Authors Posts by Nelson Sigelman

Nelson Sigelman

Nelson Sigelman
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There are two ways to harvest bay scallops: hauling a scallop drag or dip netting. There is, in my estimation, only one way to eat freshly shucked scallops: dipped in Panko bread crumbs and deep fried in hot oil.

The crunch of the bread crumbs complements the sweet juiciness and firm texture of the bay scallop, which has a flavor unique to our waters — a flavor unmatched by sea scallops, their bulkier, chewier cousins, or the look-alike southern calico scallop, which has all the appeal of a fried eraser.

Compared to the Vineyard’s many highly publicized attractions, the bay scallop is one of our relatively unsung treasures. That may owe to the fact that scallop season does not begin until late October, when the Vineyard takes on a less glamorous auradevoid of the summer spotlight. That suits Island scallopers just fine. Even the most generous among us is apt not to share a prime scallop hole.

Scallops do not come easy, even in those years when they are abundant. It is physical work not matter how you cut it. Sore backs and arms are part of the harvest.

At one time, I scalloped using a drag hauled behind my 18-foot Tashmoo center console. I always made sure to invite my friend Tom Robinson along. Tom was good company, but better yet, he could be relied upon to haul the drag up to the side of the boat where we would struggle to hoist it to our culling board and expectantly dump its contents — a combination of stones, dirt, weeds, an occasional broken bottle, a wriggling tiny fish, a crab or two, and, depending on our fortunes, a good haul of legal sized scallops.

I discovered the joy of dip-netting a few years ago. It is low-tech harvesting. A pair of waders made for duck hunters designed for those who must navigate cold water, a peep sight for spotting scallops on the bottom and a long-handled scallop net and a floating bushel basket is all that is needed.

On Saturday, with the wind howling out of the northeast generating white caps on Lagoon Pond I starred in the scalloping version of Deadliest Catch. A wave broke against my peep sight and splashed into my face. I persevered with my reward in mind, that night’s dinner.

When I arrived home I dumped my bushel of scallops into the kitchen sink where they clicked and clacked, a jumble of live castanets. Then the real work began — shucking, an art form in itself.

The scallop knife needs to follow the roof of the shell or you risk slicing away the precious meat you have worked so hard to harvest. Bring the knife around the shell to pull off the guts and reveal the white, pulsing muscle. Again, a deft touch is needed to avoid ripping the muscle. One undercut, a flip and you are one scallop closer to what often seems the endless task of shucking a bushel.

Flour, egg wash, panko bread crumbs. It is my mantra. I wait until the oil just hits 325 degrees. In they go, out they come golden brown.

It is time I think that Martha’s Vineyard declare opening day of the scallop season a gastronomical holiday.

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Brothers Ned Casey (left), and John Casey with a large striped bass caught last year during the spring run. One year later, fishing was poor. —Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Fishermen along the East Coast can expect to see new regulations in 2015 designed to reduce the harvest of striped bass. That comes as welcome news to fishermen who have expressed concerns for several years over a steady decline in the abundance and size of one of New England’s most sought-after gamefish.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), a 15-member body responsible for managing fish species and implementing management plans along the East Coast, last week announced its approval of Addendum IV to Amendment 6 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass.

The changes will require a 25 percent reduction in the Massachusetts commercial quota and a reduction in the recreational bag limit from two fish per day at 28 inches to one fish at 28 inches, or a plan that results in a similar 25 percent reduction in the recreational harvest.

The 2014 Massachusetts commercial striped bass fishing quota was 1,155,100 pounds. The season closed following a reported harvest of 1,128,337 pounds.

The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) said it will hold several public hearings this winter on the proposed changes to the bass regulations. “As always, input and participation from stakeholders will be an integral part of this rulemaking process,” DMF said in a prepared statement.

ASMFC said the changes are a response to data that showed a reduction in the number of breeding fish, and continuing harvests above mortality targets.

“The Addendum establishes new fishing mortality (F) reference points, as recommended by the 2013 benchmark stock assessment. In order to reduce F to a level at or below the new target, coastal states will implement a 25 percent harvest reduction from 2013 levels,” ASMFC said in a press release. “Chesapeake Bay states/jurisdictions will implement a 20.5 percent harvest reduction from 2012 levels since their fisheries were reduced by 14 percent in 2013 based on their management program. All states/jurisdictions will promulgate regulations prior to the start of their 2015 fisheries.”

According to the ASMFC, the changes in the management plan that has governed striped bass for decades responds to results of the 2013 Atlantic striped bass benchmark assessment that indicated fishing mortality was above target in 2012, and female spawning stock biomass “has been steadily declining below the target level since 2006.”

The ASMFC said that while “the stock is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring,” the number of spawning fish is expected to continue to fall below the set target.

“I congratulate members of the management board for making tough choices yesterday to ensure the long-term health and viability of our striped bass fishery resources,” board chairman Douglas Grout of New Hampshire said. “The board struck an important balance in taking immediate action to reduce fishing mortality back to the target while also recognizing the unique characteristics of the Chesapeake Bay fisheries.  The action will assure a more rapid increase in the abundance of spawning fish which has been declining in recent years.”

Welcome change

Kib Bramhall of West Tisbury, a dean of the Island’s recreational fishing fraternity and a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby hall of fame, has seen striper numbers decline and rebound, only to decline again. In 1981, he set a Derby shore record when he landed a 42.14-pound striped bass on the fly rod.

“I believe that striped bass are in serious trouble again,” Mr. Bramhall said. “The overall recreational catch is down something like 60 percent in the last several years, and the Derby weighed in 40 percent fewer stripers than last year. You can’t make this kind of stuff up.”

Mr. Bramhall said he applauds the ASMFC decision to implement a 25 percent reduction, but he wishes the Chesapeake, where the reduction is set at 20 percent, faced a similar cutback.

“It is fine to limit recreational anglers to one keeper per day,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how individual states come up with size limits.

