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Blue Crab Blues | Trashing Our Beaches | Dock of the Bay | Bay Life | Editorial | Letters to the Editor
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Blue Crab Blues
by J. Alex Knoll
Spring sends a wave of life through the water. Slowly the Chesapeake warms, releasing many of its children from hibernation.
Buried in the muck, Blue Crabs stretch their limbs and test the water. Soon all but the weakest and the oldest will emerge from their long sleep, hungry to eat whatever their claws can grasp.
Above water, hunger also rises, as crab lovers ready their mallets and stock up on Old Bay. Crabbers paint their boats and ready their gear.
But for many Chesapeake watermen, last years crab season never began, and they worry that this year might be no better.
It was one of the slowest years Ive had, said waterman Lou Doetsch Jr., of Grasonville, MD.
Doetsch, a bearded man who smiles as amiably and talks as freely as an old friends, has been crabbing since 1962. Last summer he supplemented his income repairing motors.
Just how bad was 1992's crab season? A little more than 30.25 million pounds of crabs were landed, according to Maryland Department of Natural Resources. That might sound like a lot, and if that many crabs were dumped in your lap youd be scurrying.
- However, over the past 10 years, the annual commercial catch has averaged 48 million pounds, according to DNR.
As does any business, crabbing has good years and bad.
- If you look at the commercial records, its happened before, said Harley Speir, project manager of DNRs tidewater fisheries program. But, he said, we want to make sure its a one-year thing.
Theres good reason to play it safe. DNR valued last years crab harvest at more than $20 million. Add in related businessessuch as crab houses, picking and packing plants, bait suppliers, pot manufacturersand Marylands crab industry nears $150 million, said Noreen L. Eberly, a seafood marketing specialist for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Its the biggest industry in the Bay.
William J. Goldsborough, a fisheries scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, agreed that crabs are vital to the Bay. If crabs drop off for an extended period of time, youll see a big effect, Goldsborough said. In a worst-case scenario, there could be people losing their boats and houses in some communities.
Will crabbers take it on the chin again this year? Will there be crabs to keep the picking houses at optimum production? Will there be enough high-quality crabs to keep people filling the crab houses?
No Crystal Ball
Nobody knows for sure, but everybody's guessing.
I think itll be better this year. There were a lot of peelers so theres the possibility of big crabs this year, Doetsch predicted, hopefully.
The relatively mild winter could also boost the crab population. The warmer the weather, the more crabs that are likely to survive until spring, said Speir of DNR. We've not observed any large-scale die-off of crabs over the winter, and no excess mortality is at least a good sign.
Brian Rothschild, a professor at University of Marylands Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons, bases his optimism on Virginia's winter dredge surveys of hibernating crabs. Theyre the same crabs in the winter dredge as Marylands summer catch. If you dont see many crabs in the winter dredge season there probably wont be many in the summer, he said. The surveys predicted last summers decline; this year there seems to be an increase.
Dredger Tommy Leggett disagrees: The winter crab dredge hit a low last season, he said, and in my opinion its worse this season.
Despite a masters degree in Marine Science, Leggett calls himself as a self-taught waterman. He is also the western branch president of the Virginia Working Watermens Association, based in Gloucester County.
Crabs follow a seven-to-twelve year population cycle with peaks of abundance and valleys of depression, Leggett said. I would say that were at the bottom and scientists would agree. We should see [the crab population] start rising.
But other progniscators fear more than a low in the cycle. Some blame toxics in the Bay. Others cite poor weather conditions. Some accuse rockfish of eating too many crabs. Still others worry that both increased crabbing and Virginia dredging threaten the fishery.
The most likely explanation combines many causes.
The Pollution Premise
For decades the Chesapeake has been the rug under which weve swept our dirt. Unlike poor natural conditions, which change eventually, pollution does not go away.
All that stuff coming out of those water purification plants and the factoriesits gotta be killing something, said Henry Bush, a Millers Island waterman. The loss of aquatic sea grasses in the Chesapeake is just one example of the damage caused by pollution, Bush said.
Herb Powell, general manager of Blue Heron Seafood Co. in Somerset County, blamed pollution in the Bay as a major factor in last years poor crab season. Nor is the state focusing on the source of the problem, Powell complained: I dont believe they're going after the big polluters, the big factories up in Baltimore, just the little polluters.
However Mike Sullivan of Maryland's Department of the Environment doesn't buy that argument. We've made tremendous progress ratcheting down on the number of pollutants from [industrial] sources, he said. The next step is to do more on the other fronts.
High levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the Bay add up to trouble for crabs and other marine life, Sullivan said. Combined, the two make the water nutrient-rich, encouraging algae blooms that block light and deplete oxygen, thus suffocating other marine life, he explained.
Most phosphorous and nitrogen comes from fertilizer and pesticide run-off, Sullivan said. But about 15 to 20 percent of the nitrogen entering the Bay is air-borne, from sources such as factory and power plant chimneys, automobiles and even fireplaces.
Survival of the Fittest
Crabs face natural threats and predators at every stage of their lives. Winds, currents, air and water temperatures all effect the crab population.
Fish and mammals prey on crabsand so do other crabs. Theres a fair amount of cannibalism among crabs. It appears to be a natural part of the crab cycle, says scientist-dredger Leggett.
Then again, rockfish could be the culprit. Rockfish, or striped bass, are recovering from endangerment thanks to a strict catch moratorium over the past ___ years. Some see their return and crabs decline as more than coincidental.
L.K. Woodland will tell you that hes been in the crab industry for more than 50 yearstoo long, as he put it. Woodland began as a waterman and now owns the Dorchester Crab Co., a picking house on the Eastern Shore. Rockfish dont only eat soft crabs, he said. They eat small hard crabs, too. Woodland saw the proof first hand last fall. While filleting rockfish, we opened up 17, he said. The smallest amount of whole crabs we found was at least five. The most was 47. Thats daily.
DNR's Harley Speir wont argue. Striped bass are pretty opportunistic, he said. They do eat crabs, no doubt about it. But, he added, crabs are a minor part of their diet.
Speir explained that the commercial catch records for rockfish and crabs over a 20 year period show no relationship between the abundance of Striped Bass ... and the crab population.
That, however, is nothing new. Crabs have always been a lower link in the food chain, which remains consistent from year to year. Weather conditions are less static.
We had a very cold summer, Pete Jenson said. The average water temperature was much cooler. Jenson, the director of DNRs fisheries division of tidewater administration, suspects the low temperature had something to do with last seasons low crab catch.
Mike Oesterling, a Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences commercial fisheries specialist, discounted the cold summers effect since there were also few crabs in Virginias warmer waters. If the only temperature was to blame, Oesterling said, we should have had crabs coming out of our ears, and that didnt happen.
Too Many Pots Spoil the Catch
Scott Smith, a soft-spoken waterman who listens to National Public Radio while working, has crabbed out of Town Point marina for more than 20 years. He worries that too many watermen have been channeled to crabs with the decline of other fisheries.
Crabs need to have a good oyster and clam industry, Smith explained. You cant have the thousands of watermen all working in one industry.
