My Corner Office: The Many Faces of the Peconic Bay
by David Berson
It is my corner office, my room with a view, where I earn my living continually reestablishing my connection with that older part of the earth; the water. From Memorial Day to mid October, about 120 days each year, over the past 19 years, about six and one half years of my life.
Six and one half years becoming intimate with that part of the Great Peconic Bay extending from Conklin Point to the west to Gull Pond, to the east. A small segment really of the Bay that extends from Bug Light to Riverhead, but a representative example of its daily changes, affected by weather, traffic and the daily ticking of the tides.
The tides in this Bay, twice daily, two highs, two lows in a cycle that is called semi-diurnal by those who are better at naming things than I. Cold salt water flowing in from the Atlantic, mixing with the fresh river water flowing in from the west.
Brackish, it’s called, referring to that mix of salt and fresh, not to the water quality. It is this mix that makes the bay so special, a home to scallops, a nursery for fish and blue claws, oysters so briny that they make other oysters tasteless by comparison. A feeding ground for tern and cormorants, gulls and the osprey, flying thousands of miles each year to return to their nesting sites.
The Bay, scraped out by the receding Wisconsin Glacier ten thousand years ago, dropping its rocks and gravel as it melted to the north. Filled in by the sea, a moat separating the north from the south forks. This Bay considered by the Nature Conservancy one of the ten most beautiful bays left in the world. This Bay. My home away from home. My office. My source.
There is no day like any other. Early in the season, the offshore Bermuda Azore high pressure weather system has still not gained traction and the cold fronts roll in. Depending on the state of the tide, the usually placid water gets its back up in sharp, clipped white-foamed waves. As the sun moves north through June, the wind pattern settles into a steady sou’westerly, beginning as a zephyr in the morning, building all day, till by late afternoon, it has turned into that wind called a smokey sou’wester by the mariners and fishermen who know of such things.
Later on, in August, there are days when the bay seems as untroubled as a sleeping infant. The surface is flat, with barely a ripple, yet I know where the bottom rises up, off the shipyard in Greenport and off Dering Harbor in Shelter Island, where the current accelerates and in the midst of calmness, waves roll and tern dive on the fish. During those hot August days, the shank of the summer, the wind fades, flags hang and I search for some relief to the west in Pipes Cove.
Later on in September, with the warming of the Gulf Stream, the nor’ easterlies begin blowing more frequently. Damp wind blows in from seaward, carrying big winds, and on the flood, the Bay becomes agitated.
On Spring tides corresponding the new and full moons, the waters washes over the docks and the Bay makes its endless push against the confines of the land. The Bay then demands greater attention when one ventures out upon it.
By October, the nor’ westeries blow colder air over the bay. There are days as clear as the transparency of a true lover’s heart, when the temperature drops into the fifties and finding a lee is nearly impossible. The days are shorter, the bay less welcoming, its temperature way down from the seventy degree weeks of August.
Reluctantly, I know my days are numbered, and it is with resignation that I prepare to take leave.
Even when I am done for the season, hardly a day goes by when I don’t venture dockside to visit with my old friend, my touchstone, my corner office, hoping as I do, now at this time of life, that I will stay strong enough to be back the following year.
Captain David Berson, of Greenport’s electric launch Glory, holds a 400-ton Merchant Marine Masters License and has been operating sailing and power vessels for more than 25 years. He also teaches celestial navigation classes, is a contributing editor to Ocean Navigator magazine, and can be seen regaling North Forkers with blues tunes and sea chanteys as one-half of The Two Daves.