Dock of the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 5
February 3-9, 2000
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The Ice of Double-Ought: How Hard a Freeze?

photo by Christy Grimes
This year, ice on the Bay and its creeks left watermen and those with their boats in water frozen in.

You call this ice? Legend has it the Bay froze over so hard one year a squad of VW beetles drove across it from Annapolis to Kent Island.

U.S. Coast Guard supervisor Todd Offutt buys it. “Since Annapolis and Eastport had a tug-of-war over Back Creek, I believe these people will do anything.”

But to longtime Fairhaven resident Ed Becke, who has seen some serious Bay ice in his time, it’s just a later edition of a hoary folk tale.

“I’m 76 now, and when I was about 10 I’d hear stories about Model Ts driving right across from Holland Point to Fairhaven, but I don’t know,” he said. Becke will only vouch for what he’s seen, and he’s seen it freeze up enough for pickup trucks to drive onto the Bay and do donuts. “In the ’60s my kids would ride a go-cart out on that ice,” he recalls. “We were used to having ice here, but in recent years we just haven’t had it.”

Bay Weekly writer M.L. Faunce, a D.C. native who spent childhood weekends at the Bay resorts, agrees. Faunce can recall not only summers swimming in the Chesapeake without multiple jellyfish stings but also winters with solid Bay ice. “I’d never seen a body of water that large frozen that hard. Wavy ice. Just amazing,” she says.

Maryland Cruising Guide editor Mickey Courtney has spent most of 50 years on the water, so he’s seen the Bay in all weathers. “The worst ice conditions I’ve seen on the bay were back in the mid-to-late ’70’s, when we had a few really cold winters,” he said. “People were walking on the ice even in Herring Bay.

photo courtesy of Ed Becke
In January of 1977, the Bay froze over, providing an off-road track for this go-carter at Owings Cliffs beach.

“Ice was so bad it would stack up against the Bay Bridge pilings,” he recalls. “It looked like icebergs. You’d have to see it to believe it. Now, there’s no comparison.”

This is small comfort to John Surrick, spokesman for Maryland Department of Natural Resources. In freezing weather like this, Natural Resources staffers pull long hours clearing shipping lanes and freeing commercial watermen. “It’s packing up now. Last time we did any icebreaking was ’96, but it wasn’t this bad. A lot of heating oil for the Eastern Shore is delivered in barges, so we have to keep the lanes open,” says Surrick from his cell phone as he hastens down Route 50 to Crisfield where the boats dock.

Icy times are even rockier for the Coast Guard. “Ice is not a once-a-year thing for us,” explains Offutt. “We keep in touch with commercial tugs, Eastern Shore fuel providers, DNR and the weather service throughout the year.”

How does this year’s ice compare? “Our last big ice experience was in 1994. That was a condition 1,” Offutt recalls. “Condition 1 means a lot of ice.”

The Coast Guard classifies ice in three stages, from okay to bad. Condition 3 simply means a likelihood of ice formation. We’re in condition 2, which means, according to Offutt, “Some ice. We’ve been in condition 2 for some time here.”

The Coast Guard gets its ice report from marinas at 30 points along the Bay. Those reports are to be verified by air stations.

What’s the marina’s-eye-view of the Freeze of ’00?

“Not a problem,” according to Matt Gambrill, owner of Calvert Marina in Solomons. “Solomons has always been sort of an open-water port. Ten or 12 years ago, we had one really hard winter,” Gambrill says. “We had a thick ice build-up in the harbor. When the tide comes in, it raises that ice layer and pries the piers right out of the water. That’s why you see these crooked piers that look like snakes. The ice has done that over the years.”

Farther up the Bay, Hamilton Chaney of Herrington Harbor North isn’t much impressed. “The freezes in the last couple years haven’t been as bad as in the mid-’80’s or certainly the ’70’s,” he says. “But this is getting to be a pretty bad freeze. We break up the ice, push it out of the way and keep on going.”

