Thirty Miles East Of Nantucket: Station 44018

NDBC – Station 44018

Here I was at dawn on Saturday morning, three hours after departing Popponesset Bay aboard the Champagne, a 23′ SeaHunter. It was flat calm under a full moon and the air got colder and colder as we left the shallow waters of Nantucket Sound for the deep blue briny of the Atlantic.

As false dawn pinked up the eastern horizon we passed this buoy, a weather station maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — known as the “BB” buoy. It was foggy, but I saw the flukes of a whale’s tail break the surface before we were utterly socked in.

We trolled five lines across the thermoclines (differences in water temperature), hoping to lure a pelagic out of the emptiness and into the boat. I had eagle-eyes and saw bluefin tuna break the surface twice, sightings which gave us hours of false hope. The VHF radio was alive with cryptic chatter between fishing boats: “What temperature is the water where you are?” “Are you fishing where you fished yesterday? If so, I am two miles northwest of you.”

We didn’t see another boat for six hours, yet the radar showed they were all around us. It was like being in a vast sensory deprivation tank. A quarter mile of visibility, grey ocean, grey fog, and the diluted disc of the sun overhead.

We came home at 4:30 in the afternoon. I was exhausted, but it was cool to have been so far out in the ocean. Somewhat frightening when I thought of the possibilities of what could go wrong, but delightful given the calm conditions.

Skies without contrails

The Sunday paper is especially thick this morning, burdened down by the fifth anniversary attacks on the World Trade center. The television stations have been portentious with teasers for their five-year recollections, and commentators ask the question: when will it happen again?

There are signal events in history that we all live through, track marks in our lives that we can all point to and say, “I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard….”

My father was in the boat shop on a cold Sunday evening in December, listening to the radio with his father when Pearl Harbor was announced. I was playing with blocks on the black and white linoleum floor of my parent’s house in Houston, Texas when JFK was shot, watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon in the living room of Aunt Betty’s house ….

There will be a lot of this in the next few days. A lot of “I remember” and “It will happen again” writing. We trade our stories and anecdotes: “I know a guy who talked to his brother standing on the roof of the north tower when it collapsed and he’s been completely unhinged ever since ….”

I identify 9/11 with the weather.

Any cloudless blue sky in late August or early September makes me recall it. Walking through Terminal A of the Delta Shuttle in Boston makes me recall it.

Here’s my story:

I flew out of Logan that Tuesday morning on my way to LaGuardia. I am still chilled by the idea that I was in the same airport, on the same morning, headed in the same direction as the terrorists. I am chilled that they got to Logan on the same commuter airline I flew for years to Manhattan, Colgan Air. I arrived in the city an hour before they did, took a car into the city and through the Midtown Tunnel to my office on 51st and Park. Stopped at the Starbucks in the lobby and was in the elevator, on my way to my desk, when a bicycle messenger said, in a joking tone: “A plane hit the World Trade Center.”

I thought about King Kong. I thought it was a Cessna. I thought it was a traffic helicopter.

I walked into my office and saw the tower ablaze.

Like most of the world I watched the rest of the disaster unfold on television. My phone rang — friends were calling from around the country to check on me. I made arrangements to return to Boston. No rental cars were available, so I found my two Boston colleagues and discussed our options. Stay in the city. Take a ferry to New Jersey and work out a solution from there. Walk to the South Bronx.

After the collapse we left the building and walked to Grand Central. I saw people in the crowds I hadn’t seen for years. F-16s from Otis Air Force Base, five miles from my home on Cape Cod flew down Park Avenue. Grand Central was choked with people, dotted here and there by survivors who were completely covered in dust, standing out like snowmen in the mobs.

There was a Metro North leaving for New Haven. We boarded it. Cells phone didn’t work. I read the wire news on my Palm through an early wireless modem and shared updates with my colleagues. We were met in New Haven by a colleague’s husband and driven to Logan, arriving there around midnight. The airport was roadblocked but the State Police let us in to get our cars from the parking garage. The garage was adjacent to the airport hotel where the families of the dead on the planes were gathering. I found my car and drove home.

I couldn’t return to work for the next two weeks. I went fishing by myself in Nantucket Sound and did a lot of thinking. There were no planes in the skies and the skies remained as blue as they did that Tuesday morning, only without contrails.