Authors Posts by Nelson Sigelman

Nelson Sigelman

Nelson Sigelman
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A file photo shows the section of South Road near where the accident occurred. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Alexandro Garcia, 22, of Springfield died just after noon on Wednesday after he lost control of the moped he was operating on South Road in Chilmark and drove into the path of an oncoming pickup truck operated by Jonathan Rich, 24, of West Tisbury.

Mr. Rich had just left work at the Grey Barn Farm and pulled out of the driveway on his way down Island. Mr. Garcia was driving up Island when he went off the road on the right side, tried to correct, and crossed into the oncoming traffic, Chilmark Police Chief Brian Cioffi said.

Chilmark, Aquinnah, West Tisbury, and State Police responded to the accident call at 12:27 pm. The State Police accident reconstruction team arrived on the Island about 3 pm. South Road was closed between the Grange Hall in West Tisbury and Beetlebung Corner in Chilmark most of the afternoon while police investigated. No charges will be filed.

Mr. Garcia worked for Sun & Fun, an Oak Bluffs moped rental business owned by Don Gregory Jr., Mr. Garcia’s brother-in-law.  He had the day off and was alone at the time, possibly on his way to the beach, Mr. Cioffi said.

“It is just an unfortunate, tragic, sad accident,” Chief Cioffi said. “My thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of both young men involved.”

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Every fisherman’s list of gear should include some type of PFD.

Rene Sehr of Holland holds up a small striped bass he caught in Menemsha Pond. — Rene Sehr

If you think about it, fishing is an inherently dangerous sport. There are sharp hooks and fish with sharp teeth. There are rocks to slip on, jetties to fall off, and boats to sink. But the biggest danger fishermen face, particularly experienced fishermen, is complacency.

How often do you see a single fisherman tooling along in his boat wearing no personal flotation device (PFD)? Too often. And not just fishermen.

The prevailing excuse is that there are other boats around, or the water is calm, or he or she is a good swimmer or the mindset that accidents happen to someone else. Well, they do not.

Inflatable PFDs are inexpensive — cheaper than a fishing reel or a casket — and they are comfortable to wear fishing from a boat or on land. Why would you need one on land?

Last week, I received an email from Rene Sehr (aka one of the Dutch guys). Rene has been visiting the Vineyard from Holland for years, usually in the company of Ton Kalkman, for an annual fishing vacation. He fishes hard day and night. He said his vacation started slow because he was a bit sick due to the air conditioning in the plane. But he soon got down to business.

“I found a few fish, but most of the beaches I used to fish and catch, were deserted places, no fishermen and no fish or just a few small fish, so I started roaming the ponds and I found some good schools of small herring and finally the bass arrived,” Rene said. “During daytime I caught a lot of small bass, but during the night I also caught keeper sized bass. So my fishing was pretty good.”

“We once experienced the drowning of a guide, you wrote an article about this sad event,” Rene said, referring to the June 2002 death of Kenneth Schwam, 46, of Oak Bluffs and Wyncote, Pennsylvania.

Ken, a fly fishing guide, drowned after he stepped off a sandbar into deep water just before midnight while fishing off Eel Pond in the Fuller Street Beach area of Edgartown’s outer harbor. Ken was fishing with a client on a sandbar off the beach. Returning to the shore in darkness, the men mistakenly stepped into a channel and became separated in the water.

In November, 1997, David Nielsen, 38, was fishing on the inside of Tisbury Great pond, a short distance from the ocean opening, when he accidentally stepped off a sandbar into deep water and drowned.

Rene continued, “One of those dark and foggy evenings last week I was standing on a sandbank in the pond, when I hooked up with a good fish, that forced me to go further onto the bank and deeper into the water. Finally I could unhook the fish and I wasn’t aware that the fog has became very thick! I stood up and due to the use of my headlight I couldn’t see a thing for a few moments. After that I saw that there was very little world left around me. So for a few moments I became a little bit shocked. We have an expression in Holland, but I cannot translate it properly, but it’s something like: my heart stood still for a moment. Where has the shore gone? Well after 20-30 seconds the fog pads drifted away and I was able to see a little bit of the shore again. But I cannot explain what came over me for a few moments!

My point: beware of the fog and do not say it cannot happen to me! I know this area pretty good, but you are completely lost when this happens!

So I have caught a good amount of fish, but only three on the flyrod…. Most of the fish could only be caught deep in the channel with heavy shads. So, see you next year and I will bring Ton again.”

White shark numbers increase

A recent study of white sharks by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that their numbers are increasing, in part due to strict conservation measures.

NOAA said white sharks are among the largest, most widespread apex predators in the ocean but are also among the most vulnerable. The new study, the most comprehensive ever on seasonal distribution patterns and historic trends in abundance of white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) in the western North Atlantic Ocean, used records compiled over more than 200 years to update knowledge and fill in gaps in information about this species, NOAA said in a press release.

“White sharks in the Northwest Atlantic are like a big jigsaw puzzle, where each year we are given only a handful of pieces,” said Tobey Curtis, a shark researcher at NOAA’s Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office in Gloucester, and lead author of the study. “After decades of effort by a lot of researchers, we finally have enough puzzle pieces for a picture to emerge on distribution and abundance patterns. We are pleased to see signs of population recovery.”

Among the findings: White sharks occur primarily between Massachusetts and New Jersey during the summer, off Florida during winter, and with a broad distribution along the U.S. East Coast during spring and fall. The sharks are much more common along the coast than in offshore waters. The annual north-south distribution shift of the population is driven by environmental preferences, such as water temperature, and the availability of prey.

The return of gray seal colonies off the coast of Cape Cod followed by frequent sightings of white sharks has generated considerable media publicity and provided the state Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) with unprecedented opportunities to study the feared and fascinating predators.

The NOAA study provides plenty of reason to think that white shark sightings in the waters surrounding the Vineyard will increase.

