Service shops seeing increase in boat repairs from storm debris-strewn bay

The Baltimore Sun

In a normal summer month, Sean Thomas might get one call from a boater with a bent propeller from an unseen log or other junk partially submerged in the water.

With all the debris in the Chesapeake Bay from the recent storms, the service manager at Bay Shore Marine Engine in Annapolis has gotten three of those calls in the last week alone. Other mechanics have seen similar increases in repair jobs, and those who haven’t expect they will as more boaters venture out on the water.

“I talked to another guy in the yard and asked him how many he’s had,” Thomas said Wednesday, referring to another mechanic working in the Bert Jabin Yacht Yard. His answer: “The same number.”

Crews used chainsaws and construction equipment to remove tree trunks, a roof truss, a chicken coop and other large detritus from the beach at Sandy Point State Park Wednesday. Volunteer cleanups are scheduled today and Saturday.

But more debris keeps washing in with the tides, the winds and in the wake of the shipping channels — and with a chance of more rain in the forecast, there’s no knowing how long it might take for the bay, the inlets and the beaches to clear.

“Ask Mother Nature,” said Candy Thomson, Natural Resources Police spokeswoman. “This isn’t like when a tree falls across the road, and you call for help, and we take the tree down. This stuff moves around. It’s a moving target.”

Authorities have warned boaters of the risks and asked them to navigate slowly and carefully and to wear life jackets at all times if they do go out, she said.

Much of the pollution has been attributed to the overflowing Susquehanna River, which threatened to overwhelm the Conowingo Dam last week, prompting Exelon, which owns the dam, to open 20 crest gates — releasing water, sediment and debris from the river’s 27,500-square-mile watershed.

There is a 60 percent chance of showers and a thunderstorm Friday, according to the National Weather Service. Precipitation chances drop to 30 percent Saturday, and Sunday should be sunny — another potential problem, because of the temptation it could present to boaters with cabin fever.

“If the weekend is nice, there’s going to be a real urge to get out there,” Thomson said. “We’re just telling people there’s still stuff out there.”

Most of the debris isn’t trash, she said; it’s construction materials and chunks of wood from piers and buildings.

Puncturing a hull or getting branches caught in a propeller or a speedometer pickup likely will cost the owner more time than normal, as repair jobs stack up at service shops.

“If all of a sudden they get an influx, you’re gonna be waiting almost till Labor Day,” Thomson said.

Annapolis Yacht Sales and Services has been hired to fix about a half dozen boats with damage from the storm debris, said Tom Turner, director of service.

But getting the boats to the company’s Bay Bridge Marina on Kent Island has proved difficult due to the sheer amount of junk in the water.

“We ceased operations moving boats around,” Turner said. “It was just too much stuff out there.”

Thomas, the Bay Shore Marine Engine service manager, said he felt a bit apprehensive about the sea trial he’d scheduled today for a boat for which his company had repaired the engine.

He plans to bring several people aboard, keeping their eyes trained on the water for safety.

Annapolis Gel Coat and Fiberglass Repairs does cosmetic and structural repairs — the kind you’d need if a tree trunk stabbed the hull of your boat.

It hasn’t gotten any such repair jobs, manager Tracy Uhthoff said, which she attributes to boaters are heeding the warnings and staying off the water.

“The word has gotten out,” she said. “Everyone’s been putting it out there. Maybe people are paying attention.

“The debris is going to be around a couple weeks. It’s not going to go away quickly.”

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