When other fisheries dry up, Smith said, the waterman has little choice but to switch to another fishery. Hes not going to go out and become a budget analyst.
Last year, DNR licensed a record 15,858 overall crabbers.
The increase in crabbers has another effect, according to Lou Doetsch Jr. Years ago, I could get by with 150 pots, catch 10 bushels of crabs. Now I have to run around 300 to get 10 bushels, he said.
DNR disagrees. There is no evidence right now that we are over-fishing crabs to the point that reproduction is threatened, says that agencys Speir. If not immediate danger, however, Speir acknowledges a point of diminishing returns:
Obviously if you have a number of fish or crabs in one place and you have a lot of people coming out and taking a lot of them over the week, and [the fish or crabs] cant replenish themselves, there wont be as many next week for people to catch.
To Dredge or Not to Dredge
If you want a fight, tell a Virginia waterman that dredging threatens the crab industry.
Many Maryland watermen have long been picking that fight.
If Virginia dredging halted for one year, wed have more crabs than wed know what to do with, claims Millers Island crabber Henry Bush.
Illegal in Maryland, dredging is a significant part of Virginias crab industry. Come winter, as the water cools, female crabs return to the mouth of the Bay. They burrow into the mud to insulate themselves from the waters chill. Many hibernating crabs never see spring. When Virginias regular crab season ends in December, the dredge season begins. It lasts until the end of March, when the regular season starts once again.
Dredging scrapes up crabs indiscriminately, Town Point crabber Smith said, and is detrimental because it tends to pick up the egg-bearing females. These females would otherwise lay eggs in the spring, he said.
No evidence proves that dredging is bad for the overall crab population, counters Oesterling, from the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences. We havent seen any effect on the resource in 40 years, he said.
Speir, Oesterlings commercial fisheries counterpart at DNR, also defends Virginia dredging. I think that for the Virginia dredge industry to be singled-out is wrong, he said. Maryland watermen harvest non egg-bearing females during the crab season and are contributing to mortality.
Nor does Virginian Tommy Leggett blame dredging for the dip in the crab population. Dredged females would be caught anyway come spring, Leggett argues. Whats wrong, he argues, are Marylands hypocritical dredging regulations. Dredged crabs from Virginia may be sold in Maryland, and, Virginia allows Maryland crabbers to come down here and dredge.
Still, many Maryland crabbers believe dredging should be stopped.
Youd find a lot of people even here in Virginia whod go along with a dredging ban, but Im a fence-sitter, Leggett said. I think it would be a mistake to jeopardize what little fishery we have left without more data. Its an excellent time to get that.
Give Crabs a Helping Hand
What can be done to guarantee that last years slump wont last? Natural population trends and weather conditions are beyond our control.
Still, everyone can help. The Bays continued health and cleanliness ensure that when natural conditions allow, crabs can flourish.
We can help reduce the amount of pollutants entering the Bay. How? Bring garbage back to shore. Maintain your septic system or petition your water treatment facility to reduce the amount of waste it releases into the Bay. Keep gasoline-powered engines well tuned, drive less and cut your energy consumption to reduce the amount of airborne nitrogen reaching the Bay.
As consumers, we also have clout on what crabs reach the market. Ignore the junk, Speir suggested. Demand high-quality crabs. Selectivity will drive down the demand for immature crabs, which will grow and reproduce, benefitting everyone in the long run.
Earlier this year DNR proposed to do more, restricting the days and the hours that commercial watermen could crab. This proposal met such stiff opposition from watermen that it was quickly withdrawn.
A blue crab advisory panelmade up of scientists, watermen, and members of DNRis currently considering new regulations on crabbing. Pete Jenson, a member of this panel, said that catch limits, gear limits, and entry restrictions are being considered.
Such talk of increased regulations worries many crabbers.
Theres enough restrictions on us as it is, Grasonville's Doetsch complained. Dont limit what I can do. If I cant make it now, why limit me to the amount of gear I can put out or limit my catch?
But restrictions may be necessary to guarantee the blue crabs place in the Bay and the economy, Speir countered. Were conservationists not preservationists, Speir said. We want [the blue crab] to be used 100 years from now.
Popular Throughout the Food Chain (SIDEBAR)
Survival of the fittest rules nature, and crabs face their share of natural hazards before growing to a size where they interest people.
Female crabs spawning at the mouth of the Bay lay millions of microscopic eggs. The mortality rate is enormous. Only a fractionjust how many is anyones guesssurvive to hatch during the spring. Beginning as pin-point-sized larvae, the crabs rely on favorable winds and tides to carry them into the relative safety of the Chesapeake. Otherwise they are swept out to sea where their odds of survival are minimal. Jellyfish, small fish and other plankton-eaters prey upon the defenseless larvae at this stage.
During the next three months, the surviving larvae develop into juvenile crabs, which are eaten by larger predators, such as rockfish, herons, racoons.
Crabs need warm water and plenty of food to thrive. As they grow, crabs become too big for their own britches, so to speak, and shed their shells. Until a new, larger shell forms over the next few days, these soft-shells are completely helplessand recognizedly tasty. Anything that can get hold of a crab at this stage will gladly eat it.
With the approach of winter, surviving crabs head south and burrow into the mud. The harsher the winter, the fewer survivors come spring. Those that make it soon grow to legal sizefive inches across from point to point. As the water warms, crabs shed more frequently, growing from one-quarter to one-third larger each shed.
Any crab that reaches the minimum legal size has defied the odds of nature. Now it must contend with us.
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Trashing Our Beaches
by Sandra O. Martin
Plastic vampire teeth, uppers and lowers, chomp at the sand alongside a tampon shield. An exploded shotgun shell rests near an old shampoo bottledandruff shampoo. Half a Butterfinger wrapper snuggles up to an empty Pepto Bismo bottle.
The Chesapeake knows your habits.
The guy whos driving down the highway and throws out a can or wrapper doesnt realize that it will be washed by the next major rain into a storm sewer that empties into a waterway that empties into a tributary that empties into the Chesapeake, says Robert Dean, the Virginia Beach city councilman who coordinates the annual Clean the Bay Day.
Boaters throw their trash overboard. Mothers leave diapers on the beach. People just dont care. Weve become a disposable society.
In our Bays sprawling watershed,15 million people live, work, playand litter. All along Chesapeakes 8,000-mile shoreline, you can read twentieth century habits in the evidence the Bay gathers, then abandons. You might find treasuresa whale-size gaff lifted by light-fingered waves or the net Junior dropped overboard. More often, youll find plastic.
Lets walk a hundred yards down that long shore and see what we discover. There wont be another human in sight on this isolated, Western Shore beach. Beneath our feet, the water has washed the pebbly sand smooth. Lulled by tide out of time and care, we could renew our spirits here. Except that all around us, the Bay has flung trash.
Tiresset as firmly in the tidal sands as in concretegrow barnacles. Some stand upright, as if they had just rolled in.
The broken hull of a wooden cabin cruiser rots in the surf, battered and scattered by this winters waves. Chesapeake is wily to have stolen such a souvenir and mighty to have demolished it. Planking is water logged and the sodden polyurethane foam of a seat cushion rides in the tide, but the khaki-yellow pattern of the torn plastic upholstery is as fresh as new. Even so powerful a leveler as Chesapeake is no match for plastic.