While the overall distribution of white sharks is very broad, ranging from Newfoundland to the British Virgin Islands and from the Grand Banks to the Gulf of Mexico as far west as the Texas coast, 90 percent of the animals recorded in this study were found along the East Coast roughly between the Florida Keys and northern Caribbean Sea to Nova Scotia, Canada. The center of the distribution is in southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic Bight, where 66 percent of the sharks occurred.

The U.S., which has managed its shark fisheries since 1993, banned both commercial and recreational harvesting of white sharks in 1997.

The study said that newborn white sharks, as small as four feet long, regularly occur off Long Island, New York, suggesting this area may provide nursery habitat. The largest shark in the study considered accurately measured was a female landed on Prince Edward Island, Canada, in August 1983. The animal measured 17.26 feet from the tip of its snout to the fork in its tail.

VFW fluke derby

Had enough of World Cup histrionics? Tired of celebrity tournaments, celebrity fundraisers, celebrity this and that? Join the VFW Post 9261 MV Fluke Fishing Derby for some good Island fun Saturday and Sunday, July 12 and 13.

This is a rock-solid Island tournament and an awful lot of fun with a no-frills awards ceremony and barbecue Sunday at the VFW on Towanticut Avenue in Oak Bluffs. Where else on Martha’s Vineyard could a set of four beer mugs with one cracked glass command an auction price of over $40?

Prizes for the biggest fluke and sea bass. Kids 12 and under enter free but must register. Adults registration is $20, teens and seniors are $10. Weigh-in is 4 to 6 pm at the VFW. There is also a team competition. For more information, call organizer Peter Hermann at 774-563-0293. Register at local tackle shops.

R.I.P., Walter

Walter Ashley of Oak Bluffs died Saturday. A fisherman, hunter, and fixer of most anything brought into C&W Power, his small machine repair shop in the airport business park, he will be missed by those who came to appreciate his deadpan sense of humor and sure fix on what was right and wrong in life.

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Tuesday night’s concert, featuring Rosanne Cash and her husband John Leventhal, raised about $127,000 for the Save the Gay Head Light Committee. — Michael Cummo

Rosanne Cash and her husband, John Leventhal, a duet in every sense of the word, treated a sold-out Martha’s Vineyard audience to a display of their rich musical and songwriting talents at Flatbread Company on Tuesday night, and in the process raised a heap of money for the effort to save the Gay Head lighthouse. For those who paid $200 and more for a ticket, donating money never sounded so good.

Tony Shalhoub, left, and Lenny Butler worked the crowd during the auction portion.
Tony Shalhoub, left, and Lenny Butler worked the crowd during the auction portion.

Aside from her well-known country music lineage as the eldest daughter of the legendary late Johnny Cash, for some time now Rosanne Cash has added considerable accomplishments to her personal and professional resumé. Singer, songwriter, author, and mother of four daughters and one son, she is a star in her own right, and on Tuesday night she shared her insights on life with the audience through her music.

Many of the songs were drawn from her latest album, “The River & the Thread,” her first album in four years, which her husband produced and arranged.

“Cash comes full circle as a storyteller and singer of exceptional grace and grit,” James Reed of the Boston Globe wrote in a review. “It’s among her finest work in a 35-year career, assured and at ease, and one of 2014’s first great albums.”

Each song is built on a story drawn from shared experiences of Ms. Cash and Mr. Leventhal during a series of road trips through the south and a reconnection with the southern culture that defined her childhood. In brief introductions, Ms. Cash described the foundation of each song. For example, “Etta’s Tune,” a sweet ballad, tells the story of Etta and Marshall Grant, her father’s longtime bassplayer. The couple remained married for 65 years, a record in the industry of touring bands, Ms. Cash said. Every morning when they woke, she said, they asked each other, “What’s the temperature, darlin’?’’

Rosanne Cash, playing with husband John Leventhal.
Rosanne Cash, playing with husband John Leventhal.

Ms. Cash’s songs provide a narrative of her not always easy life. Her interaction with Mr. Leventhal, alone on the stage with their guitars, provided a sense of intimacy and a display of Mr. Leventhal’s musicianship, which might not have come across so easily in a larger venue.

The evening began with an auction of five items, that included a trip to a resort in the southwest and a week in a Paris flat, that raised a total of $27,000. Actor and Chilmark resident Tony Shalhoub brought his deadpan skills to the job of auctioneer with able assistance from straight man builder Lenny Butler of Aquinnah, who heads the Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee.

“It is not an easy thing to move a lighthouse, and it isn’t cheap,” Mr. Butler said, noting that after the night the committee expected to be half way to its goal of $3 million to save the iconic beacon.

In a conversation with The Times following a sound check Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Cash, who was greatly looking forward to a nap after a long drive from Truro where she had performed the night before, spoke about her connection to the New England and the ocean.

A portion of the sold-out crowd.
A portion of the sold-out crowd.

Ms. Cash said the Vineyard connection stems from the long friendship between her husband and master guitar restorer Flip Scipio, husband of Mitzi Pratt, one of the organizers of the effort to save the lighthouse that is now within 46 feet of the cliff edge. Ms. Cash and Ms. Pratt got to know each other last year when Ms. Cash asked Ms. Pratt, a custom book binder, to bind a book as a special gift for her husband.

“Mitzi just asked us, she was involved with this, with saving the lighthouse and asked us to do it and I thought, what could be bad about this? Saving a lighthouse, coming to the Vineyard in July, seeing friends. So we’re here.”

Ms. Cash has roots in the area. “My first Cash ancestors went to Salem, and then a group of them went to Nantucket. And William Cash was a whaling captain in the early 19th century. In fact, the jawbone of the whale that hangs in the town museum was brought by William Cash.”

Ms. Cash, who now makes her home in New York City, has written about the sense of loss she felt when she moved from Malibu to Nashville and was not near the ocean.

“The ocean is like religion to me, I don’t feel myself unless I get a regular trip to the ocean.”

Asked what she misses about the south, Ms. Cash said, “The food. Really good cornbread. And sweet tea, but I don’t have to miss the south, I go down often enough.”

