Last weekend’s tropical storm gave me the excuse I needed to hook up the trailer and haul the skiff out of the water for an overdue scraping and power-washing. On Saturday, as the last traces of Dorian scudded overhead, I decided to fix a bunch of things, the biggest being a rewiring of the navigation lights.
I don’t do much boating at night, but come September and October I do like to do some night time fishing for striped bass and the massive bluefish that invade Cotuit Bay every morning just before first light. Running around a dark harbor in an 18-foot motorboat with nothing but a flashlight is illegal, even if there isn’t another boat on the water. I like to think I run a fairly tight ship so along with working navigation lights, I’m good about having, life-jackets, signal flares, a horn and fire extinguisher aboard just in case I get boarded for a spot inspection by the harbormaster or coast guard.
I’m generally pretty good about electrical work around the house and when I was a kid I aced the science classes about parallel and serial circuits, resistance, grounding, positive/negative poles, volts-amps-watts and all that stuff. Yet wiring a white stern light, a bow light and the compass powered by a 12-volt boat battery to a three-pole switch (off, navigation, and anchor lights) kicked all memories of my 9-year old smarty-pants self out the door. The confusion began with a Google search for a schematic wiring diagram and degenerated into a moron’s temper tantrum as I tried to trace the old wiring and tag everything before replacing it.
The schematics called for a single red wire from the battery’s positive (red) terminal to the switch, and a black wire to a “ground.” I don’t know where said “ground” is on my boat. Some diagrams showed a “ground bus,” others vaguely suggested the engine was the ground. All I knew is that a boat floats and is only aground when it gets dragged onto the beach. Anyway, that wasted an hour.
Six hours, two claustrophobia attacks, and a dozen crimped terminals and connectors later and my boat had lights, didn’t blow a fuse, and had two modes: on and off. I had planned three modes.: everything on, stern light only, and off. But the fish were calling my name, the days are growing short, and soon there won’t be any fish to chase in the light or the dark.
So I launched her back in the water and went out fishing.
Excellent story by Zachary Crockett in The Hustle about how one CEO sank his own business with a few bad jokes. It’s amazing how a mere slip of the tongue — even back in the pre-Internet shame cycle days of 1991 — can kill a reputation. It’s also a cautionary tale about using humor or sarcasm when one isn’t a professional comic. Heck, even a stand-up comedian can torpedo themselves in an instant nowadays.
This is why I’ve always told clients to avoid the annual April Fool’s Day post or press release. I offer this amendment to Stirling Moss’ observation that “there are two things no man will admit he cannot do well: drive and make love“: or tell a joke.
Thanks to Om Malik who pointed out The Hustle story about Ratner in his weekly newsletter.
I never imagined the time would come when a child of mine would go to war. I lived through my brother Tom’s deployments in the late 1970s through the first Gulf War, and know a little about the emotional toll it took on my mother and his wife. Now, with my youngest son Fisher deployed to the Middle East to take part in Operation Inherent Resolve the war and shifting situation has been brought closer to home than I ever imagined.
Loose lips, sinking ships and all that make me very cautious to even say where he’s going, but it isn’t great and I assume it’s definitely in harm’s way. He was honored to be selected to go, having enlisted nearly two years ago as an “11-brav0“, the military designation for an Army Infantryman, or, as he says, a “grunt”: a foot soldier on the front lines with a rifle, the main land combat force and backbone of the Army. ” That was his decision and his alone. His test scores qualified him for any military job he wanted, but it was so like him to pick the job that defines the essence of what it means to be a soldier: an infantryman.
For a soldier like my son, the entire purpose of all the training and the discipline, the early morning runs, the field exercises, and the rest of it comes down to going to war. I grew up in a generation that tried to avoid going to war. I missed having to register for the draft by a few months when I turned 18 in 1976, when some young men were desperate to avoid Vietnam through college deferrals or by fleeing to Canada. It is hard to remember that this country has been at war in the Middle East for close to 20 years, that young men are fighting against an enemy of terrorists in ancient lands where conflict has been the norm for centuries. It’s humbling to consider his bravery and that of his cousin, a Navy Seal, when my own generation seemed so allergic to serving.
