The Derby committee, parents and kids could not have asked for finer weather Sunday. By the time the sun rose over the horizon, hundreds of children already lined the rails of the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority (SSA) wharf.
Longtime Derby committee member Cooper Gilkes estimated the annual morning fishing event attracted a record turnout of more than 300 kids. And the squid and sand eels dangling at the ends of hundreds of fishing rods attracted a fair share of fish.
In the predawn darkness SSA terminal manager Leigh Cormie unlocked the terminal gates at 6 am. Waiting kids and parents hurried for one of the prime spots along the rail on the only day in the entire year fishing is allowed from the dock. Unfortunately, one event marred an otherwise picture perfect day.
I try to never miss Derby Kids' Day. Even in the foulest weather the fun of seeing little boys and girls treat a scup like a world class catch is a reminder of what fishing is, or should be, all about. But I could not make it this year.
Donald O'Shaughnessy holds up his winning bluefish.
Although I was not on the pier I heard the story late Sunday afternoon when I stopped by Coop's to pick up the results. Mark Bergeron, who'd been fishing with his son, saw the whole incident and described it for me. Later, I talked to several other people who provided similar accounts.
A charter captain at the helm of "Dazed and Confused" brought his boat tight into the dock intent on securing some bait for his morning charter customers. Several of the adults on the dock shouted to him that it was kids' day and he was interfering with the fishing.
I am told he responded that he had every right to be there. The language got hotter on both sides.
A hail of invective and squid with a few sinkers mixed in was directed at the charter captain, his boat, the mate and the paying customers, a family that no doubt returned home with an exciting story about fishing on Martha's Vineyard.
I was told that at the point the charter captain challenged his attackers with a beating. The adults manning the ramparts invited him to scale the castle walls.
The captain finally wised up and hit the throttle. He left some very angry parents and upset and scared kids in his wake.
Bonnie Trapp of Edgartown, a veteran of kids' day, was fishing with her 12-year-old son. Bonnie said it was unfortunate that the kids had to witness adults using language and conducting themselves so poorly. She described the entire incident as "totally senseless."
It was elbow-to-elbow fishermen on the pier.
Leigh Cormie, the SSA terminal manager and de facto host, was fishing with his child. I spoke with him Monday and he was still furious.
The boat "Dazed and Confused" and its owner Chris Peters are well known on the Island. In 2001 Chris and his crew fishing in the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament subdued a world record 1,221-pound mako shark. Chris, a professional charter captain who operates a 64-foot sport fisherman and makes his home most of the year in Florida, has a reputation as a first-rate fisherman and a good guy.
Which is why a number of people standing on the dock who jumped to the conclusion that Chris was at the helm could not understand what had taken place.
But Chris was not at the helm. His friend and employee, Matt Arieta of Kingston, 28, was at the wheel.
On the Vineyard for a golf tournament, Chris told me that when he returned from playing at Farm Neck Sunday he did not at first understand why he'd received angry phone and e-mail messages.
When he learned what had happened, Chris, who grew up fishing the Derby, was mortified. "I wouldn't be where I am today without fishing," he told me Monday morning during a telephone conversation.
Robert and Bobby Olcott check the bait. Photos by Ralph Stewart
He called everyone who had left a message. He called Derby committee members to apologize and see what he could do to make it right.
Chris also took the keys out of the boat and placed a for sale sign in the window. "It is done for the season," he said.
On Sunday my first thought after hearing the story was that the Derby committee should bring back keel hauling, the 18th-century discipline meted out in the British navy. It is easy to dislike the villain in any story.
On Monday afternoon Matt came to see me in The Times office. He was not there to offer any excuses. He wanted to place an ad apologizing to the Vineyard and all the people on the dock that morning. I recommended a letter to the editor (see page 16.
"I'm not trying to defend myself," Matt told me. "I just want to apologize and make sure people know that the Peters [family] had nothing to do with it."
Matt told me he is not an Islander and did not know anything about kids' day and just assumed the people on the dock were Derby fishing. He thought he had every right to be there and he could get in and get out with some bait.
There have been times I have bitten my tongue rather than say something to another fishermen when kids are present. I asked him why he hadn't just left the area.
Kid's Day Derby results
Grand overall: David Packer, age 7, 19.25-inch striped bass.
Largest scup: Noah Washerman, 11, 13-inch scup.
Through 8 years old: 1. Donald O'Shaughnessy, 7, 18-inch bluefish; 2. Brahmin Thurber, 7, 17-inch fluke; 3. Arthur Strople, 8, 17-inch bluefish.
12-14 years old: 1. Lynn Francis, 12, 17.75-inch fluke; 2. Chris Costello, 13, 17.5-inch fluke; 3. Hanna Pierson, 12, 17-inch fluke.
It all happened so fast, he said, and escalated out of control. Squid and lead weights bounced off the boat and he got angry. "I don't blame them," he said. "It's their day and I didn't know it." He had made a poor decision and now he was paying for it. He described his close relationship with the Peters family and Chris, who now refused to speak with him. Near tears, he told me, "I feel like I really let him down. I've lost a friend and a boss."
Matt had gone to apologize to Coop that morning. His next stop was Leigh at the SSA. On Tuesday I spoke to Ed Jerome, Derby president. He told Matt the Derby always needed help on the fillet table and Matt said he would be glad to help out as long as he remained on the Island.
Ed said Matt was genuinely apologetic. "I think he realized the magnitude of what he did," said Ed.
By the end of my conversation with Matt I was sympathetic. I have certainly made my share of mistakes and wished I could rewind life.
More than that, I respected the way Matt was dealing with the situation. It has become commonplace for people, particularly for individuals in positions of responsibility, to blame mistakes and errors of judgment on others or on circumstances beyond their control.
There was no spin control. Matt did not duck the calls or leave the Island. He went to talk face-to-face with people he knew were very angry and provided a good example.
"So what were you thinking?' I asked Matt before he left.