“It will be largely up to recreational anglers to use peer pressure to enforce new regulations. There aren’t enough EPOs (environmental police officers).”

Not optimistic

Justin Pribanic holds a large striped bass he caught on a fly rod off East Beach and then released. —Photo by Nelson Sigelman
Justin Pribanic holds a large striped bass he caught on a fly rod off East Beach and then released. —Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Brad Burns, president of Stripers Forever, a Maine based nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to making striped bass a gamefish along the entire east coast, is not optimistic that the ASMFC reductions will  alter the decline in striped bass.

In a newsletter to members, Mr. Burns said the ASMFC technical committee gives the new changes only a 50 percent chance of rebuilding the spawning stock. He pointed to the unwillingness of Chesapeake Bay area commercial fishermen to support conservation measures on the basis that they fish on a stock of non-migratory and plentiful male fish. “This argument is hard to buy since the recreational catch in the Bay has declined from about 6.7 million fish in 2006 to 3.2 million in 2013,” Mr. Burns said.

Bay area commercial fishermen, he said, also claim that stripers are eating too many young blueclaw crabs that the fishermen depend on for the rest of their living. “The truth is that stripers have been coexisting with the crabs in the Chesapeake Bay forever, and many people feel that over-harvest and environmental conditions within the bay are the real culprits in the low crab population,” he said.

Mr. Burns pointed to one high point during the ASMFC hearing. “Paul Diodati, the Director of Marine Fisheries in Massachusetts, made the point that the coastal states had already lost a great deal of money with the striped bass population downturn, and that many anglers have been deprived of highly valued recreational opportunities,” he said. “Listening to ASMFC fishery debates over the years, I have never heard anyone stand up for the value of recreational fishing and the need for a robust fish population to the extent that I did during this meeting. That may be a good sign for the future of fishery management.”

Mr. Burns said there is no telling what the future holds for striped bass. “So while the vote this week mandating regulatory changes for 2015 is a step in the right direction, we would be surprised if those changes will substantially improve the striped bass population, or even make any difference. The battle is a very long way from being over.”

Huge hit

Darren Saletta of Chatham, president of the Massachusetts Commercial Striped Bass Association, which represents the interests of more than 130 commercial bass fishermen, said his organization supports the science the ASMFC has applied to managing striped bass and the goal of sustainability. However, in a telephone call with The Times on Tuesday, Mr. Saletta, a charter captain as well as a commercial fisherman, said he does not agree with a 25 percent cut across the board.

Mr. Saletta said that the recreational fishery, which has experienced uncontrolled growth over the past 15 years, generates little accurate data as opposed to the commercial sector, which is tightly monitored and has been held in relative check when compared with the recreational take. He would like to see the responsibility for a reduction in harvest fall more heavily on the recreational side of the ledger.

“The commercial fishery should be subject to a more modest reduction, such as seven to 10 percent, somewhere in there,” he said. “Twenty-five percent of 1.1 million is a lot of fish, a lot of money. It is a very direct economic hit on a commercial fishery in the state.”

Mr. Saletta said the reduction in the recreational bag limit from two to one will not affect the recreational economy. Fishermen will still fish, he said. “Do we need to take 25 percent from a fishery that is a fraction of the recreational fishery?” he asked. “That’s a huge hit. That’s a lot of money.”

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Joe Malafy of Malafy’s Meat Processing in Milan, New York prepares to hang a doe in his cooler, one of almost 1,000 deer he expects to process this hunting season. —Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Two weeks ago, my wife and I traveled to Taghkanic, New York, at the invitation of friends, New York city residents with a lovely country house set at the top of a steep driveway and overlooking farmland and distant hills. I was their first visitor to ever arrive with a Summit climbing stand and a Mathews Switchback compound bow.

Laurel had often described all the deer on her property and how much damage they did to her plants. I casually mentioned I could help with her problem. My wife, Norma, well attuned to my ulterior motives, suspected something when I suggested we take our first off-Island trip in more than four months. She was not surprised to learn that the New York state bow season opened two weeks before the Massachusetts season, which began Monday.

Ed and Laurel are not hunters. Not even close unless I widely expand the definition to include finding a specific item on a crowded shelf at Zabar’s, the wonderful specialty shop in Manhattan. But they are wonderful and relaxed hosts.

After all, how many people would put up with a house guest who began the dinner he said he would cook, and left the stove only to return a few hours later splattered with deer blood and gore?

I had planned to cook venison shanks, the remainder of last season’s harvest. Cooked slowly with carrots and onions in beef broth and red wine with spices and herbs, it is delicious. I braised the shanks, but when I realized that dusk, the time when deer tend to emerge from the woods, was fast approaching, I asked Laurel to take over at the stove and dashed out of the house.

My biggest concern as I sat in my tree stand on the edge of a small grassy field overlooking a fire pond that is a magnet for deer in the area was that I not miss a vital area. Every bow hunter knows it happens. On the Vineyard I could call on help from fellow hunters to find a deer. Not in New York, and I did not want to have to spend hours tracking a deer alone in unfamiliar woods crossing private property and encountering stray rottweilers.

Out of nowhere I heard a crunching sound to my right and saw a big doe eating acorns. The doe came closer. When she stepped behind a tree I drew my bow. My shot appeared to hit the deer well. I watched her direction of travel closely as she ran off.

It is always best to wait before tracking a deer. Unpressured, a deer will most often lie down and expire. I waited as night fell and the woods quieted.

“I shot a deer and I need to go find it,” I told Ed and Laurel after I returned to the house where everyone waited patiently for dinner. Up to then the notion that I might actually kill a deer on their property had been a vague concept. “But it’s dark,” Laurel said.

