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The fire appeared to start in landscaping mulch and climbed quickly up the side of the vacant wood frame house.

An Edgartown firefighter is visible through the charred front window. photo by Michael Cummo.

Fire caused heavy damage to a house at 5 Dune Road in the Katama section of Edgartown Friday afternoon. Edgartown police and firefighters found the front of the building in flames when they arrived, shortly before 2 pm. The home was vacant at the time of the fire. There were no injuries.

Flames spread quickly up the front of the building. Photo by William Bishop.
Flames spread quickly up the front of the building. Photo by William Bishop.

Edgartown fire chief Peter Shemeth told The Times it appeared the fire started in landscaping mulch near the wooden landing leading to the front door of the 2.5 story wood frame building. He said the flames spread quickly up the exterior of the home.

“Everything is so powder dry right now, and the wind was going right toward the building,” Chief Shemeth said.

Volunteers firefighters responded quickly to the alarm. Photo by Michael Cummo.
Volunteers firefighters responded quickly to the alarm. Photo by Michael Cummo.

The Edgartown fire department responded with four trucks. The Oak Bluffs fire department was called to provide mutual aid and cover stations in Edgartown.

“It’s a hard day personnel wise,” Chief Shemeth said as the volunteer firefighters finished packing up equipment. “All these guys were working somewhere.”

Though the front of the structure was charred and smoldering from ground to roof, the interior of the home was mostly undamaged, except for smoke damage, according to Chief Shemeth.

Edgartown police were trying to locate and contact the owner.


Island life on Vanuatu.

On the Island of Malekula, in the far away nation of Vanuatu, Vineyarder Laura Jernegan teaches English to children, and trains others to become teachers. (Courtesy Laura Jernegan).
Malekula is in Vanuatu. (Courtesy Google Maps)
Malekula is in Vanuatu. (Courtesy Google Maps)

Laura Jernegan was born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard and graduated from MVRHS in 2009. After graduating from American University in Washington, D.C., in 2013, she signed up for the Peace Corps and was posted to Malekula in Vanuatu in January 2014.

Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014.

Laura holds a baby on Malekula, in Vanuatu, where she's working with the Peace Corps.
Laura holds a baby on Malekula, in Vanuatu, where she’s working with the Peace Corps.

Around 5:30 am the sounds of roosters, dogs, and church bells combine to create the surprisingly peaceful melody that prompts me out of bed every morning. After a little stretch and a few minutes of enjoying the sounds of the morning from my hammock, I unzip my mosquito net and touch my feet down to the cool concrete floor.

My day has begun. From there I turn on some tunes — these days it’s usually Ayla Nereo or the Velvet Underground — and head out to my bush kitchen to build a fire so I can boil water and make some coffee. From there my day will go in a variety of directions, but never fails to provide new adventure, a few laughs and the ever-present reminder that my life on Malekula — the second biggest island in the archipelago nation of Vanuatu — is really, really great.

This is how I start most of my days in Vanuatu, but one Sunday morning I was motivated to go for a run that ended up taking me on an adventure that truly encompasses the life, culture, and beauty that exists everywhere on this island paradise.

Laura Jernegan and friends. (Courtesy Laura Jernegan).
Laura Jernegan and friends. (Courtesy Laura Jernegan).

After climbing out of my hammock — Peace Corps gave me a mattress, but I prefer sleeping in my hammock — I changed into my culturally appropriate running gear (long pants and a T-shirt), laced up, and headed out to the road. There’s one road that runs through my village connecting my community to Lakatoro, the provincial center on Malekula — approximately two and a half to three hours in the back of a truck, Monday–Friday only. The road is dirt and full of holes and stones of varying sizes, so as I run I have to be sure to keep my eyes on the ground or else suffer another fall that will be just as painful and embarrassing as the first. It’s hard to do anything in Vanuatu without everyone in the village, or even island, knowing. While this sounds like an affront to privacy, it’s really not. Lacking the ability to communicate constantly and affordably as in the United States, “coconut wireless” carries news of births, deaths, family updates, and scandals that often get skewed throughout the villages and islands of Vanuatu.

For example, in May I purchased a goat from a nearby village. I live in the middle of a coconut plantation, so I figured the goat could just live in the plantation, frolicking with the other goats and enjoying all the grass it could want for two years. Before I leave I will ask one of my host brothers to help me kill it, and we will all roast it on the beach as a farewell dinner. I didn’t mention my goat purchase to the other volunteers on my island, but about a month later I got a call from one telling me that I was the talk of his village (which is about a five-hour truck ride south) — the white girl from Northwest Malekula who bought a goat. I find this endearing because I know that the only reason that this story got around was because the idea of a white girl buying a goat was actually one of the craziest things that happened recently and everyone wanted everyone else to know.

By the end of one recent Sunday, Laura had four eggs given to her by locals she'd seen on her walk/run around the island of Malekula.
By the end of one recent Sunday, Laura had four eggs given to her by locals she’d seen on her walk/run around the island of Malekula.

