Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
This week I feel like getting all tale-y and geology-y. Pretty soon, the fishing might just happen to happen. Yahoo. I’ll even take winter flounder fishing, which is getting pretty radical for an OCD/ADHD/WTF/DILLIGAS/ROTFLMAO type like me.
TERROR FROM BELOW: I had recently written about an angler who quite accidentally “hooked a whale” off a Beach Haven jetty. It was a whale in the truest sense, one of a pod of leviathans feeding almost flush against the beachline. The hooked whale easily got off the line, with absolutely no harm done.
In response, I got an oddly apropos 1956 news story emailed to me from North Beach. It was a fully freaky tale about what befell a New Jersey net fishing boat, in waters not that far from LBI. The scary saga one-upped the hooking of a mere whale.
For the 65-foot fishing vessel Jennie out of Point Pleasant, April 22, 1956 was a normal net fishing day, i.e. the perfectly normal setting for one of the strangest fishing experiences imaginable.
Jennie’s captain, Tonnes Anderson, had just set his 80-foot wide net in 150 feet of water. He was targeting westward migrating fluke. Early indications were the boat’s net was on the valued flatfish.
As the vessel crawled along at barely three knots per hour, there were absolutely no surface indications that something astoundingly large and ominous was cruising down below, something that would turn the day totally around, literally. What’s more, nothing could have prepared the vessel and its five-man crew for the fully insane, nearly tragic,Nantucket sleighride they were about to go on.
The bizarre experience began in a heartbeat. One second, the boat was bumping along in a forward direction, the next it was jerked to a halt. The captain and crew went flying.
Then, the Jennie was literally being dragged backwards. Soon, it was surging, stern-first, reaching speeds of over 20 knots! Something huge was caught in the net and seemingly fleeing by accelerating northward. The captain and crew could only brace themselves as a truly terrifying ride, in reverse, began.
For Anderson, the worst part was losing all control of his boat. An overpowering force – from the deep – was now in control. Alarmingly, water was flooding over Jennie’stransom stern. She just wasn’t designed to travel in reverse that quickly.
As water gushed over the transom and onto the deck, the rattled captain and crew made harried guesses at what force had them fully in its grip. Thoughts of abandoning ship arose. But who in bloody hell wanted to jump into the water with whatever was down below? One crewman was convinced it was the proverbial sea serpent.
The captain wasn’t buying the sea serpent thing. He had fully bought into the reality that whatever was in the net was uncontrollable. Trying to fight the force by using Jennie’sforward thrust engine power was hopeless.
The backwards ride from hell went on – and on. For the next 10 minutes, the captain and crew could only hold on for dear life, despite the growing danger of sinking.
Then, as quickly as it had begun, everything stopped. The Jennie essentially righted herself and began gently rocking in the calm seas.
The rattled captain and crew silently gathered themselves, edging toward the railing to look for any signs of what had just hauled them over a mile and a half. Nothing whatsoever.
Pulling in the net, the men soon realized what had likely saved them. The powerful steel cable connecting boat and net had snapped. In fact, the cable was shredded like none of them had ever seen. The men even checked it for blood or scales. Again, nothing whatsoever. A maritime mystery of epic proportions.
Cool true story, eh? OK, so what else should I write about today?
What’s that? Whadda ya mean ya wanna know what the hell hauled that 65-foot fishing boat along as if it was a little ducky toy? Do I have to do everything around here?
All right, calm down. Here’s the rest of the story.
But before that, you first have to realize this all took place back in the days of fervid UFO fears and loathings. That surely added a dash of extraterrestrial mystery to any and all beyond-belief events, like the Jennie’s magical mystery ride. It was also the hottest part of the Cold War. And, Jennie, in her own weird way, had just become momentarily – even monetarily – immersed in that worldwide tension.
Here goes: Turns out that Jennie had netted the 320-foot, 3,500-ton, nuclear submarineUSS Nautilus.
Awesome! Totally awesome!
Per later reports, our first nuclear sub was heading back to her homeport of Groton, Connecticut, when it was snared off Jersey. The submarine’s captain and crew had no idea.
While the newspaper story I was sent said the sub surfaced after it had drug along theJennie, Navy reports differed.