If Christopher Columbus had brought plastic to America, it would still be washing up on our beaches today, says Karen Hodge of the Center for Marine Conservation.
Tangled with the smooth limbs of driftwood is enough line to have secured Columbuss shipand tethered, caught, or pulled lots of other things, too. Heres monofilament fishing line that will catch no more fishes but still might snare a bird; yellow polyrope that once pulled water-skiers; polyester line that tethered dinghies. Theres even an azalea-pink ribbon still tied to the limp bladder of a Mylar balloon.
Plastic sheeting aplenty has come to rest on this beach, half buried beneath the dead weight of sand. Heres black landscaping plastic, milky sheeting plastic, tan grocery sacks, and clear plastic food bags. Useful on land, these bags are ugly on shore and deadly in the water where, mistaking them for jelly fish, sea turtles gobble them and die.
Walking this beach, you want to both toast and curse the achievements of the plastics age. Plastics outlast water, sun, and storm. Theyre as versatile as they are durable. This little beach is a variety show of objects molded, extruded, or squirted in plastic.
Looksee for yourself
but hold onto your hat as you go, or it may join the collection of caps, underwear, shoes, boots, watermens gloves, and lifejackets the Bay saves on its beaches.
Plastic toys and tools are here in colorful plenty. In just this hundred yards, you discover pails and shovels, pens and paint brush handles, lids and light bulbs, rattles and whatnots.
But this is not benign trash. In production, plastics are laced with chemicals, among them flame retardants and heavy metals that eventually can find their way into the environment.
Above all, you find the containers that held the many fluids that lubricate human life. Now heavy with sand and salt water, the plastic jugs outlived the oil and oil additives, bleach and laundry detergent that once filled them. Many of the big jugs clearly lived to do a second job as floats or bumpers. Still tied to skeins of knotted line, they now hang like big ornaments from the underbrush.
Commercial five-gallon buckets must have jumped ship after second careers as marine buckets to reach this deserted beach. Those buckets litter other beaches, too. On Padre Island National Seashore in Texas, a whopping 700 washed up in six months, according to the Center for Marine Conservation.
Before it makes land, plastic flotsam makes trouble. A pygmy sperm whale that died on the beach in North Carolina last winter had swallowed a shopping list of plastic goods, including bleach bottles, a Styrofoam buoy, and a plastic bucket that lodged in its intestines.
The many containers we drink from thirstily find their way to our beaches after just one use. Plastic jugs and bottles share the beach with Styrofoam, glass, and aluminum. Burrowed among fallen limbs into the roots of seagrasses are the discarded containers of beverages drunk by folks of every age, from toddlers to dodderers.
Here are aluminum beer cans; glass soda, whisky, and vodka bottles; plastic juice containers made like little, old-fashioned milk bottles; crushed polyethylene milk gallons; polystyrene coffee cups and their free-floating polypropylene straws and lids.
All that trash on 100 yards.
Just 233 milesthree percent of the Bays shore lineproduced 77 tons of trash in last Junes Clean the Bay day. Most of that heap was plastic; worldwide, 60 percent of coastal trash is plastic, according to the Center for Marine Conservation, which annually sponsors both International Coastal Cleanup days and the Chesapeake cleanup.
Distance from people is no safeguard from trash. Plastic is as buoyant as it is vigorous, so it can float with tide and current to wash up on beaches far from where it was dumped. On land, theres trash aplenty to find. Each of us produces as much as 1,606 pounds of trash a year, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates.
On water, our habits are just as trashy. Americas 16 million pleasure boaters toss an average one and one-half pounds of junk overboard on every outing, according to the Coast Guard. Ocean-going ships dump 14 billion pounds of trash every year.
All this despite Marpol, the four-year-old international treaty that outlaws all dumping of plastic trash into oceans, bays, rivers, and other navigable U.S. waters. No trash, even your banana peel, can be dumped legally within three miles of shore.
Trash comes easily to Chesapeake beaches. Its going is not so easy. The only way to get rid of the trash on our beaches is to carry it away.
Clean the Bay Day is June 12 this year. Keep reading New Bay Times to learn how you can join or form a team to pick up our beaches that morning.
First of an occasional series. Upcoming stories will look at the ins and outs of recycling: Where your recycling really goes; Bay-friendly products; and products to avoid along the Bay.
1. Names on Our Beaches
2. The Chesapeakes Dirty Dozen
3. Trashy Stories
Names on Our Beaches
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
On this 100-yard Western Shore beach, the following products and companies were identifiable by brand name, advertising imprint, or distinctive packaging
Ball-point pen, printed with the name of a Prudential Preferred Properties agent (plastic and metal)
Highs Dairy (plastic foam coffee cup)
Pepto Bismol (glass bottle)
Solo lid (plastic)
Budweiser beer (metal can)
Lowrys Seasonings (plastic jar and lid)
Pepsi Cola (metal can)
Ursa engine oil1 quart (plastic bottle)
Butterfinger candy bar (paper wrapper)
McCalls Vodka1/2 pint (glass bottle)
Playtex tampon applicator (plastic sheath)
Veryfine 100% vegetable juice (glass bottle with metal lid)
Dash In (plastic foam coffee cup)
Mountain Dew (glass bottle with plastic lid)
Quaker State motor oil1 quart (plastic bottle)
Head and Shoulders shampoo (plastic bottle)
Old Style beer (metal can)
Schlitz beer (metal can)
The Chesapeake Dirty Dozen The Bays Top Trash
complied by the Center for Marine Conservation
from findings from last years Clean the Bay Day
1. Cigarette filters
7. Glass beverage bottles
10. Polystyrene cups
2. Small polystyrene pieces
5. Plastic food bags
8. Glass pieces
11. Plastic straws
3. Plastic pieces
6. Metal beverage cans
9. Plastic caps/lids
Trashy Stories Can You Top This?
Draped in a gown rustling with 3,000 pink and white plastic tampon applicators, artist Jay Critchley looked resplendent at the centennial celebration of the State of Liberty. And get this: His Miss Liberty costume, complete with a seven-pointed crown and a torch, was created totally from plastic tampon tubes that washed ashore in New Jersey and on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Critchley calls em beach whistles.
According to Critchley, the words of the Emma Lazarus poem engraved on the statues base, the wretched refuse from your teeming shore, no longer refer to the metaphorical downtrodden masses but, literally, to trash.
In Belize, a vacationer noticed children searching the beach, perhaps for shells or ocean treasures. In fact, they were finding plastic toys and bits and pieces of brightly colored plastics.
They had come to the beach, the children said, to see what gifts the ocean had brought to their shoreline.
from Center for Marine Conservations A Citizens Guide to Plastics in the Ocean: More Than a Litter Problem
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You Could Be Next
Ask Mike Harris of Rosehaven what a run-in with the Coast Guard can bring you. Or about the fishing trip that turned into a nightmare of nasty rumors.
Harriss life has changed mightily since last June when his boat, Compensation, hauled in Marylands record rockfishalmost 65 pounds. The catch built his reputation as one of the promising young captains on the Middle Bay.
