Breakwater News : One fine day
One advantage to being an uninhibited new arrival on the Island is that I can take advantage of all the things people come from far and wide to enjoy - and not mind looking like a tourist.
So when I suggested to my wife Laura, a recent fishing convert, that we take in a fishing trip on the Skipper, she was enthusiastic about the prospect. As this was going to be a special outing, I figured we might as well go on a Monday morning, and to give it the full appeal we borrowed a couple of kids, twins it turns out, to give the whole thing some legitimacy. Olin and Greta Gannon were glad to oblige and Ross Gannon, their father, my employer, had little to say about it.
So on Monday morning the four of us stepped aboard the Skipper and introduced ourselves to first mate Darren and Captain John Potter, the owner operator. There were 20 or so other fishing enthusiasts, and as the captain laid out the set up for us before departure, it was discovered that there were two birthday celebrants who got an impromptu rendition of that most annoying of ditties somehow made more palatable by the imminent adventure. The mood was set and the lines were cast off.
Olin was invited to the pilothouse where he steered the course prescribed by the captain to the secret "Honey Hole," where the fish lay thick. The mate cut the squid for the bait buckets that were then strategically placed among the fisher folk, and soon were lying dead and quiet in the water. With demonstrations by Darren and John, hooks were baited and lowered into 60 feet of water.
Immediately there were fish coming over the rails. Scup and sea bass were bringing squeals of delight and laughter from the anglers. Lines were tangled and sun block slathered. I made my way around the boat talking with the other crewmembers and was surprised to find we had a majority of regulars on board. Only a few had not been aboard the Skipper before, and in one case, an elderly gentleman stationed in his spot in the stern had been coming aboard to fish for 20 years.
Captain John and I had a chance to visit as he made his rounds ensuring his guarantee: "Everyone on the Skipper catches fish."
John Potter grew up in East Chop and as a lad took a job as first mate on the head boat Ranger, which at the time was the only party fishing boat on the Island. This career was interrupted by a ten-year stint lost in the islands of the Caribbean, but he survived to return to Martha's Vineyard with an idea. The Ranger was no longer in the party fishing business, and Captain John saw a need to fill. He spotted a small ad in Boats and Harbors for a head boat in New Jersey and with a partner scrounged, borrowed, and cajoled enough money to buy the Skipper.
The Skipper is a wood boat built in New Brunswick, N. J., and launched in 1941. She was first commissioned as a minesweeper/ sub chaser patrolling Sheepshead Bay with a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on the bow. After the war, Skipper was reconfigured to be a head boat working the coast of New Jersey and finally came to rest in Staten Island in the early '80s. That is where Captain John found her, and for the last 22 years, she has introduced generations of anglers to the thrill of a tug on the line.
As I followed him around his boat joking with his customers, straightening tangles, baiting hooks, and making his guests feel a part of something special, I was made aware that here was a guy who had found his calling in life. The character and spirit of the boat and the whole four-hour adventure was a direct reflection of Captain John Potter. He passed along the rail where Greta was frustrated with a snarled reel. He crouched down and removed the bird's nest with practiced surety while engaging the lass in a private chuckle between them. He handed the rod back to the young angler, and she went right back to the rail with renewed vigor and a big smile for the captain.
On the way back in, Darren filleted the fish for those who had kept something for the table. Obviously he enjoyed his work and he too had a personality that lent itself to making sure everyone had a good time.
If you find yourself at a loss for something to do on a Monday morning, the Skipper is not a bad way to go.
Seaver Jones, who cruises on "Crowflight," his 1966 wooden Pacemaker Sunliner, divides his time between wooden boat building on the Vineyard, and ranching in Patagonia, Chili. His column appears in The Times the last Thursday of every month.