Boaters at several major launch sites around the region trying to pull their vessels out of the water in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy were surprised Friday morning when they discovered that the state's floating docks had been removed, making the task much more difficult.
But a spokeswoman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which disassembled the docks without warning, said the agency would be providing personnel Friday and over the weekend to help people haul their vessels.
"They will go in the water to help get boats out," said Eleanor Mariani, director of boating for the DEEP, who works out of the Old Lyme office. "We know boaters want to get boats out this weekend."
Without the help, many people trying to haul their boats would have been forced to brave 60-degree water to maneuver vessels into a position to be towed away.
"Without a dock, it's nearly impossible to get the boat out of the water," said Rob Mahoney of Niantic, who needed to return home to retrieve a wet suit and an extra hand as he tried to remove his 20-foot boat from Mago Point in Waterford.
Floating docks were being pulled locally from Mago Point, Barn Island in Stonington, Bayberry Lane in Groton, at sites on either side of the Thames River in Groton, and New London near the Gold Star Memorial Bridge.
Last year, Mariani said, docks on the Salmon River in East Haddam were battered during Tropical Storm Irene, so the state was trying to avoid a similar occurrence this year.
Docks at 11 sites statewide were being pulled to prevent damage, Mariani said. The DEEP started removing the docks early — the hurricane isn't expected to reach Connecticut until late Monday or early Tuesday — because it takes four days to accomplish the task statewide, she said, and the agency tries not to do work over the weekend to avoid overtime.
The docks, normally removed around Nov. 15, will not return until next spring, Mariani said. Anyone who needs to haul a boat after Sunday may need to bring a friend to help out, she said, because there are no plans for DEEP personnel to be on hand at the dock sites after this weekend.
A permanent dock at the Baldwin Bridge in Old Saybrook was unaffected, she added.
"We believe that this early action will benefit boaters by preventing damage to docks and will avoid lengthy delays to restoring normal boat launch activities next season," DEEP said in a statement.
Mariani said she arranged for DEEP personnel to be on site at Mago Point from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and Sunday; at Barn Island from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sunday; and at Bayberry Lane from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and noon to 3 p.m. Sunday to help boaters preparing for the storm.
In addition to affecting boaters seeking a safe haven from Hurricane Sandy, the DEEP's removal of state docks also took those on fishing excursions by surprise.
One boater at Mago Point, who didn't want to be named, said he and his wife had to haul their small boat out of the water without help late Friday afternoon. The couple said they never saw a DEEP worker in the area and noticed other people with larger boats struggling to retrieve their vessels.
Mahoney, the Niantic boater, estimated there were 40 to 50 trailers parked at Mago Point Friday morning, presumably representing boaters who had gone out on trips and returned later in the day to find the area where they off-load passengers suddenly missing. Many were headed to a popular fishing spot known as The Race hoping to snag a few blackfish as the season winds down.
"Now there's no place to dock," Mahoney said.