So I run with my eyes on the ground to make sure I don’t fall — wanting to avoid the painful scrapes more than the rumors — and decide to go see one of my host sisters. My sister, Makenah, is pregnant, and her husband is currently working as a seasonal laborer in New Zealand — a popular and very fruitful option for Ni-Vanuatu men (and some women) who are able to save up enough for the plane ticket — so she ends up working much harder to clean, cook, and take care of her 3-year-old, Samio, than an 8-month-pregnant woman should. I arrive at her house in about 15 minutes, where she greets me by handing me a freshly picked mandarin and telling me that I work too hard.

My favorite, and perhaps the most important, element of Vanuatu culture is called storian (literally story-on). To storian you simply spel (rest) and chat about anything and everything. Men and women in Vanuatu work very hard, taking care of their gardens, which provide all the food they could ever need, from avocados and mangoes to yams and cassavas depending on the season, to raising sometimes as many as nine children, so when they take the time to spel they just relax on a mat woven from natangura leaves and talk. Sometimes there is big news from the capital, but most times storian focuses on the weather, work being done in the village, or coconut-wireless messages about who is getting married or news of a new truck that will be servicing our village.

This Sunday morning the storian focused on me telling my sister not to work too hard and her telling me how excited she is for her husband to come back. Of course we also talked about how it hadn’t rained in a few months, and how excited we are for the rainy season to come to fill our rain tanks with drinking water and bring life back into our crops. After about an hour of storian I decided it was time to head back and get on with all the chores I had to accomplish before the end of the day. As I was about to begin running back to my house, my sister ran into her kitchen and came back with two freshly laid eggs. Eggs make me really excited, because if I want to buy them I have to ride into Lakatoro and pay about $10 round-trip, so when someone gives me eggs it’s a good day. Of course, acquiring these eggs meant I wouldn’t be running back home, so instead I made a pouch out of the front of my T-shirt and carefully walked through the coconut plantation and out onto the main road with two local eggs in tow.

A few minutes down the road I ran into one of my brothers-in-law and was swiftly carried into another storian session. He asked me if I would be willing to help his daughter apply for scholarships to go to university in New Zealand or Australia. She is currently in secondary school at one of the best schools on Malekula, and has been at the top of her class for the past few years. She is passionate about becoming a doctor, and is ready to work hard to achieve this goal. As the sole “whiteman” in the village, I am part of conversations like these often, and my responses are always the same. Of course I’m glad to help in any way that I can, but that’s all I can do — help. As a Peace Corps Volunteer I’m a partner in sustainable development; unfortunately, I can’t just make money appear. My primary assignment is as an English language teacher/teacher trainer, but I am glad to help with anything that my community wants. Luckily the people in my community understand this because I am the fourth Peace Corps Volunteer they have had, so they know that whatever kind of project we venture in on, they are equal partners. This is important for ownership as well as accountability, because once I am gone, the projects I work on need to continue — sustainability is the only goal.

After another 45 minutes of storian with my brother-in-law, ending with me telling him I would be calling my program manager in the Peace Corps office to ask him about scholarships to study abroad, I got ready to head back home. As I was turning to go, he asked me to wait. He ran into his kitchen and came back with two freshly laid eggs. I laughed to myself at how beautifully humorous this was, added them to my T-shirt egg pouch and headed back down the road. Now that I was cradling four eggs, I took my time walking back home. About 30 minutes later I arrived at home. It was now 9 am.

What should have been a casual 30-minute run ended up being a 2.5-hour run/walk adventure filled with family, good storian, and the acquisition of four freshly laid eggs. Long Vanuatu laef hemi olsem nao — in Bislama, “In Vanuatu, life is like this.” Whenever I go anywhere, I try not to have an agenda or a time limit. When walking to the well to get water, I always leave time for spur-of-the-moment storian, and when I walk to school in the morning I am always sure to leave at least 15 minutes early so I can stop to chat with anyone I meet along the way. Understanding “island time” is the key to success in Vanuatu, and is encompassed in the local saying Sipos yu ras bae yu kras, or “If you rush you will crash.” Don’t rush things — if it’s important, it will happen.

It has been only eight months since I arrived in Vanuatu, but my experiences have already instilled invaluable positive changes in my overall mental and physical well-being that any other post-graduate experience just could not compare to. I will probably never speed again in my life — whether it be while driving, spending time with someone, or deciding on the next step in my future. Whatever I would be rushing to do can wait — being careless of the opportunities or dangers on the road along the way can only lead to accidents and missed opportunities.

I came to Vanuatu with the typical Western development-worker mentality that it was my job to change my community, forgetting that with this I would be changed as well. Life isn’t always easy, but when I have to struggle is when I learn the most. This isn’t something specific to my life in Vanuatu; it’s something I believe we must acknowledge every day, wherever we are, so that when our time on earth is over we can be confident that whatever we did, we did it right — without regrets, avoidable accidents, or missed opportunities. Laef hemi olsem nao.

A conversation with Laura Jernegan

Tell us about the Peace Corps application process. You apply online, then wait to be contacted for an interview. After the interview you get a nomination, and then wait to hear where you’re being sent, what kind of work you’re going to be doing, and when you’ll be leaving. You don’t have much control over any of these things, except for your work/volunteer experiences, which funnel you into a job placement. I was at work at Katama Airfield in July 2013 when I received an email saying I’d be going to Vanuatu in January 2014.

