Shark tagging off the Cape

Thanks to Marta for bringing this awesome shark expedition site to my attention. Ocearch is a serious tagging operation that catches Great Whites, hauls them onto a submersible sling, and then measures, tags, and samples these magnificent beasts before releasing them back to the sea.

They are currently having great success off of Cape Cod and have tagged two big sharks in the past week or so.

Once tagged, the sharks can be tracked online.

My Personal America’s Cup

When I grew up in the sixties and seventies I was into the America’s Cup the way most kids are into the Superbowl. It was one of those things that comes with growing up in New England and racing sailboats. The America’s Cup was the pinnacle of the sport, an event that the United States had never lost, in what I still think are the most beautiful boats ever designed and sailed by mankind: the 12-meter sloop.  The names of the skippers were like the names of famous race car drivers to me. Some people were into Sterling Moss, I was into Bus Mosbacher, Ted Hood, Ted Turner and Dennis Connor.

12-meter yachts were the standard class of sloop in which the America’s Cup was raced from the 1950s into the 1980s. The “12-meter” has nothing to do with the length of the boats, but is the result of a formula involving various measurements to arcane to delve into here.  The boats were made out of wood until the 1970s, when the rules were changed to permit steel, and eventually Fiberglas. By the 1990s they were gone, replaced by the gross over-commercialization of the sport that turned the boats into billboards and make the event an arms race for billionaires with bigger egos than souls.

Here’s the current state of affairs:

Once we had this:

Now we have this:

I blame it on RedBull, marketing departments, branding experts, and over-Adderalled dickheads who pay to watch technology and not sportsmanship. Now it’s called the “AC World Series” and the crews wear helmets. Bring back Charlie Barr and the J-Boats and ban the logos.

The beginning of the end came with  the infamous winged keel that the Australians snuck into the 1982 series (and won it, breaking the American hold on the Cup and threatening to rename it “The Australia’s Cup”), and suddenly the “purity” of the 12-meters was threatened (the rules that govern the America’s Cup, the “Deed of Gift” are beyond weird and were constantly changed by its longtime sponsor, The New York Yacht Club, however it pleased them) a threat that was realized in the stupid series of 1987 when New Zealand showed up with a monster maxi-yacht and the American skipper Dennis Connor countered in desperation with a speedy catamaran. Thus ended the 12-meter era, setting off a round of silly court cases, and today the Cup is raced in ridiculous (to my eye) extreme catamarans which require their crews to wear helmets and pads.

Thankfully, the 12-meter fleet of yesterday lives on in Newport, Rhode Island, the traditional battle ground for the Cup.  Last winter, while spending a weekend in Newport with my wife, I muttered something about wishing I could have sailed on a 12-meter. She told me to Google that thought, and a few dayss later I was spamming the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club’s email list with the suggestion that a dozen of us charter one of the boats for a sail in September. Twenty-four people signed up, trusted me with their deposits, and over the spring and summer I pulled together a half-day of sailing aboard the Columbia (winner in 1958) and the Heritage (a contender for the defense in 1970).

We carpooled to Newport on Saturday morning, our arrival coinciding with the annual Newport Boat Show, gathered on Bannister’s Wharf under grey skies, and counted heads until all were accounted for.  I called out the names of the two crews, having been advised by counsel to have the boats selected before arriving, and flipped a coin to choose which crew would sail which boat.  Then we split up for a day of match racing. Meredith from 12-Meter Charters herded us aboard a launch for the short ride out to the two  boats moored in the lee of Goat Island.

The skipper and two crew members stowed our stuff below decks, delivered the obligatory Coast Guard approved safety lecture, and within ten minutes we had the sails up and were gliding across Narragansett Bay towards Jamestown. Everyone started exchanging glances of surprise as the boat took off in the light air. This wasn’t like sailing a typical sailboat, this was more like sitting on top of a floating locomotive with the potential to turn into a bullet train.

I was disappointed it wasn’t windier and sunnier, but there was still hope as it was only 11 am. The front had already blown by and there were hints of sun peeking out to make things encouraging.

We raced informally by crossing each other’s sterns and then beating up to windward into the northwesterly breeze under the Jamestown Bridge to a bell buoy up by Gould’s Island where the Navy used to test fire torpedos. Heritage won the first race, credit taken by Judge Swartwood who had the privilege to steer the boat over the finish line. We taunted the Columbia in the best Monty Python and the Holy Grail sense of taunts , and then broke for a relazed lunch sail out into Block Island Sound. The sun came out. The box lunches came out. The wind started blowing, and we each took our turn at the wheel.