The deer had travelled only about 80 yards. I field-dressed the doe and dragged it out. I returned to the house about 45 minutes later. Four feet protruded above the bed of my pickup truck

Joe and Sallie Malafy have built a successful business on quality and hard work. —Photo by Nelson Sigelman
Joe and Sallie Malafy have built a successful business on quality and hard work. —Photo by Nelson Sigelman

I had done some research before we left the Vineyard and discovered that I would be only a 20-minute drive from Malafy’s Meat Processing, owned by Joe Malafy, a man Frank Miniter, executive field editor of American Hunter magazine described in a story as the best butcher he had ever met.

Joe is not the most willing conversationalist you will ever meet. He does not stand around and listen to hunting stories. Thin, wiry and all business, he is in perpetual motion. “Got to keep moving,” he told me when I stopped by to take a look at his operation and got him to pause long enough for a photo with his wife, Sallie.

“My husband is a hard worker,” Sallie told me as we walked through their facility set on an open piece of land off a country road in the small town of Milan. “He built the business slow and steady.”

In a part of America where it still matters, his hard work had paid off. Malafy’s is a modern, clean facility with large coolers, freezers, and a commercial smoker. One section is devoted exclusively to deer, another to domestic animals. The family home, a large contemporary country house, is set on a nearby knoll.

Joe began butchering deer when he was a teenager working for an area supermarket. He later went into business for himself. Strict Federal regulations prohibit any sharing of space or equipment when processing domestic and wild animals. Last year, the Malafys completed the demanding process of becoming a USDA inspected meat processing facility for resale. Malafy’s now provides custom butchering services of cattle and hogs for local farmers and farmer’s markets.

Malafy’s processes about 1,000 deer annually, Sallie said. The basic charge is $120 to skin, cut, wrap and vacuum seal all basic cuts. For an additional charge a hunter can also order from a variety of products that includes all manner of sausages, salami and a whole, ready-to-eat, smoked leg of venison.

Joe has a well-earned reputation built on high standards that he applies to the animals brought to his shop. The Malafy’s website makes it clear that he will not accept deer that have not been properly cared for in the field.

“We have some very unhappy people,” Sallie told me. “A regular customer just cursed out Joe because he would not accept his deer.”

For my money, I would rather know my butcher sticks to high standards. The hunter’s permit and a tag that describes the type of cuts the hunter has selected follow the deer through the process from cooler to cutting room to freezer. “Our business is based on what we do with the deer,” Sallie said. “We process a lot and take it very seriously. And it starts with how the hunter harvests the deer.”

The key is a clean kill, and a hunter who knows how to field-dress a deer. It is also important to immediately begin the cooling process. Bags of ice inserted into the deer’s body cavity will help cool a deer down when it must hang overnight in warm weather.

The first thing Joe did when I drove in with my doe was inspect the body cavity. He smelled inside it for any sign of deterioration as I waited anxiously for it to make the grade.

I thought it was a big doe and pretty good shot. There was no chit-chat. Joe had my order tag and was filling it out. Did I want all the hindquarters made into steaks or just the best parts, he asked. I pondered too long. “That’s a yes or no question,” Joe said. He had to keep moving. Another pickup truck with another deer was waiting.

On Friday, Ed and Laurel called excited about the big box of steaks and sausage they had just picked up at Malafy’s. Laurel said she has found a good recipe for venison scallopini and wondered when we would return for another visit.

Hunters on Martha's Vineyard took a significant number of deer last season.
Hunters on Martha’s Vineyard took a significant number of deer last season.

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A newly installed security camera recorded a woman pocketing money and led to her arrest in connection with several thefts from cash boxes.

At the Grey Barn farmstand, meat, cheese and produce are sold on the honor system. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Updated at 12:15 pm, Wednesday, October 29.

Chilmark police Sunday arrested Sasha Wlodyka, 37, of State Road, Chilmark, in connection with a series of thefts of cash from money boxes and produce from the Grey Barn and Farm off South Road, and Mermaid Farm and Beetlebung Farm on Middle Road in Chilmark.

Ms. Wlodyka was booked at the Dukes County Jail Sunday night and released Monday on $1,000 bail. She is scheduled to be arraigned in Edgartown District Court on Friday, October 31.

Chilmark Police Chief Brian Cioffi said he could confirm the arrest but would not comment on the details while the investigation remains active and arraignment is pending. Police arrested Ms. Wlodyka on three counts of larceny over $250 on a single scheme and one count of forgery and uttering in connection with alterations she made to ledger sheets.

“Our department worked hard on this case which reflects on the quality of life in our community,” Chief Cioffi said. “At the end of the process, our goal, as always, is to see that the victim is provided with appropriate restitution.”

Eric Glasgow and his wife, Molly, own Grey Barn, a small-scale certified organic farm located just past the West Tisbury town line where they raise cows, pigs, and chickens and produce a variety of products, including two types of cheese, meat, pork, eggs, and raw milk, all of which are sold at their farmstand.

In a telephone conversation Monday, Mr. Glasgow said the farmstand operates on an honor system. Visitors are asked to record what they take on a ledger sheet and leave payment in a cash box. He became aware that someone was stealing from the farmstand in August when product inventories, ledger entries, and cash did not add up. While some discrepancies are to be expected due to honest math mistakes, he said, “if it indicates that there should be $400 and there is only $200, that’s a problem.”

As the thefts continued intermittently, Mr. Glasgow said, he became very annoyed and decided to do something about it. He ordered a security camera but got busy and delayed installing it. “And then of course, it happens again, and at that point I’m super angry at myself because I hadn’t even managed to install the camera,” he said.

Saturday he and his son spent the better part of the morning installing the camera. That evening when he went out to collect the money he saw that a ledger sheet on which he had transcribed some customer comments was missing and the money appeared to be off.

“I went and viewed the footage, saw the perpetrator and called the police,” Mr. Glasgow said. “They were able to take the information they got off that and figure out who it was and make an arrest.”

Mr. Glasgow said the recording shows that Ms. Wlodyka’s young daughter was present in the farmstand Saturday as she took bills out of the cash box, he said.

