Some of what the promotional brochure calls 10 miles of "wide, soft and clean sandy beach" was swept over the boardwalk here onto the back porch of Floyd Whirley's oceanfront condominium at high tide Thursday night.
The vicious northeaster that blew the beach away Wednesday with winds clocked at 55 miles an hour and the unusually high tides that lapped over the boardwalk the next day were the worst this seaside resort has seen since 1962, residents say.
As the ocean dumped unwanted sand on the wrong side of the boardwalk, washing it almost a block to Baltimore Avenue, it drew precious sand away from what was once the beach of Ocean City, dealing a devastating blow to Mayor Harry Kelly's controversial and expensive bulldozer war against nature.
Since October, at a cost approaching $500,000, the two city-owned and three rented bulldozers have engaged in a daily ritual from low tide at mid-morning to just before high tide late at night, seven days a week. They have been fighting over 40 days of northeast storm weather, rolling back and forth into the surf to push the escaping earth toward the boardwalk.
Last week's storm "eliminated 90 percent of what was built to protect the dunes and the beach," according to Gary Fischer, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. He insists, however, that the town has only "lost the skirmish," not the war.
The sea gave and the sea took, in the natural course of things. As time went by, however, the course of things brought the high-rise buildings and they were erected, in view of many here, too close to the sea.
"We've had good old-fashioned northeasters before," reflected Capt. Bill Bunting, a third-generation year-round resident who owns a restaurant, a fishing fleet, a motel and a seafood company. "But then we had beach grass and sand dunes, and the sand had a footing. It was replaced by condominiums and concrete."
Bunting, before heading over to the American Legion for a Friday night-cap, added, "You gotta grow. What the hell, you got to do something. I'd be the last to say it was a mistake. A lot of people think it was."
A walk up the 27-block boardwalk Friday offered somber evidence of the ocean's disrespect for the works of man. Part of 21st Street, between the Regency and Stowaway Motels, had fallen into the sand beneath its crumbling asphalt. The wooden railing on the boardwalk had been ripped apart by the wind and waves. And at the Ocean Mecca Hotel, a couple of blocks up the boardwalk, sand nearly surrounded the empty swimming pool, giving it the appearance of a deserted desert oasis.
While Floyd Whirley was hosing down his back porch and deck Thursday, Gus Bollas was pumping six inches of water out of his General's Kitchen restaurant in the basement of the Hotel George Washington. "All you've got here in Ocean City is sun and sand," Bollas said, determined to reopen by Saturday. "Without sun and sand, you don't have Ocean City."
With an audience of curious onlookers, the bulldozers did their best to ensure Ocean City's future as a dozen or more surfers in wet suits took advantage of the unusually high breakers. The dozen drivers, encased in glass insulation from the sound and splashing of the surf, moved back and forth. Their foreman, Woody Waltman, mused from a blue city pickup, "Every time we get it back in shape a storm hits us. I don't know what it is. The men in the moon maybe."
They watch the tide tables as well as the directional shifts of wind here with the intensity of investors watching the stock market. Indeed, they do have a direct economic stake here in the whims of nature.
Challenging those whims, the bulldozers kept going after dark Friday with two raised headlights casting eerrie beams on their work. Finally, after 8 p.m., the three machines heaved a hill of sand up and down the boardwalk, a last line of defense against the overnight high tide.
By 11:10 p.m., the ocean was splashing over the edge of the boardwalk, and Dr. Grant Gross of the Chesapeake Bay Institute was saying on the late news, "The bulldozers don't do much for you . . . it's a futile exercise. The whole shoreline is gradually sinking."
At high tide, 12:47 a.m. Saturday, there was no beach at all, only tall waves breaking close in, washing away the work of the bulldozers. But the bulldozers were back again by 7 a.m.