As Hurricane Ian ravaged Fort Myers, cameras captured surreal images of yachts and pleasure boats floating along what had been thoroughfares for automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians. The furious storm surge swept through unmoored ships of all shapes and sizes, many of them belonging to people who probably thought their boats would be spared Ian’s wrath.

According to an Oct. 29 statement released by Governor Ron DeSantis, more than 2,100 boats have been moved. But that number could be the tip of the iceberg — it only represents vessels whose condition has been assessed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

“I think a lot of us were caught off guard,” says Steven Nanda, president of Fort Myers-based IMM Quality Boat Lifts, a manufacturer of high-performance boat lift systems. “Most people here, it’s not their first rodeo, so to speak, but they underestimated the devastation Ian would cause. We knew a storm was coming, but most reports suggested it wasn’t. wouldn’t happen in Fort Myers – until the very end.

Doris Colgate, co-founder of Offshore Sailing School. (Courtesy picture)

Doris Colgate, who along with husband Steve Colgate owns and operates one of the region’s largest sailing programs, the Fort Myers-based Offshore Sailing School, was also ready for Ian – to a point .

“We were ready – all of our sites were prepared, from St. Petersburg to Cape Coral, Captiva and Fort Myers Beach,” says Colgate. “We had everything up high, plastic covering everything. But you know, over the years they told us we were going to have storm surges, so much so that it’s like crying wolf. Well, this time the wolf has come to the door. He went under the door, through the door, up to the ceiling.

IMM’s manufacturing plant at 17030 Alico Center Road in Fort Myers, meanwhile, was largely spared, suffering minor damage to its roof and siding that the company is in the process of repairing. But its other plant, at the intersection of Edison Avenue and Veronica S. Shoemaker Boulevard, “was shelled,” Nanda says, necessitating some operational changes.

Even before the storm turned, however, the IMM team was taking savvy steps to ensure they could not only get the business back up and running as soon as possible, but also respond to what was sure to be a exorbitant demand for parts.

Steven Nanda, president of Fort Myers-based IMM Quality Boat Lifts, said the company suffered damage to its roof and siding during Hurricane Ian. (Photo by Reagan Rule)

“What storm surges do to boat lifts is put electronics underwater, and by electronics I mean motors and controls – going underwater always ruins those things,” Nanda said. “So in anticipation of the storm, we ordered additional controls and engines because we knew people were going to need them to get their boats back in working order.”

IMM opened for business fairly quickly, Nanda says, given the magnitude of the storm. Just over a week after landing, as soon as power was restored, he and his colleagues were helping customers – and there were plenty of them helping.

“Our business was at an all-time high in orders before the storm hit,” says Nanda. “The hurricane only increased the demand for boats and for both parties.”

give and take

Supply, however, is another matter. With the exception of boat lift controls and motors, which are pre-assembled, the company manufactures most of its products on-site from raw domestic aluminum.

“Our factory is basically a big machine shop,” says Nanda. “We get the aluminum and machine it and cut it to make all of our own parts.”

“Other companies have had it worse than us, although we have suffered for sure. But we are luckier than many. Doris Colgate, co-founder of the Fort Myers-based offshore sailing school

IMM, he adds, prides itself on being a “Made in America” ​​company, but due to inflation and supply chain issues that were only exacerbated by Hurricane Ian, compromises are necessary.

“We don’t want to have to go down the ‘assembly in America from Chinese parts’ route,” says Nanda. “But sometimes someone needs to have something right away for a custom project. And that’s what it is.

In such cases, good communication was vital. IMM staff members have been candid with customers about where raw materials and parts come from following Ian.

“We let them know it was not our usual supplier,” says Nanda. “But if you need it right away, it can be done. I think those are the two biggest challenges for procurement. It’s hard to get things, and the prices are skyrocketing.

The sail must go on

Offshore Sailing School has also had to adapt on the fly to stay operational after Ian devastated her office and the marinas at Fort Myers Beach, Captiva Island and Cape Coral that house the sailboats she uses for her teaching programs. sailing. Doris Colgate, who was inducted Nov. 5 into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island (her husband was inducted separately in 2015), said the company suffered at least $150,000 in damages – “and it’s just office stuff.”

She adds: “The boats, I can’t tell you because the insurance company is still working on that.”

At least three boats, out of 20 in the southwest Florida region, are total losses. “But there may be others once they’ve really investigated them,” Colgate says. “They may be buoyant but not usable.”

Even though the Offshore Sailing School’s Fort Myers area boats were operational, Ian was so strong that he made significant changes to the ocean floor, so much so that many channel markers and other helpers to navigation have become imprecise. “Some don’t even exist,” says Colgate, “so we’re not able to operate here. And those three locations were nearly full until March, so we’ve been busy with nth-degree customer relations.

Fortunately, Offshore Sailing School, which the Colgates founded in 1964, has expanded its footprint over the years to St. Petersburg as well as Scrub Island and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. These locations are fully operational and ready to accommodate students who had booked sailing lessons in the Fort Myers area. Additionally, the school’s partner BVI resorts—Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina on Scrub Island, and Mariner Inn on Tortola—have offered to make room in their marinas for additional Colgate 26 boats, the vessel designed by Steve Colgate and naval architect. Jim Taylor which is used not only by Offshore Sailing School, but also by the US Naval Academy and the Coast Guard Academy.

“We’ve been very lucky that because of our company’s reputation, and over the years we’ve had, we’ve retained almost everyone,” says Colgate, “and they’re willing and happy with a different location. ”

IMM Quality Boat Lifts was operational a week after Hurricane Ian devastated Fort Myers. (Photo by Reagan Rule)

Unfortunately, Colgate expects all three Fort Myers-area locations to be closed indefinitely due to damage to their host marinas. But on the bright side, she says, “We’re exploring new places and hoping to make announcements.”

It’s a silver lining in the middle of Ian’s clouds. Another, says Colgate, is how staff at the offshore sailing school came together and helped amid Ian’s anger. In an age of remote and hybrid working, the company made an effort to get everyone together, even BVI-based employees and a Colorado-based salesperson, for an event called Offshore University that took place the week before. Ian’s arrival.

“We were very lucky to have organized this because it brought the staff together – some people hadn’t even met,” Colgate said. “It was an amazing five days of connecting, learning and sharing.”

After Ian hit Southwest Florida, employees, even those whose homes had been damaged – an instructor’s house on Pine Island was destroyed – rallied together to help each other, help the company and the community.

“I think the camaraderie that we built, if you were a company that didn’t have a strong culture, and it literally tore your organization apart, I don’t know if you could have come back as quickly as we could. to,” says Colgate. “Other companies have it worse than us, although we’ve suffered, that’s for sure. But we’re luckier than many.”

In the final analysis, a storm of Ian’s magnitude is simply too much to bear without disrupting business as usual. But that doesn’t mean homeowners shouldn’t take proper precautions.

“Whenever you go against Mother Nature, Mother Nature almost always wins,” says Nanda. “This one was supposed to be Category 3 at worst. But I think a lot of us underestimated him.