Repairing Cotuit’s Town Dock and Restoring Little River

An update on the status of the town dock which has been closed to vehicles since the fall of 2021.

Last fall the town banned vehicles from driving onto town dock — a traditional use for loading and unloading commercial fish catches, refueling the county dredge, and the rigging and unrigging of dozens of sailboats. Cars, pickup trucks, crane trucks — all have been a familiar sight on the century old pier since it was first built in the 1920s.

That dock has been rebuilt or repaired several times over the years, extended in the 1970s from its original square configuration to include the four dinghy floats and an L-shaped extension that extended it another 50 feet into Cotuit Bay. When a permit was requested to allow a fuel truck to refuel a vessel from the dock the Cotuit fire chief and harbormaster discovered the pier was rated with a carrying capacity of only 10,000 pounds, yet has been used by trucks weighing three times that amount.

So the dock was closed to vehicles — its entrance blocked off by a cube of concrete that has been replaced with a metal post that can be unlocked and folded flat — and remains closed. The impact will first be felt this spring when Murray Marine needs to swap the mooring field’s winter sticks with mooring balls and sailboat masts need to be stepped with a boom truck.

Last week the town released its FY2023 capital budget and FY2023-2027 capital improvement plan. It’s a big document with a list of all the projects pending in the town — from bathrooms in town’s offices to repaving beach parking lots.

There are a number of Cotuit projects of interest. Foremost being repairs to the town dock. For those too lazy to download the big PDF (here). I’ll summarize a few.

Cotuit Projects

Cotuit Town Down Design & Permitting: p. 217, MEA-23. Listed as the second priority in the Marine & Environmental Affairs list of 18 projects. The request is for $70,000 to design improvements to the existing dock and “evaluate it to confirm that a retrofit of the existing structure is feasible (i.e. increase pier cap sizings and decking. If the current dock structure cannot be retrofit to accommodate a load rating increase, then additional funding will be required for the design and permitting of a complete reconstruction of the dock.”

Repair work or reconstruction would happen in 2024, costs to be determined by the results of the survey and redesign work.

from the Barnstable FY2023-2027 Capital Improvement Plan

Evaluation of Little River Fish Passage Restoration

Little River connects Lovell’s Pond to Cotuit Bay, where it empties into the harbor at Handy Point. It is a major watershed for three Bays, one of three important freshwater contributors (along with the Mills River to the east and the Santuit River to the west). A historic herring run and important habitat for other anadromous species including the American Eel, Rainbow Smelt, winter flounder, and Sea Run Brown Trout, Little River has been severely compromised by various man-made obstacles along its short course from its headwaters at the southeast corner of Lovell’s Pond, under Route 28 near the offices of the Cotuit Water Company, and through the woods around Sampson Mill Road, south parallel to Putnam Avenue, emerging in a series of man made culverts and ponds created by a developer in the 1960s before flowing under Putnam Ave at the base of the old Green Acres curve at Bell Farm, and then through the woods of the glacial valley to the east of Mosswood Cemetery and under Old Post Road where it opens up to the saltmarsh that divides the Little River neighborhood and Handy point from the rest of Cotuit.

This project– MEA-23 — is ranked 7th in priority of the Marine and Environmental Affair’s list of 18 projects and requests $100,000 to perform:

“A comprehensive assessment of restoring fish passage in Little River. Little River was historically a vibrant herring run with fish traveling to spawn in Lovell’s Pond in Cotuit. However, current conditions prohibit the migration of fish into the herring run at multiple locations….”

Deferred Marine & Environmental Affairs General Fund Projects, 2023 CIP p 223
From p.224 of the Town of Barnstable FY2023-2027 Capital Improvement Plan

Other projects of interest (to me at least) include:

West Bay Breakwater improvements to put new boulders on the Wianno Cut jetties and repair the navigation light at the end of the eastern jetty. That project carries a $5.150 million price tag

Channel Dredging: Cotuit Bay is listed in 2024 for a “Cotuit Bay Embayment Channel 7′ section ($75,000). The entrance to Osterville at West Bay and the Seapuit River is scheduled for a big dredging in 2027: “West Bay Outer Entrance $150,000), West Bay Inner Entrance Channel – Lower Reach ($1,000,000), Seapuit River Channel ($360,000), project management contingency ($100,000)

The Cotuit-Nantucket Packet Tansy Bitters

Tansy Bitters

My friend and fellow Cotusion history nerd Phil sent me this photograph of the last of the Cotuit-Nantucket sailing packets, the two-masted schooner Tansy Bitters.