How’s the weather? Can you drink the water? Weather is subtropical — really, really hot and rainy from November to March, then still very hot but dry from March to November. My drinking water comes from rain tanks at my school, but the only other rain source is a well where everyone else in the village goes for water. Once our rain tanks are dry, I use the well water but filter it through a water filter given to me by Peace Corps.

Does anyone there know where Martha’s Vineyard is? No, but it’s always great when they ask where I’m from and I get to tell them I’m from a small island too. I joke that growing up on an island prepared me for life on Malekula, but really that would be far less than accurate. Besides being used to taking a boat or plane to get home, not much could have prepared me for life here. They are always astounded when I tell them that no, my island doesn’t have coconut plantations or papaya trees everywhere, or that the water is pretty cold most of the year, so swimming isn’t an everyday thing. Being able to share information about my life on Martha’s Vineyard has been a really special part of life here because for Ni-Vanuatu people, it’s hard to think about life on any other kind of island. My connection to the Vineyard has only intensified since settling into life on this very beautiful but very different island paradise, but I know that it will last for the rest of my life.

Follow Laura’s story at laurajergs.wordpress.com.


Martha’s Vineyard Hospital donated a house that will be used to fill a critical gap in addiction and mental health treatment on the Island.

Community Services executive director Julie Fay and hospital chief executive officer Tim Walsh stand in front of the new home of the community crisis stabilization program.

In what health professionals describe as a major step forward in providing care for Islanders in crisis suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS), will establish an on-Island community crisis stabilization program (CCSP) on the grounds of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

Tim Walsh, hospital chief executive officer, confirmed to The Times the hospital will donate  the “red house,” a former residential property located in front of the main hospital building that currently houses the billing department, to Community Services, the Island’s umbrella social services agency.

A CCSP treats patients in acute distress due to addiction or mental health issues for the first 24 to 48 hours of a crisis. It’s a less restrictive and voluntary alternative to inpatient psychiatric hospitalization. The goal of a CCSP is to stabilize the patient, to give clinicians time to chart an appropriate course of action, and to find the resources with which to implement it, according to treatment specialists.

“It’s going to be a huge resource for the Island,” Juliette Fay, Community Services executive director, told The Times. “When somebody is in crisis and needs evaluation, instead of going to the emergency department they’ll come to the red house. There will be individual therapy rooms, a group therapy room, crisis-stabilization beds, clinicians that are tied to emergency services, and also staff from our New Paths program.”
Currently when MVCS gets a call on the 24-hour hotline, a clinician is sent to the hospital emergency room to make an evaluation and determine if the person needs to go off-Island for inpatient care. Ms. Fay said the CCSP will spare people in crisis the cacophony and chaos of a busy emergency room.

“The emergency room staff has been wonderful, but a busy ER is not a good place to try to calm a situation down,” she said. “Consequently we have a very high rate of hospitalization. Right now, on the Island, 60 percent of the people we evaluate in the ER get hospitalized; off-Island it’s somewhere between 12 and 15 percent.”

A CCSP is not a detox facility, but the treatment it provides can potentially help an Islander avoid the onerous ordeal of going to an off-Island clinic.

“We don’t have to do an evaluation right away,” Ms. Fay said. “24 hours or 48 hours of crisis-intervention activity can forestall an evaluation and come up with a plan B, which is not going off-Island. Often when people are in the ER, that’s just the beginning of the ordeal. Our clinicians then have to start calling inpatient facilities, and finding an open bed is not easy. Once they find a bed they have to arrange an ambulance to the ferry, an ambulance on the ferry, and an ambulance to meet the ferry on the mainland to take the patient to the facility, which could be in Springfield or the Cape or Boston, you don’t know.”
A CCSP can also save valuable hospital resources. Currently, it’s not uncommon for a patient who could be treated in a CCSP setting to stay in the hospital ER for several days before a bed is found at an off-Island facility. During this time, patients who could be starting treatment in a CCSP are in a state of limbo, and often the patient requires 24-hour supervision from hospital staff or law enforcement personnel.

Collaboration pays off

Ms. Fay, Community Services staff, and board members began discussing the need for a CCSP about a year ago.

“We thought if we had access to a crisis-intervention program we could probably cut our hospitalization rate in the first year,” she said. “We thought if we could do it at the hospital, that would be ideal. About four months ago, Tim Walsh offered us the red house, and things really came together.”

“Initially, Community Services wanted to set up in the old hospital building, but that was problematic for the Medicare reimbursement process,” Mr. Walsh told The Times.

Mr. Walsh said the question was how to provide a venue that would work but be separate and accessible: “Having the red house where everything is separate, and where we can keep all the expenses separate, is a better solution for us.” Mr. Walsh invited MVCS representatives to inspect the red house at the beginning of the summer. “They thought it was a really good fit. With that, we started trying to accelerate our own renovations in the old hospital so we could get the billing department in there as soon as possible. We have a lot of balls in the air, like renovations to the dialysis unit, but we’re hoping that we can be out of there by December, January, so we can hand it over to Community Services and if they’re ready to start something, they can.”

