Headed to the Atlantic Ocean through New Jersey’s notorious Holgate Inlet on a fine morning in a 33-foot Donzi sportboat in late-June 2009, I had a moment of perfect clarity and mild terror.
“You have to be out of you mind,” I muttered to myself as we climbed one cresting 10-foot roller after the next—in the channel. “What the hell are you doing here?
“We’re going to need a bigger boat,” I added, this time loud enough to be heard.
My cockpit-mates smiled.
An experienced performance boat driver who learned from his father, Frank Civitano (right), 32-year-old Sean Ryan Civitano died earlier this week. Photo from the 2009 Atlantic City Poker Run by Matt Trulio
At the helm was Sean Ryan Civitano, the 19-year-old son of Frank Civitano, a longtime Donzi Marine man who worked for our mutual friend Bob Christie at Typhoon Performance Marine in Toms River, then the largest Donzi and Baja sportboat dealer in the country, and his wife, Melissa. Frank Civitano stood behind his son, pointing out potential hazard such as sandbars with 12-foot breaking waves, bell buoys and large chunks of floating debris that had to be the flotsam and jetsam of recently sunken boats, or so I imagined.
I needn’t have worried. Sean Ryan Civitano handled the wild waters leading to Atlantic City, the final leg of the 2009 Atlantic City Poker Run like he’d been doing it all his life, which for the most part he had.
“Damn it, Frankie,” I told his pop. “That kid can drive.”
Two days ago, that life came to an end. Sean Ryan Civitano was 32 years old when he died of undisclosed causes.
Three months ago, Civitano and his wife, Caitlinn, had a boy, Eli James. He also had a growing business, PFA Motorsports in Toms River, which specializes in chassis and suspension systems, engine-building and custom fabrications for Audi automobiles.
Sean Ryan Civitano’s legacy is his young family.
What he didn’t have was life insurance. “I talked to him many times about it, but he was stubborn,” said his father.
So his friend Jonathon Gronewold at Missouri-based Midwest Auto Pros and Pinnacle Performance has established a GoFundMe campaign to benefit Caitlinn and Eli James Civitano. Gronewold set a modest fundraising goal of $5,000.
So far the campaign has raised more than $13,000.
“A lot of the Audi community looked up to Sean because he helped so many of us,” Gronewold wrote on the GoFundMe page for his friend. “Sean personally helped me more than I could ever explain. Anything helps—let’s try to give his family some help and support during these rough times.”
Years ago, Frank Civitano gave Sean Ryan gave a 1972 model-year Donzi Sweet 16 sportboat. The 16-footer wasn’t just the senior Civitano’s first Donzi. It was his first boat.
“I’ll be taking it home with me but I won’t run it,” he said. “It will be a memorial to Sean.”
Sean Ryan Civitano took the author (far left, seated) on the New Jersey boat ride of his life.
Rest in peace Sean Ryan Civitano. And thanks for that boat ride to Atlantic City 13 years ago—and for getting me there in one piece. I’ll never forget it.
In addition to his parents, Frank and Melissa, his wife, Caitlinn and son, Eli, Sean Ryan Civitano is survived by his sister, Nicole, and brother, Frank, Jr. Viewing services for Sean Civitano will be on Wednesday, January 4, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Silverton Funeral Home in Toms River. A celebration of life event is scheduled for Sunday, January 8, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Park Pavilion/Sawmill in Seaside Park.