The picture is taken from the current site of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club’s pier — the forner Braddock Crocker pier — and is aimed WSW at Coleman’s Pier on Old Shore Road beside Ropes Beach at Hooper’s Landing. The chimney on the roof of Phil’s house beside Old Shore Road and Main Street can be seen just astern of the aft mast of the Tansy Bitters, the boat tied to the pier on the right. This is a reverse view of the shorefront that has long been the header image of this blog.

I’ve been picking away at the history of Cotuit packets and coastal schooners this winter while I carve a model of a bluewater schooner built at Essex Connecticut, something to do while I do more legwork in hopes of finding the lines for a shoal draft, centerboard “tern” schooner like the ones favored by Cotuit owners and captains during the last half of the 19th century. I’m working through the shipping news in the digitized archives of the Barnstable Patriot and Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror to get picture of how many packets carried passengers and freight twenty-eight miles across the Sound to serve Nantucket’s waning economic power.

The big stacks of cordwood along the lane were the only way to supply Nantucket with firewood; the first colonists totally deforested the already barren island to boil the blubber of washed-ashore whales, and boil the ocean for their salt. The whaling fleet shipped a lot of Cotuit and Osterville wood to the Pacific where it fueled the ships’ brick fireplaces, or tryworks, invented by Nantucket whalers in the late 18th century to turn their ships into fully self-contained processing plants that could catch, kill, butcher and render the leviathans into conveniently stowed barrels of whale oil while at sea.

A packet is defined as a merchant ship that sails on a schedule between two ports with mainly passengers and some freight as cargo. From the end of the War of 1812 to the appearance of the first railroad lines in the late 1830s and early 1840s — packets were the fastest and least expensive way to travel from city to city given the deplorable state of the young nation’s old paths and post roads.

The packets sailed from Coleman’s pier at the northern head of the harbor, clearing the bay at Sampson’s Island and setting a course of 140 magnetic to fetch Nantucket Harbor a few hours later on a beam reach on the prevailing southwest blowing from west to east across Vineyard Sound. With a favorable wind a packet could make a straight course across the Sound without tacking once.

As the center of gravity for the American whaling industry moved west fifty miles from Nantucket to New Bedford, a steam packet, one of the first on Nantucket Sound, joined the two whaling ports together with same day service beginning in the 1830s. There was at least one Cotuit-t0-New Bedford packet, and from my research as many as six packets serving Nantucket by the late 1840s.

The Coleman family ran a boarding house on the bluff behind the woodpiles, and advertised a coach service to bring packet passengers to their hotel, the Santuit House, which gave travelers a place to rest from their travels and a hot meal before heading off for the island. Packets carried everything and anything — some carrying up to 50 passengers and untold cords of wood stacked on their decks. Shoal draft, the packets were generally rigged as sloops — with a single mast and a hull design that had slowly evolved from Colonial times and had influenced the design of another coastal working sloop, the pilot boats that competed to meet arriving ships first so their pilot could get the job of brining the ship into Boston or New York Harbor.

The Tansy Bitters is a two-masted schooner, roughly sixty-feet in length, doubtlessly built to draw no more than three feet of water with a centerboard which could be dropped in deep water to slow the boat’s slip to leeward and speed its forward speed. The packets carried the mail, newspapers, freight, and spare spars and rigging for the whaling ships that still outfitted at Nantucket as its harbor shoaled over with a shifting sandbar that spelled its eventual eclipse by New Bedford.

With names like Forrester, Rail Road, Mary Ann and the Charles Everson, the first packet sloops were probably built at Job Handy’s shipyard at Little River. The Phinney family of Cotuit Port were the most active in the packet trade, with some unknown Phinney’s captaining both of the New Bedford-Nantucket steam packets in the earl7 1840s and two Phinney captains sailing packets during the same years.

Finding plans of a packet sloop is proving to be a challenge, but not that surprising one given most 19th century shipwrights to work from a carved half-model of the hull and the seat of their pants. Howard Chapelle, the maritime historian who did so much to preserve 19th century ship and boat design, draws a distinction between the trans-Atlantic packets that carried passengers between England and New England or New York, and the coastal packets that served routes such as Boston to New York or Cotuit to Nantucket. The trans-Atlantic packets were full-sized ships: often rigged as brigs, brigantines, hermaphrodites, or snows with a fore-and-aft rigged mizzen and a square rig forward. The coastal packets on Cape Cod were single-masted sloops. Chappelle writes in The History of American Sailing Ships:

“In addition to the sea-going sloops, built more or less on the sharp model, there were also a number of packet-sloops which ran along the coast, carrying passengers and light freight. These were often fast craft, built on a good model and heavily sparred…The introduction of the centerboard increased the usefulness and popularity of the shoal-draft sloop at a time when the sea-going and coasting sloops had lost favor…When the centerboard was introduced into these sloops they improved in weatherliness and speed.”

