Our Electronics Editor, Ben Stein, reflects on the sinking of his boat in Hurricane Ian and contemplates an uncertain future.
Though we have a land-based house, for most of the last six years, my wife Laura, daughters Molly, 15, and Madelyn, 12, and I have called our 2003 Carver Voyager 570, Have Another Day, home. That ended on Wednesday September 28th when hurricane Ian struck, sinking our boat and destroying the Fort Myers marina we also called home for the last three and a half years.
Just four days before Ian made landfall in Florida, I was in Tampa helping judge the Innovation Awards at IBEX. At noon that day, the decision was made to cancel the show because Ian was bearing down on the Tampa Bay area. On Monday morning, I headed about 140 miles south to Fort Myers to prepare both our house and boat for what we thought would be a close pass of a category three hurricane.
We expected an unpleasant few hours with some storm surge and tropical storm force winds. Monday, we prepped the boat. We added lines until we couldn’t fit any more on the cleats. We added fenders everywhere we could and generally fretted about what else we could do.
Monday evening, we headed to our house which sits just under a mile from our slip at Legacy Harbour Marina. Tuesday, we prepped the house, dropping storm shutters, clearing debris from the yard and watching National Hurricane Center model runs. By Tuesday mid-day, we were concerned that each model run seemed to bring the storm closer and make the forecast more severe.
Tuesday evening’s 5 p.m. model run showed the storm with a track headed nearly right at us. We are hurricane rookies and decided this wasn’t a training storm. Within 15 minutes of making the decision to leave, we were on our way to friends on the east coast of Florida. These friends, who we met during our Great Loop cruise, have been through quite a few hurricanes. They got in touch several days earlier and told us we had a place to stay. They gave us their address and told us to just write it down. That way we had a place to head if we needed to flee. So that’s just what we did.
After a somewhat harrowing trip across the state, avoiding the many tornadoes spawned by the storm’s outer bands, we made it safely to their house. The next day was spent watching the storm make its way in. Continuing Tuesday’s trend, the storm turned to make an even more direct hit on our area.
Throughout much of the day we were able to watch cameras and monitoring systems on the boat and house to see that everything was okay. By midafternoon, power went out at both the boat and house. Now, all I could see were bilge pump activations. At 5 p.m., the aft bilge pump had turned on just two times for two seconds each time. Friends were riding out the storm in the high-rise condo building overlooking the marina. We’d gotten numerous updates as things got rougher that conditions were bad, but the boats were still okay. Shortly after 5, we learned the outer docks of the marina had been swept away. After that, the end of our dock began to break away.
At this point, I was carefully watching the monitoring on the boat. I watched our bilge pumps turn on and never turn off. At that moment, I knew we had lost the boat. About half an hour later we got a phone call confirming Have Another Day had sunk.
Although we’ve had a house and somewhat recently added an RV to our lives, when we think of home, we think of Have Another Day.
Our initial thoughts ran the gamut. We thought about our boat, our possessions, our memories, our community, and so much more. We tried to concentrate on the good things. The four of us and our two cats are safe and we still have a place to live.
Since then, we’ve had waves of emotions. With the benefit of a few days reflection, we’ve better realized what we’ve lost. We settled in Fort Myers primarily because of Legacy Harbour. We are very happy with Fort Myers, but we’re here because of Legacy.
In our travels, we’ve visited hundreds of marinas. Legacy isn’t the fanciest, the biggest, the cheapest, or the most expensive marina we’ve visited. But, it’s the one that felt the most like home. There’s a sign when you pull into the marina’s entrance that says, “Welcome Home.” It made me smile each time we passed it because it was true. Legacy felt like home.
My girls have grown up there. I often left the boat to head to work and in the 100-foot walk from the boat to my car I would be delayed for an hour or more talking to my neighbors. Sunday mornings I would brew a pot of coffee and take a walk to the marina office’s front porch, catch up with friends and solve the world’s problems.
All of that is gone. The 131-slip marina is reduced to 10 surviving slips in the lee of the condo buildings next door. We’ve shed tears with the same neighbors we’d shared so many laughs. I’ve now spent countless hours there but still can’t quite believe it’s gone.
My first visit to Have Another Day was easier than I expected. I was anticipating that the visit would be one of immense sadness. Instead, it was just a tactical trip to retrieve as many things as possible. As it turned out, we were able to retrieve very few things. Water reached several feet into the flybridge level. When I visited, water was still about four feet deep in the salon.
If you’ve never seen a sunken boat, it’s shocking how quickly everything is reduced to chaos. We’d just had our salon couch recovered; the couch was floating with all the rest of our possessions. The water reeks of mud, diesel, gas and everything else that’s spilled in the marina.
Individually, each member of my family has verbalized what we’ve always known. We don’t want to live on land. We spend most of our time on the water because it’s where we are happiest. My 15-year-old daughter, Molly, told my wife Laura and I that she never thought she’d live on land until she went to college.
It may seem the obvious next step is to buy another boat. But, as we all know, the boat market has been red hot for years now. Like many other boaters, I haven’t increased the agreed value on my policy during that time. As a result, my boat is insured for less than it will likely cost to replace it. Once we find a replacement boat, we don’t have a place to put it and we don’t know that we will be able to insure it.
We’ve reminded ourselves, and been reminded by others, that most importantly, the four of us are safe and healthy. The boat and its contents are possessions and can be replaced.
This is true, but, I’m also reminded of what Eric Ravenschlag, the harbor master of Legacy Harbour, once told me. He said that the last step in many of his clients’ boat ownership is moving their boat from the marina to a slip behind their house. It seems like a great thing, but they often realize that with the boat and the house so close together, boat use declines until the boat is sold. No longer is the boat a destination with a community attached. Instead, it’s just a smaller living room, a toilet that has to be pumped out, and an expense. As we look for a place to put a new boat, we don’t just want a storage location, we want a community.
We don’t mourn the loss of our boat as a piece of property. Rather, we mourn the loss of our boat as the enabler of a lifestyle. We know we can find a place to keep a boat, but will it be a community? Or will it just be a dock?
Ben will continue to post updates to this story at panbo.com.