“It is a rather disheartening thing to see the crime taking place in front of a young child,” Mr. Glasgow said.

Mr. Glasgow said it is difficult to calculate exactly how much was stolen because Ms. Wlodyka, a frequent farm stand customer, removed the original ledger sheet and replaced it with a doctored sheet.

Mr. Glasgow said he appreciated the response of the Chilmark police. “The surveillance video was pretty conclusive, but they obviously made pretty quick work out of figuring out who it was since I didn’t immediately recognize the person.”

Mr. Glasgow said the entire episode is regrettable and reveals that the Vineyard is not immune from the type of petty crime that is more often associated with the mainland. “We like to believe that we can have an honor box and people are not going to steal,” he said. “Unfortunately it did not play out.”

Chief Cioffi said at this point he has no credible evidence that the Sunday night arrest of Ms. Wlodyka is related to a string of nighttime thefts in Chilmark and West Tisbury during the first week of September, in which entire cash boxes were stolen from Mermaid Farm on Middle Road, North Tabor Farm on North Road, and the flower stand on the Menemsha Cross Road.

That same week, West Tisbury police were called to investigate break-ins at Leona’s Pet Supply and Fiddlehead Farm. In all cases, the robberies occurred sometime between the close of business on Tuesday and early Wednesday morning, according to police. Cash registers at both businesses were stolen and scales were also taken from Fiddlehead Farm.

For Joe Lopez, an unexpected trip to Martha’s Vineyard was the setting for an extraordinary reunion with a man he had never met.

Retired Army First Sergeant Jon Hill, recipient of the Silver Star, with a pair of blues. – Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby ended last week in a frenzy of activity that would have made it easy to overlook a small group of Island visitors, veterans of combat and in several cases still recovering from grievous wounds suffered in Afghanistan, who from Sunday to Thursday enjoyed fishing and the hospitality extended to them by the Nixon family of Chilmark, and a group of dedicated Island volunteers.

Five years ago on October 3, 2009, Army First Sergeant Jonathan Hill woke up to the sound of gunfire and rocket explosions when up to 400 Taliban attacked 54 U.S. soldiers based in Combat Outpost (COP) Keating set at the bottom of three steep mountains just 14 miles from the Pakistan border. Retired after 21 years in service to his country, last week Jon’s only concern was how to improve his luck after being outfished by retired Marine Joe Roberts, who despite falling over in his wheelchair at least once, kept catching all the fish as guests of veteran Island charter captain Scott McDowell, one of a group of Menemsha captains who donated their time and boats in a community-based effort  known as the the American Heroes Saltwater Challenge.

Now in its sixth year, the fishing respite began when Jack Nixon, then 7, saw a newspaper photo essay about the challenges facing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and told his dad, Bob Nixon, a documentary filmmaker, that he wished some veterans could fish the Derby.

Jake Tapper, CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent, described COP Keating, the men and their battle in his bestselling book,“The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,” published by Little, Brown and Company. The daylong battle left eight American soldiers dead and 22 more wounded, making it one of the deadliest military fights in decades.

Mr. Tapper and his wife are friends of Bob and Sarah Nixon, owners of the Beach Plum Inn, Menemsha Inn, and Home Port restaurant. Last spring, Ms. Nixon called Mr. Tapper to see who among the group of men he had chronicled might like to visit the Island and participate in the Saltwater Challenge. It was the start of a new chapter that placed COP Keating at the nucleus of the event.

COP Keating, which was slated to be closed, came under attack from all sides just before 6 am. The attackers quickly overran the base and set fires that burned down most of the barracks. Within the first hour, the defenders had “collapsed their perimeter” to the immediate area around the command post, which became “their final fighting position.”

At the Beach Plum Inn during a break in the fishing, golfing, and eating schedule, Jon Hill spoke about what it meant to serve his country, the Army, the men he served with, and his work as a member of the board of directors of the Defenders of Freedom, a group that assists active and retired military members.

Captain Rahul Harpalani (left) and Jonathan Hill on the patio of the Beach Plum Inn. – Photo by Nelson Sigelman
Captain Rahul Harpalani (left) and Jonathan Hill on the patio of the Beach Plum Inn. – Photo by Nelson Sigelman

“I’ll tell you, those were some of the best men that the United States Army ever had in one spot, in one fight and I couldn’t be prouder of the guys I served with,” Sergeant Hill said. “The men there fought valiantly, they fought hard and they did some phenomenal things under the worst circumstances.”

Medically retired, Jon, 42, lives in Louisiana with his wife and two children, a 13-year-old girl and a boy, 17. He said what he misses most about the Army is being with young soldiers, watching them grow, mentoring them, “and putting them on a good path to success.”

Jake Tapper called and told him about the Vineyard trip. “I was not going to say no,” he said. “It’s a once in a lifetime chance for folks like me.”

There was one regret. “I really wished I could bring my family,” he said. “There are a lot of spouses and children that go through a lot of pain while their loved ones are deployed and I think they should get recognized a little more than they do.”

Jon likes to fish and hunt. But most of his time is spent working on behalf of Defenders of Freedom. “The best therapy for me is helping other vets move forward,” he said.

The organization offers a menu of services to help veterans who are making the transition from military to civilian life get back on their feet. “Being in military is like being institutionalized, you get so used to doing things so differently from the civilian world,” he said.

Across the dining room, West Point graduate Captain Rahul Harpalani was having a grand time with his fellow fishermen. Next year he will leave the military and enter Columbia Business School.

Sergeant Hill and Capt. Harpalani met at COP Keating. One month later, on May 15, 2010, Lieutenant Harpalani lost his leg to an IED (improvised explosive device).

“What makes me so proud to know him and say I would follow a guy like that into hell,” Jon said, “is he is a torch-bearing leader. He is an example of the ethos of, I will never quit. He has moved forward, he has rehabilitated himself, and now he is a captain in the Army and when he was injured he was a lieutenant. He is a testament to the fact that you can continue to move forward and continue to do great things and I have a lot of respect for that. He is setting a huge example.”