Being a mother, she said, helps feed her songwriting. “Getting your heart opened, getting your heart broken, you wrangle with all your deep issues, so all of that goes into songwriting somewhere or other.”

Writing songs or prose all require discipline, she said. She said she has no preference but that songwriting is her first love. “I do love the prescribed nature of songwriting that your lyrics are married to a melody and you’ve got to do it in four minutes. I like those limitations.”

She and her husband have been performing together for about 20 years. “We enjoy it,” she said. “We do this duo show quite a lot. It is intimate — we play off each other.”

On Tuesday night, the audience got to listen in.

The Save the Gay Head Lighthouse committee is committed to raising $3 million to complete the project before next spring. For more information, visit gayheadlight.org.

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The smoke and flames were intense and firefighters fought to keep the blaze from spreading to nearby houses. — David Stanwood

Updated Tuesday, 4:15 pm

On a warm sunny Sunday, when many people were enjoying a day off, Tisbury and Oak Bluffs firefighters responded to an afternoon blaze in a garage workshop behind the home of Albion Alley, III on Hvoslef Way, off Lake Street, overlooking Lake Tashmoo.

Assistant Tisbury fire chief Jim Rogers directed the fire fighting effort Sunday afternoon.
Assistant Tisbury fire chief Jim Rogers directed the fire fighting effort Sunday afternoon.

Assistant Tisbury fire chief Jim Rogers directed the effort to fight the fire that broke out at about 2 pm. Firefighters, assisted by a light southwest breeze, managed to contain the fire in a relatively small area of the congested neighborhood and keep the flames from spreading to the adjacent Tashmoo Boatyard, nearby propane tanks, and several small houses.

Mr. Alley’s garage workshop, its contents which included his work tools, his truck and a car, about 50 lobster traps, a satellite dish and a nearby shed owned by a neighbor were destroyed. There were no injuries.

Mr. Rogers praised the quick response of Tisbury firefighters, Tisbury EMS and members of the Oak Bluffs fire department, who provided mutual aid, in the middle of the afternoon. Tisbury EMS set up a recovery tent where firefighters could cool down. “It was a hot day, particularly in turnout gear, and they made sure no one got overheated,” Mr. Rogers said.

The cause of the fire has not been determined.

David Stanwood of West Tisbury witnessed the fire. “My wife, Eleanor, was rowing on Lake Tashmoo and I was in our sailboat,” he said in an email to The Times. “It was just before 2 pm on Sunday. She started shouting at me and pointing towards the opposite side of the harbor by Tashmoo Boatyard. I turned and saw black smoke starting to billow up from behind Albion Alley’s house on the lake front. I called 911 and we made our way across the harbor to get a closer look. We watched as the smoke increased and large flames burst out amid the homes. It was alarming, especially when we heard the screams of children.

The fire destroyed a garage, three vehicles and a satellite dish.
The fire destroyed a garage, three vehicles and a satellite dish.

“The fire became very intense and it seemed as if the surrounding homes would be involved, but the firemen soon arrived and got things under control. Several explosions were heard at the height of the fire. Curious boaters in the crowded harbor congregated nearby to watch and Albion Alley came speeding in on his outboard from fishing on the sound. He ran his boat up on the beach, hopped out, and ran up to his home, but there seemed little he could do as the fire was intense and very dangerous. We were relieved to hear that no one was hurt.”

Jamie Greer of Oak Bluffs, a car mechanic and family friend, had preceded Mr. Alley off the water. When he saw the flames he ran to the house to let Mr. Alley’s dog out. In bare feet he attempted to move Mr. Alley’s truck but was unsuccessful due to the heat, according to one witness. Then he began hosing down a hedge that separated the flames from a series of propane tanks until firefighters arrived.

Albion Alley, Mr. Alley’s son, said the family was grateful for the response by firefighters. “It was a great effort,” he said.

The younger Mr. Alley was on South Beach when he heard the news of a fire in the neighborhood and he rushed home. “Everyone’s been great,” he said, “There was just an outpouring of support from the neighborhood.”

The home and garage workshop originally belonged to Mr. Alley’s grandfather, Albion “Beanie” Alley Jr., a well-known Islander. The workshop contained a lifetime of memories.

There was quite a lot of sentimental value, Mr. Alley said.

Tisbury fire chief John Schilling was off-Island when the fire broke out but he arrived in time to survey the cleanup effort. “Nothing is going to replace a lifetime’s worth of collectibles and tools, that’s the part that breaks your heart,” he said.

 

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In a time honored ceremony, Senior Chief Robert Riemer took command of the small boat station on Martha’s Vineyard.

Following the Station Menemsha change of command ceremony Friday, new officer in charge, Senior Chief Robert Riemer (left) shook hands with his predecessor, Senior Chief Jason Olsen as Captain John T. Kondratowicz, Commander USCG Sector Southeastern New England looked on. — Photo by Michael Cummo

In a brief exchange rooted in the maritime traditions that form the core of Coast Guard service, command of Station Menemsha passed from one officer to another Friday morning under clear blue skies on a hill with a sweeping view of Vineyard Sound.

“I offer my relief,” Senior Chief Robert J. Riemer said.

“I stand relieved,” Senior Chief Jason L. Olsen replied as assembled guests, Coast Guard officials and approximately 21 crewmen and women assigned to the small boat station that protect mariners in the waters of the western end of Vineyard Sound and nearby Buzzards Bay looked on.

In a few hours, Senior Chief Olsen, a native of San Diego, would leave for South Portland, Maine, where he will be the Executive Petty Officer on the Marcus Hanna, a 175-foot buoy tender, his latest post in a Coast Guard career that began in October 1996.

Four years earlier, Mr. Olsen had just arrived at Station Menemsha to assume the responsibilities of Officer in Charge when a raging fire inJuly 2010destroyed the Coast Guard boathouse, now being rebuilt.