Getting ready

MVCS will be ready, according to Ms. Fay. “We have a private donor who has made funds available to do the startup,” she said, adding that she has also met with commissioners from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and Department of Mental Health (DMH) to obtain additional funds and to navigate the bureaucratic maze.“We may have a volunteer architect, but we haven’t finalized that yet,” she said.

Estimated renovations will take two to three months, during which time MVCS staff will be trained in crisis-intervention stabilization. “It’s a very different model from what is used in emergency rooms,” Ms. Fay said. “You work proactively with individuals and family members about how to keep somebody safe in the community instead of going off-Island for inpatient care.”

The CCSP will be staffed on an as-needed basis. “We don’t think there will always be someone in the red house, but when someone is, we are committed to provide 24/7 staffing,” Ms. Fay said.

Contrary to the usual ebb and flow on the Island, the winter and spring will be the busiest time for the CCSP. “Our busiest time is January through May; that comports with a seasonal economy, the dark months,” she said.
If all goes as planned, the CCSP will be operational before the dark months on the Island have passed.

“You have to give all the accolades to Julie,” Mr. Walsh said. “I’ve been an advocate for a crisis-intervention center for years, but she really pulled it all together and made it happen.”

Ms. Fay said MVCS still needs funding to keep the momentum going for the CCSP. Donors can contact her at 508-693-7900.

The yellow pins show the approximate area off Eastville Beach where brothers Dan and Greg Martino plan to farm oysters.

Oak Bluffs selectmen made history Tuesday night when they approved the town’s first aquaculture license with a 4-1 vote. Selectmen granted a three-year license to brothers Dan and Greg Martino for a two-acre farm, located about 100 yards off Eastville Beach on Vineyard Haven harbor.

Selectman Gail Barmakian was the dissenting vote. Ms. Barmakian said she wanted more time to consider the issue.

It has been a long and contentious approval process. Tuesday night was no exception, as the chairman of the selectmen Greg Coogan twice used his gavel to restore order.
Eastville opponents have been regular attendees at shellfish committee meetings and selectmen meetings following a unanimous vote in March by selectmen to grant preliminary approval to the Martinos. The Eastville homeowners have consistently cited concerns about safety for swimmers, boaters, and windsurfers. They also claim that the farm location is vulnerable to nor’easters, which would mar the beach with debris, and that the associated machinery noise and 100 white buoys would damage the aesthetic quality of the shore.
Eastville homeowner Jack Ludwig, along with his sisters Wendy, Amy, and Patricia, have spearheaded opposition to the Martinos’ farm, and retained Boston law firm Sloane and Walsh to represent them. The attorneys submitted a 10-page position statement to the selectmen on Monday detailing their objections. They also asked the selectmen to postpone the vote because they couldn’t attend the meeting, but Mr. Coogan elected to move ahead with a vote.
“We were disappointed,” Mr. Ludwig told The Times on Wednesday morning. “The selectmen decided to take away a public use for a lot of people for a private use for two people. I think the Martino brothers are well-meaning, and aquaculture is almost certainly the future of shellfishing, but we think the location is wrong. The application has a lot of flawed, inaccurate information.”

Mr. Ludwig said he would confer with his family and the 10 other objecting families and decide whether to seek a temporary restraining order by the end of the week.

Adjustments made
The plan the Martinos presented Tuesday night was designed to address earlier concerns.  They reconfigured the layout of their grow cages to allow for a wider path of egress for ease of navigation. They also outlined a plan to reduce susceptibility to storm damage, switched to electric power to mitigate noise, and changed to a smaller, neutral-colored buoy they said will better blend with the surroundings.

The Martinos plan to have 10 cages in operation next summer, and hope to expand to 50 cages by the end of 2015. They will make their first harvest, if all goes to plan, in the summer of 2017. They hope to eventually expand to 100 cages.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, they received needed approvals from the Division of Marine Fisheries, the Coast Guard, the state Archeological Resources board, Native American tribes, and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Oak Bluffs shellfish constable David Grunden and members of the shellfish committee attended the meeting to show their full support. “We’ve worked with Dan and Greg for several months, and they’ve tried very hard to work with everybody,” Mr. Grunden said. “I think this will be a good thing for the town. It starts a new industry, and it’d be great to see oysters sold in Oak Bluffs that were grown in Oak Bluffs waters.”
Mr. Grunden also said he would be watching the operation closely. “They both know I’m going to hold them to these guidelines. If they don’t do what they proposed, I will shut them down immediately,” he said, to a chorus of groans from skeptical Eastville opponents.