Jon said he was asleep when the attack occurred. He and the other members of his platoon had no time to don body armor. “It was just chaos outside,” he said. His first concern was getting men and ammo to guard positions.

What Jon never mentioned as we spoke was the Silver Star he received “for exceptional valor in action against an armed enemy.”

The citation states that Sergeant First Class Hill “led and directed his platoon while exposing himself to a heavy barrage of enemy fire. With no regard for his own personal safety, Sergeant First Class Hill organized multiple efforts to recover fallen soldiers under effective, accurate fire.”

The full citation only hints at the drama of the battle and the selfless nature of ordinary men caught in an extraordinary situation.

That day was far from his mind last Tuesday. “I’ve had the best two days I’ve had in a long time, catching fish or not,” Jon Hill told me.

Before he would leave the Vineyard, Jon would also would make a difference in the life of one soldier still grappling with the loss of a brother in arms and create another link in a story now intertwined with the Derby and the Vineyard.

Joseneth (Joe) Lopez, Army specialist 1st Infantry Division, was stationed at COP Keating. Three months prior to the battle, and after 12 months of intermittent fire, Joe’s unit was transferred out. Specialist Nathan Nash, a senior member of the platoon, remained behind a few weeks to help introduce the new men to the surrounding area. The newcomers included Sergeant Hill, who by coincidence had been Nathan’s drill sergeant in basic training.

Army veteran Joe Lopez holds a bluefish he caught in the Saltwater challenge. – Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop
Army veteran Joe Lopez holds a bluefish he caught in the Saltwater challenge. – Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

One of the men newly assigned to COP Keating was Stephen Mace, Joe’s bunk mate and best friend throughout basic training. The two men reconnected briefly at COP Keating. Months later Joe learned his friend was among the battle dead.

Joe, 25, left the military and moved to Orlando to attend school, but the memory of his best friend’s death in a place he had left continued to haunt him. Last fall, Nathan Nash was a member of the group of soldiers that visited the Vineyard. Nathan Nash encouraged Joe to make the Vineyard trip and speak to Jon Hill.

Last week, with Menemsha as a backdrop the two men met for the first time. “We sat down and we spoke and I told him about Mace and he told me he was his platoon sergeant and he told me how he passed away and I finally got closure out of it due to this magical trip,” Joe told me in a phone call Tuesday. “We were able to hug it out and I felt like for a second that Mace was next to me and at that point it was beautiful.”

blackfoot troop
Joe Lopez was a member of Blackfoot Troop 6-4 Cav (Dirty) Third platoon, shown here at COP Keating. – Photo courtesy of Joe Lopez

They spoke about Mace and how great a person he was and how he lives through them. Joe said that he had not been able to stop mourning his lost friends. The Vineyard embrace, the beauty of the environment, “no sense of rush or regular life,” helped soothe his pain.

“A lot of questions were put to rest because of First Sergeant Hill and the way he was able to close those wounds,” Joe said. “It’s crazy. We don’t know each other from nowhere, but somehow the stars align and we all got to talk about it.” On Martha’s Vineyard.

This is my last weekly fishing column of the season. Tight lines.

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Mary Ann Angelone holds her 14.65-pound false albacore as she waited to walk up to the weigh station table Friday. —Photo by Paula Sullivan

With the fishing competition furious heading into the homestretch in the 68th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, character, class, fishing skill, pluck, luck, albies and faith combined on a small stretch of beach in Aquinnah last Friday.

Phil Horton (right) admires the fish that Mary Ann Angelone landed and which would bump him from the top spot. —Photo by David Balon
Phil Horton (right) admires the fish that Mary Ann Angelone landed and which would bump him from the top spot. —Photo by David Balon

Mary Ann Angelone of West Tisbury is a woman of indomitable spirit who learned to fish at the elbow of her husband, Albert “Angie” Angelone, a familiar if inscrutable, retired member of the Island fishing community, when he died July 29, 2006, of heart failure on a beach at the age of 67, doing what he loved to do — fish on Martha’s Vineyard.

At the time, very few people knew that Angie had a legendary 21-year Secret Service career, much of it working undercover, that earned him a reputation for bravery, quick thinking, and humor. He and Mary Ann also raised two sons, one a Marine officer who recently left the military and at the age of 36 enrolled in medical school, and the other a Secret Service agent.

When Mary Ann first started fishing, Angie was the ultimate guide and loving husband. “He would take my hooks out, and he would tie my knots, and in the beginning he wouldn’t let me fish near anyone else because I couldn’t cast straight,” she said with a gravelly laugh. “It was something we did together and it was nice. He taught me to enjoy the beauty of nature.”

Mary Ann loves the spirit of camaraderie that permeates Derby competition. “You go on the beach and it is almost sort of a family, you get to see the same people and know them,” she said.

Last Friday, she decided to fish the bowl at Lobsterville Beach. The albies had been running and the beach was crowded with fishermen. David Balon was there. His emailed account, slightly edited, follows.

Derby proud

“Mary Ann was fishing in that spot because she had decided to walk down to congratulate Phil Horton [of Oak Bluffs] for having the lead shore albie at that time. He had a 12.55-pound albie from shore and was really proud of that catch and also nervous, for obvious reasons.  Mary Ann walked about two-thirds of the way to the bowl area just to congratulate Phil. This is a very long trek as you know. She came up to Phil and gave him congratulations and Phil humbly took the praise. They chatted for a while and then Phil graciously offered to make room for Mary Ann to fish right next to him because of the large picket line of fishermen. Coincidentally, Ralph Peckham, currently in third at that time with an 11.64 shore albie, also made room for Mary Ann to fish.