One doesn’t read much about Operation Inherent Resolve. I didn’t know it even had a name until a few weeks ago. The mission is stark: :”DefeatISIS in designated areas of Syria and Iraq and sets condition for follow-on operations to increase regional stability.“
Just as his uncle Tom went to the mountains of northern Iraq in 1991 with the special forces to defend the Kurds fleeing the depredations of Saddam Hussein and the Turks, my son is there now with essentially the same purpose. Yes, ISIS — or “Daesh” — is still active and always reorganizing, determined to inflict their will on a population driven from their homes to refugee camps and beyond. Yes, the geopolitical situation is fraught with risk. The Syrian regime has obliterated entire cities and attacked its own population. Russian forces attack rebel groups on behalf of that regime. Iran pumps arms and money into the fray.
But thanks to few thousand American soldiers, a tenuous peace is making areas of the region safe for civilization to return. Without their presence, that peace could quickly vanish. My son is there to protect them, to project the power and morality of his country to a place in desperate need of peace. He’s joining a war that has persisted for too long and I hope his presence hastens its end and that he returns home safe and well.
If you want his address, please email me: david AT churbuck.com.
Behind the boat shed, on the property line between my good neighbors Phil and Beth, looming over the roof of the sail loft and the far back corner of my property, stands a towering honey locust tree (Gleditsia triacanthos). I’ve written about my love-hate affair with this same tree before ( when I ranted about the “tree turds” the old timer manages to produce and drop onto the back yard each and every fall.
I have no idea how old the tree is, but despite the mess it makes, I’ve always been fond of it, respecting its survival instincts when nearly every other tree on the property has succumbed to winter gales or late summer hurricanes at one time or another. I also suspect whomever planted it was a serious tree connoisseur, because elsewhere on the perimeter of the property once grew a majestic black cherry and an English chestnut. The cherry tree, which gave up the ghost on Christmas morning 2017 during a sudden whiteout snow squall, dropped black fruit over the yard every summer which managed to stain bare feet purple and induce shrieks of horror in my wife when she discovered someone’s purple footprints tracked all over the rugs. The chestnut drops spiked nuts all over the sidewalk, green caltrops that cause shrieks from the little kids walking barefoot to their sailing lessons.
According to Wikipedia a honey locust is:
a relatively short-lived tree with a life span of 120 years. That means this tree was probably planted around 1900 or later. I’m guessing by the same person who thought it wise to plant the cherry and the chestnut.
considered an invasive species — especially in Australia where everything not from Australia goes root and goes beserk
used in new developments and on compromised land without a steady water supply to provide fast shade.
normally is covered with wicked thorns that can be turned into primitive needles or fishing hooks.
My tree doesn’t have the thorns, but it does have the little leaves and the seed pods of the species. My good friend has a honey locus in his yard, just as big as mine, but his has a rope swing hanging from one branch, and the trunk is studded with the dreadful thorns like some psycho horror movie tree that can talk and impales misbehaved children who dare to ride its swing.
After Phil and Beth moved in a couple years ago and finished restoring the houuse, the locust dropped a big branch onto their driveway, barely missing a parked car. Phil was astonished by the tree turds and how they seemed to keep dropping in an endless supply every time the wind blew hard or a storm swept through.
Last summer, after nearly decapitating myself taking a fallen Norway Maple off of the roof of my garage, I gave up any delusions of being a competent tree surgeon and called a professional, a local outfit called Treefrog. I asked them to get the maple off the garage, to finish removing the old cherry, another dead maple at the end of the driveway, and to please give the honey locus and the chestnut tree some love by cleaning out the deadwood and giving them a good going over.
The foreman on the job took me aside when his crew was finishing up and told me that the honey locust was the most beautiful specimen he had ever seen. I was glad he gave it a bill of good health.
Then one day this spring Phil and I conferred on matters related to our property line [insert the tired cliche of good fences make good neighbors here] and he floated the idea of cutting the honey locust down because of the risk it posed to his cars and the atrocious mess the tree turds caused.
Suddenly I got all sentimental about the tree. I told Phil what the expert told me, that the tree was healthy and an amazing specimen, but I had to put my usual reactionary aversion to change aside and agree with his reasons for cutting it down.