So far our Big Freeze hasn’t been hard enough to make anyone forget the ’70s. As with so many other things, they don’t make ice the way they used to. But our millennial winter isn’t over. We may yet get a chance to break out the Bugs.

—Christy Grimes

In Calvert, South Rebels on School Planning

“If you build it, they will come.” Twist Kevin Costner’s memorable line from the movie A Field of Dreams, and you have the situation in Calvert County. They’ve already come, a school-worth of high school students, and their parents are getting impatient waiting for the county to build them room to learn.

Patuxent High School opened in Lusby five years ago at the cost of $21 million. Built to accommodate 1,350 students, it now overflows with 1,475 students. In September of ’99, the number was a staggering 1,550. The county’s other high schools are Calvert, its first, at Prince Frederick, and Northern, built in 1973, in Sunderland. Planners expect those schools to reach capacity by the year 2002.

Three locations are being considered for the fourth school. Two would put the new school in the northern end of Calvert; the third would place it within about 15 miles of Patuxent High in the St. Leonard area.

At a recent Board of Education public hearing, support was strong for putting the newest school in the southern end of the county. Over 40 citizens had plenty to say.

“Put the school where the children are; put the school in the south,” said Marlene White of Lusby. Armed with statistics and first-hand information, she summarized the citizen consensus in that single sentence.

County planner Frank Jaklitsch and school district planner Lloyd Robertson also came prepared to prove that population growth will slow down south of Prince Frederick. “We’ve done our homework,” said Robertson. “We’ve seen the numbers decrease in the southern end since the Calvert County commissioners put their slow-growth measures in effect last year.”

But Southern Calvert parents weren’t buying predictions. The here-and-now was their concern.

“My daughter’s in a class with 31 students at Dowell Elementary School,” White continued. “That school was built to relieve classroom crowding. Yet it opened over capacity.”

White’s remarks drew applause as the southern community banded together.

“One thing that was very impressive to everyone, not just me, was that people from the community were very polite and highly informed,” board member and southern community resident Ruth Keimig told Bay Weekly.

“I believe that the … assumptions on which Jaklitsch and Robertson have based the scenario are just that — assumptions. I believe that the credibility of the planners’ scenario was challenged effectively.”
Keimig sought and got a one-month postponement of the board’s decision.

She opposes putting the new school north of Prince Frederick, but she’s not counting on tipping the scales. “I am just one of five votes. Proving demographic shift would make it really clear. Without it, changing the decision is a long shot at best,” she said.

But recent citizen victories throughout Chesapeake Country are snowballing into a populist avalanche. Even during winter weather you could find the united southern citizenry delivering post cards to door steps all around their end of the county, urging all to come out and make their stand.

“When you see how the political influence of the Dunkirk Area Citizens Association has become strong and dominant in the county, you get the idea of how important it is to stay mobilized in the larger county context as you work for regional goals,” said Keimig.

Snow postponed the board’s annual budget hearing until Thursday, Feb. 3, when the public hearing convenes at 7:30pm at Calvert High School.

—Lori L. Sikorski

Dean of the D.C Press Corps Charms St. Mary’s

On the eve of the Iowa caucus, Auerbach Auditorium at St. Mary’s College of Maryland was abuzz with excitement. Almost 200 people braved cold and a threatening winter storm to hear about candidates, their debates and politics.

One person in the auditorium had been on the phone to the Corn State to find out what was going on. “I couldn’t help myself,” United Press International reporter Helen Thomas said as she stepped up to the podium at 8:05pm. “It’s my job.”

The featured speaker for the college’s 17th Annual Margaret Brent Lecture series, Thomas delighted everyone with her wit, knowledge and charm. She scripted her speech with excerpts of her latest book, Front Row at the White House.

That’s a place she has held for 40 of her 59 years as a reporter. She’s best known for her “Thank you Mr. President,” after her questions, a custom she began with President John F. Kennedy on the very first day of her White House assignment. She tells us that Kennedy, relieved to get out of the question, replied, “No, Thank you!”
Looking much younger than she does in the White House pressroom, Thomas has traded her trademark red this evening for basic black and a single strand of pearls. Her facial lines are soft and her dark eyes sharp. Nails and lips are vivid pink.

