Sandy Report: Club Members Rebuild

Hurricane Sandy devastated several low-lying neighborhoods, while other areas, like Inwood, emerged relatively unscathed. Nevertheless, almost all boathouses in the region sustained damage. So while Inwood Canoe Club members had to work throughout the winter to repair the damage, there remained an unspoken appreciation that our members were OK and the boathouse was still standing.

Well before Sandy hit, the club was already in construction mode by raising the floating dock up about 12 inches above the waterline.

“We’d been working on the dock and that seemed like it was the big project until Sandy hit and we were hit with a much bigger project,” said athletic member Luis Lopez.

As the storm approached and its massive scale became clear, the crew mobilized. Members calculated that the surge would bring the water level to about three feet above the boathouse floor. Everything beneath the three foot marker was moved up to higher ground and then the boats were secured.

On October 29th, the gusts picked up, the surge arrived, and the floating dock began an ascent that would eventually raise it well past the riverside deck. Everyone went home and waited.
The following day club members returned.

“The place looked like the deck of a ship that had survived a shipwreck,” recalled Board Member Ilya Bernstein, our Fleet Captain.

The front yard’s deck had been ripped from its support beams, while the beams themselves clung tenuously to an unstable bulkhead. The river had completely consumed the north yard bulkhead.

“Inside the boathouse you could smell all the funk from the river, everything that was in the Hudson had passed through the boathouse,” said athletic member Julie McCoy.

The watermark left on boathouse walls indicated that the surge had come up to about four and a half feet above the boathouse floor, more than a foot higher than predicted. All of the lower raised items were wet, including some irreplaceable drawings of past boathouses. Containers, tools, furniture, and building materials were strewn about. The electrical system was fried. The violent river had bent and gnashed the front garage door. The boats, however, were still stable and secure.

The riverside deck held together just fine and the floating dock survived as well, though just barely. The day after the storm the river level was so high that the dock still sat parallel to the deck.

The east-west sway of the Hudson, which had so badly damaged the garage door, also threatened to rip away the dock. But a crossbeam attached to the two pilings flanking the gangplank provided just enough stability to keep the dock from snapping off. The crossbeam had cracked and a sign that had hung from it was lost. The sign read: “Seasons Come and Go but Inwood is Forever.” Athletic member Gregory Santos, who created the sign, later found it washed up on shore.

In weeks and months that followed, members rallied. There was plenty to do, from cleaning, painting, and organizing, to more Herculean projects, like rebuilding the bulkhead and restoring the front yard deck. The costs could have been astronomical considering thenew bulkhead required timber as thick as railroad ties. But the storm had washed lumber of all shapes and sizes out toward the harbor, much of it floating by the dock. It just needed to be salvaged.
The salvage operation not only saved the club tens of thousands of dollars in lumber and labor, but also presented as green an option as any conservationist could have hoped for. Tons of ocean-bound lumber was dragged back onto the dock.

“Alex [Arevalo] and I’d go out in a canoe or in kayaks and find really big beams, some up to 30 feet, and just hitch up and tow them back,” said Luis. “It was fun using the water to move something that you’d have no imaginable way to move on land by yourself.”

For the new bulkhead, large timbers were arranged in a series of T formations. Large sleeper beams jutted in toward land to support thick timbers that faced off with the mighty Hudson. Rocks, gravel, and soil provided the structure with heft and anchorage. In somewhat stunning precision, the bulkhead’s top row beams continued seamlessly south to provide anchorage for the newly rebuilt front yard deck, no small feat when considering all the timber was salvaged and not made to order.

As Memorial Day approached, members readied the front yard for opening day of Open House. On Sunday, May 26, club members greeted members of the public back to the boat house. Gregory hung the sign back on the floating dock.

The century-old club, which had twice before been reduced to ashes by two great fires, was rebuilt—again.