Here’s the picture that says it all: Heritage has the natural, vanished hull; Columbia is the white hull in the foreground. That’s me standing on the Heritage leaning against the boom.

The full photo set is on Flickr:

Having a chance to steer Heritage was like being a Formula One fan who gets to drive a classic Grand Prix car.   Here is me trying to look all nonchalant about the experience. I wasn’t. I actually got a little choked up thinking about my old writing teacher John Hersey, and his making me feel very jealous in 1978 when he told me about the time he got to steer Intrepid and used the locomotive simile.

The best part of the day? That actually happened the day before the sail when a taxi pulled into the driveway and my daughter stepped out, a surprise arrival from San Francisco thanks to her godfather Charlie Clapp’s incredibly thoughtful generosity. Charlie is a serious 12-meter junkie. As a kid growing up in Barrington, Rhode Island, the America’s Cup was literally happening in his back yard. This was his fourth sail aboard the boats. Hell, he even owns the shirt.

I’m definitely doing this again.

You can tune a piano but you can’t …..

… Tuna Fish. ten miles northeast of Chatham at Crab Ledge on a trolled Green Machine. There I was, stuffing my face with potato chips and watching the lines and squid bars bouncing in the wake of the Laura J (aka, “The Tractor of the Sea”) when one of the lines popped out of the outrigger clips. “Hmmm,” I thought. “I should fix that.”  I stood up, tried to horse the fluorescent yellow monofilament back into the clip when I realized there might be something on the other end of the line.

There was. A nice football-sized bluefin tuna which awaits me in the shop refrigerator.

Dead Neck Walk – Boat lives again

Trailer is repaired, boat is afloat, and the wife and I went for a lunchtime stroll on Dead Neck. I spied this Blue Heron sticking his neck out of a clump or arborvitae, surveying the moor. Nary a person to be seen on the beach.

Death, taxes and boat trailers

My skiff, the Tashmoo, was looking a little disheveled these past few weeks, ignored by me and never even taken out for a spin to keep her bottom clean, her engine purring and her various weak links not-so weak. Being ashamed of the beard of barnacles that rimmed the waterline, I pulled her out of the water on Sunday in between rain showers, rowing out for the first time in a month to see how she was doing.

Everything had gone to hell. The barnacles were merely a clue to the real neglect that lay within. The steering was frozen. The bilge pump had failed and nearly a foot of rain water sloshed over everything. The power tilt that raises and lowers the motor wasn’t working either. I was a bad owner and I had to pay.

So I bailed the rain water out, let the motor drop down into position, fired it up and let it cough and stutter for a few minutes while I whacked the steering rod with a clam rake and wrestled with the wheel until finally the salt and corrosion let loose and the motor would steer again. I cast off the mooring, backed away from the dinghy, and ran down the little channel out into to the harbor to open up the throttle (making sure Jared the harbormaster wasn’t around to bust me for making a wake). I pulled the transom plugs and put the boat up on a plane to drain the rest of the rainwater, noting that it didn’t take more than one weekend and a couple of tropical squalls to drive everyone off of Cotuit Bay for the season. I had the place to myself.

Water drained, I put the plugs back in and returned to the landing to haul the boat and deal with its ailments. I horsed the motor up without the power tilt, tossed out the little danforth anchor and backed the trailer down the concrete ramp with the Polar Bear Drowner, my wife’s bizarrely over-sized SUV. The trailer bounced over the cracks in the ramp, submerged itself with a gust of bubbles, and when the rear tires were in the water I stopped, put the car in park, and set the emergency brake.

Back to the skiff, back to the balky motor, and out I  drove into a tight circle to line up the bow with the license plate of the car for a gentle slide up onto the 12 year-old trailer’s rollers (which I had to rebuild at considerable cost of many bloody knuckles two years ago).  The barnacles crunched as the hull slipped up the rollers. As I listened with some satisfaction as the parasites-with-the-world’s-longest-penis-in-relation-to-their-body-size got flattened. Of course the Karma God decided to bend me over and teach me a lesson for my barnacle murder. An immense fart bubble surfaced from the general vicinity of the starboard trailer tire. It had gone flat. Ruptured. Deflated. Punctured.