“I am afraid I am competing with the big show in Iowa,” she began adding a joke. “You can be sure that the president himself will be out beating the Bushes, if you will excuse the expression, for Vice President [Al] Gore.”

Starting with her first White House assignment in November 1960 covering Kennedy, right up to her conversation earlier that very day with President Bill Clinton, Thomas itemized the past 40 years with fondness.

The only print reporter who traveled with President Nixon during his historic visit to China in 1972, Thomas has since returned with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush. Thomas has also covered every economic summit on her White House beat.

When asked which president she most enjoyed covering, Thomas answered without hesitation. “President Kennedy of course. He was the man who had his eyes on the stars. I admired his visions, his determination. Did you know he was given the last rites [the Catholic sacrament for those near death] three times? He really was living on borrowed time.”

Which first lady did she most admire? Again there was no hesitation. “Pat Nixon. I was very fond of Pat.” Thomas regaled her audience with short stories about each first lady she covered. “I have an appreciation for every one of them. They all had their causes and strong beliefs,” the reporter said.

A first lady in her own right, Thomas was elected the first woman officer of the National Press Club when it opened its doors to women after a 90-year history of all-male membership. Thomas has also been awarded more than 20 honorary degrees and has been celebrated with many awards for outstanding journalism.

In 1998, Thomas was the first recipient of an award established in her name by the White House Correspondents Association: The Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award.

With so many worldly achievements, Thomas told us that she’s always enjoyed the comforts of life in Southern Maryland. “I am honored to be back here and remember the warm hospitality I received on my last visit,” she said.

Talking with Thomas at a reception after the lecture, I learned more about her ties to the region south of D.C. “I have several friends down this way,” she said, taking my hand as we chatted. “Marlin Fitzwater who resides in Deale and of course my dear friend, [former Washington Post Style reporter] Donnie Radcliffe. What a beautiful home she has.”

It wasn’t long before Thomas took back the role of investigative reporter.

“Don’t you love what you do?” she asked me, all the while holding my hand. “How many years have you been doing this?”

Thomas put her hand to her mouth when I told her of the recent death of former AP photographer and Shady Oaks resident Hank Burroughs. “Oh my, not Hank,” she said sadly. The two had worked together for many years.

There was one more question that I had to ask Thomas before I left her side. What does she plan to do when she retires?

Her dark eyes grew large. “Never!” she said matter-of-factly. “I am never going to retire.

There has been talk of UPI going out of business since 1943, but it hasn’t, and neither am I.”

—Lori L. Sikorski

Way Downstream …

In California, Dungeness crabs are enduring similar problems as Atlantic blue crabs in the Chesapeake, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In the mid-20th century, crabbers would haul in nine million pounds of Dungeness yearly from the San Francisco Bay alone. These days, it ranges between two million and three million. In addition to overharvesting, Pacific Ocean warming has kept the cold water-loving Dungeness from rebounding …

Sister Bay Update: In Brazil, government officials say it could take 10 years for the famous Bay of Guanabara in Rio de Janeiro to recover from a massive oil spill from a pipeline. …

In Iowa, the competition is over and the winner of the coveted title of Iowa Pork Queen is Kathryn Barnts of Central City. Last year’s queen, Soo Grieman — yes, she changed her name from Sue — cautioned her successor that she’ll take a little ribbing for her honor …

Our Creature Feature comes from Israel, where a five-year-old elephant named Chapati was suffering from a big case of loneliness, and it had begun to show. Israel has many things going for it, but female elephants aren’t among them.

So the 3,300-pound “beloved son of Jerusalem” was sent to Thailand where, the Nando Times reported, he bounded off the airplane “looking perky.” It was rumored that the cows of an elephant conservation center were standing in line awaiting the big fella. Remarked Thailand’s agriculture minister: “It’s best for Chapati to come to Thailand to live a normal life.”

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly