A flashlight greeted Steve Winkelmann when he woke up early Tuesday at his marina, the Hudson Valley Marine in Verplanck.
Tired, wet, cold and disoriented, Winkelmann asked if the light was God taking him away.
Someone had come to take him away, but it wasn’t God. It was his buddy Joe McGreal, but Winkelmann was in such a daze that he’d be hard pressed to recognize himself.
“He didn’t know who anybody was,” said Carmen Olang, Winkelmann’s girlfriend of four years. “If Joe hadn’t came, Steve would be dead today.”
Winkelmann, who’s owned the marina with his family for about 12 years, disappeared from about 9 p.m. Monday to about 1 a.m. Tuesday. McGreal eventually found Winkelmann inside the seat of a backhoe attached to a barge in the northeast corner of the marina.
McGreal, who helps run the Quiet Man Pub in Peekskill with his brother, rushed to the marina with his girlfriend, Brittany Hays, after Olang called and said Winkelmann was missing.
That meant parking far away and wading through a strong tide that was nearly chest high and searching for Winkelmann in the dark.
“What are you going to do,” McGreal said. “What’s the point in having friends if you can’t use them.”
Storm Surges Through
Winkelmann was securing boats and equipment at the boatyard when he was overwhelmed by Sandy.
Winkelmann said he saw the tide move in closer, but he didn’t realize how fast and furious it would become.
“I never saw anything like this,” Winkelmann said as he recounted the details from that night. “It was crazy and it all happened between 45 minutes to an hour.”
The marina sits on the Hudson River. On the other side of Kings Ferry Road sits Lake Meahagh. During the storm, the river and the lake connected and the water level across the road was waist high.
Boats from the marina floated off onto the middle of Kings Ferry Road. A few docks on the yard had floated so high that they had landed on top of their support pillars by the time the storm subsided.
Einar Johannsen owns the Viking Marina, which is located next to Hudson Marina.
“We’ve never seen that type of water,” Johannsen said. “Most older people I know would say that they never saw anything like that. The water went all the way across the road to the lake and it was six feet deep at the front of my shop. It was like head height.”
Lawrence Chiulli, 15, of Cortlandt Manor, helped Winkelmann set up before leaving the yard at about 8:45 p.m. He remembered seeing the dark sky highlighted by brief bursts of light provided electrical transformers exploding on the other side of the river .
Chiulli said the marina’s business trailer was elevated more than six feet before the storm came.
“When you think about the preparation, it’s crazy,” Chiulli said. “The trailer got knocked back and the stairs got taken out.”
Chiulli went home with his father before the storm got really bad, while Winkelmann stayed with Olang to do some more storm preparation.
“Steve told me to stay in here [inside the trailer] and he left,” Olang said.
Lost in the Flood
Winkelmann had gone out to the docks to tie his father’s boat down. Before he left the business office, he took a steel piece from his boat lift and placed it in front of the door.
As Olang waited in the trailer, she heard a boat crash into the door. The metal that Winkelmann placed in front of the door prevented the boat from smashing through.
“I went outside and pushed the boat away,” Olang said as pointed toward Kings Ferry Road. “I could see it spin off into the street.”
She continued to wait inside the trailer, but the water continued to rise and there was no sign of Winkelmann.
She then noticed a parade of boats pass through the yard. Luckily, a man who lived in a nearby houseboat passed by in a canoe.
“I told him I’m looking for Steven and asked if he saw him,” Olang said. “He said ‘no’ and I got into the canoe. He rowed me out and I waited for Steve, but he never.”
After a while, Olang called Hays and told her Steve was missing.
“Joe heard and said ‘I’m coming to get my buddy’,” Hays said.
McGreal said he’s only known Winkelmann since May, when the boating season began.
“He’s friends with a lot of good friends of mine, so he already had a lot of credibility before I got here,” McGreal said. “If your mate tells you ‘hey, that’s one of my boys’, then you mind as well have known him for 20 years.”
Winkelmann made his way back inside the business office and waited for the storm to pass. The water got about chest high when the glass door to the trailer shattered.
Winkelmann looked outside and saw his boat, “The Blue Dolphin.”
“It was bouncing off the top of the building, so I grabbed ahold of the rail and I had to time it right so I didn’t crushed,” Winkelmann said. “I jumped up and pulled myself onto the boat, busted through the window, jumped in, got the keys and put them in.”
Winkelmann said he then jumped back into the water and inserted the boat’s drain plug before jumping back on.
“There was six, seven feet of water here with the waves coming in,” Winkelmann said. “I drove the boat around, over to my rig.”
Winkelmann used the backhoe to punch a hole through the front of the boat, keeping it pinned, before passing out.
“He had hypothermia,” Olang said. “I also think he might have bumped his head and collapsed.”
When McGreal and Hays arrived at the marina the tide was pushing in toward the river and Hays was unable to continue. Fortunately, McGreal managed to guess where Winkelmann was.
“I yelled and flashed the light and put two and two together,” McGreal said. “I figured if the only piece of machinery in the yard that was of any value was the barge, because everything else was piled up here [in the front]. If you were in that frame of mind of fixing stuff, that’s the only thing you got.”
McGreal woke Winkelmann up and the jumped from boat to boat until they made it out of the yard. A tired Winkelmann was greeted by his mother and friends before he was brought home.
Olang said she didn’t think about yelling at Winkelmann for risking his life.
“I was just happy he was alive,” Olang said.
Said McGreal: “It would’ve been a pointless exercise. The man was worried and fatigued. You look at your baby and it’s a mess. I guess your business sense kicks in and you want to look out for your baby and this is it. The only thing you could is not argue with him, but help him.”
In the end, Winkelmann said expects to recover from the storm damage.
"I lost like half my boats, but most of the damage is slight," Winkelmann said.