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Into the Storm - Labor Day weekend 2004

‘It was a beautiful classic’

‘It was a beautiful classic’

Barbara Hoffman asked the reporter to snap a photo of the burgundy seat cushion lying with other debris in the cockpit of a sunken Sea Ray. She had seen another of the cushions floating in the water. It was about all she could find of what had been her 46-foot Bertram double-cabin motoryacht.

She points across the water to a mountain of mangled fiberglass — boats piled high by Hurricane Frances at one end of the marina. “The people in the marina office helped us find it,” she says. Her lovely Bertram was at the bottom of the heap. “It looks like a pancake. We would never have recognized it ourselves from here.”

Barely visible, the hull was hopelessly wrecked, a total loss. Barbara and her husband, Dwight Hoffman, had lost their boat to Frances, though it wasn’t just a “boat.” “It was a beautiful classic,” she says.

Originally from Louisville, Ky., the Hoffmans of Vero Beach, Fla., are semiretired and had lived on the Bertram for five years, moving off it just a year before. The Bertram had been tied up to C dock — one of the floating docks outside the Fort Pierce City Marina’s inner harbor — in the open water of the Indian River. The dock had given way after the hours-long assault of wind, waves and surge as Frances stalled over Fort Pierce.

The Hoffmans had flown to Chicago to attend a family wedding, leaving the airport in Orlando, Fla., just two hours before it closed as the hurricane drew a bead on southeast Florida. They had seen television news reports of the devastation at their marina — ground zero. Now Barbara Hoffman could scarcely believe her eyes.

“It’s so sad, because when you walked up and down C dock, every boat on it was in pristine condition — mint condition,” she says. “You couldn’t imagine this kind of damage if you saw how beautiful these boats were. To see them like this is insulting. … It’s sad.”

She gestures toward one of them, the Lady Diana, at the top of the heap. “How can an 85-foot boat end up in a heap like that?”

She had no stomach now for replacing their Bertram. “That was our boat,” she says, pointing to the big pile.