Sailor talk
“I’m not against it. I think you guys have done a great job,” Ms. Barmakian said, addressing the Martinos, “I would just like some more time.” Ms. Barmakian said she was given pause by objections presented by Vineyard Haven Yacht Club member and youth sailing committee member Dan Pesch. “This operation will have a significant impact on our ability to educate Island youth in sailing,” Mr. Pesch said, adding, “It also curtails our ability to run regattas.”
Selectman Kathy Burton, an experienced sailor, contended there was ample space for both activities to coexist.
Mr. Coogan, also an experienced sailor who docks his boat in Vineyard Haven harbor, likewise disagreed with Mr. Pesch. “I sail out there often. It sees like a pretty small area to me. My kids went through that program, and I understand your concerns, but to me they sound more dire than they really are.”
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Coogan told The Times,”I think it might require a little adjustment for the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club, but I don’t see an obstruction in that area. Honestly, I think some of us, kids and adults, will enjoy the obstacles. That’s part of the fun of sailing.”
Mr. Coogan said the bigger issue at hand is creating year-round commerce in Oak Bluffs. “In all of this, we’re trying to promote a sustainable, year-round business. We need more of that in Oak Bluffs.  It’s a struggle for all of us who live here. The Martinos have invested a lot of time and money, and there’s no guarantee they’ll succeed. I think they’ve earned a chance to try. I’ll be sailing by there all the time. If they’re not doing a good job, they’ll hear from me, believe me.”
The 10-page position paper prepared by Sloane and Walsh asserted that the town made it difficult for seasonal residents to be heard. It also implied there was duplicity because Eastville Beach was not on the selectmen’s agenda for the March meeting.  Mr. Coogan dismissed the notion out of hand.

“There were Eastville residents at the first meeting,” he said. “The Martinos sent letters to Eastville residents, and 99 percent were signed for.  There are a lot of other Eastville homeowners who haven’t come forward. Clearly it bothers some people. But at the end of the day, I think we listened to all sides.”

Weigh master Roy Langley slid open the door of the Derby weigh station at 8 am, Sunday morning and rang a handbell, signifying the start of the five-week contest. His grandson Nick Jerome, holding two bluefish, was first in line. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers

I set my alarm for 3:45 am. Technically, it would be morning but conceptually, it would be the middle of the night. Despite my misgivings at the loss of sleep and the zombie state it would induce, I was determined to look for a good striped bass on the first day of the 69th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby that began at 12:01 am Sunday.

I expect that fatigue and fishless nights over the next five weeks will deplete the reservoir of enthusiasm I had at the start of the Derby. But the Derby is a little like a Christmas present — there is plenty of excitement and anticipation while the present is still wrapped.

My preparations began Saturday afternoon after I returned home from hanging a deer stand, the first of several I expect to put up in the weeks ahead. The need to prepare for archery season, which begins one day after the Derby ends, is one of the many logistical hurdles I and many other Island fishermen face, that and the lesser responsibilities of home and the workplace.

The task had gone quickly, as the tree and I are familiar with each other. The bark still retained the scuff marks from the previous year, and I had little doubt I would shoot a deer from that spot. I approach every outdoor season — fish, deer, duck, goose, scallop — with a sense of optimism, not because I expect to reap a bounty but because I am happy to be here to enjoy it.

My plan for the opening day of the Derby was simple. I would put the small fiberglass dinghy I had bought for my wife Norma years ago, which had been resting comfortably upside down in our yard for years providing shelter for mice, into the back of my Nissan pickup. Tom Robinson and I would row across West Basin and cast eels into Menemsha channel before the sun rose. Low tide was 6:30 am. I figured we would have about one hour of productive fishing before the current went slack. I hoped one of us would hook a big striper and walk into the weigh station that morning.

A normal person might have greeted that plan with some degree of skepticism. But Derby fishermen are not normal. Tom asked what time I planned to pick him up. I said 4:15 am. “OK,” Tom said.

Before the sun went down I took my light, nine-foot surf rod out of the basement and put it on my truck. Coop built the rod, a birthday present from Norma with my name on it, more than 20 years ago. The reel is a classic Penn 704Z. It is more than 30 years old, but still has what it takes to wrestle a bass out of the surf. It felt right to begin the Derby with that outfit.

Norma is a Derby wife. By way of definition, she does not like to fish but she understands the Derby state of mind. She did not flinch at the sight of a bucket of eels and the noise of a running aerator in the basement. “Just don’t wake me up,” she said about my plan.

My alarm is set to WCAI, the local NPR station. I was concerned that at that hour the BBC would be reporting in hushed, knowing tones from some distant corner of the world. I worried an English accent might not have what it takes to jar me awake. But my internal Derby clock was all I needed. By 3:30 am I was up and tiptoeing out of the bedroom.

My clothes were laid out on the couch at the ready. I turned on the coffee pot and went downstairs for the eels. As I walked up the steps I imagined what would happen if I were to drop the bucket. The fishing columnist smiled at the thought of the story I might write. The would-soon-be-dead husband gripped the handle more tightly.

Tom was waiting when I pulled into the driveway. In fact, he’d been waiting some time. “I thought you said quarter of four,” Tom said.

There were half a dozen cars and trucks parked at West Basin when we arrived. A few guys were standing in the predawn darkness talking by the back of a truck. I assumed the other vehicles belonged to fishermen on the Lobsterville jetty. The Derby has begun in earnest, I thought,

The crossing was uneventful. The fishing was equally uneventful.