During his four-year tenure, Station Menemsha received the Sumner I. Kimball award plaque and pennant that “recognizes excellence in crew proficiency, boat and personal protective equipment condition and compliance with established training documentation requirements as essential readiness components.”

In his farewell remarks, Senior Chief Olsen, often choking up with emotion, thanked his crew, the community, the members of the Coast Guard command staff, and his wife for their support throughout his tenure.

“I can’t believe that today is here already; it sure did go by quickly,” he said with his wife and three children watching from the front row. “And even though the time started with a dramatic event, there was so much more that happened here and those are the things that I am going to remember.”

Turning to his crew, Senior Chief Olsen grew emotional and paused to regain his composure. “Without you guys, and like I told you guys last week, I pushed you hard, I expected a lot out of you, I know we had our challenges together, but we had a lot of success and that is what I am going to remember. I hope you guys learned some stuff from me. I’m telling you I learned a lot here, more than from my Coast Guard career combined.”

Describing his wife, Andrea, as the “rock and anchor” of his family, Mr. Olsen presented her with a bouquet of flowers and a kiss.

In his remarks, Captain John Kondratowicz, Sector Commander Southeastern New England, described the history of Station Menemsha, rooted in the early days of the U.S. Life Saving Service and Station Gay Head.

“Station Menemsha and her crew carry on the legacy of rescuers past and the mission of modern maritime safety,” he said. “Senior Chief Olsen and his crew are part of this long lasting story of Menemsha.”

Captain Kondratowicz highlighted the crew’s many accomplishments under Mr. Olsen’s leadership, which included search and rescue, law enforcement, and protection of marine resources. Just as important, he said, was crew interaction with the community, most recently dancing with the residents of Windemere nursing home.

“Their commitment to excellence does not come easy, or by accident,” he said, adding that it took a steady hand at the helm and Mr. Olsen was that steady hand. An Officer in Charge, he said, must lead from the front and set an example to the crew in operations or in professional development. He also must continually find ways to develop the competence of each member to perform assigned duties.

At the conclusion of his remarks, Captain Kondratowicz presented Senior Chief Olsen with a gold star citation commendation medal.

In his remarks to newly appointed Officer in Charge Senior Chief Riemer, Captain Kondratowicz said, “You have a great crew, a great unit, and a fantastic location. I am sure you will have many great days ahead.”

Strict rule book

Senior Chief Riemer, 41, is a native of Liberty, New York. In a conversation prior to the change of command ceremony, Mr. Riemer said Station Menemsha was at the top of his assignment request list.

“I wanted to go back to sea, but it was not in the cards,” he said. One of his goals is to command a Coast Guard ship.

Mr. Riemer is no stranger to Island waters. In the Coast Guard for 23 years, he previously served on a cutter based at Woods Hole. He and his wife, Kara, and two daughters have very pleasant memories of living on Cape Cod.

He was most recently Officer in Charge of CG Station Elizabeth City. Asked to describe some of the challenges of command, Mr. Riemer cited responsibility for personnel.

“In the private sector, you worry about your staff from 8 to 4, 9 to 5. In the Coast Guard, we are worried about our staff, our crew, 24/7. And that includes the care and welfare of their dependents. We’re concerned about their finances; we’re concerned about their health. We’re concerned about their family wellness and overall well-being.”

Mr. Riemer said those outside the Coast Guard often do not understand how much the military tries to look out for its people. “It can be one of our toughest challenges and can be one of our most rewarding experiences,” he said.

Mr. Riemer said he expects the changing tempo of the Island, from the busy summer season to the off season, to offer its own set of challenges – in particular, keeping some of the younger members of the crew “positively engaged.”

Despite the isolation and familiarity of the up-Island station, it remains a military installation. “It’s like running a household with a very strict rule book,” he said.

Senior Chief Riemer said for now he needs to become familiar with the station, his personnel and the Island.

Asked what he finds most rewarding about his job, he thought for a moment and said, “I really enjoy helping people be successful. I like seeing a member of my crew, my team, earn their captain’s license or take a college course or pick up a new Coast Guard certification. I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing my people do well.”

Mr. Riemer entered the Coast Guard in 1991. “I joined the Coast Guard because I wanted to help people,” he said.

One change he has seen over the past 20 years is a change in the mission. There is more emphasis on maritime security and law enforcement. The primary mission, search and rescue, has also changed, he said.

“We are not seeing as much of a need for search and rescue,” he said. Mr. Riemer attributes that to better boating education, equipment and technology. “The sea is an inherently dangerous environment and I think people are going out a little better prepared than they were 15, 20 years ago,” he said.

The First District is broken up into five sectors. Station Menemsha, designated a heavy weather station, is part of sector Southeastern New England, an area that includes the waters off Rhode Island and Cape Cod.

Mr. Riemer is responsible for a crew of approximately 24 men and women assigned to Station Menemsha. Their area of responsibility includes the waters west to the Rhode Island border, 50 nautical miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, Buzzard’s Bay, and Vineyard Sound.

Equipment at their disposal includes two 47-foot motor lifeboats (MLB) and one 25-foot response boat.

The workhorse of the life-saving fleet, the MLB has a top speed of 25 knots. What it lacks in speed it makes up for in rugged, all-weather durability. The 47 is designed to operate in up to 50-knot winds, towering 30-foot seas and 20-foot surf. The MLB is completely self-righting: if a wave knocks it completely upside down it will roll until it is upright.

Semper Paratus

The United States Coast Guard traces its history back to August 4, 1790, when the first Congress authorized the construction of 10 vessels to enforce tariff and trade laws and to prevent smuggling. The fleet was known variously through the 19th and early 20th centuries as the Revenue Marine and the Revenue Cutter Service.

A separate agency, the Life Saving Service, was created in 1878 to improve a largely volunteer network of rescue stations that assisted mariners in distress along the very busy coastlines.

The U.S. Life Saving Service built a station and boathouse, which later became Coast Guard Station Gay Head, in 1895. The station building was near Gay Head Light and the boathouse on the shore west of Dogfish Bar. The first keeper was Nehemiah C. Hayman, who was appointed October 4, 1895, according to a Coast Guard history of the station.