Less than a year later, his charter business hangs in limbo and so does his reputation, thanks to Coast Guard tactics and his own carelessness.
Should I sell my boat? Should I look for another profession? What should I do? wondered Harris early this spring.
His chilling tale begins on a glorious afternoon in September with Harris and his party loading up on spot, flounder and trout. Theyre anchored near Sharps Island Lighthouse, a popular fishing grounds at the mouth of the Choptank River.
Harris, 45, notices a Coast Guard vessel weaving through fishing boats. He knows his horn is broken and that his boat, a 37-foot classic baybuilt, has a rough edge or two. But he has no clue to what is about to unfold.
The 50-foot Coast Guard vessel is swiftly upon them. Demands pierce the air from a bullhorn. Lt. Randall Barnabee and armed men board. They try to drop a police dog down to Harriss deck but cant get the job done in the light chop.
Next, Compensation is escorted to port with two Coast Guard officers on board, watching Harris. His charter trip has been terminated, an unusual occurrence. The Coast Guard says theyve found safety violations: some of the life jackets dont have reflecting tape on the inside as well as on the outside.
Back at his slip at the Rod and Reel dock at Chesapeake Beach, Harris finds it curious that they refuse to let his party off the boat. The dog, led on to Compensation, sniffs not only the boat but also Harriss customers, Harris contends. They include a physician and two children. A crowd has formed to watch.
It was not good for business, to say the least, said Harris. He has figured out by now that this is a drug bust.
The dog found no drugs; neither did the Coast Guard. But the boarding party found other fault. They slapped Harris with a slew of charges including no working horn and a faulty toilet that flushed directly into the baya common but unwise method of treating waste.
Harriss ordeal wasnt over. During a hearing this year, Lt. Barnabee of the Coast Guard admits on the stand what this was all about: Harris was under surveillance for drugsbased on an informants tip.
News accounts carried this damaging and unproved allegation along with testimony that Harris hadnt noted a DWI charge on his application for a new captains license. Suddenly, Harris was threatened not only with losing that license but also with the stigma of being a drug user or trafficker.
Its pretty frightening to think that if somebody doesnt like you, they can just call the Coast Guard, and something like this can happen, contended Stephen Boynton, of Vienna, Va., Harriss lawyer.
Harris hasnt been a choir boy. He admits to having known some wild characters. He attends Alcoholics Anonymous. But he insists that he hasnt drunk in two years and that he has not used drugs or condoned them.
Ive been an athlete all my life, and Ive never associated with drugs in any way, shape or form, said Harris, a non-smoker who takes pride in his adventuresome spirit. He has gone on safari in Africa and survived the bear-filled Alaskan wilderness.
Harris submitted to a urine test by the Coast Guard after he was boarded. He was clean.
Barnabee insists that Harriss case was handled properly as part of a crack-down on charter captains up and down the Bay. The Coast Guard began elaborate boardings about 18 months ago aiming at what Barnabee describes as unregulated, uninspected six-packs -boats taking out up to six in a party.
I had what appeared to be credible evidence that he has been a user of cocaine, said Barnabee.
Harris sees himself as a victim several times over. He wishes the Coast Guard would have done more checking before embarrassing him and branding him a druggie. He believes the Coast Guard loaded charges on him to save face.
Now he could lose his license or meet other sanctions depending on how a Coast Guard administrative law judge rules this spring.
The real truth is that this was a drug bust gone bad, Harris asserted. How much is all this going to cost me in the long run because of people who dont want to go out with me anymore?
Whatever the ruling, Harriss case is a lesson to fellow boaters. In maritime law, you may have to contend with rumor and hearsay more dangerous than any Bay squall. When you shove off, you leave many of your rights on the dock.
Consider Barnabees warning: The Coast Guard has jurisdiction to board anybody anywhere. We can have a reason. Or we can have no reason.
The Blue Monster
Hows this for a spring dream? Youre trolling in the Bay, your first time out in a season full of hope, and WHAM...ZINGGGGGGthe rod bends like a horseshoe, the line smokes toward the horizon and your heart starts hopping even in bed. Gotta be snagged.
Wait; somethings back there. Something mighty, pullin like a tugboat. Must be a ray. No, suddenlyit breaks water and, oh my God, its huge
a monster bluefish.
Fast forward in your dream. Youre on a dock and theyre clapping. Somebody hands you a check as big as that bluefish. WITH FIVE ZEROES. You must have won the Fishermans Lottery.
This may not be dreamland if you tie into that whopper during the 10th annual aluefish tournament, May 15 and 16, sponsored by the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermens Association. Grand prize is indeed $100,000; total prizes are $192,000 this year.
Winning the Hundred Large will be a challenge. It would be awarded in ten annual annuities for catching the worlds record bluefish, bigger than the 31 lb., 12 oz. monster caught by James M. Hussey surf fishing at Caper Hatteras, N.C. in 1972.
We certainly would examine the fish very carefully, noted Rich Novotny, executive director of the association. (Their care could include a lie detection test.)
Novotny reminds you, of course, that you have 123 other ways to take home a prizes in what he calls the largest bluefish tournament on the East Coast. They expect over 1100 boats. (Phone 410/768-8666.)
Besides holding tournaments, the sportfishermens association lobbies for conservation bills and advises sensitive treatment of the Bay.
If we don't have clean water for those fish to swim in, were not going to have fish for our future, Novotny warns.
Whale of a Change in the Chesapeake?
Two Nicks and No Fin showed this year, as did Rabbit, known for some awesome acrobatics. But the real celebrity was Tattertail, whose knobby young head already adorns a postcard in New Jersey.
Theyre part of a bakers dozen of baby humpback whales who spent the first months of 1993 capering about at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Thats baby, as in 30 feet long. Adults get up to 50 feet and can weigh 40 tons.
The whales showed for the first time in the winter of 1991, and nobody knows for sure why. But the pod has grown ever since, and people in the Southern Chesapeake Bay region sure do enjoy its visits.
Whales occasionally migrate far up the Bay. A 45-footer, probably a humpback, was spotted off Rock Hall above the Bay Bridge in the fall of 1991. But the return by this prize pod and the sighting of two even-bigger fin whales this year suggests that somethings happening.
In the Middle Bay area, people talk about the recent abundance of flounder and seahorses turning up in crab pots. Perhaps warming water is changing Bay life.
The humpbacks are known to head down to the Caribbean from their haunts in the waters off of New England.
Maybe the draw is the availability of fish and plankton at the mouth of the Bay. Maybe its the weather. Maybe they got tired of Jamaican jerk sauce.
There are dozens of factors, including the natural cycles of fish. But we really dont know, said Mark Swingle, of the Virginia Marine Science Museum.
The next sign may be carried by leaping dolphins, who have been coming into the Chesapeake by the thousands starting in May. They frequently are seen far up the bay.
The Virginia Marine Science Museum offers dolphin-watching tours starting in May. Boats leave from the Virginia Beach Fishing Center. For details, call 804/437-4949.
