Unintended consequences of jetties

I read with interest the news reports of the massive erosion to Sandwich’s beaches following the blizzard that hit that northside coast head on with 70 mph winds and big storm surge inflated seas two weeks ago. What I was unaware of was the simmering resentment by the town over the big pair of jetties that guard the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal, jetties built at the turn of the century when the canal was completed, put there by the Army Corps of Engineers to keep the entrance open and flowing.

I mention this only because of the widely held belief here in Cotuit that the Wianno Cut and its two jetties are responsible for the present situation where Dead Neck is starved of sand from its eastern end by the jetties, a situation the owners of the island — 3 Bays and Mass Audubon — believe can only be temporarily relieved by dredging sand from the growing western, Cotuit-end of the island and piping it back to the eroded section. As I’ve written before here, the littoral drift of sand is not a straight-forward, perpendicular dynamic where waves push and pull sand in and out of a beach, but where sand flows along the beach, driven by the prevailing winds and currents. A jetty interrupts that flow, backing up sand “upstream” while starving everything “downstream.

The situation in Sandwich is deplorable enough that the town is telling the Feds to fix it since the Canal and its jetties are Federal property. Not so with the Wianno Cut, where I believe the cut was sponsored and paid for by the town (initially with a wooden, planked jetty) at the urging of the people of Osterville who wanted easy access to Nantucket Sound.

Quoting the Cape Cod Times (paywall in effect):

“A big frustration for some is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Town officials believe a source of the erosion problem is the Cape Cod Canal, which is controlled by the Corps. A jetty system built in the early 1900s to keep sediment from building up in the canal is starving the beach of sand needed to replenish the dune system.

“The end result: Scusset Beach has too much sand and the coastline from Town Neck to Spring Hill doesn’t have enough, Selectman James Pierce said.

“I agree with others,” Pierce said. “The feds caused the problem and the feds should pay to fix it.””

And speaking of Nantucket, fans of whaling history know the story of how that port’s dominance of the whaling fishery ended in the mid-19th century when its harbor entrance was obscured by a sandbar, leading the novel and desperate measure of building a floating dry dock known as “The Camel” to lift whaling ships over the bar and into the city. The failure of the harbor and the Camel solution are widely regarded as the reason New Bedford took over from Nantucket as the primary whaling city on the East Coast. There’s a great article on the Nantucket Bar and efforts to overcome it at the Nantucket Historical Society’s website.

On Latitudes and Moral Superiority

I had no problems waking up on Sunday morning to white-out blizzard-ish conditions and making the guilty decision not to drive to Boston to compete in the world indoor rowing championships, aka the CRASH-B Sprints. While I have no doubt I could have four-wheeled it up Route 3 and made my 11 am race at Boston University’s hockey arena without any problems, I realized as I lay in my warm bed at 6 am, wind gusts ratting the windows and doors, that driving 70 miles in a snow storm to subject myself to about seven-minutes of aerobic, lactic acid soaked hell was the definition of a competitive disorder and I would be far happier lounging on the couch in front of the fire drinking a snifter of armagnac and munching on cheese and crackers reading Shelby Foote’s The Civil War while a pot of hearty Portuguese kale soup simmered in the kitchen. And so I did just that, venturing out into the miserable windy storm just once around 3 pm to walk the dog down to the dock, re-fill the bird feeders and heated bird bath, and wonder why in the world I live in this god forsaken place.

My best friend Dan did make the effort and I had the pleasure of catching a glimpse of him on the live video feed of our heat courtesy of Concept 2 on my tablet. That I have any guilt and remorse for not going — my second year sitting out the event — is evident in this post. Dan broke the magic seven-minute threshold which for any 54-year old man is a commendable achievement. And so I will head to the gym later today and flog myself in the eternal quest to stave off the wolf pawing at my middle-aged door and try to lay off the cheese and crackers in the depth of this winter of our discontent.

I suppose harsh  northern climates can be given some credit to the rise of indoor-pursuits such as the arts and sciences because those of us who dwell in the darker, colder latitudes have to do something with the long winters to while away the time. Some of us discover things like calculus or write a majestic symphony… my grandfather had an awesome model train set. I try to persuade myself the Spartan mindset of a housebound northerner must be more intellectual than being pool-side at the Fountainbleu drinking a rum-drink and ogling the girls in their bikinis. What is it about northerners that equates hardship and harshness with a higher calling and moral superiority? Does pain truly build character? Is it true that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing? Is there a Nordic-Anglo sensibility that regards a cold winter in a superior sense of self-flagellation and denial, lording it over the indolent tropics with their siestas and easy-living in Margaritaville? Do people who take cold showers have an edge over a beach bum? This is well-tilled philosophical ground used to justify European imperialism in the 19th century and I won’t drift into an uninformed disquisition best left to someone like Jared Diamond.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining that I can’t go for a row on the harbor or wear shorts outside this cold President’s Day morning because I actually look forward to the winter because I need dramatic seasons, love the weather, and worry that I will spend my old age in some shuffle-board community where the climate is constant and every day is the same.  I look at the senior citizens in the village –the ones who actually retired here and not in some planned community hell like Marco Island — and tip my hat to their decision not to follow the demographic herd south. On the other hand, I do dream of a life divided between Cotuit from May to November and somewhere idyllic, like Harbour Island on Eleuthera, from December to April. Alas, the money truck hasn’t run me over yet, and so I continue to slog it out in a place where wind chill is a factor and not SPF.

Here’s a few links to sources on the topic of latitude and IQ, in other words the theory best summed up by Jimmy Buffett in “Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes. Fascinating stuff with some interesting theories that are highly controversial but interesting to ponder nonetheless.

  • The Utne Reader in 2011 on IQs being highest in the northern states: “According to a University of Central Missouri study,  states with cooler average temperatures are more likely to have populations with higher IQs—estimated from scores on a standardized test administered to students. 
  • The best known authority and promoter of the latitude/IQ correlation is Richard Lynn, who’s work I have not read, but who is the lightning rod around the theory of race and IQ. He’s the most cited source if one Googles “latitude and intelligence.”


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