“Shortly after, Mary Ann hooked into an albie and to be honest it did not appear to be anything out of the normal craziness of hooking one. As time went by and Mary Ann struggled to get the fish to shore, about 10 minutes plus, the fish paralleled the beach inside a wave. Everyone’s eyes popped out at the size of the fish and everyone stepped back with eyes as large as marbles. Wow! This was now way more serious than originally thought.”

Mary Ann told me that all the fishermen also stopped casting so as not to risk casting over her line. Phil, who knew he was likely to be bumped out of first place was by her side offering encouragement and tips. When she finally landed the fish, her first albie of the Derby, she was completely spent.

“Phil measured the fish at 30 plus inches, unhooked it for her and gave her a heartfelt congrats. Phil then offered to carry all of Mary Ann’s gear so she would only have her albie to carry all the way back to the parking lot, at least one quarter mile or more. Mary Ann declined and carried her fish back, leaving her tackle on the beach because she wanted to return to fish with Phil later in the morning.

Dave said watching Phil, who had just got knocked off the grand leader board and Ralph, who had just got knocked off the divisional board, help and congratulate Mary Ann exemplified the true meaning of the Derby and sportsmanship.

“Mary Ann began the long trek back to her truck to ice the fish down. When she eventually got back an hour or so later her spot was still available as we had all saved it for her. We all joked with her about going through her tackle bag and touching her rod for good luck. Of course, all that is sacred and it was left alone like it was guarded by her late husband Angie of the Secret Service.”

Life’s moments

Describing that morning, Mary Ann told me in a telephone call Tuesday, “Whether it holds up or not is not what’s important. It was a good day and you know what I’ve decided: You have to enjoy the good moments in life and that was one of them.”

Mary Ann said she thought of Angie. “When I catch a good fish I always thank him,” she said. “He would have been really happy for me.”

Mary Ann immediately called her good friend and fishing companion, Paula Sullivan of West Tisbury, town postmistress and Derby committee member.

“She called me all through the day and she said she wanted to peek at the fish,” Paula said. “And I kept saying, ‘keep the lid shut.’

“She said, ‘maybe I should turn the fish over,’ and I said, ‘no keep the lid shut.’”

Paula met Mary Ann outside the weigh station Friday night. There was a line of people waiting to weigh in fish when the door opened at 8 pm.

“She was in the parking lot and said, ‘do you want to look at it?’ and I said, ‘no, keep the lid shut.’”

Word had gotten around the Island pretty quickly. A crowd of admirers and friends that included Phil and Ralph were gathered at the weigh station for the official moment.

Mary Ann Angelone celebrated the moment of truth. —Photo by Paula Sullivan
Mary Ann Angelone celebrated the moment of truth. —Photo by Paula Sullivan

Speaking of Phil and the Derby, Dave Balon said, “I know very few people that would have made a spot for someone to fish during the Derby, get beaten out of the lead, put aside a night of fishing to go to weigh-in and then toast to the victor, all with a smile. There is always one day in every Derby year that you never forget, and this was it for me.”

Inside the small, rustic wood shingled building where Derby hopes soar to the heavens and fall back to earth on every change of the scale, there is a rope line. Spectators stand on one side of the path it creates to the table where the weighmaster stands ready. When a potential grand leader in one of the four shore or boat fish categories comes in all eyes are on the scale’s electronic scoreboard.

The cooler lid did not open until Mary Ann picked up her false albacore and walked into the weigh station and took her place as the new shore albie grand leader with a 14.65 pound fish. I have no doubt Angie was walking right beside her up to that scale.

Still lost and one found

Last week, I told the story of Jim Cornwell of Edgartown. The hard-fishing 77-year-old gentleman had his 10.5 foot St. Croix rod and Shimano wide-spool reel stolen off the top of his Tahoe parked  in the driveway of his house on Windsor Drive in Edgartown, a dead end. I repeat what I said last week. This is just plain wrong. Someone on this Island knows something. Ask around. We need to get Jim his outfit back.

On a more positive note, Bob Green emailed me and said that his Albright fly rod and Orvis reel that he left on the side of the road at West Chop was found and returned.

Derby awards ceremony

The Derby ends at 10 pm, Saturday when the weigh station door slides shut for another year. But the good times do not end there. The awards ceremony is always a fun-filled event with a dramatic finish when one lucky fisherman wins a boat, and another fisherman wins a truck. The ceremony begins at 1 pm at the big tent on the grounds of the Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs.

69th Derby Grand Leaders (as of Oct. 15)

Boat bluefish: Preston A. Butler, 15.00

Shore bluefish: Michael J. Mulcahy, 15.20

Boat bass: Vinny Iacono, 39.77

Shore bass: Creanga L. Cosmin, 38.63

Boat bonito: Norman E. Bouchard Jr., 10.47

Shore bonito: Michael V. Berninger, 7.49

Boat albacore: Mason Warburton, 13.17

Shore albacore: Mary Ann Angelone, 14.65

(Daily, weekly, and division results are available atmvderby.com.)

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The sounds of Dixie at the Derby: Charles Klinck, Jim Smith, Sandra Smith, Cooper Gilkes, Heather Klinck and Gene Klinck. —Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Coop will have a plan. Coop always has a plan, I told a group of friends who arrived from Alabama on Thursday of last week. What it will be and how it will work out, I don’t know, but he will have a plan and we’ll have fun, I assured them.

Cooper “Coop” Gilkes is one of those individuals who can turn a trip to the supermarket into an adventure if the route goes by any body of water that could potentially hold fish. He wanted to take our Alabama friends out fishing, and since the weather ruled out a boat trip I figured we would hit the beach.

Charles and Heather Klinck, with Jim and Sandra Smith, had driven up from Union Springs, a rural farming community in the heart of Alabama where good manners and good hunting dogs are highly valued, for a quick Island visit. The Klincks, longtime seasonal West Tisbury residents, had some final details to attend to following the sale of their Island house and the occasion of their visit provided an opportunity for Coop and me to reconnect with people who exemplify Southern hospitality.

In January 2010, Coop and I made the first of two trips to Union Springs (Feb. 10, “Island hunters find fun, friends in Alabama”). The life-size bronze statue of an English pointer on a granite pedestal in the middle of the Bullock County seat not far from the courthouse and a banner over a hardware store welcoming deer hunters provided a sense of the town’s priorities. A dinner party Jim and Sandra Smith hosted in a steel barn on their plant farm introduced us to the community and the importance Southerners place on a well-cooked pot of grits.

I had just gotten home and my couch was feeling pretty comfortable when the phone rang. “Be here at 6:30 pm,” Coop said. “They’re going to come over after dinner and that will give us time to get the rods ready.”

The notion of getting “anything ready” at Coop’s, the home that shares space with his well known tackle shop off West Tisbury Road in Edgartown, is subjective. Everything at Coop’s is in a state of more or less semi-readiness. Duck and goose decoys sit by the shed. Rods for every purpose lean against the garage. Eel pots, buoys, clam rakes, lines, coolers, boats and all the assorted collected paraphernalia of a life spent outdoors is in the yard.

I learned long ago to open coolers cautiously. One warm summer day I asked Coop if I could borrow a small cooler. Coop, who is as generous to strangers as he is with friends, said, “Sure Bud, no problem. Just grab one outside by the driveway.” Inside the cooler were several eels left over from a fishing trip many days earlier — spontaneous generation in reverse.

Coop’s guiding schedule and my work schedule had made it difficult to fish together and I was looking forward to anything the night might bring. Jim Smith, Charles Klinck and his brother, Gene, who had stopped in Vineyard Haven on his way south by sailboat from Maine to Mobile, Alabama, joined us at Coop’s about 7:30 pm. The ladies, Heather and Jim’s wife, Sandra, had wisely opted to stay out of the howling, cold north wind. The first order of business was to sign up for the Derby.

Had I been in charge of this expedition I would have grabbed some bags of squid out of the freezer of which Coop has an ample supply. But that is not Coop’s style. The “plan” was to jig for fresh squid. “It makes a difference,” Coop said, and he was on a mission to see the southerners catch fish.

There is a knack to jigging squid. It takes time to develop a feel for the embrace of squid tentacles. Coop and I were delighted when after several misses the guys started landing squid, a primordial style of fishing that is plenty of fun, and comes with the risk of getting a shot of ink. It was getting near my usual bedtime when Coop decided we had what we needed and we left for Katama. Coop, who appears to be able to exist on 18-minute naps spread across a circadian cycle — often taken while he is standing up — was just getting his second wind.

We set five rods out in a line spaced about ten yards apart. Glow sticks on each tip danced in the wind. Each time a wave or wind gust bounced a rod one of the guys would start for his assigned rod. “Don’t worry,” Coop said, “you’ll know when you’ve got a real one on.”

My rod was at the end of the line, an old Fenwick I had owned for more than 25 years but which was still capable of bringing in a big fish in the surf. “I bet ya a buck you don’t have any bait left,” Coop said. Coop’s tackle shop wall is adorned with signed dollar bills and he wanted to add another one of mine to the collection because I was not using a float to keep my bait away from crabs.

I wisely refused the challenge but decided to check my bait. I rebaited the bare hook and had just walked back to the truck, which was acting as a windbreak, when Charles shouted that I had a fish. With instincts borne of many Derby nights, I ran to the rod. With some help from Coop I landed a 20-pound bass.

“I can’t believe you grabbed that rod,” Coop said to me in a disapproving tone.

I had not thought to do otherwise. Now I was faced with a horrible prospect. What if the guys didn’t catch a fish?

The rod went down again. “Quick, Charles,” I said, and half pulled him to the rod, even as he protested that it was my rod and I should reel it in.

The fish were moving past. Several hits followed. The guys ran for the rods only to be disappointed. But that did not last long. Jim and Gene each caught a small bass. But it was not long before the rod tip arced with the weight of a big striper. “Quick, Jim, that’s a good one,” Coop said. Jim, a plant farmer by profession, put his arms and back into the rod.

Jim Smith weighs in a Derby striped bass.
Jim Smith weighs in a Derby striped bass.

The striper, every bit of 20 pounds, slid up on the beach and earned Jim a daily pin that he was overjoyed to bring back to Bullock County. It was all just part of the plan.

Give it back

Jim Cornwell of Edgartown is a hard-fishing gentleman who, at 77 years of age, still out-fishes and out-catches fishermen half his age. Sunday, he returned from pitching eels into the surf at Quansoo and parked his Tahoe in the driveway of his house on Windsor Drive in Edgartown, a dead end. Normally, he takes his rods off the rod rack and puts them in his garage, but he started watching the Pats game and never went out.

The next morning, he woke up to go albie fishing but his surf rod was missing from the top of his SUV. He thought his wife might have brought it into the garage.

In fact, the PVC rod holder had been pulled off his truck, leaving only the stainless steel screws, and the outfit, a 10.5 foot St. Croix rod and Shimano wide-spool reel, was gone.

The rod had been a father’s day gift from his son last year. He had only bought the reel several months ago.

“It was like part of me being ripped out,” Jim said. “I cherished the whole thing because it’s light as a feather, and hey, at 77 I need all the help I can get. It’s just kind of a sad thing to have happen. And to think they’d come right on my own property and lift it off my vehicle, that makes it more irritable.”

This is just plain wrong. Someone on this Island knows something. Ask around. We need to get Jim his outfit back

Lost fly rod

A clear indication that the Derby is entering the home stretch is a report of gear left behind by a tired fisherman. Bob Green placed his Albright fly rod and Orvis reel on the side of the road at West Chop. By the time he realized he had left it behind and returned to West Chop the rod was gone. Please help him get it back. He can be reached at 617-899-2065.