Pollution does weird stuff. Now, research in England shows that sewage causes sex changes in fish. Thats right, male trout near sewage pipes are producing hormones, which is equivalent to a man suddenly starting to give milk.
Scientists attribute the change to hormones reaching the water from women taking birth control pills or, perhaps, to a heavy flow of detergents. They arent sure which, but they say evidence of sex changes is firm.
They said nothing about the quality of the filets....
In the Florida Everglades, scientists blame other pollution for killer algae destroying the states largest lobster nursery. The algae bloom has devastated underwater habitat for 300 square miles, wiping out the sponges that lobsters eat.
Theres not a sponge left in Everglades National Park. Theyre all dead, lamented a state biologist. As with much pollution, the economic cost wont be fully felt for yearswhen people start missing a whole generation of lobsters...
And then theres the bizarre case of irradiated snakes in the former Soviet Union. Russian scientists report that patches of earth are so contaminated from the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster that radioactivity is showing up in the venom of snakes.
The scientists point to the one silver cloud they could find: Studying these giant glow worms, they are learning how radioactivity spreads after a nuclear accident.
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Greetings, Baysiders. With excitement we bring you our premier issue of New Bay Times, the new weekly newspaper committed to the Chesapeake. We promise you fun as we soar into the future in search of harmony on, in and around the Chesapeake Bay.
We want to create something new. In these pages starting today, New Bay Times will explore how we of the Chesapeake Bay can live as best as we can in a smart, sustainable way.
We know after travel aplenty that our Bay is a special place on this earth. The richness of her waters and the soil that bounds her, the diversity of creatures, felicity of climate and closeness to sanctums of power make this an extraordinary place to live.
We will plug you into the forces of the Bay by motor, sail and paddle. We will cook from the Bay and eat her finest dishes. We will introduce you to the Bays adventurers, wise souls and to her just plain folks.
Together, we'll plunge into the Bay and celebrate life .
In ways big and small, we intend to guard the Chesapeake. We will take on the polluters, bamboozlers and wetlands bandits. Well work with you to gather the flotsam and halt the poisons that seep into the Bay. Well refuse false choices, particularly the false choice between a sound economy and a clean environment.
The health of the Bay is linked to the vitality of businesses along her shoreas well as to the care of Baysiders. Its a tragic error to drop our guard amid a few signs of Bay resurgence.
Our concern, as we will prove and you will see, is the quality and richness of life along the Bay.
Every week well offer new adventures. Come along with us. Subscribe or pick us up weekly. Advertise with us. Enter our contests. Counsel us with your letters. Use our childrens pages, one of our special features.
Help us on our mission, old friends and new, so that we might help you flourish in bounty and wisdom along our great Chesapeake Bay.
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All the luck in the world to New Bay Times! A newspaper leads the way with its ideas and sets a goal.
My father, a brother and I all wrote for newspapers. My father, Robert Franklin Nowell, wrote for the weekly Maryland Gazette, and I copied out his stories because his handwriting was not good. My brother, William Nowell, published The Great Swamper in the 1950s. He wrote it in dialect, which was very popular at the time, but his dialect was all his own. At 20, I took over from my father, writing Shady Side news first for the Maryland Gazette and later for the Evening Capital.
But Im jealous that your office is in Deale instead of Shady Side. Deale used to be back in the woods while Shady Side moved forward. Deale didnt have a steamboat and we did. People from Deale would have to drive four miles up to Chalk Point to get to Baltimore. Then Deale took over the lead with the road. The road from Washington went right on to Deale and left us out. Ive always wondered why it didnt stop here. So Ive always been a little jealous of old Deale.
Im jealous, too, that youre writing a newspaper and Im not.
Miss Ethel Andrews, 104, is the Bays oldest newspaperwoman.
Shady Side, Maryland, April 5, 1993
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by Joe Browder
The Bay. When said and heard that way, the words mean more than a dictionarys definition, more than a body of water, sheltered somehow from a larger lake or sea. The Bay means that a person knows about a special place.
This awareness is a gift to the people who have it, a relationship to the place and to other people who share the knowledge. The more we learn, from the Bay and from Bay people, the more valuable the gift becomes.
Often our best learning comes from questions rather than from answers, from wondering about seemingly small details or great mysteries. In this column, observations about nature and the Bay come from one small place of land, marsh and water in a community on the Western Shore of the ChesapeakeFairhaven.
If Fairhaven were Flamingo or Panacea or Coconut Grove, we would be on bays named Florida, Appalachicola and Biscayne. Every Bay is different, but there are some things that many bays have in common. Most bays share what also makes each bay unique: their particular characteristics are greatly influenced by other, distant places.
Look at the pines that grow wild around the Chesapeake. Close to water on the Western Shore, and through much of whats left of the natural pinewood flats of the Eastern Shore, the dominant native pine is the loblolly.
The tree is as southern as it sounds, one of the many signs that the Bay, our Bay, is the northernmost part of the south. With long soft needles, and flowers so rich with pollen that spring winds can fill the air with clouds of golden dust, the loblolly clings to our coast, but ranges far into the southern U.S.
We found our home on the Bay in 1980, quite by accident, when we got lost looking for another great southern tree, the cypress. Although the Bays influence allows cypresses to grow naturally up into southern New Jersey and Delaware, one of the northernmost genuine cypress swamps, Battle Creek, is in Maryland near Prince Frederick, in Calvert County. Battle Creek is protected by the Nature Conservancy.
Although we did eventually get to the sanctuary, some very right wrong turns took us first to Fairhaven, miles to the north. There, the smallest of bridges separated the Bay from a shallow, marsh-rimmed pond.
To the north and west, the marshes edged into wooded hills where a few houses could barely be seen. The ponds many acres were clustered with herons and egrets, overflown by terns and gulls. Out on the Bay, osprey were nesting on the channel markers.
Ever since, weve nested in one of the houses in the hills. In continuous celebration, cypresses we planted that first year are now tall enough to walk under. The cypresses grow near the marsh close to a freshwater spring, with their feet wet, and the muck around them punctuated with earthen cones made by crawfish.
A few evergreen southern bayberry bushes are in the shrubby fringe between the marsh and the woods, where tall loblolly pines stand out. The scene could almost be along the Georgia coast, perhaps even the Everglades.
Just over a season ago, the remnants of a hurricane passed through the Chesapeake. Andrew was African air that travelled the Atlantic to enter Biscayne Bay and devastate the poorest communities of south Florida. The hurricane was energized again by the warmth of the Gulf of Mexico, turned north then east, and weakened went to sea for the last time after crossing the Chesapeake.
I left Miami the evening Andrew arrived there, and was in Fairhaven a few days later when Andrews final clouds and winds blew by. In one bay, and out the other. In both places, the stormy air smelled the same, but different.
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The Longest Memory on the Bay
Shady Sides Miss Ethel Andrews
Having lived nearly 105 years in the Chesapeake-surrounded village of Shady Side, Ethel Andrews knows the Bay.
She has not been on the water since she was 99 or 100, when she rowed a boat for a photographer eager to show her spryness. Nowadays, the able-bodied, nimble-minded, sparkling-eyed Miss Ethel stays at home. There, she has three newspapers to read everyday and dinner to cook for herself, daughter and son-in-law. She has almost daily visitors, who come to lengthen their short memories.
