Friday, January 27, 2017

Dive Team still reminded of Sandy: Items lost and memories found

It has been said that all sorts of things come in threes.  For the Point Pleasant Beach First Aid Dive Team, memories of Hurricane Sandy recently came back in threes.  But rather than cringe at the destruction and loss from the storm, these volunteer divers smiled at the recoveries.

A Friendly Face

Last November, Dive Team members were training off a beach in Bay Head when a reminder of the historic storm appeared in the form of a smiling face.  The divers had been in the water nearly three hours, swimming and practicing underwater navigation.  Just as they crawled out, cold and tired, Nancy Bowden just happened to be strolling down the beach.  They had first met each other nearly four years earlier.

One of the homes demolished by Hurricane Sandy had belonged to Nancy’s grandmother.  In the storm, flood waters and pounding surf had lifted the house off its foundation.  The powerful waves and wind then transported the entire structure from Mantoloking proper to an island clear across Barnegat Bay.  There, it finally ran aground and collapsed down on itself.

In March 2013, the Dive Team was in the bay conducting boat operations training, surrounded by storm debris.  Along the way, the crew met Nancy with friends and family, who themselves were attempting to salvage personal effects from the family home at its new address.  In the collapse, many of the contents of the lower floors had effectively been pushed up into the attic.  Incredibly, the roof was still intact, so everything directly underneath it had remained protected!

Divers assisted with the loading and transport of two boatloads of household goods back to dock.  Furniture, books, clothing, photos, and a hand-made cedar chest full of blankets would all be used to recreate some of the memories from the 85-year old house.  Nancy smiled with some hope as the divers wished her family well.

Running into Nancy Bowden on the beach two months ago was as happenstance as it was in the bay just months after the hurricane.  In the meantime, the family home has been rebuilt.  And she’s still smiling.

A Forgotten Find

Last December, the Dive Team conducted another training dive on the same Bay Head beach.  This time, divers found an entire brick chimney in four feet of water. 

Chet Nesley, Chief Diver of the Dive Team, said at the time, “We were just here two weeks ago, and this was not out like this.”  He thinks that this was likely yet another piece of debris that had been deposited from the superstorm, but only recently exposed.  Shortly after the storm, there were reports from a fishing vessel that an entire house roof was adrift two miles offshore, so burying a chimney on the beach would have been small potatoes for Sandy. 

He continued, “There is absolutely no marine growth on any of the brick.  It just goes to show you how much sand the ocean can move around in a short period of time!”

Returning a Memory

Also last fall, a remnant of the historic storm was recovered, quite by chance, in Shark River Inlet.  Chief Nesley was diving in the inlet by the Ocean Avenue Bridge in Belmar.  While salvaging fishing gear off the bottom, he picked up a wooden plank to move it out of his search area.  However, this board had a mind of its own, falling back down on him.  Twice.

Not wanting to get hit by it a third time, he moved to jam it into a rocky crevice.  That was when his hand slid down the plank, hitting a metal plaque still firmly attached.

Nesley removed the plank from the water.  Brushing the plaque off, he discovered that it had been dedicated to a “husband, father, grandfather, and fireman” lost on 9-11.

“I don’t normally dive in this area, but I had followed a line of fishing debris out to this spot,” explained Nesley.  “And then it wouldn’t let me throw it away!  This was meant to be found.”

This was actually the third memorial plaque that Point Pleasant First Aid divers have located and salvaged.  The other two finds were posted on several social media outlets, with one already being returned to the family of the dedicatee.

The recovery of the most recent plaque, dedicated to Charles W. Mathers, was posted on “Barnegat Bay Island”, a Facebook page, and Jersey Shore Hurricane News.  JSHN acted as liaison to make contact with the Mathers family.  Arrangements were made to return the plaque.

Marjorie Mathers Kane met with the First Aid Dive Team on January 15, 2017 and was presented with the memorial plaque honoring her father.  She expressed her excitement and gratitude while sharing its story.  It had been dedicated on a bench on the Sea Girt boardwalk, prior to being washed away and lost to the ocean during Sandy.

For four years, anytime Marjorie’s mother visited from Galveston, they would walk the beach.  They would turn over debris, every time wondering, “Could this be it?” with a slim hope of the plaque one day returning.

After four years, it insisted on being found. 

Three months, three Sandy memories.

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