69th Derby Grand Leaders (as of Oct. 8)

Boat bluefish: Preston A. Butler, 15.00

Shore bluefish: Ryan J. Pinerio, 15.05

Boat bass: Vinny Iacono, 39.77

Shore bass: Creanga L. Cosmin, 38.63

Boat bonito: Norman E. Bouchard Jr., 10.47

Shore bonito: Kerry Leonard, 6.63

Boat albacore: Mason Warburton, 13.17

Shore albacore: Trevor C. Knowles, 11.95

(Daily, weekly, and division results are available atmvderby.com.)

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The Loki II ran aground on Chappy. —Photo courtesy of Charlie Blair

Two fishermen returning to Edgartown harbor early Saturday night in dark, rainy weather in a 22-foot Jones Brothers center console boat went off course, plowed across a dock in front of the Chappaquiddick Beach club and ran up on the beach. The impact sent both men flying onto the sand.

Edgartown Police chief Tony Bettencourt said that miraculously, the men suffered only minor injuries. Police charged the operator of the boat, Harley L. Stowell, 51, of Manchester with operating under the influence of alcohol and negligent operation of a motor vessel. He was arraigned Monday morning in Edgartown District court.

The outcome of the accident might have been far different but for an unusually high tide that placed the dock nearly under water. As a result, the fishing boat skimmed up over the dock and its planks.

The damage to the dock is clearly visible in this photo taken the following day.
The damage to the dock is clearly visible in this photo taken the following day.

Two police officers working a paid detail in the police/fire boat in connection with a private fireworks display off Edgartown Lighthouse for a wedding responded to the scene of the collision after the crash.

Chief Bettencourt said that just before 8 pm, Saturday, members of the fireworks crew on the barge heard a loud roar. “They thought it was an airplane that went overhead,” Chief Bettencourt told The Times. Weather conditions were dismal and visibility was very low.

Immediately after hearing the sound, one of the men on the barge called the officers on the police boat radio, according to the police report, and told the officer that a boat traveling at a speed he estimated to be nearly 40 miles per hour nearly hit the barge “and I think it just flipped over somewhere.”

The police boat is equipped with a thermal imaging camera that can peer through the night darkness. “They had the camera on at the time,” Chief Bettencourt said, “and they scanned the beach and they saw the boat with two people up on the beach near the beach club and headed over.”

They found the boat up on the beach and the two men standing on the beach “with sand all over their bodies and faces.” Edgartown harbormaster Charlie Blair, who was on scene in connection with the fireworks display and had also received the call about the speeding boat, also responded, as did medical personnel. The men were taken to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital where they were treated for minor injuries.

Chief Bettencourt said the boat operator told the officers he was returning from “the north shore of the Vineyard,” according to the police report. “He knew it was late and he thinks his GPS must have malfunctioned because they were properly following the route.”

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Mark London will retire from the MVC. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Mark London, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), will leave the powerful regional permitting and planning agency he has led since 2002, at the end of next summer.

Mr. London informed commissioners of his retirement plans in a brief email sent Thursday, Oct. 2, and in a brief announcement made at a meeting of the MVC Thursday night.

“I just wanted to let everyone know that I informed the executive committee this week that I am planning to retire at the end of next summer,” Mr. London said. “This will give the commission four to six months for a search, the new person two to four months to relocate, and will let us overlap next summer.”

No plans

In a telephone conversation with The Times Tuesday, Mr. London, who lives in Chilmark with his wife, Linda Thompson, spoke about his decision.

Asked why now, Mr. London said it was time. “I’m getting older, and I have had health issues off and on for the last three years,” he said. “Everything’s fine now, and I’m in great shape, so I want to have some time to myself and with my family. I’ll be just about 68 when I retire. I think that’s a good age.”

Mr. London said his contract was not a factor. He has no immediate plans and will stay on the Island. I have all kinds of plans, but I haven’t got any plans,” he said. “I have a list of projects, and I’m not going to open it up until I’ve had a few months of rest and relaxation.”

Mr. London said he provided almost a year’s notice because it takes time to find someone with the right background for the job who is willing to pull up roots and move to Martha’s Vineyard.

I had been coming here for 25 years before I moved here full-time 12 years ago,” he said.

Mr. London said the commissioners will put together a committee that will decide whether they will conduct the search or hire a company to do it. Realistically, it will probably take a month or two to start advertising, and then it’s advisable to have several months to get the word out and do interviews,” he said. “Also, if the person selected is not from the Island, he or she will need time to wrap up his or her affairs wherever they are.”

Planning is key

Mr. London presides over an agency with an operating budget of $1.5 million. Salaries and employee benefits that include the cost of funding retirement benefits lay claim to the largest share, $1.1 million of the MVC budget. The commission has 10 staff members. Mr. London earns $128,224 annually.

The bulk of the MVC’s income comes from Dukes County taxpayers through town assessments based on property tax valuation. All seven towns in Dukes County, which includes Gosnold, share the cost of planning, according to their relative property valuation.

In 2002, Mr. London, was a longtime seasonal Island visitor and city planner in Montreal, Canada, when he was hired to lead the MVC.

At the time, Mr. London predicted that better planning would help clear the way for the MVC’s regulatory arm. “The planning will help us in the DRI [Development of Regional Impact] process afterwards,” he said in an interview shortly after he accepted the job.

Mr. London explained why he was attracted to the Vineyard. “The character has been largely maintained, notwithstanding the fact that the Island has almost tripled in population,” he said. “That really is quite remarkable.”

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The SSA is diverting ferries from the Oak Bluffs terminal to Vineyard Haven due to weather.

9:10 am, Wednesday, Oct. 1

The Steamship Authority has begun diverting ferries arriving to, and departing from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven due to weather and sea conditions.

SSA schedules could change with improving weather conditions. For current information call 508-548-3788 or 508-693-0367. Current Conditions may be viewed at http://www.steamshipauthority.com/traveling_today/status