In a baseball state of mind

I painted the bottom of the boat yesterday and realized as I got more and more woozy from the fumes of the bottom paint (nothing like a lungful of a substance designed to kill barnacles and slime to make one feel good about one’s self) that it’s one of my favorite chores — not because of the satisfaction of the job well done — but because of the simple pure pleasure of listening to a baseball game on the radio.

Even though the radio broadcast a terrible game as  the Red Sox went down in flames on Mother’s Day,  listening to them do so, while outside on a splendid May afternoon, paint brush in hand, is one of those quintessential multitasking things that make me happy.

Then, this morning, in a grand birthday gesture, the Red Sox ticket office phoned to let me know my patient stint on the season ticket waiting list was over and I am now an official season ticket holder. I decided to start small and took seven games in the bleachers — where it all began for me so many years ago — and must confess to a feeling of personal real estate ownership out there by the Pesky Pole in right field in section L43, Row 32, on the aisle in seats 1&2. This is my view more or less.

At the hardware store yesterday — on one of three trips for screws, nuts, washers, etc. — the guy behind the register saw my Cotuit Kettleers hat, the nasty sweat-stained one I use for painting, and asked when the season was going to start: “June 12 at home against Orleans,” I replied, a Wednesday I will make sure I am in Cotuit for and not behind my desk in New York City.

The Kettleer newsletter arrived this weekend with the good news that the Cotuit Athletic Association has renewed Coach Mike Roberts’ contract for another three years. He’s been with the Kettleers since 2003 and is a genuinely wonderful man, the kind of guy who appears out of nowhere on the morning of the Library’s annual book sale to help lug boxes of books out of the basement and onto the tables set up on the front lawn. Coach Roberts is a baseball legend. He coached the Tarheels for a very long time, is the father of Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts, and headmaster of the Roberts School of Cape Cod Small Ball, his annual training camp for the best  collegiate freshmen and sophomore ball players in the intricacies of the hit-and-run, sacrifice bunts, the double-steal, and even, swear to god, the hidden ball trick. One of his proteges, Vanderbilt’s Mike Yaztrkemski, was the subject of a great Tyler Kepner profile in the Sunday New York Times.

With a new snackbar and restroom, the ball park is looking sharp for the 2013 season, testimony to the CAA’s fundraising efforts and the loyalty of Cotuit’s fans.

Sharpening the hooks

The lilacs are about to bloom, the lily-of-the-valley is coming up behind the kitchen and my birthday is only days away which can only mean one thing:

The fish are back.

Or should be back. They weren’t here  last weekend. I went out twice and was skunked both times, but that’s part of the fun of spring fishing. Fisher, Cousin Pete and I kept the local waters honest on Sunday with a brave slog out of the Wianno Cut to Lone Rock in the Good Ship Wet looking for squid. Pete saw the squid fleet arrive and depart a few days before, so either the squid run isn’t happening this year, or the squidders got out too early because the Cape is  experiencing a delayed spring with lower than usual water temps brought on by a thoroughly shitty winter. Who knows. Maybe this weekend.

On Sunday we cast our squid jigs down to the bottom, bounced them up and down —  little pink torpedos festooned with pins which supposedly tick off the squid who attack them in the belief they are fish after their eggs. These are good eating squid and the big fleet of commercial fishermen who line the horizon of Vineyard and Nantucket Sound the first week of most Mays are testament to their value. Pete, Fisher and I like to catch them for dinner and to put away some in the freeze for fluke and striper bait later in the season, but I hear these are really prized squid for the table and command a high price on the market. On a good day an angler with a single rod and a couple jigs can easily fill a 5 gallon bucket. I’ve learned that a half-dozen are all I need. They are a pain in the ass to clean and according to one local expert, rinsing them in fresh water ruins them — apparently  only saltwater should be used. I can’t cook them. Squid confound me. Always come out tougher than inner tubes. Like fish flavored rubber bands. Some say to either cook them for ten seconds or ten hours. And as for calimari? That was a disaster. My attempt to clone the awesome grilled squid from Inaho in Yarmouthport?  A cat wouldn’t consider it. (digressionary recommendation: Jiro Dreams of Sushi, fantastic documentary on the sushi master of Tokyo, the first to get three Michelin stars).

Squid are very fun to catch — they change colors like a hippie lightshow at the Fillmore, blast jets of black ink in protest, and, if handled correctly while being de-pinned from the jigs, can be aimed at one’s fellow squidders to coat them in the stinky stuff. The boat is always a disaster afterwards. My old friend Bob used to go out with a bunch of beer, dressed in a white painter’s pants and a white wife beater just to really get down and dirty in the ink.

Anyway, we rolled and staggered with our yet-to-be-learned sea legs, beam-to in a big Nantucket Sound swell coming out of the southeast (“Wind east, fish bite least”) and even though it was very nearly shorts and t-shirt weather back at the house, the ocean still feels downright March-like. I need to check the water temperatures, but we were bundled up in fleece and windbreakers and may stay that way until Memorial Day.

Ten minutes squidding and there was nary a sign of them at the rock, so we ran in with the seas to the Cotuit channel, switched the squid rigs for day-glo orange surface plugs  — Rangers and Ballistic Missiles — and made a half dozen big casts to see if we could induce an early bluefish scout to attack. Nothing happening. So we ran all the way up inside of the bay, beached the skiff at the west end of the Narrows, and threw little Rat-L-Traps and Sluggos into the channel looking for a spring schoolie striper. Nothing there either, so we cracked a beer, shrugged and decided we were a week early.

I’ve caught bluefish in late April. There were squid around, so that may explain the missing link. I used to catch tons of striped bass this time of year, tagging them for the American Littoral Society — but I’m not so into catch-and-release anym0re, not wanting to mess up a fish just for the sport of playing it on light tackle. The Cape Cod Times is reporting a keeper-sized bass taken in Cotuit (I need to check what the rules are now, in my mind a “keeper” will always be 36″), as well as a bluefish off of Popponesset, so I know where I will be tomorrow afternoon when I return to the Cape from NYC.

And, to kick off the piscine season, I even remembered that the Commonwealth now requires a saltwater fishing license, and like a good citizen I paid the state my $11 bucks for the slip of paper. The regulars at Reel-Time used to get all heated on the topic of licenses. Libertarian anglers are pretty common. Me, I favor licenses if the funds are earmarked for fishery protection and yes, I believe striped bass should be declared a gamefish and put off limits to the commercial guys.

My son wants to learn the maddening art of fly fishing this year, so I cleaned up an old Scott 1o-weight and will get him going on the lawn this weekend, elbow tucked into his side like he was holding a bottle of gin, casting with his forearm only, stiff wrist, making a long oval in the sky with the rod tip, double-hauling, feeding out more and more line until he turns into a regular Lefty Kreh.

As for the tackle shop that lives in my garage…. well, it’s also where I store the galvanized garbage cans full of bird seed — so the rodents have infested the drawers and cabinets with their balls of  fuzz and sunflower husks, peeing all over everything and probably exposing me to some ugly hantavirus. I found one fly rod case with the end chewed off and a family of field mice inside. Little $%^%^&&%$#’s …..I’m buying a lot of moth balls and will see if I can resort to chemical warfare to keep them away.

There are few OCD pleasures in the world that compare with fiddling around with fishing tackle. I’m an obsessive when it comes to the old saying that most fish are caught the night before. Bimini twists, wire leaders, split rings, new 4/0 trebles on the bluefish plugs, splicing 30 lb leaders onto the striper rods with Albright knows and a bead of Pliobond rubber cement to ease the knot through the rod tip; cleaning the fly lines, cataloguing the flies and putting together a box for early season bass, poppers for bluefish, a hookless plug so I can use a spinning rod to tease the blues up to the fly fisherman; leaky waders, wader belt, line basket……the list is staggering, but given the evil price of tackle these days, it pays to scrounge the high water wrack line on Dead Neck every fall for the plugs and lures that wash up there. For the price of a new hook and a little TLC I can resurrect a $10 lure and absorb some of my own losses due to bad knots, boneheaded casts, or overpowering fishies.

Found money — an old wooden popper found on the beach with the paint worn off

Old Shore Road changes

update: duh, thanks to andy for pointing out this post was originally entitled “Old Post Road)

Last week the town surveyed Old Shore Road and the stretch of Putnam Avenue/Maple that runs along the Ropes Field. Lots of wooden stakes with pink ribbons popped up and then a gaggle of town officials toured the area on Monday — part of a larger village tour organized by Cotuit’s town council representative, Jessica Rapp-Grassetti, Precinct 7.