Fishermen Jim Cornwell of Edgartown greets a well wisher at the Derby weigh station. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers

I caught one bass about 30 inches long and I hooked another smaller fish in the tail. Tom caught no fish. The sun rose and the wind picked up out of the north. By 7 am, I was rowing us with some difficulty, against the wind, back to the dock.

A north wind often triggers albies to feed off Lobsterville Beach and the jetties. Tom and I had brought rods rigged for albies in the event the fish were hitting.

Derby albie fishing is 96 percent waiting, talking, and casting without any evidence of fish, and 4 percent Red Bull–driven panic when the fish break. In the parking area, Phil Horton and Tim Sherren were comparing notes on the morning. Both fishermen had surrendered to the stiffening wind. Had they seen any albies, I asked. A few breaks here and there, but not enough to keep them battling the wind. The conversation all seemed so familiar, so Derby.

I stopped at the Scottish Bakehouse for a cinnamon bun, arguably the best on the Island and my reward, applying Derby logic, for getting up so early. MIke Stimola of West Tisbury was there. I had not seen Mike all summer and was happy to run into him. He had gone out after midnight and been rewarded, Mike said, with a nice striped bass.  He was on his way to weigh it in. We compared notes. I learned later that his fish weighed 19.59 pounds and earned him a third-place daily pin.

It was all so familiar, so welcome, so Derby.

Jason Graves brought his five-year-old daughter Ava and a 19.80 pound striped bass to the weigh station Sunday morning. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers
Jason Graves brought his five-year-old daughter Ava and a 19.80 pound striped bass to the weigh station Sunday morning. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Kids day is Sunday

The Kids Mini-Derby is Sunday, Sept. 21, from 6 am to 8 am at the Oak Bluffs Steamship pier. No casting skill is required, and a simple fishing rod will suffice. Simply bait a weighted hook with a piece of squid or sand eel and drop it to the bottom where, with luck, a hungry scup or sea robin lies in wait.

The mini-derby is strictly for kids old enough to hold and reel a fishing rod, through age 14. It is not for adults. No matter how bad you want your kid to catch a fish, do not fish for your kid. It is against the rules, it violates the spirit of the event, it irritates the people who follow the rules, it teaches your kid all the wrong lessons, and if that is not enough, you risk the embarrassment of being told all of the above by a Derby committee member in front of your kid.

It is also the one and only time fishing is allowed from the pier. The event is free, and open to all kids.

Lost fly rod

The Tisbury police are holding a nine-foot, Lamiglas Infinity fly rod turned in over the weekend. Identify the reel and reclaim the outfit. Tisbury police I spoke with expressed no interest in learning to use a fly rod. Most prefer to catch fish with their bare hands —  once it is battered and fried.

69th Derby Grand Leaders (as of Sept. 16)

Boat bluefish: Estey L. Teller, 13.38

Shore bluefish: Clinton A. Fisher, 13.34

Boat bass: Joseph E. Canha, 28.17

Shore bass: Tom E. Barber, 26.53

Boat bonito: Mike J. Balzarini, 7.58

Shore bonito: Kerry Leonard, 6.63

Boat albacore: Mason Warburton, 13.17

Shore albacore: Colin T. Britt, 9.84

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

The town of Aquinnah will take ownership of Gay Head Light.

In a letter dated Sept. 12, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell agreed to transfer ownership of the Gay Head Light from the federal government to the town of Aquinnah. The transfer is a critical milestone in the effort to restore and move the historic lighthouse, which is threatened by the eroding cliff face. The town will now be responsible for maintaining the structure as a historic landmark and a functioning aid to navigation for mariners.

Secretary Jewell said she made the decision based on a recommendation from the National Park Service, which reviewed an extensive application submitted by the town under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act. The federal General Services Administration and the Coast Guard have also reviewed and approved the application, according to Aquinnah town administrator Adam Wilson.

While there are some loose ends, a lot of paperwork, and reviews by local and state boards remaining, the approval by Secretary Jewell means the transfer of ownership is all but formalized.

“I applaud the commitment of the Town of Aquinnah to the preservation of our Nation’s maritime heritage in accepting stewardship of the Gay Head Light Station,” Secretary Jewell said in her letter addressed to Jim Newman, chairman of the board of selectmen.

The lighthouse must be moved back from the eroding cliffs.
The lighthouse must be moved back from the eroding cliffs.

The Save the Gay Head Light Committee has raised about $1.5 million toward the estimated cost of $3 million needed to move the structure to a more stable location, about 150 feet to the east/southeast of where it is now.

The project timeline calls for the moving contractor, International Chimney Corp., to begin site preparation next month, begin the intricate move in November, and finish it in April.

AT&T Mobility plans to install a cellular antenna inside one of the unused blue silos at Katama Farm.

Edgartown selectmen Monday unanimously approved and signed a lease that will allow AT&T Mobility to place a wireless phone antenna inside a vacant silo at the town-owned Katama Farm. The new antenna is designed to improve mobile phone coverage coverage in the Katama area.

The company and the town had wrangled for several months over legal language, and selectmen had expressed frustration at the slow pace of negotiation. Selectman Michael Donaroma was quick to second a motion by selectman Margaret Serpa to approve the lease.