Nowadays, she walks as far as the living room, there to look out on the West River just above its meeting with the Bay, which seems to her more yellow, muddier, nowadays. But days have been when she and a gang of children scampered across the Shady Side peninsula to frolic in the Bay. Afternoons her family sailed summer visitors to the shallow waters off Grandmothers Point, with its sandy beach. Nights began with feasting on the Bays bounty.
Once, when Miss Ethel was a college girl returning home from Baltimore in a storm, her captain brother ordered: Sister, youll have to take the helm while I batten down the hatches! And so she steered the steamboat down the Patapsco River.
Miss Ethel knows Bay comforts and discomforts, Bay steadfastness and changes.
Files, mosquitos and sea nettles rank high among Bay discomforts. Miss Ethel remembers, mosquito netting in the windows.
[When] screens were
forthcoming, we knew we were up to date.
In the fall many of us had malaria, caught from mosquito bites, Miss Ethel remembers. Malarial attacks came on about three oclock in the afternoon. At school, we lined up at the water bucket shelf to take our pills, passing the water dipper
Sometimes I would have such a high fever that I would become delirious, seeing angels instead of children swinging on the front porch.
Sea nettles we accepted as part of the Bay. When one of us was stung, we picked up a handful of sand, rubbed it on the sting and continued walking out into the water.
Bay comforts, however, blew away the discomforts. To the sweltering cities of Washington and Baltimore, the Bay spelled summer. People came by the boatful, Miss Ethel remembers.
Beginning about the middle of June at the close of school whole families began to arrive, bringing their belongings packed in very big trunks, having come on the steamboat Emma Giles from Baltimore. They landed at Nowells pier which was built by my father at the mouth of Parrish Creek. Those trunks had to be brought by either sail or rowboat up the creek and onto our pier.
Many of these people stayed until school began in September.
From 1888 (the summer before Miss Ethel was born) to 1967, her family operated the Rural Home for summer vacationers. That was before Bay prices rose. A week at the Bay in 1988 cost $3 per person; by 1967, the charge had risen to only $40. In its heyday, Shady Side boasted eight boarding houses for vacationers.
The Bays summer comforts were many: Miss Ethel remembers sunset cruises on the Bay, day and late-night fishing trips, usually successful, for at this time the Bay was filled with fish, and afternoon transportation by boat to the bathing grounds.
The guests would get overboard from the boat, some wading to the sand beach and some heading out toward deeper water for swimming.
The nonswimmers could wade and slide by their hands on the sandy bottom. Miss Ethel has always been a nonswimmer.
Pay attention, now. Miss Ethel is about to reveal the secret of how to share the Bay with sea nettles.
The women wore black suits, long sleeved and knee-length, with long black stocking and beach shoes. The suits were big and baggy and did not cling to the body to reveal body shape. Most of the women wore rubber bathing caps to protect their hair. The men wore black suits with short shirt sleeves and knee-length pants.
The Bay fed as well as cooled and comforted. From the Bay we got seafood: oysters, clams, fish and crabs. My mother served fried oysters for dinner every Friday.
In the summer, my father brought in oysters from his leased oyster grounds on Thursday to be shucked.
Crab cakes or fish [were] favorites at supper every night. The fish were Chesapeake Bay hardheads unfortunately no longer available in the Bay.
Much has changed since the days of Miss Ethels youth. Progress has made mosquitos less troublesome, sea nettles more. Progress has brought people in millions to the Bays shores, with wants and habits of an era when abundance seemed limitless. Now the century is old and the Bays bounty diminished. Before we wear out its hospitality, we must learn new habits.
Outside my kitchen window, not a half mile distant, men in motor boats supplied with mechanized rigs slowly gather oysters from their leased beds. The men plant seed oysters in the spring after oyster season. It pleases me because oysters are disappearing from their natural beds.
But what Miss Ethel knows best about the Chesapeake, you and I know too.
The natural beauty of the great Chesapeake Bay adds luster to my life as it does to others, Miss Ethel remembers. I enjoy its many changing aspects due to wind and sun. Sometimes it appears angry, sometimes foreboding, sometimes inviting and smooth, or just plain gorgeous and inspirational.
Many of Miss Ethels words here are borrowed from her 1991 autobiography, Miss Ethel Remembers, published by the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society (301/261-5234) and available from them for $10.95.
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Kayaking Comes to the Chesapeake
Inching from shore, escaping land. Slicing through shimmering waters. So smooth, so swift.
Gliding in a sea kayak toward Big Tooth Beach, named for the fossils it gives up. Strapped by a spray skirt into this sturdy, fiberglass vessel, an extension of the body. A great big floating rear end.
Paddling in deeper water now with a ducks-eye view of the Bay past parfait-layered cliffs, mauve and gray. Digging with the paddle in cold, cold water to a steady, hot beat, racing a tern.
Sure enough, Mr. Eagle up there is eyeing me from his personal locust. Id better slow up, drift for a bit, watch Mr. Eagle watch me.
Welcome to the world of sea kayaking.
As sure as that eagle will lift to soar, kayaking is about to soar as a new sport on the Chesapeake Bay.
Its clean, its green and its growing, said Ron Casterline, who operates Annapolis Coastal Kayaking along the South River.
A few years ago, the dozen or so kayakers in the Annapolis-area knew one another by name. Now, about 250 people are listed on the roll of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association. And many non-joiners paddle in the region.
The surge is unmistakable, judging by reports from kayakers. And a schedule of new Chesapeake Challenge races is certain to spark further interest.
The competition begins with sprint and skills time trials in conjunction with a sea kayaking symposium at Elk Neck State Park, May 14-16. Next is the Tour de Chesapeake in late July and finally a Race Across the Bay in October.
It wont be quite like the Alaskan Iditayak, where paddlers brave riptides and open ocean dashing 65 miles from Pelican to Hoonah. But the Chesapeake Bay races will fill a gap, dangling cash prizes that draw competition-cravers and young paddlers from a kayaking universe centered on Bay coasts and cliffs.
Touring or racing, kayaking suits the Nineties. For the environment, kayaks are about as low-impact as it gets, provided care is taken around beaches and wetlands. No gas, only suntan oil and not much noise except splashes and breathing.
Kayaking offers all the sweat and conditioning that a fitness-seeker needs. Or, the sedentary sea kayaker can poke along and gaze in unfiltered wonderment.
You can make it as calm or as exciting as you want, and its a wonderful couples sport, observed Stephanie Fleming, a Chesapeake Bay Paddler.
Stephanie, 43, and her husband, Steve, 40, of Silver Spring, searched for activities that bred togetherness. Tennis didnt cut it. They achieved a master rank in duplicate bridge. But is that sport?
Their lives changed on a summer day in 1988 when they rented kayaks at Dewey Beach in Delaware. Now, like many others, they are smitten. They journey with other club members for kayaking vacations. Nights on deserted islands off of North Carolina, gathering mussels for dinner.
In Florida, they paddled mangrove swamps and the Everglades. Thats in addition, of course, to their many stay-at-home adventures on the Chesapeake Bay. Camping on James Island, for instance.