One report read, “USS Nautilus is snared in the nets of a fishing vessel off the New Jersey coast … running at a depth of 150 feet. The Nautilus nearly drags the vessel under water, but the submarine is unaware of the mishap, does not surface and continues to Groton, Conn. The estimated damage is $1,300 to each vessel.”
The government fully admitted the accident and compensated Captain Anderson for his damaged gear. For his nuclear headache, the captain ended up with one of the greatest tales in New Jersey commercial fishing history.
By the by, the expression Nantucket sleighride comes from whaling days when a harpooned whale would drag a small, rowed whaleboat along behind it. The expression is still commonly used by anglers when hooking into a fish big enough to pull the entire boat along during a fight.
I’ve had such sleigh rides in my kayak, most memorably compliments of a huge brown shark I hooked off Ship Bottom. I gave up the fight when I got pulled out toward the shipping lanes. Hey, I hadn’t had a single bite all day, chunking for bluefish.
How did I know it was a shark? Oddly, right after I hooked it, the six-foot-plus brown allowed itself to be lifted upward like nothing, obviously confused. Sharks aren’t the sharpest knives in the fish drawer. When it finally computed that things were not right, it dove down and moved out. Nothing overly dramatic. It just doggedly headed dead east.
INLET UPDATE: Just a bit of an update on the starts-soon repair/extension work project on the North Jetty in Barnegat Inlet. It’s a huge job, to be sure, and will carry on for nine months, though these projects often overrun initial scheduling.
I chatted with a rep from the USCG, Cindy O., and received some interesting info about the work. However, the more info she gave me, the more questions I had. To her credit, she took notes and headed back to base, so to speak, to get info (coming soon, hopefully).
Here are some basics – along with my own fill-ins: There will be a 140-foot wide “safety zone” at the work area. I do not know if this means 70 feet north and south, or some other configuration. Cindy is checking that. Regardless, it is very likely this unapproachable (to boating) “safety zone” will greatly constrict the opening for boats to move in and out of the inlet. I actually envision damn near single lane conditions – though I can’t imagine boats coming in or going out having to give way to vessels coming toward them, without warfare or the need for a cop there to direct traffic. Again, this is being further looked into.
By my reckoning alone, it sounds like the entire vicinity of the project will be a “No Wake” zone. This wouldn’t be the worst thing. As mariners know, that zone just inside the mouth of the inlet is often choppy and has to be taken fairly slowly, especially during tide changes. Imagine having to work there for nine months.
As we speak, the Coast Guard is printing up pamphlets and fliers regarding the work, soon to be distributed. Public service announcements via media will also begin soon.
The SandPaper and this column will publish that initial general information and also any tweaks and adjustments to the boating set-up – as actual interplay, between mariners and workers, plays out.
For this column, I’d be very interested in early reads on what it’s like to navigate near the work zone. I imagine commercial fishermen will be the first to feel the effects of the work.
Needless to say, access doesn’t look great for folks who fish off the North Jetty, either by boat or from the rocks. Although the inside (westerly) parts of the jetty will be accessible, I’m guessing that huge vessels will park alongside the jetty inside the work zone.
BEACHCOMBING BANTER: What is rock-hard, greenish-gray comes in all sorts of odd shapes and regularly washes up along the beaches of LBI? I don’t know either, but it’s crawling on your neck.
(Remember that stupid joke? The worst part is, as a little kid, I’d always start slapping at my neck, screaming, “Get it off! Get it off!” Hell, I kept that joke alive for a whole new generation.)
But back to those smoothed, sometimes large, greenish rocks that constantly wash ashore hereabout. They are a bit of a mainstay for beachcombers, especially when the rocks have taken on some collectibly bizarre or gestalt-ish forms.
So, what is that stuff?
How about coming along for a fairly fun science ride?
I’m surmising those smoothed, washed up rocks are pretty much pressurized mud. But that’s a simplification. Over tons of time – and planetary pressure – marine and freshwater muds become mudstone (softest), then marlstone (quite hard) and even limestone (super hard). Technically, it all comes down to how much calcium carbonate is in the muddy material.
Our beach rocks are marlstone, up to 75 percent calcium carbonate. We’ll just call it marl.
Jersey was fairly famed for its marl, having a history of supplying farmers with “green sands” marl. It added calcium to the soil. Towns like Marlton and Marlboro got their names from those sands, technically called glauconite. Many New Jerseyans have searched through those green sands in search of shark teeth.
When it comes to our washed-up marl material, we drift away from glauconite – and get geologically complicated. Our beach stuff is so hard – often tough to break even with a hammer – that it seems to have taken a whole different geo-course than the state’s loose, green sands.
Marl can date back a mere few thousand years to millions atop millions ago – clear back to the age of dinosaurs. For instance, New Jersey’s state dinosaur (yes, we have one),Hadrosaurus foulkii, found near Munn Lake in Haddonfield, Camden County, came from a marl quarry. It dates back 73 million years. I’ve dug fossils in marl that go back over 90 million years.
So how does one date our beach marl? Slowly, at best. Such dating is most often done via superpositioning, meaning you ID the geological formation (and thus the era) from whence a particular piece of rocky material originated. But there’s the rocky rub with our beach marl. Where the hell did it come from?
It might hail from a fairly recent geological formation, eroding away beneath the ocean, near to shore. In fact, I’ve found greenish pieces of easily broken mudstone with shells inside, indicating it just wasn’t that old – maybe thousands or only hundreds of years old. However, many of our beach marl chunks are so hard, so compressed, that even fierce hammer blows can’t break them. That is likely old stuff, maybe even dating back to the Cretaceous Period, 250 million to 66 million years ago. But how did something that old get into the coastal geology, which only dates back to, uh, last year?
That’s where we go to one of my favorite N.J. geological eras, the aforementioned Cretaceous, from which I have excavated to the tune of pounds and pounds of astoundingly rare amber, in Sayreville. Millions of years of erosion and even glacial action could easily have loosed ancient layers of marl. The astoundingly rounded and tumbled look of our marl indicates it has been a-roll forever, or less.
This all leads to a couple intriguing marl finds made recently in Holgate. Both chunks contain well-marked fossils. One is an entire, large whelk shell. The shape and swirls are undeniably that of some type of whelk. It is a replacement fossil, meaning the original organic shell material has been supplanted by mud/marl. The other marl chunk fossil contains a crab, with part of actual crab claw visible.
The finds are fascinating but as to their ages, that’s indeterminable – for now. But, I’ve begun digging around for age answers. Last week, I ground down pieces of LBI marl to see if any geo-indicators hide inside, either in the form of low-magnification inclusions (fossils and such) or via chemical analysis. The Holgate crab claw fossil could offer huge insights, if meticulously freed from the nasty-hard marl around it. Break out the dental tools and Dremel bits.
I know what those of you of a science ilk are thinking: Just turn to studies on marl. Which I did, through folks I know at Stanford. I was quite surprised when I got word “very little detailed rock physics analysis is available for the shaly carbonates known as marls.”
So it’s up to me. I’m sure all y’all will be riveted to your SandPapers waiting for my findings, so I’ll keep you well posted.
HOLGATE HAPPENINGS: The Forsythe Refuge has apparently opted to hire trappers to rid the area of any and all foxes. Apparently, no cyanide solutions.
As the Holgate Wilderness Area shut down for the arriving over-summering birds, the erosion area – now a veritable plain of vegetationless sand between beach and bay – is worse than ever. Ninety percent of the Holgate landmass there has eroded away in the past 25 years. If anything, the stretch of sandy nothingness – ocean to bay – has greatly expanded since Sandy. The area is only a couple storms away from seeing the ocean and bay getting together on a daily high-tide basis. However, it is highly unlikely that a new inlet will form right there.
I’ve been mulling over both modern and archival aerial photographs of Holgate. The layout of the erosion zone is far different than back in the day – when Beach Haven Inlet suddenly formed near the current Holgate parking area. That overnight inlet was huge, over 50 yards across. It also entertained a massive water exchange during tides. It was soon being navigated by larger vessels.
A new Holgate Inlet isn’t in the offing – just yet.
To the immediate west of the current erosion zone is a grass sedge environment, unfavorable to a deep-water inlet forming east-to-west thereabouts.
I remain cautiously optimistic that the upcoming Island-long beach replenishment will rather quickly send immense amounts of sand onto Holgate. The project will pump sand as far south as the submerged jetty, adjacent to the northern borderline of the Forsythe Refuge. The first littoral drift of pumped-in sand should come in fairly close to the erosion zone. Obviously, always-whimsical nature will have the final sand say.