Now a long digression on boat trailers. First you spend $1000 to $2000 dollars for a galvanized frame equipped with a winch, a hitch, a set of rubber rollers and an axle bracing two wheels, two bearings, and two big old-fashioned looking leaf-springs.  Add a pair of red brake lights,   safety chains, wiring harness, and you end up with a recipe for perfect failure. Murphy in Murphy’s Law makes his home inside a boat trailer. He comes out when the trailer is rolling at 60 miles per hour through the South Station tunnel in Boston, the Cross Bronx in New York, or the middle of a crowded boat ramp on Labor Day.

Trailers are meant to humiliate men in many ways. First is the ass-backwards way they have to be backed up. This is a serious test of one’s saltiness here on Cape Cod. I have seen Federal judges fail at trailer backing. Turn the steering wheel one way and the trailer goes another. If you don’t back up trailers for a living then every time you do it you have to rewire your brain, craning your gaze backwards over the seats and out the back window at the barely visible end of the trailer which swings wildly one way and then the other as you spin the steering wheel to and fro.

Now submerge this contraption in saltwater and watch it slowly die. The first thing to go are the brake lights. They submerge, flood and short out almost instantly (which is why the commercial clammers rip them off and rewire them onto a 2×4″ that they strap on top of the boat where the electrics will stay dry. You can assiduously rinse your trailer off with fresh water each and every time you use it, but that won’t stop the cancer.

So now you get your boat onto the trailer. My cousin Pete says his YouTube guilty pleasure is trailer bloopers. I strongly recommend the genre as a leading example of man’s penchant for public humiliation and failure. There are many ways to screw things up. You can gun the boat onto the trailer in what we locally call a Bass Master Exit; you can clean, wax and preen over the boat while parked on the ramp and a dozen other trailers wait their turn, or you can be intoxicated and drive away with the wife and kids still sitting in the boat like beauty queens on a Rose Bowl float.

Driving a trailer with a boat on it is a total sphincter-clenching hell. I have seen boats bounce right off the trailer because the driver didn’t secure it with tie-down straps. But the real devil is the hubs, where the ball bearings let the wheels spin around the medieval axle. Trailer owners are told to be very  paranoid about their hubs. My trailer, which is a dozen years old, has never had any hub maintenance. Why should it? I only use the thing three times a year to go from my yard (behind the tin shed known as Little Jamaica) to the launch ramp at the bottom of Old Shore road (an even 400-meter round trip). The first round trip is in February after the ice leaves the harbor so I can go clamming, the second is in September to clean the bottom after the messy summer, and the third is in December to get the boat out before the ice. I don’t drive the boat to New Jersey, New Hampshire, or even Barnstable. I just haul it up and down the Ropes Hill to and from my yard. In those 12 years I would estimate the trailer has done maybe 50 miles of driving. So why worry about the bearings?

Why worry indeed. My friend David Rickel had saved a phone message from my other buddy Doctor Dan, who borrowed Mister Rickel’s old trailer to fetch a new Cotuit Skiff he had built from New Canaan back to the Cape for its maiden voyage in Cotuit. There are many things wrong in that previous sentence.

First: Cotuit Skiff. Cotuit Skiff’s are where trailers go to die. There is still a 100 yard groove in the hill on Putnam Avenue from Old Post Road to Lowell Avenue because one eager Skiff owner lost their trailer wheel and decided to forge onwards and dragged the stub of the axle through the pavement like a plow. I have seen skiffs fall off of trailers. I have seen 30 of them get hauled in a single afternoon to beat an oncoming hurricane, and each and every time some trailer fails under the pressure. Skiff trailers are particularly neglected to the point that only one or two are known to be trustworthy thanks to the care of their owners. The rest are failures waiting to happen.

Second: “Borrowed.” A trailer which can be borrowed is a trailer that is unloved, un-maintained, and likely to fail once it gets a mile away from the thicket of briar and golden rod where it rusted for the years before the borrower arrived looking for a favor.

Third: Route 95. Combine a skiff with a questionably maintained trailer with an interstate highway …. the result is the phone message from Doctor Dan to Mister Rickel. This recording occurred one afternoon in June in 1993 and was made in the breakdown lane of Route 195 on the old elevated highway that used to twist through Providence, Rhode Island. The bearing had seized, overheated and eventually caught on fire, forcing Doctor Dan to pull over and throw handfuls of road sand onto it.  The phone call, if transcribed, roughly went something like this (add in the sound of semis barreling past in the background at 70 mph).