New designs and rudder innovations have lent remarkable speed and maneuverability. Sea kayaks are much quicker than canoes, and more stable, thanks in part to the paddlers lower gravity. And unlike most boats, a kayak is truly worn, not sat in or on, which makes for wondrously participatory outings.
Every mood and movement of the sea is transmitted through the hull of the kayak to the paddlers nervous system. In this way, a union is built up between the kayaker and the sea, wrote Derek Hutchinson, a prominent British kayaker.
As Casterline put it: Its the most intimate way to be involved with the Bay.
The enchanting ease of kayaking can generate false security, which is treacherous in wild weather and cold-water monthsabout half the year in the Chesapeake region. Failure to grasp potential danger undid Phillipe Voss, the Frenchman from Annapolis who perished on a bay crossing last winter. (See accompanying article.)
The major problem we have might be the lackadaisical nature of paddling, observed Chris Conklin, president of the Chesapeake Bay Paddlers. Not everybody takes cold water seriously and not everybody takes PFDs (personal floatation devices) seriously.
Sea kayaking is misunderstood in several ways. Often, the sport is confused with its white-water cousin, in which rounded, rocketlike little kayaks rip and roar through fast waters.
The Aleuts had something other than sport in mind when they carved the first kayaks out of driftwood. None of this rolling and pitching about in breath-draining Alaskan waters. They needed something broad and sturdy enough to fight a whale in. And fast enough to catch it.
Paddlers on the West Coast have known kayaking for many years. And now, finally, the sport seems destined to break through on the Chesapeake Bay.
Kayaking pioneer Chris Cunningham, editor of Seattle-based Sea Kayaking magazine, knows why: The vast variety that the Chesapeake offers. He recalls geese darkening the skies and frenzied bluefish rising when he paddled the entire length of the Bay ten years ago.
I liked it a lot, he recalled, noting the difficulty in parts of the East finding kayaks and gear to buy. In time, there will be lots of paddlers and plenty of equipment.
In this era of limits, sea kayaking appeals in many ways. Tommy Hartnack of Franklin Manor could not abide spending thousands and thousands of dollars for a powerboat to use in summer months only.
So he bought a kayak, a sleek tandem Seascape, so that he and his girlfriend could enjoy camping adventures. Never mind that they split up soon after; Hartnack gets plenty of action from his Seascape as well as the single-paddler Seda Glider he also bought.
Its nice and peaceful, said Hartnack, 37, a flight attendant, summing up the attraction of the Bays newest sport. And if I want a good workout, I can have that, too.
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WHERE TO GO, WHAT TO DO
Youve got a kayak, your own or a rented one, and youre set to take on the Chesapeake Bay. But with 8,000 miles of shoreline and hundreds of miles of rivers and creeks, where do you go?
You can concoct an adventure of your own, which means finding a public launching spot. You can get advice from your outfitter.
Or you can ask the Chesapeake Paddlers Association, which publishes a list of launching spots and gives its members many tips for safety and pleasure. They can tell you about instruction, which you may need if youre planning to venture into water over your head.
Experts will tell you this. You must have a life jacket; the law says so. And if you paddle at night, youre required to have a flashlight.
In cold water, a wetsuit or drysuit is advised, as is a spray skirt and a hand pump. Also recommended for touring: Lines; flares; air horn and first-aid kit.
Always tell others where youre going, and think of kayaking as a group activity or a couples sport.
And dont forget your paddle.
Chris Conklin, president of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association, has many favorite kayaking spots around the Chesapeake Bay. Here are five:
North Beach-Chesapeake Beach may not be for novices when the wind blows. It is among public launch sites that deposits you directly on to the Bay, which can grow fierce.
But paddling South from the Beaches and hugging the shore can be a marvelous journey, offering an up-close look at fossil-rich cliffs of the Calvert formation. Put in at the public sand beach in North Beach.
Carrs Wharf is south of Annapolis near the town of Mayo. Get to the Mayo Post Office and Carrs Wharf Road, and youve found the key to a wealth of undeveloped shoreline that has changed little in hundreds of years.
Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge is a hunk of land that thousands see from the Bay Bridge, but few explore. Find Rock Hall on the Eastern Shore. Rt. 455 takes you to the gateway of Eastern Neck Island, which is loaded with wildlife.
Wye Island is a circumnavigable island near Wye Mill, also on the Eastern Shore. Wye Landing Road leads you to a public ramp and beach that opens to a world of pristine territory.
Truxton Park at Annapolis offers semi-urban paddling for those whove seen enough secluded shoreline. Youll find yourself alongside yachts and properties that you may covet. You also can check out the Naval Academy and, if youre feeling bold, visit the Annapolis waterfront.
Chesapeake Paddlers Association welcomes new members. Telephone (202)357-4600. ext. 257. Or write to: P.O. Box 3873. Fairfax, Va. 22038.
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THE BAY TAKES A LIFE
At noon, Chokri Drissi felt the wind whipping the pine lashed to the roof of his Honda Civic. Once more he tried tried to reach Phillipe Voss on the car phone.
Chokri, a well-travelled, well-read Tunisian, had never decorated a tree for Christmas since planting his businesses in Annapolis. His effort this Saturday afternoon would surprise Phillipe, his friend and neighbor at Chesapeake Harbour in. They called one another deracinerootless ones far from home.
Again, the answering machine.
A short time later, Natalie Ambrose, Phillipe Vosss girlfriend, felt the mighty Bay Bridge heave in the wind. She gazed south, to where Phillipe would be on his way to the Eastern Shore. The scudding whitecaps grew frothier and closer together.
With Phillipe on both their minds, Chokri and Natalie watched the day turn dark and angry. Neither knew yet how ferocious the Bay had become.
December 5, 1992, had worn a different face at 9 a.m. when Voss, 41, an impetuous, life-loving Frenchman, pushed off Bembe Beach at Chesapeake Harbour for his crossing to St. Michaels. The 20-mile paddle in his kayak, an Aquaterra Chinook, would take about five hours.
Then, in the flush of adventure, after conquering the Bay once more, Phillipe would lunch with Natalie. Afterward, they would head back across the bridge, his kayak strapped to the roof of her car, for a festive Saturday night at Chokris.
Six months earlier, on a fetching June morning, Phillipe had made his first Chesapeake crossing. At daybreak, he had awakened Chokri, ever susceptible to Phillipes schemes. For such an occasion, Phillipe had a second Chinook, a green one.
It was beautiful, Chokri recalled of that calm and felicitous day. For Phillipe, the Bay was a little paradise.
No doubt, the allure of the Bay had snared Phillipe. He had arrived from Paris in 1990 with the wherewithal to acquire Tradoc, a translation business with clients around the world. He was a sportsman from the north of France, a well-conditioned runner and a fine tennis player. He drank non-alcoholic beer.
In Maryland, his banged-up right knee began to slow him. More and more, Phillipe came to rely on kayaking for exercise and the Bay for exhilaration. He was impulsive sometimes about kayaking and he delighted always in awakening others to its joys.