Keepers had to be “able bodied, of good character and habits, able to read and write and be under 45 years of age and a master at handling boats, especially in rough weather,” according to the history.

In 1915, an act of Congress merged the Revenue Cutter Service with the Life Saving Service, creating a single maritime service, the Coast Guard, dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the nation’s maritime laws.

In 1952, the Coast Guard moved the Cuttyhunk station building to Menemsha by barge. Commissioning of the new station took place on March 12, 1954. In January, 1974, the Coast Guard officially changed the name of the station from Gay Head to Menemsha to reflect its actual location.

In 1995, during a period of downsizing, the Coast Guard considered closing Station Menemsha and disposing of the property including the station house on the hill. Strong public and political pressure prevented a closure of the Island’s only search and rescue station, but not a downsizing.

Then came the events of September 11, 2001, after which the Coast Guard’s role in providing homeland security was greatly expanded.

In September 2004 Coast Guard Station Menemsha was officially designated a fully independent “station large.” As a result, the number of Coast Guardsmen increased and the station began to maintain its own radio watch.

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Nantucketers and Vineyarders squared off over the weekend in the Islanders Cup fishing tournament. Left to right: Dennis Dias (Nantucket Anglers Club), Peter Sliwkowski (MV Surfcasters), Lonell Rodgers (Nantucket). — John Piekos

Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket fishermen went wader to wader this past weekend in the annual Islanders Cup fishing tournament, a catch-and-release contest determined by weight.

The final tally was Nantucket Anglers Club, 72 pounds, 14 ounces, Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association (MVSA), 61 pounds. The critical difference was one striped bass.

Try as they might, the Vineyard surfmen could not hook a sizeable bass among many bluefish. Or perhaps they were just being gracious hosts.

Any way you look at it, a bad day of fishing beats a good day of watching soccer. Last week my wife was surprised to see me watching a World Cup soccer match. “What are you doing,” she asked, “I thought you didn’t like soccer.”

Assuming my serious journalist inflection, I explained that I was watching the game in an effort to try and understand why so many people around the world go bonkers (as in rip out stadium seats, riot and kill each other) over the game. “Maybe I’m wrong,” I said. But I digress.

Each season, members of the respective Island fishing organizations fish, eat and generally have a good time. Last year, the Nantucketers hosted the Vineyarders. This year, it was our turn. Organizer Victor Colantonio of Chappy provided me with a blow by blow of the action, or lack.

The inter-island Hy Line ferry arrived at 4 pm, Friday from Nantucket with 11 top anglers from the Nantucket Anglers’ Club. They were met on the dock by 11 stalwart Vineyarders. “After an hour at the Sand Bar restaurant meeting, greeting, snacking, and doling out tally sheets, the groups paired off, one-on-one,” Victor said in an email to me. “They dispersed into dark wet, cold, forbidding island haunts in a 40-hour competition to land the heaviest striped bass and bluefish.”

The prize was bragging rights and “the Island Cup, a sorry-looking pewter trophy that can’t hold a shine.”

Friday night, Victor and Scott Whitlock of Nantucket hammered bluefish on East Beach, north of the jetties “landing 27 fish and dropping nearly as many in 4 hours. Whitlock put a 9-pounder on his scorecard.”

Saturday was uneventful, with mostly small bluefish. “The score was essentially tied at 50 pounds per team,” Victor said. “The hardest working anglers working the best holes still had their needle stuck at nil. Both teams knew that the 2014 contest would hinge on who would land a bass. Pressure mounted and team MV sent its four ablest bodies to the north shore to work the rocks and pools of Makonikey, Menemsha Jetty, and Gay Head. The rest headed to Chappaquiddick to froth up the breach, Wasque, East Beach, and Cape Poge. Suspense was matching exhaustion in the 31st hour of the contest.”

Hmm, tie, lots of running around,no big score — sounds like soccer.

Early Sunday, at 12:40 am, Nantucket’s Lonell Rodger was fishing East Beach with his Island counterpart, Pete Sliwkowski. “First cast a bump, second cast a ‘blam’ and 10 minutes later Lonell has his 17-pound bass landed, weighed, off the scale and back in the water, none the worse for wear,” Victor said. “Big trouble is brewing for MV without a big fish.

“Sunday morning passed with the anglers in the doldrums, swarms of gnats and no fish.”

Hmmm, sounds like soccer in the rain forest.

At noon the fishing stopped. The trophy went to Nantucket and the fun and camaraderie, that was shared by all.

Jim Cornwell of Edgartown won the prize for the heaviest bluefish and Lonell Rodger’s bass took the largest (and only) keeper prize.

Fishing for the Vineyard were Victor Colantonio, Jim and Jonathan Cornwell, Jim Fraser, Jim Mullin, Peter Sliwkowski, John Piekos, Joel and Jason Graves, Matt Malowski, and Bob “Hawkeye” Jacobs.  For Nantucket: Scott Whitlock, Peter Krogh, George Williams, Harold Wiggin, Lonell Rodger, Dale Gary, Dave Dauphinee, Tre Wullschleger, Dennis Dias, Bob Bechold and Bob Virta.

Contest postscript

In a followup email, John Piekos said, “Of the 22 hardcore anglers in this year’s contest, three didn’t land a single fish, which is remarkable. More remarkable is that only one angler landed a striped bass over 28 inches.  Maybe it’s time to think of eliminating the commercial season for these wonderful table fish and increasing the recreational ‘keeper’ length to 32 inches.  All the contestants were abuzz that if 22 skilled fisherman, using the best equipment and deploying proven tactics can not land more than one bass in one of America’s best fisheries in a perfect season that maybe the species is in a lot bigger trouble than we think.”

The inter-Island tournament now stands at Nantucket 4 wins, MVSA 3 wins. The action shifts to Nantucket in 2015.