Mister Rickel eventually called Doctor Dan and told him to strip off the license plate (which had expired anyway, no one ever remembers to register their trailer in Cotuit) and abandon the wreckage where it lay. This was done, and doubtlessly the Rhode Island State Police will read this and track Dan down to collect their fine for abandoning a menace to the public safety on their highway.

Back to last Sunday. So I see the big stale air bubble float up from the rough area of the punctured tire, sigh, and do what every good Cotusion would do, I forge on and drag it up the hill to the house anyway. The plate is expired. The brake lights don’t work. The only thing good about the situation is there isn’t a swarm of yellow jackets living inside of the trailer like there was six years ago, a swarm that got very annoyed when I backed their nest into the bay and ruined their lives.

I got into the Polar Bear Drowner, and dragged the mess up Old Shore Road, watching the flat tire shred itself in the right rearview mirror. A quick left onto Main Street, 50 yards to the drive way and I was home, safe and unobserved by the Barnstable Police Department.

I unhooked the hitch from the ball, listened to the beard of barnacles gasp and sputter in the air, and examined the disaster before me. Here was 2000 pounds of Fiberglas and Honda sitting on 12 years of corroded Karavan trailer, with a flat tire. So off to the hardware store I went for a jack, a lug wrench, a can of Fix-A-Flat, some Liquid Wrench and a lot of false hope.

Once equipped I spent an hour in the gloaming banging and squirting and swearing at the five lug nuts that were so corroded they had blossomed into fat little roses of rust. After scaling off that rust, I was left with little lug-nut ghosts that weren’t going to budge for any man. Stymied, I broke out a scraper and a rubber mallet, spread a blue tarp under the hull, and knocked off about 20 pounds of barnacles, cleaning up with an application of that lovely substance called Hull Cleaner.

Yesterday Cousin Pete came over with an electric impact wrench and was able to get two of the lug nuts off. The third sheared off, leaving a stub of half a bolt. So now it was time to call in the professionals. I phoned Peck’s Boats and John Peck came over, inspected the sad wreck, and told me to buy a new trailer. Sure, I said,  my new trailer is spending its Freshman year in college, and that doesn’t solve the dilemma of what to do with the boat still sitting on the broken one. John asked me if I had used heat on the lugs. Sure, I said, brandishing my new propane torch. He sneered — for John builds his own trailers, big monsters that can haul 50 foot sailboats from Cape Cod to Florida and back again — and said he would be back with a real torch.

Soon enough he bounced over the lawn in his Subaru. In the back were two huge cylinders and a torch. He hooked it all up, sparked it ablaze and set to cutting the frozen nuts off with pure hissing acetylene, sparks popping and snapping over his head while I looked on stupidly trying not to look at the light. Five minutes later and the wheel was on the ground, the lug bolts banged out, and I was ready to go wheel and tire shopping.





I suppose, once the boat is back in the water, I could consider doing away with the concept of a trailer altogether, and do what this brilliant jet-ski owner has done.

On the nobility of Last Place

The Red Sox are in last place and all is right with the world. Why is this right and proper and not cause for lamentation? Letme count the ways:

  1. Tickets: Now I will starting moving up the waiting list for season tickets a little faster.
  2. Pain builds character: After suffering through the special circles of hell in 1967, 1975, 1978, 1986 and 2003 (I had to completely block the team out of my consciousness from 1986 to 2005: a dark and angry 19-year walk in the wasteland) this season and the last feel right and proper. All is now as it should be.
  3. After the binge comes the purge: Ownership took a $250 million salary dump last month and that feels good. Hell, the salaries of our disabled list is bigger than most team’s entire payroll.
  4. They are  the “Boston” Red Sox: screw the concept of the “Red Sox Nation” — Red Sox country starts in potato country up in Aroostook County, Maine and ends in Waterbury, Connecticut. I don’t need to see a yuppie in a Red Sox hat in Istanbul’s Tahir Square to know the team has global brand recognition. Stick to your own team please. That’s why the league expanded to your city in the first place.
  5. The End of the Pink Ass-Hats: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Do away with the Wave, the pink caps, Wally the Mascot, Sweet Caroline, and stop calling it the “Green Monstah”: it is the “Wall.”
  6. Bring back Tito: okay, he got spanked with a year in Bristol, Connecticut for losing control of the 2011 team, now it’s time to bring back Francona and get things back on track.