“I second, before it changes again,” Mr. Donaroma said. “So by spring, without fail, they’ll be up and running?” he asked following the vote.

“Well, we can hope,” town administrator Pam Dolby said. “There are no more roadblocks. It will be interesting to see how much it helps [mobile phone service] on Chappaquiddick.”

The contract signed Monday calls for AT&T Mobility to pay the town $28,000 the first year. Rent payments will increase 3 percent each year. Revenue to Edgartown will total $321,000 over the life of the 10-year contract.

In other business Monday, selectmen heard an update on the annual Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival, scheduled for Oct. 16 to 19. Christina Cook, who is helping organize the event for the Edgartown Board of Trade, said planning is on schedule for the four-day series of gastronomic events. She said the festival will feature more events under the tent erected on Mayhew Lane than last year, to help attract people to the downtown area.

“We’ve sold out four events so far, and we’re on track to sell it all out,” Ms. Cook told selectmen. Selectmen unanimously approved four one-day alcohol licenses for the festival.

In other action, the board accepted a bid from Bailey Boyd Associates to administer federal Community Development Block Grant funds, which provide Island residents with energy-efficient home improvements and childcare subsidies. The bid, totalling $82,030, was the only bid submitted.



Vendors, shoppers, musicians turned Circuit Ave into a car free carnival for Tivoli Day on Saturday. The 37th annual end-of-summer celebration enjoyed blue skies and comfortable temperatures. The festivities included food, shopping, sales, raffles, plenty of strolling, and live music by the Nashville Hitmakers Songwriters, Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, and Dukes County Love Affair. The event was produced by the Oak Bluffs Association.

Oak Bluffs has a new building inspector. The crumbling Island Theater is expected to be one of the issues he will need to tackle. File photo by Ralph Stewart.

Updated 3:30 pm, Sept. 18

After an extensive search for a new building inspector, the board of selectmen voted unanimously to offer Mark Barbadoro the job following an interview at a special meeting on August 15. Town administrator Robert Whritenour negotiated the terms of the contract and announced the hire on Friday, Sept. 12.

Mr. Barbadoro is expected to start the job on Oct. 6, at an annual salary of $77,298.

Mr. Barbadoro has been the Acton building inspector for the past six years, and is a fully state-certified building commissioner, the state’s highest level of certification. “It was a difficult recruitment process, because there’s a dearth of state-certified building commissioners,” Mr. Whritenour told The Times.

Mr. Whritenour said that as part of the interview process, applicants faced highly technical questions prepared for the committee by structural engineer John Lolley. Mr. Barbadoro was “head and shoulders” above other applicants, he said.

“He’s also a very personable guy,” Mr. Whritenour said. “He’s a big believer in customer service.”
Selectman Gail Barmakian was also impressed. “I’m looking forward to working with him; he’s young and eager and he seems excited to become part of the Oak Bluffs community,” Ms. Barmakian told The Times in a telephone conversation Friday.

Mr. Barbadoro fills the vacancy left by former building inspector James Dunn, who submitted a letter of resignation to Mr. Whritenour in early June.  Although Mr. Dunn initially indicated his retirement would be effective at the end of that month, he stayed on on a part-time basis while town officials conducted their search.

Underscoring the difficulty the town was having filling the position, Mr. Whritenour consulted state officials for assistance and, at a joint meeting of the selectmen and town finance and advisory committee (FINCOM) on July 15, made a plea directly to the MVTV cameras, saying, “If anyone out there is a certified building inspector or knows a certified inspector, we have full-time or part-time work available.”

At the same meeting, the board voted unanimously to hire West Tisbury building inspector Ernest Mendenhall on a part-time basis until the replacement was found.
Before making his exit, Mr. Dunn took town officials by surprise when he said he planned to issue a “make safe or demolish” order to Benjamin and Brian Hall, owners of the decrepit Island Theater. Mr. Dunn later softened his stance, and called for a board of survey to inspect the building and to make a formal determination. Mr. Dunn retired before the board was fully assembled.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Mr. Dunn issued a make safe or demolish order. Mr. Dunn never issued the order.

In this recent aerial photo, an ever-shifting sandbar that has formed off Wasque Point near the breech is visible in the foreground. Fishermen take their chances when when wading out on the bar. Photo by Skip Bettencourt

The 69th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby begins at 12:01 am Sunday. It seems like it was just last week I was jigging for squid on State Beach in anticipation of this moment. How did it get here so fast?

Summer was fine, but I was quite happy to say goodbye to the traffic, crowds, and daily Obama golf bulletins. In September, we revert to Derby time. No need to set the clocks back or forward. Time is measured by wind and tides and rumors of fish.

The 2014 Derby features a separate contest for kayakers and some rule changes for fly fishermen. All the information is available online at mvderby.com or in the rules brochures. Kids Day is Sunday, Sept. 21. The awards ceremony is Sunday, Oct. 19.

If you are one of those misguided fishermen who does not buy a Derby button because you think you will not catch a Derby-winning fish, I have some advice: Buy a button. Lightning does strike in the Derby. There are numerous stories of people who went fishing without a button and regretted that decision. They tell themselves it doesn’t matter, but deep down, you can tell just by the way they say it, it does.