My “woodsman, spare that tree” lament went something like this: “That thing is twice as old as we are. It survived at least six hurricanes, including 1938 and 1944 when very few trees in Cotuit survived. Squirrels and chipmunks crave the seed pods and sit on the fence eating them like cobs of corn. It shades the site of the first Masonic temple in Cotuit — my great-great grandfather’s sail loft, and has shaded four generations of Chatfields and Churbucks during summer chowder parties and other celebrations. Now it’s going to die.”
I made the case for keeping the tree, but I was resigned to see it go. Look at the bright side I told myself. No more tree turds. No more worries about English Ivy choking the bark of the trunk. No crushed cars or pedestrians. More sun for the rose bushes, less of a threat to the dilapidated boat shop and sail loft.
But deep down inside I was getting more sad about the tree than I expected. I’ve never planted a tree. I’m not a big celebrator of Arbor Day and I am quick to pull out the chain saw to do away with a shitty tree like a pernicious maple trying to undermine the foundation of the house. But this tree had a hold on me. I stare at its branches through the skylight over the bed in the winter. In the summer, when its leaves finally fill in (later than other trees), the entire canopy makes a soothing susurration in the breeze. I started to mourn it, staring at it all this past spring like I was saying goodbye to it.
On Monday of this week Phil called to let me know the tree service was coming the next day to take out a shattered maple and take care of the honey locust. Yesterday their trucks backed down the driveway, a man in a hard hat ascended in a bucket truck, and by 10 am his chain saw was making short work of the maple.
I took a few farewell pictures of the tree, recalling John Cheever’s beautiful description in his novel Oh What a Paradise It Seems of Connecticut’s former elm trees before the Dutch blight killed them all off in the 1960s.:
“He was old enough to remember when the horizons of his country were dominated by the beautiful and lachrymose wine-glass elm tree and when most of the bathtubs one stepped into had lion’s claws. “
I was sad. “Woodsman spare that tree,” I muttered to myself as I went to work and avoided going outside the rest of the day to witness the felling of the tree. I wanted to put it out of my mind and vowed to plant another tree, maybe not a honey locust, but the same impulse that makes people rush out and buy a puppy after an old beloved dog passes away.
Late yesterday afternoon Phil called. His tree surgeon had said the same thing my guy said — the tree was special and shouldn’t be cut down. Beth agreed. Phil agreed, and with true tears in my eyes I stepped out of the boat shop and looked up at my old friend and smiled. It sports a few steel cables in its canopy and some deadwood is gone, but it still stands and hopefully will stand for a long time to come.
30 miles south of MV on an 8-wt sink tip, chartreuse clouser. We boated 25 fish in an hour from a single hi-flyer with ultra light spinning tackle. I nailed just one with the fly rod from the bow, almost went overboard trying to fight it back to the cockpit. I handlined it over the side just as it bit through the tippet and fell into the cooler.
It’s the end of July and time to start obsessing about bonito on the fly rod. Why I chase these tiny tuna is beyond me, other than the thrill of occasionally hooking one and the feeling like I’ve dipped my arms in electricity as the fish takes off like a nuclear torpedo and the fact that the sushi grade meat makes for great spicy tuna hand rolls. Other than that it’s an exercise in madness as the crazed schools erupt exactly where I’m not, and the other deranged fishermen fire up their outboards and fruitlessly chase the fish where they were, not where they’re going.
I had to clean up my collection of fishing rods a few weeks ago to get them ready for the visit of my two sons and son-in-law. That triggered a bout of obsessive compulsive washing, waxing, greasing, and repairs that in turn led to a long overdue sorting of lures, weights, and flies. All the lures I have scavenged from the flotsam of Dead Neck during my annual fall clean up needed to be cleaned up and get equipped with new hooks. Wire leaders needed to be untangled, fluke rigs needed to be tied, and before I knew it my boat shop had been turned into a bait and tackle store cluttered with boxes of fresh treble hooks, new bucktail jigs, split ring pliers, nail knot tools, stacks of Plano plastic boxes, my old surf bag, crimps, swivels, snap hooks, hook sharpeners, spools of flourocarbon leader material, and some massive wooden plugs the size of my feet.