He was spontaneous, said Jerry Feldman, a lawyer in Annapolis and a friend of Phillipes. He would take off and run, then he would go sailing. and when he got back, he'd go out in the kayak.
Phillipe would show up at Sams, Chesapeake Harbors waterfront club, and everybody knew where hed been by his dripping splash skirt. He paddled and he stayed at the hub of a circle of friends who loved him for his vitality.
On a bet with a woman friend in New York, Phillipe paddled a kayak across the Hudson River during howling weather and wrote afterward about the thrill of surviving. He crossed the Bay more frequently, and he mused about starting a kayak club made of of his chums.
He may or may not have known of Chesapeake Paddlers and their publications warning of cold water peril. Phillipe did not speak English as effortlessly as he might have wished.
He probably knew about wetsuits and drysuits and precautions for such a day. But friends doubt that Phillipe could abide layering himself in another skin in cold-water adventures, as experts recommend. Like many of the French, he seemed to have a measure of Rousseaus distrust of convention.
RADICAL, MESSED-UP DAY
At 2 p.m., Ron Neely glimpsed red in the whitecaps as he huddled on the Eastern Shore warming his hands. Since the middle of the morning, hed been in and out of the water windsurfing. He and a half-dozen die-hard sailors loved to gather on days like this to push the envelope.
Even close to shore with small rigging, a 3.7 meter sail and 8.6 meter glass board, conditions were brutal.
The waves were so radical and messed up that you couldnt power yourself up and let it rip, Neely said.
Neely, 48, knows wild water. He raced Hobie Cats off Ocean City and has sailed big boats in storms, crossing the Bay often. He estimates that on Dec. 5, the wind blew 40 knots and gusted higher. It came from the northwest, shifting west northwestblowing at Phillipes back.
The waves out in the shipping channel may have climbed to six feet, Neely believes.
They were monstrous, he said. The wind started cranking that day just kept coming.
The splash of red grew on the horizon. At first, Neely thought he might be seeing a sailboard, and at any time he expected a windsurfer to pop up alongside. He decided to take a look, walking about 250 feet along a jetty and then 100 yards or so in shallow water. Wind propelled the red shape to his feet.
He turned over a red kayak, an Aquaterra Chinook, empty except for the water that poured out. A shockcord held a lifejacket to the bow. Neely saw no sign that it had been used.
At 4:55 p.m., the coast Guard received a call from Kathy Ames, a friend of Phillipes. She also called Chokris, where the Christmas tree was nearly trimmed.
Can you come to my place? she asked. Right away? A tortuous wait had begun.
Rapture can blind a sporting person to danger, cloud the clear thinking and impede preparation needed when meeting nature's heedless side.
The Saturday mornings Capital carried ominous warnings: Northwest winds increasing to 30-35 knots. Waves building to 3-5 ft. Scattered snow showers. Maybe Phillipe didnt know of the threat. Maybe he was testing himself. Maybe he was tricked by illusion.
Paddling off Bembe Beach, protected from the building gale, he couldnt know of the raging waters and nearly impossible conditions that awaited him. Another kayaker probably thought he was in control, too, three years ago on a Saturday morning on the Eastern Shore.
Robert Spellman, 38, a nurse from Baltimore, also paddled a red Chinook when he put in at Janes Island State Park near Tangier Sound. In Daugherty Creek Canal, he couldnt feel the 20-knot knot winds preparing to grab him on the Big Annamessex River on his way to the Fairmount Wildlife Management area.
Spellmans body was found two days later partly buried in sand along the southeast rim of Pat Island. He wore a life jacket over his flannel shirt and wool sweater, but no wetsuit or drysuit. Unlike Voss, Spellman had not even told others of his destination.
In both cases, the kayakers were suckered by following seas into tumultuous fights for their lives. And ice water can be a cruel place for battle.
Hypothermiaplunging body temperatureis generally regarded as cold waters main culprit. In truth, the first danger and often the real killer is cold shock. An involuntary gasp is the bodys first reaction. The lungs may fill with water, stealing control over breathing. Strength drains swiftly and panic can take over.
Experts say youre lucky if you have 15 or 20 minutes. In that time, a paddler must right the boat and deploy an outrigger method of self-rescuesomething that needs to be practiced. Then the paddler must summon the strength and leverage to lift his or her dizzy, weak and possibly hyperventilating body back into the vessel. All this amid roiling, huge waves and water just a few degrees above freezing.
What were really talking about here is buying time to get back in the boat, said Moulton Avery, an expert on cold shock. If you capsize and cant get back in the darn boat, your ass is in the water.
Until it floats up on the beach.
Just after noon on Saturday, January 4, four weeks after Phillipe Voss had headed east from Bembe Beach, a couple walking the beach found his body about a mile south of Kentmoor Marina on the Eastern Shore. He wore neither spray skirt nor lifejacket.
The point of discovery adds cruel irony to the tragedy. Much like Spellman, Voss was found near where his kayak had washed in. To some experts, that suggests that each may have come close to making their crossings despite incredibly stiff odds.
An autopsy disclosed that Voss had drowned. According to speculation he may have become so cold and numb protected by only a windbreaker that he lost control and fell out of his kayak.
His ability to paddle or even to reason was probably impaired, said Ron Casterline, operator of the Annapolis Kayaking School.
Vosss death remains troubling and mysterious to many. Why would an experienced paddler venture out on such a day? In the vernacular of pop psychology, some suggested that Voss may have had a death wish; that he may have been troubled in his life.
Unlikely. Late into his last night alive, Phillipe was as cheerful and full of schemes as ever. He tried to convince Chokri that they should open a cous-cous restaurant and teach these Marylanders about Moroccan pasta.
Theyd talked, too, of starting a French language newspaper, calling it the French Can Can. They had laughed at the mention of that name; in French, can-can means gossip.
Two of Phillipes sisters and a brother-in-law arrived from France to work with the French embassy to arrange the return of his body on a cargo plane. A Roman Catholic funeral was held in Versailles.
Later, Chokri helped to arrange the donation of Phillipes two kayaks to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, praised by Phillipes friends for their help.
At Chokris condo in Chesapeake Harbor, Phillips chocolate Lab, Quilla, greets visitors. Phillipes photos adorn the mantel and his red Honda is parked outside.
All the speculation about Phillipes motivation on that fateful day is less important to Chokri now that the season of his death has given way to spring. He prefers to remember his dear friend paraphrasing poet Archibald MacLeishs grieving words when one of his friends passed.
He lived and loved hard in life, so reckless at times, and that was part of his great charm.
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Environmental advocates wondered if the Clinton-Gore administration is as green as it claimed. Then the federal budget came out this month and wonder turned to worry.
Documents showed little new money for the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, the Center for Resource Economics called it an eight per cent cut. Thats not reassuring when youre dealing with years of neglect and a new set of duties under the 1990 Clean Air Act.
Enter EPA administrator Carol M. Browner. The presidents proposed jobs package and this proposed EPA budget are two indicators of the new prominence of environmental issues in this administration, she said, claiming the two proposals add up to a six per cent increase.
Of course, what Browner didnt say was that even as she spoke, White House aides were busy bargaining away chunks of that jobs package and that there was no way that her numbers would be correct.
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