Sunday morning was a time to Fall Back. I used the opportunity of the hour of extra-time to launch Kingfisher for a sail out to the Northeast Point of Bull Island. I was prepared to get wet with a north wind predicted to blow 15-20 knots. As in every recent day my thoughts intermittently drifted to the north. There was more outboard traffic in Andersonville Creek than I anticipated. When I arrived at the Shark Hole and looked out to Bulls Bay boats were turning back: the reason became clear. Swells were rolling in to the creek from the open waters beyond. As I entered the Bay the swells became steeper and piled up by the outgoing tide. It was a rougher Bay than I had experienced in some time, and my focus became riveted on steering around and through each wave. No boats were in sight, just troubled waters all the way out to the distant Northeast Point. Kingfisher and I got into the rhythm of the waves in the close reach out. Waves tossed off the bow covered me with spray, and salt-coated my glasses. Time was clearly distorted; I had noticed my watch said 8:38 as we entered the Bay. The island approached quickly, and waves broke all along the waters to the Point’s beach. Picking a spot ahead we took off and surfed on a wave right in to the beach, arriving before 9. I knew that later in the morning the Bull Island ferry had planned a Beach Drop here, but I wondered if it would be feasible in these conditions.
Switching rain gear for walking apparel I began a familiar loop walk – a Jacks Creek walk-around. There was a new feature, a saltwater pond, on the beach on this north end of the island. A large gathering of birds was at the actual point, and a group of eleven white pelicans flew off across the inlet. Surprisingly two boats I had seen in the creek were making their way out the inlet toward the channel on the Point’s eastern side, being tossed and banged by the waves. I wondered at the wisdom of their venture – did they wonder at mine?
Walking through the dune field to the elevated entrance into the maritime forest, the view was spectacular of the Bay and ocean. The cool morning and strong wind kept the mosquitos in the forest down. The walk continued through maritime forest and on raised dikes past impoundments and salt marsh. At the Old Fort canal connecting Jacks Creek to the marsh, several alligators floated on the surface. On Alligator Alley I was surprised to see an individual coming toward me. He was a hunter just getting set up on the island for the week long archery deer hunt. He reassured me that there was no hunting on Sunday; he was scouting and setting up portable tree stands – his dolly for transporting these around appeared later on the walk. Passing pool #1, a bird on the wing flashed bright pink – a roseate spoonbill. I failed to get a photograph of this wading bird rapidly receding to the northeast over the Jacks Creek impoundment. I later recounted missing this shot to the Bull Island ferry’s captain, Will Christenson, an avid bird photographer. “The bird was too fast, and I was too slow.”
Pool # 2 had its usual contingent of alligators, and several basking on the dike returned to the water with me at some distance. The crop of duck weed was abundant, and at pool #3 it appeared as a verdant green carpet stretching into the distance, accented along the bank by the fall foliage of a wall of popcorn trees in front of palmettos. The water level appeared higher in numerous places including Moccasin Pond. I arrived at the Boneyard with just the company of cormorants roosting on a usual tree in the surf. The protection from the wind on the leeward side of the island and full sun made it a fine lunch stop.
On the move again I headed north toward the Northeast Point to complete the circuit walk. The tidal creek across the beach required wading without shoes. Ahead I thought I picked out people in the distance, and the closest figure resolved into an actively working photographer. In passing I said hello and commented on the numerous photographic subjects. The photographer, Gary Weart, had come off Caretta on the Beach Drop, and I learned had been alerted to the presence of Kingfisher‘s skipper roaming on the island. Gary and I chatted about mutual associates, and he accompanied me on the walk back. This was his first time on the island, and I showed him the short loop on the secondary Jacks Creek dike which opened up the view into the large impoundment and some gator subjects. As we rounded the Point, a couple of kayakers appeared in the inlet, and headed out the channel along the beach. I wondered about their destination. I was struck by the changed conditions – the wind had moderated considerably, and the Bay was almost smooth now as the end of the ebb approached.
Gary was kind enough to help me drag Kingfisher down the beach close to the water. His wife had stayed behind to beachcomb, and was at the appointed place where Caretta would pick up the Beach Drop passengers. I took my time talking with Gary in making my preparations to sail home. Prior to launching Kingfisher, Caretta appeared to the southwest coming out of Bull Creek, and to the east the two kayakers came around the Point retracing their earlier paddle.
The projected very wet blast across the Bay had now become a smooth sail. I departed early from the simple course, coming around to head to the east and speak with the two kayakers. I shared with them about my wondering if they were venturing a circumnavigation, and they laughed at that possibility. They were on their return paddle to Garris Landing. I heading southwest for a gam with Caretta and Captain Will, checking in about our days. As we parted the kayakers were passing, and I asked if they had ever made the return paddle through Andersonville Creek. They had not, and I pointed out my course would give them the bearing for a future return. As I left them astern, it became apparent that they were going to follow. In my wake a couple of photos from Will and Gary captured the start of my sail home.
Photo credit Gary Weart
A couple of dolphins came close to starboard before turning to inspect the kayakers.
The simple sail allowed my thoughts to drift, and return to the passing of my father. We knew that this would be the last year of his life – ninety-four years in July. My instinct was to spend as much of my time away from work in traveling to New Jersey. As his physical condition declined, I became even more motivated to be with him, and help him leave the confines of assisted living. So I scouted the nearest and most accessible boardwalk to the ocean (Ocean Grove), and this place became a frequent stop. We discovered the best pizza perhaps anywhere at Pete and Elda’s in Neptune, and this eatery became a must every visit. It was also natural to make the trek to Red Bank, and Marine Park allowed us the vista of the Navesink River where we spent so much time. Traveling east to Atlantic Highlands we would ascend Mount Mitchill, a park with an incredible overlook to Sandy Hook, Manhattan, Long Island, the ocean, and lines of shipping. It was on a trip to visit Sandy Hook that I recounted in Sandy Hook Surprise.
My last visit to see my father was in my mind a trip to say goodbye. Driving north, I used an adage I have coined and used in my work “Ask and you will receive – sometimes”. I searched the number and called the Coast Guard station at Sandy Hook to see if they offered tours. They gave a very qualified maybe, and said they definitely don’t allow entrance to people showing up at the gate. I inserted the key phrases of “World War II Coast Guard veteran”, “94 years old”, and “First lieutenant”. After two more return calls from someone higher in the chain of command, we had a tour date set for later in the week. It was informal, much to my father’s relief, and we laughed later about his vision of red carpets and speaking from a podium. We were able to tour throughout the facility, where my father was based in 1942. This base had suffered $30 million damage with Superstorm Sandy. We heard about their current operations, and my father recalled his time there.
When our family returned to the cemetery where two years ago we had a similar service for my mother, my brother and I both spoke in honor of our father. What I had experienced in the last year with him recalled for me the concept of extra-time. In soccer when a match is tied at the end of regulation time, and a result is required, then extra-time is utilized. It seemed that the wonderfully rich experiences we had were extra-time, and I realized that all of our family had this benefit. His four grandchildren had a long relationship with him, and he was an important part of three of their weddings. He got to know five great-grandchildren, though the youngest only through the magic of FaceTime. I only learned the full extent of his WWII Coast Guard service in the last months of his life. At age 84 he made his first and only hole-in-one. It was an achingly beautiful morning as we came together for breakfast overlooking the Navesink River, and then proceeded to the graveside ceremony.
Great-grandsons Charlie Raynor, Sully Painter, & Joey Raynor overlooking the Navesink River. Photo Zac Painter.
Entering into Andersonville Creek, a few tacks were now required to navigate the passage to our landing. A memory surfaced of an older friend from my youth who was sailing with his father in a race on the Navesink River. He was only a child at that time when his father became ill, and he had to sail the boat back to the boat club. His father died of a heart attack. That sad tale reinforced the gratitude that I have had of the long relationship with my father. The extra-time we experienced this year will continue to leave me feeling grateful.