I’m a big believer in giving my fishing tackle business to local shops. I invested in a new ultra-light spinning rod in June from my friend Peter Jenkins, waiting patiently for exactly the right reel to come back in stock (a Van Staal VR-50) before driving to Newport, RI to pick it up and catch up with Peter who’s an old friend from way back in the early Reel-Time.com days, and who bore witness to my one and only catch of a Spanish mackerel on the fly. I could have saved myself the trip and ordered the thing online from Peter’s shop — The Saltwater Edge — but it was far more satisfying to drive there on a beautiful June Saturday and actually watch him spool it up with some braided line.
But when it comes to the little stuff that I need a lot of — hooks in all their various sizes and configurations, tools and the hardware that a good fishing rigger needs — I have no problems turning to Amazon and getting precisely what I need rather than compromising in the aisles of my local bait shop. Compounding the problem is the lack of a decent bait and tackle in my neck of the woods here on the Cape. SportsPort used to be my second home back when Karen ran it, but a trip to Hyannis in the summer is a terrible thing and there simply isn’t enough room in any store — save the big box fishing places like Cabela’s — to stock everything I need.
Over the course of the past two weeks I’ve been sitting in my great-great-grandfather’s old captain’s chair on the threshold of the boat shop, looking out at the garden while the local family of ospreys screech and the hummingbirds have territorial dog fights around the feeder, sitting there popping off old rusty tetanus hooks and splitting over tiny stainless steel split rings, trying my best after a couple IPAs not to hook myself as I revive about $1000 worth of plugs.
Deadly Dicks, Swedish Pimples (which live in a box labelled “Pimple Dicks”) Kast-Masters, Ballistic Missiles, Atom Poppers, bucktails, circle hooks, Yozuri minnows, Hopkins spoons, Rapalas, Rattle-Traps ….. it’s been said that most fishing lures are designed to hook the buyer before the fish, and given the extent of my collection I won’t be buying any new ones any time soon. Funny, but the most effective and versatile thing is the probably the most traditional: the bucktail jig, a lead head with a hook, wrapped with a skirt of deer hair. Everything eventually eats a bucktail.
After the re-hooking and restoration of the lures, I turned to the fly rods. Lines needed to be replaced or cleaned. A dozen boxes of flies for everything from offshore fishing to bonefish on the Bahamian flats needed to be sorted or cleaned to rid them of the stink of chipmunk pee. I shook one flyrod case and a family of mice dropped out. Next time I’m wearing a respirator to spare myself some toxic hantavirus.
I tied my own leaders up by knotting together 30-lb, 20-lb, and 10-lb flourcarbon leaders. That forced me to relearn all the fishing knots I forget every year and so I sat with a YouTube demo running on my phone in my lap as my arthritic sausage fingers struggled with the nearly invisible pieces of expensive monofilament. Kreh’s Loop, Homer Rhodes, Palomar, Albright, improved cinch ….. rigging has always been my favorite job on a fishing expedition to the point where I rather be tying rigs and setting spreads than actually fishing. They say a good rigger is priceless in big game fishing tournaments, and I’ve watched some Florida pros rig live baits under kites and then threaten predacious seagulls with death-by-shotgun if they dare try to pick off a precious Goggle Eye.
It’s been said that most fish are caught the night before — meaning it pays to be prepared before actually wetting a line. Hooks have to be sharpened. Rigs specific to the fish one is likely to encounter need to be tied up with dropper loops for teasers, and bait hooks snelled onto hi-lo rigs. I guess that’s the part I like the most. The tying of flies, the inventory of materials, the boxes, the bins, the little tools and glues and tiny swivels……it’s all just a very OCD exercise that goes out the window when I actually get on the water make that first cast and holler “Fish On!” even when I’m fishing by myself.
So who knows what this coming late summer season will bring. I live on some of the best fishing water in the world, the northernmost point for tropical species like King Mackerel, Mahi-Mahi, Atlantic Bonito (and manatees), a peninsula named after the fish that made Massachusetts great once upon a time.
Tomorrow (Thursday, June 20th( at 7 PM I’ll be talking about the history of Cotuit/Osterville’s Dead Neck Sampson’s Island, with a close look at the history of the barrier islands, the construction of the Osterville Cut in 1900 over the objections of Cotuit, and other anecdotes as they come to mind.
Thanks to Cindy Nickerson at the Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit for inviting me to kick off this summer’s Cotuit Chronicles series. This marks my fourth appearance, the previous ones being about the Mashpee Woodlot Revolt, Life in Colonial Cotuit, and Cotuit’s Hurricanes.