The week after Easter is ordinarily a busy time for Port of Egypt Marine in Southold. The first day after the holiday would see the yard staff dropping as many as eight boats in the water and watching them speed away into another season out on the bays.
That certainly wasn’t the case this week, after marinas were deemed nonessential businesses and, like others in many industries, forced to close under a mandate from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
While the original order was filed in late March, the fate of marinas was made clear when the state added language on its website last Thursday, April 9, stating that marinas and golf courses could no longer operate to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Those orders are in effect until at least April 29.
“None of us know what’s next,” said Yvonne Lieblein, who serves as general manager at Port of Egypt along with her cousin Will. “What is it going to be like in our industry? In any industry?”
It’s a question Jeff Strong of Strong’s Marine in Mattituck, which operates marinas on both the North and South forks and in Nassau County, has also been asking himself during what would normally be an “extremely busy” time of year.
Both Strong’s and Port of Egypt made the decision to close their showrooms in the interest of public safety before the governor’s mandate. Mr. Strong said they did still leave it open for customers to meet by appointment only at first, making sure to practice proper social distancing. Now they’re left to wait for future guidance from the state.
“I fully support that marinas should not be open for general business,” Mr. Strong said. Ms. Lieblein added that she felt it would not be possible to have her marina’s dozens of employees interacting safely with customers as if it were business as usual right now.
What’s confusing for marina owners and the community they serve is how the state views recreational boating in general during this time of the coronavirus. The state’s current guidelines suggest that boat owners can launch their boats, but can’t use a commercial marina to do so.
A popular form of recreation across Long Island, boating is a way for people to de-stress and experience the outdoors from springtime to the early fall. With outdoor recreation being encouraged as the coronavirus pandemic reached the East End, it seemed boating might be a safe activity for people who take appropriate precautions? .
“It’s hard for me understand how people can drive a car, but not go for a ride on their boat if they’ve done that safely and responsibly,” Mr. Strong said.
At a time when people can’t really travel, Ms. Lieblein said the sense of being on vacation that boating provides would be welcome relief during these troubling times. She said it will be strange to see few boats out on the water in the coming weeks.
“Boating is an intrinsic part of the identity of the North Fork,” she said.
Like marinas, golf courses are also being forced to take a wait-and-see in the wake of the state’s revised guidelines. Golf was initially championed as a way for residents to get exercise while practicing safe social distancing and Bill Fish, head pro at Island’s End Golf & Country Club in Greenport, reported a spike in regular tee times during March and the first week of April.
Mr. Fish said the course took extra precautions to make sure golfers were playing safely. They removed rakes and ball washers. They took flags out and filled the holes so the ball would pop back out. Carts were frequently sanitized and limited to one occupant at a time. The vast majority of golfers followed the rules and safely distanced themselves, though he did admit there were some issues they had to deal with. The course has been closed since Friday under the governor’s statewide order.
“It’s detrimental to our business model right now,” Mr. Fish said, adding that Island’s End already had to cancel many of its group outings for the year.
Cedars Golf Club in Cutchogue shut down late last month, following a promotion for free weekday rounds of golf, after finding that not all customers were following the rules for social distancing.
“Golf itself can work [during the coronavirus],” said co-owner Paul Pawlowski. “It’s how people approach it.”
He said he believes the same is true for boating.
“It’s just a shame that sometimes common sense doesn’t prevail,” Mr. Pawlowski said of the few people who aren’t following the rules.
The marina owners said they are now focused on preparing to reopen, taking care of their employees in the meantime and growing their online business during the hiatus. Ms. Lieblein said Port of Egypt received a shot in the arm last week when it sold a boat through a virtual tour. Family-owned for 74 years and billed as the world’s oldest Grady-White dealer, Port of Egypt is hoping its reputation and decades of trust from customers positions it to expand its online reach. The marina has also used this time to connect with the community through charity efforts, with staff collecting goods for Community Action Southold Town and preparing meals for essential workers.
At Strong’s Marine, also a multi-generational family business that launched in the mid-1940s, there’s been an effort to bolster its online presence to include more than just listings of hundreds of boats available for sale. They’ve added photos and videos to their website and social media pages to use this time as a way to connect with boaters and better educate them.
Mr. Strong said he wants to give boaters hope that they will be back on the water soon and said his marina will provide more information as it becomes available from the state.
“As the state continues to give clear guidance, we’ll be at the forefront of communicating with our clients,” he said. “We’ll be there to say, ‘Yes, it’s OK to go.’ ”