I talked to the councilor this morning about the Old Shore Road situation. There’s a few of issues at play so I’ll just relate the highlights:

  • Old Shore Road is one of the most important points of access to the waterways and its usage is pretty intense and crowded during the summer season. Parking and congestion and blocking homeowners’ driveways are issues.
  • The boat ramp at the foot of the hill was improved a few years back, changing a nearly unusable sand “ramp” into a durable launch ramp that Cotuit long needed but that has attracted more vehicles and trailers. These take up a ton of parking space — at least two ordinary parking spots — and can clog up the traffic leading to one-way standoffs between two cars trying to pass in opposite directions. This is a scenic vista (see the header image on this blog) so there are lots of people who drive down to look at the water, eat their lunch in their car at the seawall, and watch their kids take their sailing lessons at the yacht club.
  • The public beach at Ropes — which isn’t in the best of shape — has gone from an official bathing beach in the 1960s complete with bathhouse, water fountain, and lifeguards to a little piece of sand encroached by a mob of dinghies, kayaks, catamarans, paddle boats, and other little watercraft. Still a popular sunbathing spot but swimming isn’t advised. Water quality is iffy (Councilor Grassetti has persuaded the town to resume testing there and at Riley’s Beach, something the town stopped doing for cost reasons and which Three Bays assumed responsibility for last summer) and the bottom is pure black clam muck.
  • The beach has been invaded not only by dinghies and little watercraft, but phragmites, the tall rushes that choke things up. A freshwater spring flows here — where the little footbridge stands — and there is a lot of endangered banks that hold saw grass, mussels, etc..  The town has been working with the Civic Association and concerned villagers to clean that up.
  • The little strip of public beach is also where the yacht club conducts sailing lessons, the Cotuit Rowing Club launches its shells, and groups of kayakers converge to launch for a paddle around the bays. Getting from the parking lot to the water involves a narrow path. People walk their dogs on the beach out to Handy’s Point. Fishermen use it to get to the stripers. Clammers …..

Take one very popular road serving one of the better boat ramps in town and one of the best  points for recreational access to the water and Old Shore Road is under some pressure.

The town made the smart decision three years ago to ask dinghy owners to get all boats off the beach between November 15 and April 15 (which sucks for me as I keep my boat in the water 10 months a year and have to remove my only way out to my boat during the closed off-season months; exemptions are given to commercial interests like shellfishermen and mooring servicers, but Joe Boater like me is out of luck). This identified the derelict hulks and give the grass and mud banks a chance to recover and get some air and sunlight over the winter. That probably won’t solve the problem of where to put them so the town may have to go to a dinghy permit/registration system much as it did with moorings in the late 80s. Too much demand and not enough room means some system has to be in place to put a cap on the proliferation of little boats. Oh for the good old days when my father would throw a wooden skiff on the bank without thinking twice. Those days of unregulated, uncongested use are as long gone as clear water, eel grass and schools of scup.

Thomas Fisher hanging out on the beach by Old Shore Road

The town wants any dinghy owners who have built racks or put down wooden pallets to remove them.

Possible traffic solutions include:

  • No trailer parking north of the boat ramp to the seawall at Ropes Beach, only up the hill north of the rowing club and west up the hill towards Main Street
  • One way traffic from Main Street down to the ramp, and two way traffic from the hill at the top of Putnam down to the parking area in the beach. This would let parents drop their kids off for sailing and turn around exit the same way they came down to the beach.

I’d like to see the road closed to sightseeing before hurricanes when boat owners are rushing to haul their boats out at the ramp. I feel sorry for the people who drive down hoping to see nature’s fury and instead find themselves in the middle of a traffic jam as eight trailers wait their turn to back down the ramp. The police should put up saw horses at each end of Old Shore and only let boat owners in during the short window when the hauling happens.

This is a great spot, literally my backyard, and one of the jewels of Cotuit. Getting the cars, the forest of signs, the clutter and the pressure off with a few rules and changes seems a good thing to me. Heaven forbid someone decides it’s a good idea to widen it and turn it into a trailer parking lot. That I would oppose.

Jessica said the next meeting of the Conservation Commission on the island dredging project is May 15.