, Connecticut, said he has had as much work this spring as he did after Superstorm Sandy struck in 2012. He has been doing repairs up and down Connecticut's Gold Coast on marinas and yacht clubs that are all at least able to open for the holiday weekend.
Now, he is turning his attention to about 100 residential customers still waiting for him to fix their boat launches.
"They're yelling at me," he said.
On New York's Long Island, marinas were getting by without damage until the end of February, when pilings were ripped out during several consecutive days of subzero temperatures, according to Randy Penney, a manager at a Center Moriches company that did repairs for three marinas.
Insurers generally refuse to cover docks, according to marina owners, who say the costs of the damage often cannot be recovered.
"After four years of misery in the boating industry, it got a little better last year with the economy improving. Now we're dealing with this," said Michael Buenaventura, owner of the Seaboard Marina in Glastonbury. After hiring a crane to reset his pilings and rebuilding his ice-smashed docks, Buenaventura had all but 40 of his 160 slips ready for boats as he focused on preparing for this weekend.
If there's a silver lining, it could be that some clubs were ready for a face-lift. Matthew Jarbeau, a steward at Rhode Island's East Greenwich Yacht Club, said it typically does not suffer any damage during the winter but this spring it had to reset 27 pilings that got lifted or bent.
"Things need to be repaired anyway," he said.