It’s the time of year when the great ponds along the south shore of the Vineyard get opened to the sea. The ponds are now brim-full from all of the rain and snow melt during the winter months. The surface of the water in the ponds is several feet above sea level even at high tide. To connect the pond to the sea a long trench is dug with a big excavator starting just out of reach of the surf. The machine works its way back toward the pond. When the excavation reaches the pond, water rushes into the trench but doesn’t reach the sea yet. Then the excavator crawls back to the ocean end of the trench and scoops out the last of the sand. The water gushes down the slope of the beach in a big hurry. On calm days this flow creates a rip current offshore. When the pond is opened up in the warmer months, blissfully shortsighted folks have jumped into the out-rushing torrent to delight in the thrill of being rapidly swept along. Usually they survive to do it again. Sometimes it’s the very last thing they did before meeting their maker.

Opening the ponds to the sea has many benefits. The most immediate advantage is the lowering of the water level. This means that in the cellars of some of the dwellings built very close to the pond the furnace guy can do his job without standing in a couple of inches of water. The pond-side parking lots dry out enough so that if you aren’t wearing knee high boots you can still take a walk on the beach.

Ordinarily the pond opening operation goes off without a hitch. I don’t know exactly what happened this year, but there was some confusion. Maybe it was because it’s hard to hear clearly around the loud diesel of the excavator while loading it onto a trailer or maybe it’s because the name of one of the ponds doesn’t match the name of the town that surrounds it. Anyway, long story bearable, the guys who went down to South Beach to open Edgartown Great Pond took a left at the end of the left fork instead of a right at the end of the right fork and inadvertently opened up Katama Bay to the sea. Easy mistake. Could have happened to anyone. It’s not the biggest mistake ever made with an excavator like tearing down the wrong house. After all this is just sand and saltwater. But the problem is that the opening got real big real quick.

There always seems to an upside to any human mistake if you look hard enough. I ran into TTOR superintendent Chris Kennedy the day after the incident. That guy always seems to be smiling. I asked him if there was a plan to try to fill in this new man-made breach. He said that truthfully it was kind of a relief to him that Norton Point was actually a “point” once again. He said that it always bugged him that even when Norton Point attached itself to Wasque Point that the continuous barrier beach was still called Norton Point. He’s a real stickler for logic. He said it caused him to toss and turn at night and that he finally had gotten his first sound sleep since the last breach closed up two years ago.

A Chappy ferry passenger said that he welcomed the return of the stronger currents that accompany a breach. Because the ferry gets swept away by the current the trip often takes several minutes instead of just one. Frequent traveler Jed Dowlin said that the longer voyage gives him more time to catch up on local news with the ferry captain. I noticed that his constant canine companion Fiona now has enough time to check every tire of the vehicles aboard to catch up on her version of local news. I always appreciated the challenge of getting the ferry into the slip under adverse conditions without spilling everybody’s coffee.

Rick Schifter called to say that he had heard a rumor about a new breach. Remember he’s the guy who had to move his house way back because of the erosion caused by the last breach. If he hadn’t his house would be in the sea by now. He was anxious that he might have to go through the whole ordeal again so soon. He said that he called me because he knew that I would give him a straight answer. I was speechless for a moment, surprised that he would level such an insult on my character. Then I told him that I would ask around but that I’m usually pretty busy around April Fool’s Day.

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