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Lower county boat repair services see increase in business

Updated 4:45 pm, Wednesday, January 23, 2013
  • The 2011 Norwalk Boat Show at Norwalk Cove Marina, Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk, Conn., Sept. 22, 2011. Photo: Keelin Daly / Stamford Advocate
    The 2011 Norwalk Boat Show at Norwalk Cove Marina, Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk, Conn., Sept. 22, 2011. Photo: Keelin Daly

 

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Hurricane Sandy took a heavy toll on marinas and the vessels they sheltered in New Jersey and Long Island, but some marinas and boatyards in southwestern Connecticut could see an increase in business as a result.

Norwalk Cove Marina on Calf Pasture Beach Road was hit by the storm in late October, damaging boats at the facility, but the damage was minor compared with the devastation on the Jersey shore, said Rob Gardella, service director at the marina, which will repair a battered boat from New Jersey.

Temporary repairs have been made to the 50-foot boat so it can navigate up the shoreline to Norwalk, said Gardella, who expects to get additional work from marinas in New Jersey.

"It (the 50-foot boat) is owned by the friend of a customer here," said Gardella, who anticipates an uptick in demand for services. "We're looking to hire in that department (repairs)."

Gardella, who said boats at area marinas floated from their blocks and sustained minor damage, expects to get calls about some of them.

One boat moored in Stamford tipped over and was uprighted and towed to the marina for repairs, said Gardella, adding that a boat at his marina was so damaged that it was deemed a total loss.

"People are still settling with their insurance companies," he said.

The Boat Owner's Association of the United States estimates more than 65,000 recreational boats were damaged or lost as a result of the hurricane, including 2,500 in Connecticut, costing $23 million. The levels were more severe in other states -- more than 32,000 boats were lost or damaged at a cost of $324 million in New York, while the tally was 25,000 boats, or $242 million, in New Jersey.

The storm caused the biggest single loss of vessels since 1966, when records started being kept, said association spokesman Scott Croft.

"We had guys who have been our response team for 25 years who to a 'T' said they had never seen anything like this," he said, estimating that about half of the boats were insured. "I think we'll see the impact for the entire year."

Croft, who attended the New York Boat Show last weekend, said some attendees had received their insurance payments and were ready to purchase a replacement.

But for many people who had damage to their homes, boat repair or replacement is not a priority, said John Herman, owner of John Herman Marine Center on Shippan Avenue in Stamford. To be sure, he also expects to eventually see a surge in demand for repairs or new boats.

"People are still dealing with house projects. We may see something down the road. I think there will be some fallout," he said.

But Herman, like others in the retail boat business in the area, does not see any temporary improvement in his business creating long-term demand for new boats.

"We're doing more service since the industry shrunk in the past four or five years," he said.

There will be no need to hire more staff at Rex Marine in Norwalk where "six to eight" boats sustained minor fiberglass damage while others had water damage to their engines, said General Manager Bill Gardella, cousin of Rob Gardella.

"We have a fiberglass guy on the property who has some extra work," said Bill Gardella, who has not seen a line of people wanting to replace their damaged or destroyed boats. "New boat sales are slow."

But the National Maritime Manufacturers Association estimates that once sales figures for 2012 are finalized, they will show a 10 percent increase in new power boat sales, and it expects another 5 to 10 percent increase in 2013.

"Improving economic conditions and what seems to be a resurgence in Americans' love for the outdoors, helped fuel steady growth in new power boat sales in 2012," said NMMA President Thom Dammrich.