From the April 16, 1976 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

Contemplating the shattered ruins of his toil and hopes, George T. Silva chose his words carefully.

“I’m a little disappointed,” he said at last.

He had organized manpower and earth-moving machinery for an unprecedented effort to stop a geological process that has been going on for 10,000 years or so. Briefly they had done it — they had thrown a massive wall of sand across the opening into Katama Bay that the Atlantic had broached during the big wind of Feb. 2.

The sea swept the wall away in the night.

Once more unto the breach, once more, they tried again next day. To and fro hurried bulldozers, two on the Katama side of the current racing six feet deep through the opening, two on the Chappaquiddick side. The wind backed into the south and freshened. The sea hurled itself, rank on thundering rank, against the two converging ramps of the wall. Surf was breaking over the front-end earth movers. George T. Silva can take a hint. He decided it was time to stop.

“I’m a little disappointed,” said the 74-year old former harbormaster of Edgartown. “But I haven’t given up. For a while now I’ll work down there by myself, without equipment — every morning now I fill a few more bags with sand and put them out where they’ll break the force of the currents. We’ll try again. I’m not through.”

But, he added, for the time being — at least until the full-moon spring tides have subsided — it was time to call quits on the mechanized effort to seal off the passageway that was ripped open 2 1/2 months ago and has been moving since eastward along South Beach.

A word of stage-setting is necessary.

Historically, century after century, the ocean has been sawing an opening into Katama Bay at the outermost reach of the Edgartown inner harbor. Then the opening has migrated, quite like a saw blade whose strokes are the pulsing tides, slicing away the grassed dunes on its eastern edge, building a new beach behind it a spit or shoal at a time, until it encounters the high cliffs at Wasque Point. Then the opening is sealed by sands carried on the prevailing southwest currents, a few years or decades intervene, and the process begins again in a night of gale and surge somewhere near the Katama Road entrance on the great beach.

It was to prevent this movement of the saw blade down South Beach that Mr. Silva tried, at first virtually single-handed and last week with equipment and crews brought up at his own expense, to plug the opening.

By Sunday the bulldozers, by this time numbering five, had been withdrawn, and by Monday the cranes that had stacked the pyramids of beach sand that went into the building of the bridge were gone back into the daily grind. The sea was pounding through the opening, fanning out across the little pond called Mattakeset, lapping against the mud and sedge of the flats along the road paralleling the bay. It had a timetable of its own.

“We’ve learned a lot,” he said. “We’ve had the finest kind of lesson.” Someone asked what he had learned besides what any scientist learns from an experiment that fails — to wit, what won’t work — he enumerated:

• Government’s responses are sluggish. Town and county didn’t attack the opening when it was narrow, shallow, and far back up the beach; Jared Grant did, at his own expense, and then Mr. Silva did.

• That beach must be rebuilt to protect the barrier beach, the harbor, and the shellfish beds in the bay. “We’ve had a warning.”

• The opening can be closed.

• But to make the closing permanent much more sand will be needed than can be mined from the low and fragile beach as it stands. It will need time to build itself.

• The dam should probably be built next time farther inside the bay, where it would not be vulnerable to currents that carried away its predecessor tons at a time.

While it was going on the effort to seal off the inlet was the hottest show in town. Cars sometimes numbering in tens were parked along the road overlooking the scene and on paths running down to the water. By hundreds people walked out along the spit to watch. Mr. and Mrs. Walter Cronkite were there. Mr. Silva said Mr. Cronkite just walked up and said, “I’d like to shake your hand, and if I were a voter in Edgartown you’d be reimbursed.”

Another thing learned, Mr. Silva said, was that you can’t fight the elements.

You’ll notice, he added, that inside the bay spits are making out, groping toward each other, and in the sea outside a shoal is building itself. It was conceivable that the Atlantic, having proved its point, was about to demonstrate how to close an opening.

Meanwhile Mr. Silva was going down to the beach early each morning to set bags of sand where they might be useful to an ocean with atonement in mind. There’s work to be done in the garden, and he’s awaiting from his wife in West Palm Beach word that Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Phillips have made him a great-grandfather. The ocean can wait.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox