REPOSTING: PortSide NewYork Sandy Story Part 1: saving MARY WHALEN

10/27/19 We are reposting this 2013 blogpost to foster flood preparation. The post describes four days of preparing for Sandy. Today’s gale and the approaching date of 10/29 is reminding us of Sandy - and we want you to know about PortSide’s event on 10/29/19 at 3:15pm, the unveiling of a Sandy High Water Mark sign at the pedestrian entrance to Atlantic Basin, Red Hook, Brooklyn, corner of Pioneer and Conover Streets. At 4pm, the Barnacle Parade kicks off up the block. The parade is the way Red Hook commemorates Sandy since the one-year anniversary of the devastating storm.

This is PortSide NewYork's hurricane Sandy story, installment one.  

Installment one is a personal report by Carolina Salguero, Director of PortSide, speaking as Shipkeeper of the MARY A. WHALEN.  This installment covers PortSide's time in port preparing for Sandy, riding out the storm on the tanker, assessing our damage. We think the ship-related segment of our Sandy story is important because it shows how the maritime community in the port of NY-NJ spent days preparing for Sandy.   The maritime community has something to offer inland neighbors in terms of understanding how to assess flood risks and prepare for them.

The second installment of our Sandy story will cover PortSide's effort to help inland Red Hook, Brooklyn recover from the storm. 

The third installment will cover lessons learned and ideas for the future.

What a difference four days can make

Thursday, 10/25/12, Sandy minus four, the PortSide crew is excited to be hosting an elementary school class aboard the tanker MARY A. WHALEN.  After finishing a TankerTour and jolly lunch for 30 on deck with the City + Country School and waving goodbye to their coach bus, Dan Goncharoff says “have you been looking at this storm coming up the coast?”

C + C School visit, Thursday morning

I check the weather websites. This looks like hurricane Irene plus some.  

We convene a crew meeting and start hurricane preparations. School docents become a Sandy prep squad. By end of day, the deck was cleared of anything that could blow, and I am calling and emailing around for crew to help prepare and to ride out the storm on the ship. 

Friday morning, after more info about the storm, I am trying to find a protected berth for the tanker MARY A. WHALEN.  Just days before, we received word that our application had been accepted; the ship was on the National Register of Historic Places! Since the MARY is not fully restored, she lacks some equipment that would help her in a big storm: a working engine (eg, the ability to run away), machinery to raise her anchors if dropped to hold us in place, and a winch to haul in docklines under load. Compensating for that involves some extra forethought. 

Despite our efforts, we can’t find a good alternate berth for the MARY outside of the Red Hook Container Terminal.  Hughes Marine says “We’re out of space. You’ll be able to walk across Erie Basin by the time this is over; it will be so full of vessels.”  A contact at a shipyard says “we flooded during Irene, and this one looks to be worse, you sure you want to be over here?” “No and good luck,” is my answer.

After more checking of the weather, I decide to move the MARY where she rode out Irene, on the other side, the north side, of our current Pier 9B. (The south side lines up with the end of Degraw Street). For non-sailors, here’s how this kind of calculation goes:

Winds were expected to start from NE, swing around to the East and end up SW, but this could always change. If rough weather were coming from anything west to southwest, our current position has us exposed to the wind from the southwest and the fetch (long stretch of water over which wind can build up waves) from Staten Island up the Buttermilk Channel

The fendering (the wooden cribbing protecting ship and pier) is not robust on this side. A big advantage to the north side are some pilings at the inshore end that stand much taller than the pier and which would help prevent the tanker from riding up onto the pier if the surge were really high. 

The north side would have us more exposed from winds at the start of the storm, but the hill of Brooklyn Heights and the pier to the north of us (even though it has no shed) would provide a compensating wind break.  

As the wind clocked around to the south, a wall of containers near the bulkhead would provide a windbreak to the east, and the pier shed would be an enormous windbreak once the wind went south of east.  

A final consideration was that in the extreme case of docklines failing while we were on the northside, the tanker had a chance of bouncing around inside the space between the two piers for a while, maybe long enough for us to get other lines out or call for help; whereas, on the southside of the pier, if our docklines broke, tide or wind could shove the ship up on the rocks nearby to the south (surely the death of the tanker) or shoot us down the Buttermilk Channel towards unknown risks. 

I began calling tugboat companies to request a tow. Everyone is busy with storm prep so getting a tug takes a while.  I have the tug turn the MARY around so her stern faces east, putting her heavier end towards the expected wind direction. Her light bow is my worry.

The tug’s crew helps us put out storm lines, more lines than we would normally use, and double and triple parted lines. (Instead of a line just going from boat to dock, a triple-parted line goes from dock to boat to dock to boat).  The lines are set with a lot of slack to allow the boat to rise during the expected surge.  During Sandy, Peter Rothenberg and I will go out in the wind and rain to ease the lines as necessary

From Thursday until Monday, a changing array of volunteers bang through a punch list: gangway lashed to the deck. Gas generator moved near entry hatch and tested.  Gasoline, food, and water bought. Weepy portholes caulked. PortaSan moved inside the pier shed so it can't blow away.  

More calls to look for crew... Commercial boats have paid crew, but most historic vessels rely on a corps of volunteers and; with so many boats to protect, available bodies were scarce.  Compounding that, due to the dangersome spouses do not allow their partners to volunteer on the historic ships during the storm. Danger is one thing for paid crew; as a volunteer, it's another.

I ask Peter Rothenberg, our volunteer museum curator, if he wants to be crew. Peter makes a speedy calculation, “I hesitated for a moment, thinking this may be really unwise, and then said yes, probably being more reckless (brave?) than normally, because I had just lost my mother, and thus she was unable to question my judgment.”  

Peter Rothenberg

Peter Rothenberg

The harbor is abuzz with chatter on phone, email, and texts sharing weather info, plans, moral support. Mike Cohen has info on the South Street Seaport ships. Mike Abegg is dealing with the Harbor School boats. I talk to tug captains and ask Jan Andrusky, Logistics Manager of Weeks Marine, if she can share weather and Coast Guard updates as she had during Irene. Answer, “yes!” Jan is responsible for floating equipment on the eastern seaboard, the Gulf of Mexico, and more, and has lots of experience and access to weather data.

Bobby Silva, captain of a Reinauer barge up in Albany sends a text: “wish I gave you my keys to move my truck. My baby will be a goner.”  Other Reinauer crew who have not been sent out of town on vessels moved their vehicles from Erie Basin to the second floor of the garage at the Gowanus Home Depot and all their vehicles survived.

About a day before Sandy hit, the word comes that the surge would be at least 8 feet. Time to lengthen docklines.  

A sign that things will be worse than Irene is that the port moves the stack of containers along the bulkhead. My windbreak to the east is gone.  We also hear that the Port Authority will evacuate the port and lock the gates at midday before the surge, so there would be no new help getting to us. I ask the Port Authority Police officer if he will leave port if it gets really bad, “no, I will just drive a dump truck on patrol” is his stalwart answer. 

Somewhere in all this, there is an announcement that subways would stop running in advance of the storm, and Mayor Bloomberg declares evacuation for Zone A areas, which include our neighborhood of Red Hook. An evacuation order is not changing my plans, though it could limit my getting help.  

My mother calls “you’re not staying on the boat during this are you?”  My responsibility is to protect the MARY A. WHALEN and to protect her from doing damage to the property of others. AT 172’ long and 613 gross tons, she is big enough to cause a lot of destruction if she breaks loose.

Sandy is due Monday night. Sunday night, I am one of many recipients of an email telling Red Hook people which bars will be open and what movies are being screened.  This makes me wonder: Is the community ashore prepping for Sandy? Has anyone evacuated? After that email, PortSide’s maritime world feels separated from our shoreside neighbors by more than six blocks and a fence. 

Monday day, the weather rachets up.  My weather station is set up in the galley.  A laptop, a clipboard with regular print-outs of NOAA marine weather, updates from Jan, the worst news highlighted in yellow.  Peter nabs the ship's cat Chiclet and locks her in. As the weather rises, Chiclet cleans herself incessantly.  

I read the shocking news that the HMS BOUNTY has sunk in the storm, at sea. I hear from Paul Amico, a dockbuilder advising us, “I just saw a Don Jon tug heading up the North River with waves breaking over the wheelhouse.” That means 18’ waves in the Hudson.

HMS BOUNTY sinks. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

HMS BOUNTY sinks. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

It gets colder and damper. I fire up the galley’s diesel stove, patented in 1918, as much to dry the air as to heat it.  As winds rise, Peter and out go out to add extra lines to the tarp covering the wheelhouse windows. After warming up over tea, I get word that the surge would be at least 12’ and would hit in about 5 hours, right at high tide. 

12’ is NOT good news. I am keen to keep the ship’s light bow from blowing or floating up onto the pier, my big worry during Irene, a risk to both boat and pier. The MARY’s stern is heavy and sits about 8’ in the water whereas her bow is actually up out of the water -- the forward engine room has been stripped, the forepeak has no ballast water, and she is carrying no cargo.  Paul Amico calls, “have you considered a preventer line?”  Yes. I turn to Peter, “time to go back out, time for a preventer line.”   

We run a line to Pier 9A, the pier 265 feet to the north of us.  We have a large collection of lightly-used docklines from tugboat friends. I bend together (that means tie together in mariner speak) two heavy eight-braid tug hawsers, and then add all our other dock lines.  To drag this through the water, we tie together an agglomeration of light line (rope) and hand-haul the collection around to the other pier.  

We are making the line off to a cleat on Pier 9A as the waters start to rise fast.  While heading back to the tanker, the waters crest the bulkhead and pool into the port.

The string piece of the pier is several feet higher than the port landmass, which gives us about 5 minutes to disconnect our shorepower cord, pull it up onto the boat, haul in the ladder, and start the generator. 

Somehow, between unplugging the shorepower from the shed and getting the cord onto the shed, our electrical system develops a short.  This means the generator turns off every time I plug in the shorepower cord. Peter then runs an extension cord to the generator to keep the laptop and mini fridge running.

So begins 35 nights, of relying on flashlights and one 15-amp extension cord, until our shorepower connection can be repaired.

The waters rise. The port’s exterior lights go out. A container lifts and bobs our way.  Humps appear in the water along the pier, like a long Loch Ness monster. I realize I am looking at all the tire fenders floating as high as their straps would allow. Somehow the overhead lights inside the shed stay on, and the windows in the doors afford the surreal view of an indoor sea.  

Peter and I watch orange bursts of light over Manhattan. “Probably transformer explosions,” I say.  Manhattan goes dark. I watch the water for several hours to make sure it isn’t rising and then sleep for several hours.

Lower Manhattan without power except at Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Jersey to the left, midtown to the right. Upsticking bolts show where head logs were ripped off the pier by Sandy.

Lower Manhattan without power except at Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Jersey to the left, midtown to the right.
Upsticking bolts show where head logs were ripped off the pier by Sandy.

Tuesday’s plan is to shorten the docklines and get off the boat; but the wind is still so high that, even though the shed is a windbreak, the wind roaring over the shed is enough to grab the tippy top of the tanker and push us off the pier. The ebb tide pushes us back onto the pier, and we pull in a little line; then the wind blows us off again. Given how many lines we had out and that they were double and triple parted and since we don’ have a working winch, it takes us three hours of floating back and forth to shorten all the lines and get the boat to the pier.  

I get a few worried calls and emails asking us if the MARY is aground. Perplexing, until I learn that a similar tanker, the JOHN B. CADDELL, is aground on Staten Island, a cautionary tale of what can happen if a ship is not well tended before and during such a storm.

This is not us! Tanker JOHN B. CADDELL aground on Staten Island. Via    Twitter

This is not us! Tanker JOHN B. CADDELL aground on Staten Island. Via Twitter

At dusk, some volunteers make it in. Jenny Kane, Amy Bucciferro, Paul Amico after inspecting the damage at the DUMBO ferry dock.

I tell Peter that PortSide had historic documents stored in one room in the shed. 

Peter looks startled, then irked at me and, as he told us weeks later, “This was news to me and I scrambled to rescue what I could.  Unlike riding out a storm on a ship, dealing with wet paper artifacts I was familiar with.  I had worked in museums for years, with collections stored in leaky basements, and had rescued a lot of paper ephemera after 9/11.  Fearing fused wet paper and mold, I turned the tables on Carolina and charged her to get as many dry sheets and towels as she could find fast.”

PortSide's archive of historic documents is somewhere beneath all this.

PortSide's archive of historic documents is somewhere beneath all this.

I kick in the door to the stevedore's lounge, and we all schlepp tables up the stevedore’s lounge (I find the height of the second floor oddly comforting after the flood).  Modern books we junk.  Peter begins a painstaking process of separating wet papers, blueprints and photographs, blotting them dry, interleaving them with sheets, weighing them down.  I am bushed and crash into my bunk. 

Peter works until 4 am, bringing things aboard and slowly toasting some near the galley stove.

Over the next several days, Peter covers most horizontal surfaces in the tanker with drying antique documents. “Some of the blue prints lost most of their blue to the water, and the modern pulp paper fared worse than the rag paper of the 1800s but in the end most of the important items in the collection, if a little worse for wear, were salvaged.”     

Wednesday, the Halloween that never was, Peter and I head into the shed to inspect more things.  

The hard-to-find vintage engine parts that could repair MARY’s engine have been submerged. Ditto all the historic artifacts from Todd Shipyard.  Ditto our electrical transformer. 

I make some calls and am told to douse the transformer in fresh water, dry it, and then spray it heavily with di-electric cleaner. We retrieve buckets of water from our rain barrels (there is no running water connection to the ship) and pour them over the transformer. I locate one outlet with power (which blessedly worked for a few days), plug in a fan and park it in front of the transformer. (10/27/19 update: The treatment above worked. We are still using this transformer!)

Drying our rinsed transformer. We were so lucky! Right after several days of drying, the power in the outlet went out. The ebbing waters pinned lots of dunnage around our transformer.

Drying our rinsed transformer. We were so lucky! Right after several days of drying, the power in the outlet went out. The ebbing waters pinned lots of dunnage around our transformer.

The engine parts are beyond us, and we turn to the artifacts.  

Once upon a time, Peter had carefully wrapped each one in paper and identified each with a number and a photo. That labeling system is gone. We unwrap it all and leave stuff to air out. I console myself with the thought that shipyard artifacts have likely been wet before.

An email arrives saying Red Hook restaurants are cooking their food at a community BBQ rather than have it be wasted, BYO charcoal, and Peter and I bike into Red Hook toting some charcoal.

I leave the port with my spirits high.  The ship is fine, the artifact loss was minimal. Irene had been a great preparatory experience; we had survived Sandy. 

A few blocks down Van Brunt my spirits drop. I was a photojournalist for some 15 years and worked in rough places overseas, and I recognize the signs of disaster.  A burm of garbage three to four feet high lines Van Brunt Street. Dazed and muddy people mill around at the corner of Pioneer Street amid the clatter of generators and a tangle of electrical cords.  

Peter remarks that it looks like a macabre Christmas. Santas, which had been stored in cellars, are now muddy and atop garbage heaps, or, at the bar Bait and Tackle, set up by the door like a dark joke.  In short, the mess ashore is bad, much worse than the damage to PortSide NewYork. I immediately decide that PortSide should come ashore to help our neighbors.   

More on that in the next installment.

PortSide NewYork would like to thank the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for their support during Hurricane Sandy while we were in their Red Hook port.

For our latest Sandy relief info, see our blogpost, follow us on Twitter.

Additional reporting and editing by Dan Goncharoff and Peter Rothenberg.

The kind of thing we prevented: how a vessel went up on a pier during Sandy.  Photo by Frank Yacino, crewmember of tug KRISTY ANN REINAUER

The kind of thing we prevented: how a vessel went up on a pier during Sandy.
Photo by Frank Yacino, crewmember of tug KRISTY ANN REINAUER

PortSide NewYork & hidden Sandy stories, ours & others

At the two-year anniversary of hurricane Sandy, PortSide NewYork is telling our Sandy story, a story largely hidden, like so many in Red Hook.  We believe our story offers hope and guidance for the future. That’s because our maritime perspective explains how we knew to prepare for Sandy, made us available to help Red Hook’s Sandy recovery, and is a knowledge base we want to share to make you safer from floods in the future.

PortSide NewYork was founded to help change awareness and use of NYC’s BLUEspace, the water part of the waterfront.  New York City’s area is one third water, and contains 29 islands.  PortSide’s goal is to create a place that will showcase what NYC’s waterfront can really be.  Our ship, the tanker MARY A. WHALEN, is an ambassador in that goal and our endeavor to bring the community ashore and the community afloat, the maritime community, closer together.  Here’s our Sandy story:

Please help us continue this kind of resiliency work and reporting. Buy a ticket to our fundraiser Tues 10/28/14 or donate

Sandy prevention: Saving a historic ship

Thursday, 10/25/12, 1pm, Sandy minus 4.5 days, PortSide’s crew said good-bye to a class trip of first graders visiting the MARY A. WHALEN and started hurricane prep, punching our way thru the list of what we did for Irene the year before. 

During the next four and a half days, we traded strategies with historic ships and modern workboats around the harbor. We all laid in food, water and fuel; tested generators; and moved our boats to safer places. PortSide curator Peter Rothenberg, shipcat Chiclet and Director Carolina Salguero are storm crew on the MARY A. WHALEN.  

The maritime community obsessively followed marine weather reports. “Grim installments are burned in my memory,” said Carolina Salguero. “At Sandy minus 1.5 days, we learned an 8-foot surge is coming.  At Sandy minus a few hours, I am readying for a 12 foot surge.”

Ashore in Red Hook, things were different. Sunday night, Sandy minus 24 hours, an email blast went out telling Red Hook which bars will be open and what movies are being screened.  Carolina worried, “Is the community ashore prepping for Sandy? Has anyone evacuated?” PortSide’s maritime world felt separated from neighbors ashore by more than the containerport fence. 

Peter Rothenberg was valiant. “When Carolina got word that the storm surge was expected to be 12 or 13 feet high, I had visions of the MARY tipping over onto the pier and emphatically agreed with the idea of securing a preventer line to the next pier 265 feet away.”

Due to preparations, our ship MARY WHALEN safely rode out the surge with our office aboard, enabling every form of Sandy assistance we delivered to Red Hook afterwards.  

Peter and Carolina came ashore on Wednesday afternoon to discover a devastated Red Hook, and immediately decided that PortSide’s urgent search for a publicly-accessible homeport was flooded to a standstill and that we would help Red Hook until waterfront sites recovered enough for us to resume real estate talks. 

Appreciation from Red Hook

Adam Armstrong, Pioneer Street resident and writer of the blog “View from the Hook” describes what happened next, “PortSide came ashore, quickly set up shop at 351 Van Brunt Street and proceeded to make a base - a visible and accessible storefront -  from where they could reach out, provide information, resources and assistance to their land lubbing neighbors, most of us who were desperately trying to recover from the immense damage that had been done to our homes and our unique, waterfront neighborhood.  Carolina Salguero and her team of volunteers co-ordinated clean-out crews and tradesmen to go and physically assist our residents, and they gathered and disseminated information about anything they though would be helpful - FEMA, legal assistance, insurance matters, Con Edison, National Grid, the Rapid Repairs program, etc., and provided a connection to our representatives in government. On many of these matters, PortSide organized meetings and reached out to our residents, and in the case of our street - Pioneer Street – Carolina co-ordinated the creation of a comprehensive contact list so that everyone on our block could share information and provide support to each other. It was - and still is - a wonderful way for the residents of Pioneer Street to keep in touch and get updates on our street's recovery.” 

What made that work possible was the selflessness of three people PortSide is honoring at our fundraiser on Tuesday, October 28 at Hometown. Victoria Hagman donated Realty Collective’s storefront and utilities at 351 Van Brunt, despite suffering extensive flood damage herself.  Park Slope electrician Danny Schneider walked into 351 and offered free labor. PortSide coordinated his work, and Danny reports that he inspected and certified 60 buildings and repaired some two dozen for just the cost of parts. 

Our third honoree, our Curator Peter Rothenberg worked both ends of PortSide’s recovery story, the prevention that saved the MARY WHALEN and the aid work after the storm of setting up and running 351.

Peter, Carolina and Dan Goncharoff of PortSide ran 351 for a month and then continued a virtual aid station and other recovery efforts out of view. In April 2013, PortSide won a White House award for Sandy recovery work, and in July, the New York State Senate honored our work.  

PortSide work transitions from recovery to resiliency

Carolina began attending resiliency conferences. Summer 2013, she was asked to become a member of Red Hook’s NY Rising committee to create local resiliency plans.  PortSide staff and interns did research supporting the committee (which includes bone, two, three, and four and several pages on our website) during the committee's eight months of work. 

One of Carolina’s NY Rising goals was to inject maritime issues into the discussion, hoping the State NY Rising process could influence a state agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), so waterfront infrastructure in NYC can be more repaired and built for both resiliency and everyday operations.  Carolina also proposed the solar-powered emergency lights for NYCHA housing which are in Red Hook’s plan and are being considered for other NYCHA developments. “I think the NY Rising committee work is good. Red Hook distinguished itself for what we put in our plan,” says Carolina; but plans are hidden assets for most people until they are built. 

Looking back on PortSide’s two years of Sandy-related work, for the sake of Red Hook’s planning better for the future, we would like to talk about some hidden Sandy stories of need and success we found in the course of our recovery and resiliency work.

Hidden Sandy stories of need and success

PortSide’s recovery work helped many people who don’t get media coverage and whose cases deserve more attention:  People without an advocacy group, without on-line fundraising.  People who aren’t comfortable using computers and needed Peter’s help to complete digital forms. People in mixed-use buildings that don’t fit FEMA homeowner funding guidelines. Renters who are not in NYCHA, and so are not in the media and political spotlights.  Seniors, immigrants. People whose divorce, estate and tax situations complicated filing for aid and kept them from speaking up in public meetings.  People who are private about their needs in general.

We learned that some affordable flood prevention was possible: The owners of Metal & Thread used a few hundred dollars of hardware store supplies to keep water from coming into their storefront and through the sidewalk hatch -- though their cellar suffered water leaking through the foundation from the empty lot next door.  Some tugboat crews saved their cars by moving them from Erie Basin to the second floor garage at Home Depot, above surge level.

IKEA’s contribution needs more attention. IKEA gave and gave and got no media coverage until the Sandy’s one year anniversary when their $250,000 investment in solar powering the Rec Center netted some articles.  

The power of connecting the community ashore and community afloat

Inland Red Hook is so disconnected from maritime Red Hook that the latter’s role in recovery is not discussed.  For example, Jim Tampakis’ business Marine Spares was significant in pumping out the Brooklyn Battery/Hugh L. Carey tunnel.  Vane Brothers provided hoses to the Hess fuel terminal at the foot of Court Street so home heating oil could be delivered. Both firms did that despite flood damage to their offices and mechanical shops.

PortSide feels the gap between inland resident and mariner is acute when we heard residents say “They told us to evacuate for Irene but nothing happened” and “I didn’t know there were two high tides a day.”  We conclude that people ashore poorly understand marine weather reports and don’t know where to get them.  

In comparison, mariners understand how to live with water, and how to prepare for hurricanes. They do the post-flood work of pumping tunnels, building ferry terminals and running emergency ferries, fixing bulkheads, clearing the harbor of debris so ships can import products as diverse as fuel, orange juice, new cars, bananas.  

To bring maritime voices to people ashore, PortSide plans programs to help folks develop coastal living and flood prep skills, such as educational events with actual mariners, exhibits, and creating a children’s book with our shipcat Chiclet as a resiliency narrator talking about riding out Sandy on the tanker.

Andrea Sansom, who founded the Red Hook flood mitigation Google group, sees the need, “We all love living at the water, and PortSide is here to help bring understanding to living with the water.”

Our ship is a great tool for this. Our tanker MARY A. WHALEN is now a maritime symbol of resiliency, in contrast to the tanker JOHN B. CADDELL, Staten Island’s symbol of Sandy, which went aground and had to be scrapped.

PortSide’s own Sandy damages

PSNY-Sandy-slide (9).jpg

A hidden Sandy story PortSide feels acutely is that of our own Sandy damages.  An electrical short left us facing thirty-five nights of relying on flashlights and one 15-amp extension cord attached to a little gas generator.  Sandy damaged the Sheepshead Bay house of our staffer John Weaver keeping him home for many months.  Everything PortSide had off the ship (antique crane, 60’ dock, electrical transformer, restoration engine parts, historic artifacts and documents, special event equipment and furniture) was flood-damaged or floated away. Our FEMA worksheet totals some $340,000, and we are still deep in that paper chase, starting six months late because we were misinformed that we don’t qualify. 

A massive Sandy effect on PortSide was the stalling of our urgent search for a homeport.  We need a place to fulfill our mission, earn revenue, and run programs. Resumption of real estate negotiations took many, many more months than we expected, and remains a major strain on PortSide.

PortSide is now focused on the future while celebrating the good in recovery. Come join us in that spirit at our fundraiser on Tuesday, October 28 at Hometown Bar-B-Que. Join us in honoring our partners in Red Hook’s Sandy recovery: Victoria Hagman of Realty Collective, Danny Schneider the electrician, and Peter Rothenberg.  Wear festive MARY WHALEN red and white.  We look forward to talking with you there and, going forward, continuing the work we’ve collectively begun after Sandy in understanding our waterfront in all its complexity and potential!

Comment on New York City plans for Federal CDBG Sandy recovery funds

Just in from our friends at the Brooklyn Recovery Fund of the Brooklyn Community Foundation

The following is copied from an email from the BRF of the BCF. Note the January 25, 2014 deadline!

"You may or may not know, but the City has made changes to the CDBG plan for recovery funds. If you participated in previous CDBG plan hearings or read previous drafts, you need to know that this change being proposed reallocates money and significantly changes program eligibility requirements across a number of previously planned programs. All of the changes in this amendment are substantial. Changes in financial allocations impact programs and funding for:

·         Housing

·         Business

·         City Administration

·         Infrastructure

·         Resilience Programs

Attached is a short 5 page guide to help those of us who are not familiar with the City’s planning and comment process locate the guide (both online and in hard copy), understand how to read the guide, and includes all the info you need to give comments on the guide. We have also included a section by section overview.

The City is only taking comments until January 25, so please take a moment either on your own or with your organization and provide comments about these considerable changes to disaster relief funding.

If you have any questions or need further guidance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Noël Kepler or Gillian Kaye at development@emmp-emergency.com."

 

NYC's webpage for the plan and amendments

 

 

Monthly Red Hook Sandy Survivor gatherings

Red Hook Sandy Survivor Gathering

Sun 6/30 4-7pm 

351 Van Brunt

 Flyer

Another monthly Red Hook Sandy Survivor gathering will occur at "351" where PortSide had our Sandy aid station, a space donated by Realty Collective.  The plan is to continue these gatherings on the the last Sunday of every month so long as there is interest.  To offer help or RSVP sandy6mo@gmail.com

What this is about

A Sandy+6 months gathering in late April was organized by PortSide NewYork, Victoria Hagman of Realty Collective, Kerry Quade and Maria Pagano (president of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association, a new PortSide friend). The idea was to get people talking and reconnected in the way the community was in the early days after the storm when so many of us were on the street or in public meetings.

How it went

Some 60 people came over 3 hours, and people really liked the event.  Many asked for us to do it monthly. The organizers agreed to do so and to do this the last Sunday of every month to provide a predictable date that would be easier for people to remember.

We dropped the ball last month and missed doing it!   PortSide will take the blame for that, there was a lot going on at PortSide what with last minute news which opened up the permit doors to getting the MARY WHALEN out of the port for the first time in almost 3 years; but hey, May's last Sunday was also Memorial Day weekend :-)

At the event, the organizers provided cake and coffee, Felicitas Oefelein donated wine, and Fairway donated cheese platters.  home/made lent the coffee urns, SBIDC helped get the food donated from Fairway, Realty Collective covered the cost of cakes etc.  Some people brought food.  There was very relaxed vibe, lots of talk, many people talking to people they didn’t know. No agenda, no speakers.  Attendees included home owners, renters, people from NYCHA.

Looking ahead

To make this happen regularly, we need some help.  Plus, the idea is that this is a community thing, not some organizers doing for you; so if you want these monthly gatherings, step up and make them happen!

Help would be:

  • designing a flyer
  • distributing flyers (to be most inclusive, info can't just be shared digitally)
  • small donations to support photocopying of flyers, cake and coffee. Very small, sheetcakes at Costco are wicked cheap.
  • driving to Costco to get said cakes…
  • setting up tables and food, breaking down the tables and collecting the garbage 
  • Several NYCHA residents said there should be better flyering in the houses; can anyone here help with this?
  • Some of the NYCHA residents also said it would be good to have a venue closer to the Houses, which sounds like a good idea.  Can someone work on that idea?  Would such a thing be possible at the Library?  351 Van Brunt is easy to use because Victoria Hagman of Realty Collective has the lease, and so there are no permit issues, no costs, etc.
  • other ideas you suggest… 

We’re going to keep it simple this time and offer less food (though we won’t stop you from bringing any!) since people seemed most interested in talking, and we want to make this easy enough to do.

Please forward this widely!  Best of luck with your recovery process!

PortSide NewYork Sandy Story Part 1: saving MARY WHALEN

This is PortSide NewYork's hurricane Sandy story, installment one.  

Installment one is a personal report by Carolina Salguero, Director of PortSide, speaking as Shipkeeper of the MARY A. WHALEN.  This installment covers PortSide's time in port preparing for Sandy, riding out the storm on the tanker, assessing our damage. We think the ship-related segment of our Sandy story is important because it shows how the maritime community in the port of NY-NJ spent days preparing for Sandy.   The maritime community has something to offer inland neighbors in terms of understanding how to assess flood risks and prepare for them.

The second installment of our Sandy story will cover PortSide's effort to help inland Red Hook, Brooklyn recover from the storm. 

The third installment will cover lessons learned and ideas for the future.

What a difference four days can make

Thursday, 10/25/12, Sandy minus four, the PortSide crew is excited to be hosting an elementary school class aboard the tanker MARY A. WHALEN.  After finishing a TankerTour and jolly lunch for 30 on deck with the City + Country School and waving goodbye to their coach bus, Dan Goncharoff says “have you been looking at this storm coming up the coast?”

C + C School visit, Thursday morning

I check the weather websites. This looks like hurricane Irene plus some.  

We convene a crew meeting and start hurricane preparations. School docents become a Sandy prep squad. By end of day, the deck was cleared of anything that could blow, and I am calling and emailing around for crew to help prepare and to ride out the storm on the ship. 

Friday morning, after more info about the storm, I am trying to find a protected berth for the tanker MARY A. WHALEN.  Just days before, we received word that our application had been accepted; the ship was on the National Register of Historic Places! Since the MARY is not fully restored, she lacks some equipment that would help her in a big storm: a working engine (eg, the ability to run away), machinery to raise her anchors if dropped to hold us in place, and a winch to haul in docklines under load. Compensating for that involves some extra forethought. 

Despite our efforts, we can’t find a good alternate berth for the MARY outside of the Red Hook Container Terminal.  Hughes Marine says “We’re out of space. You’ll be able to walk across Erie Basin by the time this is over; it will be so full of vessels.”  A contact at a shipyard says “we flooded during Irene, and this one looks to be worse, you sure you want to be over here?” “No and good luck,” is my answer.

After more checking of the weather, I decide to move the MARY where she rode out Irene, on the other side, the north side, of our current Pier 9B. (The south side lines up with the end of Degraw Street). For non-sailors, here’s how this kind of calculation goes:

Winds were expected to start from NE, swing around to the East and end up SW, but this could always change. If rough weather were coming from anything west to southwest, our current position has us exposed to the wind from the southwest and the fetch (long stretch of water over which wind can build up waves) from Staten Island up the Buttermilk Channel

The fendering (the wooden cribbing protecting ship and pier) is not robust on this side. A big advantage to the north side are some pilings at the inshore end that stand much taller than the pier and which would help prevent the tanker from riding up onto the pier if the surge were really high. 

The north side would have us more exposed from winds at the start of the storm, but the hill of Brooklyn Heights and the pier to the north of us (even though it has no shed) would provide a compensating wind break.  

As the wind clocked around to the south, a wall of containers near the bulkhead would provide a windbreak to the east, and the pier shed would be an enormous windbreak once the wind went south of east.  

A final consideration was that in the extreme case of docklines failing while we were on the northside, the tanker had a chance of bouncing around inside the space between the two piers for a while, maybe long enough for us to get other lines out or call for help; whereas, on the southside of the pier, if our docklines broke, tide or wind could shove the ship up on the rocks nearby to the south (surely the death of the tanker) or shoot us down the Buttermilk Channel towards unknown risks. 

I began calling tugboat companies to request a tow. Everyone is busy with storm prep so getting a tug takes a while.  I have the tug turn the MARY around so her stern faces east, putting her heavier end towards the expected wind direction. Her light bow is my worry.

The tug’s crew helps us put out storm lines, more lines than we would normally use, and double and triple parted lines. (Instead of a line just going from boat to dock, a triple-parted line goes from dock to boat to dock to boat).  The lines are set with a lot of slack to allow the boat to rise during the expected surge.  During Sandy, Peter Rothenberg and I will go out in the wind and rain to ease the lines as necessary

From Thursday until Monday, a changing array of volunteers bang through a punch list: gangway lashed to the deck. Gas generator moved near entry hatch and tested.  Gasoline, food, and water bought. Weepy portholes caulked. PortaSan moved inside the pier shed so it can't blow away.  

More calls to look for crew... Commercial boats have paid crew, but most historic vessels rely on a corps of volunteers and; with so many boats to protect, available bodies were scarce.  Compounding that, due to the dangersome spouses do not allow their partners to volunteer on the historic ships during the storm. Danger is one thing for paid crew; as a volunteer, it's another.

I ask Peter Rothenberg, our volunteer museum curator, if he wants to be crew. Peter makes a speedy calculation, “I hesitated for a moment, thinking this may be really unwise, and then said yes, probably being more reckless (brave?) than normally, because I had just lost my mother, and thus she was unable to question my judgment.”  

Peter Rothenberg

Peter Rothenberg

The harbor is abuzz with chatter on phone, email, and texts sharing weather info, plans, moral support. Mike Cohen has info on the South Street Seaport ships. Mike Abegg is dealing with the Harbor School boats. I talk to tug captains and ask Jan Andrusky, Logistics Manager of Weeks Marine, if she can share weather and Coast Guard updates as she had during Irene. Answer, “yes!” Jan is responsible for floating equipment on the eastern seaboard, the Gulf of Mexico, and more, and has lots of experience and access to weather data.

Bobby Silva, captain of a Reinauer barge up in Albany sends a text: “wish I gave you my keys to move my truck. My baby will be a goner.”  Other Reinauer crew who have not been sent out of town on vessels moved their vehicles from Erie Basin to the second floor of the garage at the Gowanus Home Depot and all their vehicles survived.

About a day before Sandy hit, the word comes that the surge would be at least 8 feet. Time to lengthen docklines.  

A sign that things will be worse than Irene is that the port moves the stack of containers along the bulkhead. My windbreak to the east is gone.  We also hear that the Port Authority will evacuate the port and lock the gates at midday before the surge, so there would be no new help getting to us. I ask the Port Authority Police officer if he will leave port if it gets really bad, “no, I will just drive a dump truck on patrol” is his stalwart answer. 

Somewhere in all this, there is an announcement that subways would stop running in advance of the storm, and Mayor Bloomberg declares evacuation for Zone A areas, which include our neighborhood of Red Hook. An evacuation order is not changing my plans, though it could limit my getting help.  

My mother calls “you’re not staying on the boat during this are you?”  My responsibility is to protect the MARY A. WHALEN and to protect her from doing damage to the property of others. AT 172’ long and 613 gross tons, she is big enough to cause a lot of destruction if she breaks loose.

Sandy is due Monday night. Sunday night, I am one of many recipients of an email telling Red Hook people which bars will be open and what movies are being screened.  This makes me wonder: Is the community ashore prepping for Sandy? Has anyone evacuated? After that email, PortSide’s maritime world feels separated from our shoreside neighbors by more than six blocks and a fence. 

Monday day, the weather rachets up.  My weather station is set up in the galley.  A laptop, a clipboard with regular print-outs of NOAA marine weather, updates from Jan, the worst news highlighted in yellow.  Peter nabs the ship's cat Chiclet and locks her in. As the weather rises, Chiclet cleans herself incessantly.  

I read the shocking news that the HMS BOUNTY has sunk in the storm, at sea. I hear from Paul Amico, a dockbuilder advising us, “I just saw a Don Jon tug heading up the North River with waves breaking over the wheelhouse.” That means 18’ waves in the Hudson.

HMS BOUNTY sinks. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

HMS BOUNTY sinks. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

It gets colder and damper. I fire up the galley’s diesel stove, patented in 1918, as much to dry the air as to heat it.  As winds rise, Peter and out go out to add extra lines to the tarp covering the wheelhouse windows. After warming up over tea, I get word that the surge would be at least 12’ and would hit in about 5 hours, right at high tide. 

12’ is NOT good news. I am keen to keep the ship’s light bow from blowing or floating up onto the pier, my big worry during Irene, a risk to both boat and pier. The MARY’s stern is heavy and sits about 8’ in the water whereas her bow is actually up out of the water -- the forward engine room has been stripped, the forepeak has no ballast water, and she is carrying no cargo.  Paul Amico calls, “have you considered a preventer line?”  Yes. I turn to Peter, “time to go back out, time for a preventer line.”   

We run a line to Pier 9A, the pier 265 feet to the north of us.  We have a large collection of lightly-used docklines from tugboat friends. I bend together (that means tie together in mariner speak) two heavy eight-braid tug hawsers, and then add all our other dock lines.  To drag this through the water, we tie together an agglomeration of light line (rope) and hand-haul the collection around to the other pier.  

We are making the line off to a cleat on Pier 9A as the waters start to rise fast.  While heading back to the tanker, the waters crest the bulkhead and pool into the port.

The string piece of the pier is several feet higher than the port landmass, which gives us about 5 minutes to disconnect our shorepower cord, pull it up onto the boat, haul in the ladder, and start the generator. 

Somehow, between unplugging the shorepower from the shed and getting the cord onto the shed, our electrical system develops a short.  This means the generator turns off every time I plug in the shorepower cord. Peter then runs an extension cord to the generator to keep the laptop and mini fridge running.

So begins 35 nights, of relying on flashlights and one 15-amp extension cord, until our shorepower connection can be repaired.

The waters rise. The port’s exterior lights go out. A container lifts and bobs our way.  Humps appear in the water along the pier, like a long Loch Ness monster. I realize I am looking at all the tire fenders floating as high as their straps would allow. Somehow the overhead lights inside the shed stay on, and the windows in the doors afford the surreal view of an indoor sea.  

Peter and I watch orange bursts of light over Manhattan. “Probably transformer explosions,” I say.  Manhattan goes dark. I watch the water for several hours to make sure it isn’t rising and then sleep for several hours.

Lower Manhattan without power except at Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Jersey to the left, midtown to the right. Upsticking bolts show where head logs were ripped off the pier by Sandy.

Lower Manhattan without power except at Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Jersey to the left, midtown to the right.
Upsticking bolts show where head logs were ripped off the pier by Sandy.

Tuesday’s plan is to shorten the docklines and get off the boat; but the wind is still so high that, even though the shed is a windbreak, the wind roaring over the shed is enough to grab the tippy top of the tanker and push us off the pier. The ebb tide pushes us back onto the pier, and we pull in a little line; then the wind blows us off again. Given how many lines we had out and that they were double and triple parted and since we don’ have a working winch, it takes us three hours of floating back and forth to shorten all the lines and get the boat to the pier.  

I get a few worried calls and emails asking us if the MARY is aground. Perplexing, until I learn that a similar tanker, the JOHN B. CADDELL, is aground on Staten Island, a cautionary tale of what can happen if a ship is not well tended before and during such a storm.

This is not us! Tanker JOHN B. CADDELL aground on Staten Island. Via    Twitter

This is not us! Tanker JOHN B. CADDELL aground on Staten Island. Via Twitter

At dusk, some volunteers make it in. Jenny Kane, Amy Bucciferro, Paul Amico after inspecting the damage at the DUMBO ferry dock.

I tell Peter that PortSide had historic documents stored in one room in the shed. 

Peter looks startled, then irked at me and, as he told us weeks later, “This was news to me and I scrambled to rescue what I could.  Unlike riding out a storm on a ship, dealing with wet paper artifacts I was familiar with.  I had worked in museums for years, with collections stored in leaky basements, and had rescued a lot of paper ephemera after 9/11.  Fearing fused wet paper and mold, I turned the tables on Carolina and charged her to get as many dry sheets and towels as she could find fast.”

PortSide's archive of historic documents is somewhere beneath all this.

PortSide's archive of historic documents is somewhere beneath all this.

I kick in the door to the stevedore's lounge, and we all schlepp tables up the stevedore’s lounge (I find the height of the second floor oddly comforting after the flood).  Modern books we junk.  Peter begins a painstaking process of separating wet papers, blueprints and photographs, blotting them dry, interleaving them with sheets, weighing them down.  I am bushed and crash into my bunk. 

Peter works until 4 am, bringing things aboard and slowly toasting some near the galley stove.

Over the next several days, Peter covers most horizontal surfaces in the tanker with drying antique documents. “Some of the blue prints lost most of their blue to the water, and the modern pulp paper fared worse than the rag paper of the 1800s but in the end most of the important items in the collection, if a little worse for wear, were salvaged.”     

Wednesday, the Halloween that never was, Peter and I head into the shed to inspect more things.  

The hard-to-find vintage engine parts that could repair MARY’s engine have been submerged. Ditto all the historic artifacts from Todd Shipyard.  Ditto our electrical transformer. 

I make some calls and am told to douse the transformer in fresh water, dry it, and then spray it heavily with di-electric cleaner. We retrieve buckets of water from our rain barrels (there is no running water connection to the ship) and pour them over the transformer. I locate one outlet with power (which blessedly worked for a few days), plug in a fan and park it in front of the transformer. (10/27/19 update: The treatment above worked. We are still using this transformer!)

Drying our rinsed transformer. We were so lucky! Right after several days of drying, the power in the outlet went out. The ebbing waters pinned lots of dunnage around our transformer.

Drying our rinsed transformer. We were so lucky! Right after several days of drying, the power in the outlet went out. The ebbing waters pinned lots of dunnage around our transformer.

The engine parts are beyond us, and we turn to the artifacts.  

Once upon a time, Peter had carefully wrapped each one in paper and identified each with a number and a photo. That labeling system is gone. We unwrap it all and leave stuff to air out. I console myself with the thought that shipyard artifacts have likely been wet before.

An email arrives saying Red Hook restaurants are cooking their food at a community BBQ rather than have it be wasted, BYO charcoal, and Peter and I bike into Red Hook toting some charcoal.

I leave the port with my spirits high.  The ship is fine, the artifact loss was minimal. Irene had been a great preparatory experience; we had survived Sandy. 

A few blocks down Van Brunt my spirits drop. I was a photojournalist for some 15 years and worked in rough places overseas, and I recognize the signs of disaster.  A burm of garbage three to four feet high lines Van Brunt Street. Dazed and muddy people mill around at the corner of Pioneer Street amid the clatter of generators and a tangle of electrical cords.  

Peter remarks that it looks like a macabre Christmas. Santas, which had been stored in cellars, are now muddy and atop garbage heaps, or, at the bar Bait and Tackle, set up by the door like a dark joke.  In short, the mess ashore is bad, much worse than the damage to PortSide NewYork. I immediately decide that PortSide should come ashore to help our neighbors.   

More on that in the next installment.

PortSide NewYork would like to thank the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for their support during Hurricane Sandy while we were in their Red Hook port.

For our latest Sandy relief info, see our blogpost, follow us on Twitter.

Additional reporting and editing by Dan Goncharoff and Peter Rothenberg.

The kind of thing we prevented: how a vessel went up on a pier during Sandy.  Photo by Frank Yacino, crewmember of tug KRISTY ANN REINAUER

The kind of thing we prevented: how a vessel went up on a pier during Sandy.
Photo by Frank Yacino, crewmember of tug KRISTY ANN REINAUER