“On a personal note,” John said, “I can think of no better way to spend a weekend than in the company of anglers, incredibly optimistic people, doing what they love to do in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. As for the fishing, 2014 was tough but we looked back over the team weights for the past seven years and remembered, with a shrug, one year MVSA managed only 24 pounds against Nantucket’s 55 pounds and in other years where a team didn’t break 60 pounds, total. Then of course there are the wonder years of single team scores of 167, 155 pounds and 136 pounds tallied. We’ve come to realize that the Island Cup is less about fish on the scale than friendship from the heart.”

Fluke tourney date

Start tieing your fluke rigs and drafting team members, the VFW Fluke Fishing Derby is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, July 12 and 13. This is a fun Island tournament. More information will follow.

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Thursday’s ribbon cutting ceremony highlighted cooperation between agencies and recreational benefits.

State and local officials joined in the ribbon cutting. From left to right: Bob Whritenour, Rep. Tim Madden, Chuck Casella, selectman Greg Coogan, DFG commissioner Mary Griffin, fishing and boating access director Jack Sheppard, Undersecretary for Environment Martin Suuberg, DMF director Paul Diodati. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Fishermen do not generally mind a little rain. So it was not surprising that Thursday morning’s light rainfall did little to diminish the enthusiasm among those gathered for the official ribbon cutting ceremony to welcome the new Oak Bluffs fishing pier.

Greg Coogan, chairman of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, assisted on the umbrella by town administrator Bob Whritenour, said the pier was a benefit for the entire community. To his left is DMF director Paul Diodati and DFG commissioner Mary Griffin.
Greg Coogan, chairman of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, assisted on the umbrella by town administrator Bob Whritenour, said the pier was a benefit for the entire community. To his left is DMF director Paul Diodati and DFG commissioner Mary Griffin.

A parade of state and local officials stepped to the podium to describe the cooperation among multiple agencies and the town of Oak Bluffs, and the benefits the pier would provide, now and in the future. Division of Fish and Game Commissioner Mary Griffin did her best to thank all those involved in the decade long project.

Greg Coogan, chairman of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, thanked town leaders who had worked tirelessly over the years to support the project, and state and federal agencies that have invested heavily in the town’s coastal infrastructure.

“As a small town we don’t have the resources to address many of the challenges that face a coastal community, sometimes it’s all we can do to keep sand on the beach,” he said, drawing a laugh from those familiar with the town’s struggle to replenish the Inkwell beach.

“Through these partnerships we’ve accomplished great things. This fishing pier is a great addition to this community, and not just Oak Bluffs but the whole Island.”

Mr. Coogan said residents across the Island appreciate the many features that make Oak Bluffs accessible. He said the new pier will give “everyday citizens, young and old” direct access to a first class fishing resource, or just a spot to stroll.

Referencing future plans, Mr. Coogan said, “In an era where public access to the waterfront is often threatened, we’re expanding it. And this is only the beginning. By the fall, we expect to start construction on a new seawall, here to my right, and a pedestrian boardwalk that will protect us from storms and bring more and more people to this lovely place.”

Project construction was overseen by the Department of Fish and Game’s Office of Fishing and Boating Access with assistance from the Division of Marine Fisheries.

The new pier cost $1 million and is the largest recreational fishing pier in Massachusetts. About $188,000 of project funds came from Massachusetts recreational saltwater fishing permit sales. The $10 charge for individual permits, collected by DMF, along with donations and charter boat permit revenue accrued more than $1.2 million in Massachusetts in 2013 for fisheries research, conservation and public access projects, according to a press release.

Chuck Casella, a charter captain and chairman of the Marine Recreational Fisheries Development Panel, a citizen advisory group established to provide oversight over the Marine Recreational Fisheries Development Fund, spoke about the battle to create a saltwater fishing license.

“The saltwater license was created from the ground up and it one of only three dedicated funds in the state that is truly a user pay, user benefit fund,” he said.

Referencing the pier and fisheries programs, Mr. Casella said fishermen could be confident that all the monies collected for the license fee are well spent.

Speaking on behalf of local fishermen, Bob Lane of Oak Bluffs, former president of the Surfcasters Association, thanked those who conceived of the idea of a fishing pier and persisted, undaunted by the long permitting and funding hurdles. Mr. Lane singled out Walter Lisson and David Nash of Edgartown.

The Oak Bluffs Fishing Pier will complement improvements planned for the North Bluff sea wall and boardwalk, according to a press release. Energy and Environmental Affairs awarded the town of Oak Bluffs $3.6 million in January to repair the damaged North Bluff. That grant is part of a total of $8.5 million in outside funding for Oak Bluffs, a figure that includes $1.9 million in seaport improvement money from the state Seaport Advisory Council, and $2 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance.

To see a fine art slide show of the pier, by Island photographers Steve Myrick and Alison Shaw, among others, click here.

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The new fish pier is the perfect spot for an afternoon stroll. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Is it just me or has the fishing for striped bass been considerably off this season. If it is just me, I am having very poor luck. Last year, by the end of May, I had caught several keepers. I have yet to catch a sizeable fish.

But fishermen remain optimistic. The fisherman’s chant — one more cast — was not intended to be muttered by a pessimist. The prevailing theory is that a cold spring and successive east winds set us back several weeks. We will see. This time of the year is when we would typically be experiencing our best striped fishing along Lobsterville Beach, the breach, and East Beach on Chappy.

Regarding the last two fishing spots, I had a conversation with Chris Kennedy, Martha’s Vineyard superintendent for The Trustees of Reservations. Each fishing season Chris must balance the needs of competing constituencies, which include state and federally protected shorebirds, the state and federal biologists who enforce those regulations, fishermen, beach-goers, and the people who sign his check and would not be pleased if a bird were to be squished by a tire or some kid running for a Frisbee.

Each season, The Trustees are required to protect nesting shorebirds. Once their chicks hatch, the protection is ramped up to include no over-sand vehicle travel anywhere the birds may be feeding or traveling. That prohibition is extremely restrictive on narrow sections of barrier beach, for example the elbow leading to the gut, a popular fishing spot and currently not accessible from Cape Poge.

