It seemed like life sprang anew on the Isles

The summer is in full bloom at the Isles of Shoals at this writing, and with it has come the usual uptick in activity – most of it good, and all of it interesting.

The summer help (mostly young people in or just out of college, and known locally as Pelicans) are settling into the season’s routine. One of the traditional jobs involves the whole community for the transfer of food and luggage from the boats up to the trucks for distribution around the island. As in a bucket brigade, items are plucked from the deck and passed along in a process known on Star Island as “lining it.” Veterans pride themselves on their understanding of the subtleties of the best lining technique, and rookie mistakes are quickly detected. The goal is to get as efficiently and safely as possible to the call of “halfway,” indicating to all, with typical Island irony, that the boat is finally empty.

Last weekend, as the luggage for 300 people (estimated at over 15,000 pounds), was being lined up from the deck of the Hurricane to the old flatbed truck, the aluminum gangway abruptly buckled. Freight and bodies slid to the crease just as the ferry arrived from Portsmouth. The week’s new guests arrived just in time to watch some of their luggage dangling from the twisted aluminum ramp, now swaying precariously over the harbor.
Fortunately, there were no injuries and only one bag actually hit the water. The island maintenance crew had things back in service with a temporary fix within a few hours. Our friends at Riverside and Pickering Marine in Portsmouth are providing a stronger and wider model that will be shipped to the island in a week, following some modifications by master welder Mike Dumas. There seems to be a silver lining in many island disasters if you look hard enough for it.

The island naturalists are reveling in sightings of a variety of big fish, marine mammals and pelagic birds. One day last week, we passed a minke whale feeding in the same spot about three miles offshore for two days in a row. Harbor porpoises are again a regular feature of most trips out.

Over at Duck Island, the gray seals can be found without fail, playing in the break just off Mingo Rock. According to the marine-mammal-rescue folks from the Seacoast Science Center, some of the big seals are afflicted with a debilitating eye disease that may leave them blind. Scientists from the Shoals Marine Lab on nearby Appledore Island are looking into the cause of the disease. Research is hampered by Duck Island once being an aerial bombing practice target during World War II, and unexploded ordinance remains a danger.
Basking sharks have been sighted in Gosport Harbor over the past month. A group of four of them was observed swimming between Anderson Ledge and Cedar Island one afternoon last week. One shark came very close to the island swimming area behind the float dock. Swimmer volume was visibly reduced for a day or two afterward.

A rare sighting of a brown pelican (not one of the tanned, flightless variety previously discussed, and often seen swimming off the southern shore on sunny afternoons) was reported last week by two amateur island ornithologists. This sighting was later verified by the island naturalist.

The same folks also reported seeing an albatross a few days later, but this one has yet to be independently confirmed. Speculation is that the excitement over the pelican sighting may have inspired an irrational exuberance during the observation of a large gannet. As of press time, there are no albatross photographs available.

A couple of weeks ago we had an emergency medical evacuation that included some tense moments with the Coast Guard. As it happens, these emergencies tend to occur in the dark or during bad weather. This one happened during a line squall with horizontal wind and sheets of rain. An elderly guest had fallen asleep during a lecture, and was said by her companions to have been difficult to awaken and wobbly on her feet when she finally stood up.

The medical staff was called for evaluation, and a prudent decision was made to send the woman in to the hospital in Portsmouth for evaluation. The scheduled inbound trip on Utopia was delayed, and preparations were made to create a comfortable space onboard for her. As the rain and wind increased, the woman was carried onto the boat, now tossing about alongside the float. The careful transfer involved four strong Pelicans to execute safely. Finally, with the victim tucked in with pillows and blankets on the comfortable engine box cushion, we began the wet thrash through the rain and chop back to America.

Meanwhile, a rumor began to circulate among the shoreside authorities of an inbound patient in cardiac arrest and knocking on heaven’s door. When we were about halfway across, a Coast Guard cutter informed us over the VHF that they would be meeting us in a half-mile to take custody of the critically ill victim. I looked over at the cozy patient, now smiling and joking with the accompanying island nurse. The nurse and I had a very brief discussion concerning the victim’s stable condition and the obvious risks in attempting to transfer her from one heaving deck to another in the rain and waves. Our consensus was unequivocal: she would stay with us until we reached a secure landing on the mainland.

But the captain of the Coast Guard patrol boat continued to demand that we stop and allow him to come alongside for a transfer. After considerable scratchy radio transmissions, I decided to assert my sovereign control over the vessel and its passengers. I informed the insistent Coastie that the victim would remain with us. After a couple of rough passes alongside in the three-foot waves he agreed, so long as the EMTs he was transporting could come aboard to attend to the situation.

The patrol boat then escorted us into the harbor where an ambulance was waiting at the Portsmouth Station. The woman happily returned to the Island the next day to complete her vacation.

Last Sunday, we had the privilege of hosting about 30 friends and family of the late Arthur Martin on a trip to Appledore Island, in memory of what would have been his 100th birthday. Martin is best known for his development and promotion open water rowing and the Alden Ocean shells. Outlined in his wonderful book, “Life in the Slow Lane,” one will also find stories of his boyhood summers at the Isles of Shoals in the 1920s, and his involvement in the development and sales of a number of classic boats. These ranged from the Boston Whaler to the international 210s, and included his own Energy 48. Martin worked closely during those years with some of the giants of American yacht design including the Howland family, Ray Hunt and Ted Hood. I was honored to be part of the trip that day, at the end of which we presented the family with some freshly caught Shoals lobsters.

I am almost ready to launch Aloft after a year of upgrades, including a new mast and rigging by Paul and Joyce Giroux. Those two are true blue-water sailors and some fine people to boot. The other day, as I frantically chased the wet edge of polyurethane around 80 feet of sloop, they stopped by and noticed that I was running out of paint. Before I even realized it, there was a freshly opened can on the plank ahead of me – all stirred and ready to apply. The world would be a better place with more people like Joyce and Paul.

Jack is a USCG 100-ton master and the facilities director at Star Island at the Isles of Shoals, where Aloft lives most of the summer. Formerly island manager, Jack now focuses on running freight boats and tours during the summer season and managing the waterfront.

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