Howard Chapelle, The History of American Sailing Ships, p.299

Chapelle noted that the coastal sloop survived the longest on Cape Cod and the New England coast, “Here, also, the sea-going sloops used in off-shore fisheries existed the longest. The stone, ice, and cord-wood trades were, until a comparatively recent time*, carried on almost entirely in sloops, as was much of the shore-fisheries.”

From the Barnstable Patriot – 1837

*: Chapelle was writing in the early 1930s.

Cotuit Skiff plans and specifications

I noticed a bolus of traffic last week and traced the sudden interest in this blog to a thread on the WoodenBoat Magazine forum recommending an old post I wrote about my grandfather’s boat shop. I did a search on my last name and found a few threads where members of the forum were seeking a set of plans for a Cotuit Skiff — the 14-foot, gaff-rigged one-design flatiron skiff designed over 100 years ago by Cotuit boatbuilder Stanley Butler.

Having a digital copy of the Edwin Mairs plans — the set of offsets and lines created at the request of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club that was tired of having to calculate each boat’s handicap when determining the correct-time winner of its summer races.

The page with links to the plans and the official specifications from the Cotuit Skiff Class Association can be found here:

Review: This is how they tell me the world ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race

Nicole Perlroth has spent more than a decade covering the cybersecurity beat for the New York Times. She followed John Markoff, a contemporary of mine who broke the story of the first Internet worm when Robert Tappan Morris sent a string of code out into the unmapped network to map its nodes and byways.

In her reporting she’s covered some legendary hacks, attacks, and feats of digital espionage that, when viewed across a timeline of escalating threats and exploits against the world’s new central nervous system, portray a world being eaten by software. The cybersecurity beat is, in my opinion as someone who covered computer crime in the 80s and 90s, the most frustrating and opaque of any in journalism. An editor at Forbes challenged me to find out what secret supercomputers or massively parallel Thinking Machines the National Security Agency had inside of its impenetrable glass cubes at Fort Meade and after months of fruitless phone calls chasing unsubstantiated rumors of incredible feats of American hacking and cracking with not a single source willing to go on the record I realized I wasn’t up to the challenge.

Perlroth’s new book This Is How They Tell Me World Ends, is the first thing I’ve read about cyberwarfare that made me seriously consider turning into a full fledged prepper to get ready for China and Russia to turn off the grid, open the floodgates, and knock the world back to the 1850s. The book is a modern history of how the world’s spies and criminals have amassed an arsenal of “exploits” that can turn an iPhone into a tracking device, lock nuclear power plant technicians out of a reactor’s control systems, infest the firmware and programmable logic controllers that spin Iranian centrifuges, open and close American hydroelectric dams, sneak backdoors into popular apps and nearly drain the national reserves of Bangladesh by hacking into the SWIFT financial network.

I read the book in the week leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the country Perlroth portrays as a sandbox for Russia’s state sponsored hackers’ to test out new DDOS attacks and malware, where the wiping of entire networks has been going on for years. The book is a grim lesson in how cyberwar is waged and underlined by long-held belief that privacy and the concept of secrecy is a fiction, that anything can be hacked, and unless software developers stop “moving fast and breaking things” and figure out how to ship unhackable code, the best a person can do it turn on two-factor authentication and start changing their passwords from the minimum requirements to scrambled sentences of nonsense.

I don’t ordinarily recommend a lot of books on this blog or post review on Goodreads or Amazon, but I think this book is important as it reveals the secret, sordid history of cyberweapons, the irony of how those weapons were developed in some cases by the American intelligence community only to be hacked and unleashed on the world for any repressive regime to use. The story of former American intelligence community hackers becoming hired guns and hacking the First Lady’s phone and email for a Middle-East regime, of the impact of Snowden, of the software industry prosecuting hackers who brought bugs and flaws to their attention to now paying them bounties for testing and probing and finding exploits that, on the black market, could sell for well over $250,000 and wind up in the hands of anyone with the money and ambition to stock their own arsenal with weapons that have already been used to extort, defraud, and destroy with incredible speed and ferocity.

Up until this book, the hidden market for zero day exploits has been covered in bits and pieces, but it’s Perlroth’s dogged reporting that breaks through the code of lies and silence and clearly lays out for the layperson the extent of the threat, the misadventures and ignorance that got us to where we are today, and unfortunately little in the way of speculation of what we’re supposed to do if the lights go out and the data is lost and the supply chains and the grids and their fundamentals of civilization get knocked off line and stay off line.

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