Sunshine and tight lines

Rainbow Place celebrates graduation on the Skipper.

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Spinning reels and joyous laughter filled the hot and briny air aboard the Skipper, as the 2019 Rainbow Place preschool graduating class celebrated its accomplishments with scup and sea bass aplenty.

It was a fishing frenzy out at a spot known to Island salts as “the Rockpile.”

Some children who had never caught a fish or held a fishing pole before pulled up scup after scup — some giggling and making “eww” noises, and others utterly fascinated by the many-finned, alienlike sea robin.

All the while, Capt. John Potter and first mate Garreth Heath raced around the boat helping kids remove fish from their lines and toss them back into the water.

“Wow, that’s a monster!” Potter shouted as he tossed a sizable scup over the rail and stuck another hunk of squid on an excited kid’s hook. “This is what it’s all about, I see kids catch their first fish every single day — it doesn’t get any better than that, let me tell you,” Potter said.

Potter explained to the group of children that both of his sons went to Rainbow Place, and so now he enjoys bringing graduates out to fish, just as he did with his young children.

“My kids are a lot older now, but when they used to come out when they were little, they would always kiss the fish!” Potter said. And some kids did perform the age-old ceremony of kissing the fish, while others preferred to sit back and watch the action while munching on some Goldfish crackers.

Eddie Cottle, 5, of Edgartown stood by the red railing of the Skipper and jigged his pole to attract hungry fish. “Fish on!” Potter shouted as Eddie’s rod tip began to twitch. Eddie reeled fervently until a flailing sea robin emerged from the water.

Madelyn Ward, 5, of Vineyard Haven watched the fish with enthusiasm, and remarked on its odd appearance. “That fish has so many fins,” she said. “It looks really slimy, yuck!”

After reeling in another scup, Willow Rosbeck, 5, of Edgartown did a fish tally. “I caught 10 scup; some were big and others were really tiny,” Willow said. Willow said she’s never tried eating scup before, but she really enjoys eating shrimp and octopus.

Colby Vought, 5, of Vineyard Haven said he loves to fish, and even participated in the Kids’ Trout Derby at Duarte’s Pond this year. “I caught so many fish today. I like using squid as bait, because at the trout derby I used PowerBait, and I didn’t catch anything,” Colby exclaimed.

While the kids were fishing, Potter turned up the radio as WMVY took a break from some hit classics to give a special shout-out to the Rainbow Place graduates.

As Heath unspooled a bird’s nest of tangled line, he looked around and smiled at all the exuberant children reeling in their catches. “I used to run a sport fishing boat in Key West. I remember seeing a 6-year-old get her first fish, and the look in her eyes was like nothing I had ever seen. It is such an amazing feeling — like nothing else in the world,” Heath said.

Cindy Andrews of Rainbow Place said she enjoys letting the kids exercise their independence. She remarked on how Potter helps kids if they need it, but doesn’t control the fishing experience for them.

“John is just incredible with the kids. He knows exactly what he is doing, and you can tell he gets so much enjoyment out of it also,” Andrews said.

Andrews said kids will look back on the memory of this fishing trip for years to come, whether they become master anglers, or decide that fishing isn’t exactly their day at the beach.

Because many of the kids have lived on Martha’s Vineyard their whole lives, Andrews said it is easy for them to take their beautiful and unique home for granted. But experiences like these, she said, remind kids and parents how lucky they are to live on the Island. “Not many kids in the world get to go out and fish for their graduation. We are so incredibly fortunate to live here and have these opportunities available to us,” Andrews said.

Andrews also mentioned how the parent chaperones on the fishing trip get a special chance to spend quality time with their kids out on the water.

Dave Gaffey and Bob Branca, two of the parent chaperones, prepared to regain their land legs and step off the Skipper with their kids at the end of the journey

Gaffey said it’s “just awesome” to see his son Jackson having so much fun with his friends. “This is one of the greatest things about living here, you get so many unique opportunities. And you get to show your kids all the special things about the Island,” Gaffey said.