On Sunday, Chris met with several fishermen, members of the Surfcasters Association, who questioned what might be done to ease some of the closures. Chris said that in response to that meeting The Trustees moved fencing to open up several hundred yards. Not a lot but it helps.

“It was all predicated on the fact that this is where the chicks are now and if they move tomorrow we are going to have to move the fence line again,” Chris told me in a phone conversation Tuesday. “What we are trying to do is find some middle ground where the birds have adequate protection and as much beach as possible is opened up.”

Chris said several fishermen had questioned the number of chicks based on the lack of visible exclosures. The group took a ride. Chris pointed out some of the nesting sites, not all of which are marked by an exclosure.

What is an exclosure? Think of it as the crow, gull, and skunk version of a plover refrigerator. Well-meaning biologists erect wire mesh tents around plover nesting sites to keep predators out. Landowners are required to be earnest about protecting plovers or run the risk of being found liable by wildlife officials for a take — From Section 3(18) of the Federal Endangered Species Act: “The term ‘take’ means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.”

Crows are pretty smart. Smarter than a feral cat.

When God created plovers he designed their natural coloring to blend in perfectly with their beach environment. Even a crow or gull might have trouble spotting a plover chick against a sand and pebble background. Big wire exclosure? No problem. Caw. Caw.

Chris said that increasingly predators sit on an exclosure and wait for the adult or the chick to emerge from the exclosure. “As they [predators] get smarter you have to change your tactics,” he said.

The Trustees are now erecting exclosures around the more vulnerable nests, Chris said, those that are out in more exposed areas. Those that are near beach grass are left to survive on their own, and they are having some success.

Currently, the stretch of beach from the windmill house to the gut is closed. “We have five plover chicks running around out there,” Chris said.

A portion of beach is closed between Arruda’s Point and the bathing beach and between Wasque and the bathing beach, however the back trail is open to Wasque. One mile of the eastern end of Norton Point is closed to protect terns. The breach is accessible from the Chappy side.

Chris said the fishing for blues was hot on Chappy for several weeks but has slowed down. “Most of the guys now are just waiting for the bass to pick up,” Chris said.

Me too.

Thanks for the fish pier

pier-sign.jpgI am looking forward to walking with an order of fish tacos from the Lookout restaurant down to the new fish pier to sit on one of the six wooden benches and watch some little kid pull up a scup, or a big kid hook an albie. Both are possibilities.

Last week, I walked to the end of the pier. A visiting couple, Wayne and Wendy Sedgwick from New Haven, Conn., were sitting on a bench reading “Poseidon’s Arrow” (him) and “Betting the Rainbow” (her). There wasn’t a fishing rod in sight, but that will change and the pier will take on some of the ambience of Memorial Wharf in Edgartown. It is all good.

The height of the pier is of some concern. Jack Sheppard, director of the Office of Fishing and Boating Access, said the new pier is the biggest one his department has built and reflects 25 to 30 years of engineering experience, including mistakes over the years.

Low piers are more vulnerable to storm damage. The height is a necessary compromise.

Fishermen down south commonly use pier nets, basically a round hoop net attached to a line,  to land fish. The Surfcasters Association or Derby committee might consider stocking the pier with a few nets. There would be some paperwork involved, but it is a possibility.

Jack told me the department has to okay any additions. That is a result of a bad experience with fishermen placing rod holders on a pier and attempting to “reserve” a spot. Now the department has a rule that nothing may be attached without department approval.

reading-pier.jpgHopefully, fishermen will take care of the new pier that their tax dollars financed. The benches are not for cutting bait.

A word about Jack. He is a fisherman and hunter who enjoys the outdoors. When he joined the department in 1986 there were 42 public access sites. That includes boat ramps, canoe slides, piers, and fishing access spots. Now there are 287 sites. Not bad for a nine-person department that in real dollar terms has seen its budget shrink over the past 10 years.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new pier is 11 am this Thursday, June 19.

Striped bass season opens

The commercial striped bass season opens Monday, June 25. In past years, the commercial season opened in July and closed in early August once the state’s quota had been reached, usually in early August. In 2012 and 2013, the season closed after only 16 days, in part due to a large congregation of fish off Chatham.

This spring the Division of Marine Fisheries announced that the 2014 season will open on June 23 and remain open until the 2014 quota, approximately 1.15 million pounds, is reached.

The change is expected to meet market demand for bass over the July Fourth holiday and give Island fishermen an opportunity to capitalize on local fish.

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Two-year-old Bowie waved his flag as the Navy Band Northeast of out Newport, Rhode Island, marched along Main Street Saturday morning. — Photo by Michael Cummo

A Saturday morning overcast melted away to the patriotic strains of the Navy Band Northeast, much to the delight of onlookers, which included a soaring osprey, at a rededication ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Veterans Memorial Park in Vineyard Haven on Flag Day.

The ceremony began with a parade led by Island veterans and color guards from the Dukes County Sheriff’s office and Coast Guard Station Menemsha, that marched from St. Augustine’s Catholic Church on Franklin Street and proceeded down along Main Street and on to Veterans Memorial Park. Spectators on the sidewalk applauded as the Navy Band passed by in perfect step and tune.

At the field, purchased and constructed over 50 years ago by “members and friends of Gen. Geo. W. Goethals Post 257, American Legion, Vineyard Haven,” Navy Band leader Lt. Commander Carl J. Gerhard handed his baton to Legionnaire organizer, and trumpeter for all occasions, Edson Rodgers for the playing of the national anthem.

Troop-91.JPG
Boy Scout Troop 91 out of Tisbury joined the Flag Day parade on Saturday morning.

As local boy scouts raised the Stars and Stripes, an osprey circled its nearby nest atop a light pole and sang out.

Dukes County Veterans Agent Jo Ann Murphy described the efforts of the men who built the park. “It’s fitting that on this day we remember what they accomplished,” she said.