Fill in the blank

I have started to compose a news story.

“Fill-in-the-blank” drowned today after he stepped off a sandbar while fishing for striped bass off Wasque on the southeast corner of Martha’s Vineyard and was swept away in the treacherous current. The Coast Guard recovered Mr. Fill-in-the-blank following a brief search.

Mr. Fill-in-the-blank, an experienced fisherman, was not wearing a PFD or any other safety equipment when he waded out on an ever-shifting bar that has formed near the cut in Norton Point Beach in search of a Derby-winning fish.

Prior to the start of the well-known fishing tournament, Chris Kennedy, Martha’s Vineyard superintendent for The Trustees of Reservations, asked fishermen to exercise extreme caution when fishing near the cut. Mr. Kennedy said conditions change on a daily basis.

“Several of our rangers were called out a couple of nights ago at Wasque when our night ranger on Norton Point lost sight of several fishermen who had ventured onto the offshore bar more than a hundred feet off of Wasque while fishing the breach,” Mr. Kennedy told The Times last week. “Their lights suddenly went out, and our ranger didn’t know if they turned the lights off voluntarily or had been pulled off the bar. Luckily the fishermen safely made it back to shore without incident, but several of them had no PFDs or inflatable suspenders in case they went into the water. They were happy, they caught several stripers, but I shudder to think at what potential cost.”

Mr. Kennedy urged fishermen to use caution and common sense when venturing onto bars and jetties, especially at night. “Basic safety equipment, when wading at night, should be the first thing you grab out of the truck before heading down the beach,” he said. “Otherwise, help could be a long time in coming.”

Get the picture? I do not want to fill in the blank. Chris said the bar changes daily. What was safe one day may become dangerous the next.

Pre-Derby planning

"King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running: Songs & Stories of the Carolina Coast" echoes themes Islanders will find familiar.
“King Mackerel & The Blues Are Running: Songs & Stories of the Carolina Coast” echoes themes Islanders will find familiar.

Derby veterans know that the five-week fishing contest shares some qualities with a marathon. In a road race, the key is to pace yourself so you will have enough energy in the final miles to finish the contest.

In the Derby, the question of pacing has more to do with the endurance of your spouse — will the contest end before he or she has had it with your fishing schedule to the point that your fishing rods are in danger of being used for kindling?

Besides spooling reels with new line and sharpening hooks, a good pre-Derby fishing strategy should include any activity that will make your spouse think you are a pretty good guy, because believe me, in about three weeks she or he might have some doubts.

I have a suggestion that will whet your appetite for fishing, yet should meet any spouse’s criteria for a fun night out: Go out to dinner and then see the Coastal Cohorts at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse Friday and Saturday night perform “King Mackerel and the Blues are Running: Songs and Stories of the Carolina Coast.

My friend Ed Strong invited the trio to perform because he knows them well, he thinks they are very talented, and he thought their stories and songs, which focus on coastal living and the unique characters it attracts, would find a receptive audience on the Vineyard.

This is not opera. This is fun, entertaining music (sung in English) about events Islanders understand. A YouTube clip of a performance at the University of North Carolina contains the following lyrics: “Summertime is just about gone, all that’s left to think about is the fishin’ comin’ on …” Performances begin at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday night. Tickets are $50 for adults; $40 for seniors; $30 for students. Tickets are available online or by visiting the theater at 24 Church St. in Vineyard Haven. For more information, visit mvplayhouse.org.

Lessons from tragedy

From 1998 to 2001, Capt. W. Russell Webster was the commander of Coast Guard Group Woods Hole, now known as Sector Southeastern New England.

During his tour, Captain Webster, now retired, was instrumental in extending the Coast Guard’s emergency radio coverage to a so-called “black hole” behind Nomans Land in anticipation of later upgrades. The temporary fix was to place an antenna on Peaked Hill in Chilmark in 2000.

Captain Webster, a Coast Guard historian, was determined to rectify the lack of radio coverage in part because of what he had learned about the loss of Fairhaven fishermen Hokey Hokanson and his teenage son, Billy, on March 25, 1990.

Billy transmitted a brief, heavily garbled radio distress call. A hoax call immediately followed Billy’s cry for help, and believing that the two were connected, the Coast Guard did not launch rescue units for several days. The Hokansons’ deaths prompted a new anti-hoax law and helped lead to changes in Coast Guard search and rescue procedures.

In a newly published book, “The Sol e Mar Tragedy Off Martha’s Vineyard” (historypress.net), Captain Webster and his co-author and wife, journalist Elizabeth B. Webster, describe the events that unfolded following the loss of the Sol e Mar. This is a short, eye-opening read. To his credit, Captain Webster does not shy away from describing where the Coast Guard went wrong, in this case or several others: Overworked and inexperienced watchstanders, insensitive next-of-kin notification procedures, and a reliance on outdated technology all contributed to mistakes.

The recognition that mistakes were made and a determination to correct them is why the Coast Guard is better prepared than ever to fulfill its mission.

The Websters will be signing copies of their book from 11 am to 4 pm Saturday at the Secret Garden on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs.