VENTNOR — The Ventnor Beach Patrol hasn’t lost a swimmer to drowning in 109 years, but one thing they couldn’t save from last month’s storm? Their lifeguard stands.
Thanks to a neighboring town, some local carpenters and a few handy trash barrels, the city has been making do.
“At 7 in the morning, I said, ‘I wonder what the beach looks like?’” recalled Beach Patrol Capt. Bill Howarth of the morning after the June 30 storm. “I took a little ride around, and we didn’t have any lifeguard stands. ... I didn’t think all of them would be gone.”
One of the stands apparently washed up as far north as Long Beach Island, where lifeguards pulled it from the surf “and were holding it up like they’d caught a shark or something,” Howarth joked.
Unfortunately, there was little time available before beachgoers began to arrive.
“It’s Saturday, and it’s a big day,” Howarth said. “So we had to do it with what we had.”
The Beach Patrol was able to put one stand back together, he said, so they placed it at a central location at Dorset Avenue.
“We said, ‘OK, here’s our main beach,’” Howarth said. “Now, let’s all work around it.”
Elsewhere, he said, “We started out sitting on beach chairs. ... We spent a lot of time in the water last weekend. We had a hard time seeing that far without perches, so you’ve got to go out there with them.”
Then the city came up with a makeshift solution — 4-by-8-foot sheets of plywood placed on top of four trash barrels. Add some beach chairs and voila! Instant lifeguard stands.
“They liked it,” Howarth said. “They would drill a hole in the plywood to put an umbrella in, they came up with all sorts of stuff. A couple of them didn’t want to give up the plywood.”
Lifeguard Mike Mosca didn’t go that far, however.
“It was pretty comfortable,” said Mosca, of Egg Harbor Township. “It was kind of a pain to move it all up to stay ahead of the water, but it wasn’t bad at all. It was a change of pace.”
Longport also stepped up, providing Ventnor with three of its stands — one of which stood in front of the Ventnor Beach Patrol Headquarters on Suffolk Avenue.
“Longport really came through,” Howarth said. “They said, ‘We’ve got three for you!’ and delivered them right to the beaches. They didn’t just drop them off here (at headquarters). They were really good about it.”
“When was the last time you walked along the beach and saw a different municipality’s name?” asked Longport Mayor Nick Russo. “They’ll be there until they get back on their feet.”
As for the other stands, replacements began to be assembled as quickly as possible, thanks to Ventnor resident Joe Fisher — “A one-man band over there,” Howarth said. “The head carpenter in town” — and Michael Einwechter of Shallus & Sons Construction, Mayor Mike Bagnell said.
“They started on the weekend and by Monday we had three of them,” Howarth said. “We didn’t have time to put the paint on, and when you put a bare stand out in the elements, it will rot the wood. So we’ve been taking the stands one by one back to the yard and spraying them with what they spray on the asphalt in the streets. All we have to do now is cut the red in and get some “V’s” on the side, and we’ll be back in business.”
The lifeguard boats are another matter, however.
“The wind picked them up and rolled them over down the beach,” Howarth said. “We fixed two of them ourselves, just some cracked keels, the floorboards cracked. ... But one got destroyed and the other needs work.”
So in the meantime, the city came up with another makeshift solution.
“We actually put paddleboards on the beach one day when we didn’t have a boat (available),” he said. “We moved all the boats to where they were needed more, so we put the paddleboard where we needed it the least.”
Filling out the fleet for now are some boats borrowed from residents who live along the bay and canal. Which meant that by this past weekend, the Ventnor Beach Patrol was, in a way, fully operational.
“We’re stand-worthy and we’re seaworthy again,” Howarth said. “Just the fact that they’re (all) there makes me feel back to normal.”
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