I start moving north tomorrow, leaving my floating condo/remote office (aka “Essential”) and returning to our Rochester Office. I am hoping the weather up north will continue to warm up and we will have an early spring.
Last week, I took a short trip to see relatives down on Jekyll Island and then in Venice, Florida. Jekyll Island, just north of the Georgia/Florida border, is a relatively quiet seven-mile-long vacation spot, it is one of the Sea Islands and one of the Golden Isles of the Georgia Barrier Islands. The island is owned by the State of Georgia and run by a self-sustaining, self-governing body. I spent two days visiting my sister-in-law and her husband and also saw an old friend, Erik Will, who keeps his Monk Trawler at Jekyll Marina on the west side of the Island. Erik has retired from his career as a surveyor and still does some yacht delivery work, but his real passion is playing music in various bands. On Jekyll, we had a wonderful afternoon at Tortuga Jack’s watching Erik and the band “Pier Pressure” perform.
My sister rented a place in Venice Beach for the month of March… I don’t see her very often and the seven-hour drive to Venice was more inviting than a 15-hour drive to northern Michigan to see her. Venice is very pretty, and also very crowded, like most destination cities on the Florida coasts during the winter months. What really dampened the visit was the Red Tide, limiting beach visits and swimming. The air quality was also adversely affected. Many people were walking around coughing and hacking like they had a 50-year smoking habit.
I took a day trip south to Punta Gorda, Burnt Store Marina and then onto Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island. I had never visited this area before and was curious. In addition to getting the lay of the land, I wondered about the remaining damage from Hurricane Ian. There were few visible signs of hurricane damage in Punta Gorda and at Burnt Store Marina. Most of the debris had been cleaned up, except for the roofs. More than half of the roofs were covered with blue tarps, shrink wrap, or a black membrane covering. It is safe to say there will not be any unemployed roofers in southwest Florida for at least a decade!
Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel were a different story. Destruction and devastation from Ian were still quite apparent. Gutted houses, apartments, condos and hotels were everywhere. So many buildings, at least the ones left standing, were just a shell with no windows, doors or interior structure left at all. There were many vacant lots where homes used to be. My guess is that only 10-15 of the remaining structures on or near the beach were habitable.
The Army Corp of Engineers and FEMA did an assessment of every building near the waterfront and published a 23-page, single-spaced list of buildings that were deemed unsafe and not salvageable. Mountains of debris were piled up everywhere with a parade of dump trucks taking it away as fast as they could get loaded. There were also boats scattered here and there, next to roads, on top of houses, on top of each other. I saw one big shrimper in a yard on top of a pair of 60-foot luxury yachts.
The causeway out to Sanibel was passable. Temporary repairs are allowing traffic on and off Sanibel, but there is still a lot of work left to be done. Mountains of steel pilings and rock are along both sides of the causeway. Once on Sanibel, traffic was at a standstill. I didn’t make it to the Gulf side of the island, but I suspect it looks like Fort Myers Beach.
I did make it to what used to be Ireland Yacht Sales, near the southeast end of the island. I was down here two years ago for a survey and wanted to see how they fared. The immediate neighborhood was in reasonable shape but their building and the restaurant on the property, “Grandma Dots,” sustained significant damage. They had a food truck operating out front.
Most of the 60-some docks looked okay, but there were only five boats in the entire marina. In the yard, were several storm-damaged boats sitting around. A little further south, near the beach, there were entire condo complexes fenced off—my guess is they will be demolished
Two final comments: First, we have all seen picture of the effects of the hurricane on TV, but to see it in person is absolutely breathtaking! I’m sorry, I don’t have the words to accurately describe the level of destruction. Second, thousands or even tens of thousands of homes and vacation units are now gone. It will be years before they are replaced. This will affect housing and rental availability and prices across Florida for years to come.