Let’s talk about sharks

So the Summer of the Shark comes to a conclusion here on Cape Cod and with it comes the solid realization that I now swim in the same waters as the ocean’s ultimate apex predator. That revives the aquaphobia I developed in the early 1970s thanks to Steven Spielberg and the filming of Jaws just across the Sound in Edgartown. The opening scene where the girl is chomped during a moonlit skinny dip kept me out of the water unless I was pushed or fell in. I’ve always had a serious sea critter phobia — harkening back to the days when the old man made me quahog in the mud with him with ust my bare feet and some unseen crab would take a nip at my toes and send me out of the water screaming and doing my best Jesus-Christ-Water-Walker impression.

(my buddy Woody Filley’s brother Jonathan is the drunk preppy chasing poor Chrissie into the water for her Last Swim)

Now when I dive off the sailboat at Sampson’s Island to scrub the slime off the waterline all I can think about is my two legs churning away like two big white Slim Jims for some lost Great White to come amputate for me. There’s no doubt these things are swimming around out there. I bet there are at least 100 Great Whites in the Cape’s waters and the odds one of them has poked its nose into Cotuit Bay is …. well, not improbable. Heck, it used to be a rite of summer to fish for Brown Sharks in the channel between the point of the island and Riley’s beach. Big six footers that were a blast to fight on rod and reel.

The fact that a Great White got stuck inside of Hadley’s Harbor in Naushon a couple years ago isn’t lost on me. Nor have I forgotten the fact that people have been bitten (as recently as this summer in Truro) and died (in the 30s in Buzzard’s Bay. A big dead one washed up on the rocks in Westport a week ago.

So they are here to stay thanks to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Thanks to that federal legislation it is now illegal to go whack a seal on the head Wolf Larson-style. The lobstermen of Maine were alleged to carry a 30.30 with them to pop seals in the head in the belief they were plundering the lobster traps. Whatever happened, the reality is the seal population on Cape Cod has exploded with an estimated 15,000 hanging out on the outer beaches of the Cape and Nantucket. The video of a Great White snacking on a seal carcass off of Monomoy has done nothing to assuage my phobias. As long as there is food, there will be sharks (which are also illegal to kill by the way).

So the question is this, is it time to kill the seals or do we stay out of the water? I’m not in favor of killing one — shark or seal — but the proposal is on the table. I figure it’s their water and we’re supposed to sit on top of it, or on the edge of it, but not swim in it.

New toy: Asus-Google Nexus 7 Tablet

I once vowed that the original iPad I purchased in the spring of 2009 would be my last Apple tablet, and a couple weeks ago that indeed was proven true when I bought Google’s 7″ tablet, the Nexus 7, running Android’s Jellybean operating system. Sure I was tempted by the subsequent releases of Apple’s groundbreaking tablet, but … in the end, I object to it on the basis of cost, and most importantly, the “velvet cage” feeling I have whenever I try to live in the Apple world of iTunes, iCloud, and disabled commerce functions by any app that dares to circumvent Apple’s deathgrip (Kindle, Amazon music, etc.)

I went with the 16 GB version for $250 and in the week I’ve been using it I can declare it to be the most ergonomically lovable device I’ve ever owned.  The difference between a seven-inch device and a ten-inch one is significant given that the former can be clamped in one hand and the other is a constant juggling act. There’s a reason Amazon stuck to the dimensions of trade-paperback with the Kindle, and the Nexus followed, avoiding the big pane of glass that Apple and the early Android tablet makers favored. Yes, Apple is likely to introduce a smaller tablet soon — probably a bit over 7 inches, and it remains to be seen if such a pocket-sized tablet will be priced anywhere down below $300, where Amazon is obviously subsidizing the cost of its Fire, and Google with the Nexus.

Jobs apparently “detested” the smaller form factor, but I have to disagree with the maestro on this one. As a “tweener” device between a smart phone and full screen tablet or laptop, the Nexus 7 is definitely a “Goldilocks device” that feels just right.

Asus manufactures the device and does a surprisingly good job for a Taiwanese brand I used to associate with cheap products with poor fit and finish. What advantage Asus has in being Google’s manufacturer of choice remains to be see. It certainly helped HTC when the first Google phone was released, but hasn’t done much for the Chromebook manufacturers.

The Jellybean experience is far and away smoother and more functional than any preceding Android build. The user interface is optimized for the larger screen and indeed, as I installed my preferred apps, I saw most have been updated to take advantage of Jellybean’s look and feel.

This thing goes with me everywhere. Literally in the side pocket of my suit coat. I tether it to my Galaxy S III’s hotspot when I need a data connection, use it as a bluetooth music remote driving a set of Jawbone speakers, and am tempted to dash mount it in the car.

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