The ceremony also honored Legionnaire Fred Thifault, the only remaining member of the park’s original building committee. “I’m blessed that I’m able to be here 50 years later,” he told the crowd who applauded in appreciation.

Eric-Gustafson-daughter.JPG
Eric Gustafson and his daughter Ensley watch the Flag Day parade pass by.

At the conclusion of the ceremonies, Ms. Murphy thanked “everyone who chipped in today, and 50 years ago to make today possible.”

And with that, the band struck up a lively march, whetting the appetites of onlookers, many of whom looked forward to a free Navy Band concert at 7 pm, Saturday night at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs.

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Martha’s Vineyard is antipasti for visiting Italian fishermen.

Paolo Balsamini and his fish. — Photo courtesy of Arturo Kenney

A famous Roman general once wrote, “Veni, vidi, vici,” Latin for: I came, I saw, I conquered. There is no way to know if Julius Caesar liked to fish. His Italian countrymen sure do.

This week and last, a group of Italian fishermen from the Milan area, members of the Milano Fly Angling Club, enjoyed fishing for striped bass from Lobsterville Beach, fine food — hey, they’re Italians, they travel with a chef, and the natural beauty served up plentifully by Martha’s Vineyard.

Arturo-Kenney-first-light.JPGThe story begins with a basketball. Art Kenney of New York City played three years in the early 1970s for Olimpia Milano. The team honored him last year when it retired his number 18, the first such retirement in the very successful club’s history.

On one of his return visits to Milan, Art gave a presentation on fly fishing for the Milano Fly Angling Club, the oldest fly fishing club in Italy. The rest, as they say in Rome, is history.

Art, a New Yorker, is chief tour guide and travel secretary. This is the club’s fifth fishing trip to the Island. The men, eight Italians and Art, are staying in a rented house just off Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah.

Art said the men fish mostly at night — all night. “We’re looking for big fish,” he said.

The fishing has been slow this trip, but no matter. “We have so much fun,” Art said. “It’s like Animal House without any of the craziness. It’s a real fraternity of fishermen.”

Art said the men love the Island. “It’s just such a beautiful place to fish and all the people we meet are so nice,” he said.

Arturo_Paolo-Balsamini.JPGWhen they are awake in the daytime the men make periodic shopping trips down Island. Their favorite stop is Coop’s in Edgartown. “Coop is the Island’s best goodwill ambassador,” Art said in a phone conversation as he relaxed in the house. “He is extremely helpful.”

Coop also endeared himself to the Italians with gifts of fresh squid, clams, and flies that worked.

“Coop doesn’t know it but he’s an international phenomenon, at least in Milano,” Art added.

Paolo Balsamini came on the line. He said he likes everything about the Vineyard.

“I like the fish, I like the beach, I like the environment. Lots of wildlife. As a fisherman I like to fish, so I like to catch a lot of striper, especially the big one,” he said with a laugh.

Paolo, 50, said the fishing was a lot better last year, but like fishermen around the world, he takes a philosophical approach. “But, ah, it’s the sea, you know,” he said. “If they are not, they are not. There are schoolies, but in the mix, you know, there are big ones but it is a matter of luck.”

Asked about what he fishes for in Italy, Paolo laughed. “I fish in the sea, but I catch one sea bass every five, six outings,” he said. He catches trout with more frequency.

Roberto Pecorelli.
Roberto Pecorelli.

His favorite fly for the Vineyard? “Floating sand eel in black in various sizes,” he said.

Paolo was a commercial pharmacist until he lost his job two years ago. Now he drives a taxi. He also travels to Denmark in late spring to fish for sea trout. “Very fun,” he said. “There’s a lot of fish and some big ones.”

I asked Paolo what he thought about our ticks. My question was lost in translation. He thought I asked for tips. “Fish as long as you can,” he said. “All night long. This is my tip because if you have your fly in the water you can fish the big one. And fish when the water is moving.”

He also had a message for the people of Martha’s Vineyard: “Thank you for the whole Island …preserve your Island.”

Coop's welcome mat.
Coop’s welcome mat.

Club president Roberto Pecorelli spoke to me. “This fishing is very, very important for me, for my mind,” he said with a laugh. “I love to fish on the beach at night with my friends. To catch fish is not very important. I am very happy when I caught only one fish. Very, very fine for me.”

It is a sentiment any fisherman could understand in any language.

What not to do

Last week, Tom Dunlop wrote a striper love story for the Gazette about a guy who caught a bass, threw it up on the beach where he let it lie and declined to cut the gills and bleed the fish because he does not like to do that while a fish is still alive. He drove home with the fish in a plastic bag, but after it twitched in his kitchen, he had a pang of conscience and ran it down to the water where he spent more than one hour reviving it.

Tom’s a good writer and in his hands the tale sounded swell. Hats off to the kind-hearted fisherman. But the story attracted plenty of criticism from fishermen and with good reason.

I do not doubt the fisherman was well intentioned. But once the decision is made to keep a fish for the table it is not humane or practical to let a fish lie gasping on the beach building up heat and toxins. Cut the gill with a sharp knife. The blood will drain and the fish will die.

Do not carry a fish in a plastic bag. It does not allow the fish to cool. Bring a cooler with ice, or in a pinch throw a wet towel over the fish. The end result will be fresh, high quality fillets.

Pier ribbon cutting Thursday

On Thursday, June 19, at 11 am, state environmental and wildlife officials will join Oak Bluffs town leaders in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new fishing pier.

The pier looks great. Strollers and families with kids who like to fish for scup will be the chief beneficiaries. I have no doubt it will produce a few albies.

The idea for a fishing pier began with the rebuilding of the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority terminal. The original idea was to incorporate a fishing platform into the pier. That plan disappeared after 9/11, due to security concerns, but not the idea.

The state office of Fishing and Boating Access funded the project. State saltwater license fees and taxes on fishing and boating equipment paid for it. If you have the time, stop by and celebrate the first pier on Martha’s Vineyard built for fishing.