Gazette August

The following piece is published in this month’s Put-in-Bay Gazette. The Gazette has been producing incredible independent Put-in-Bay island news for over 40 years. If you have any interest at all in what is happening on South Bass Island, we urge you strongly to subscribe to the Put-in-Bay Gazette. One-year online subscriptions are only $15, and print subscriptions are available as well. To subscribe please click here.

I remember reading the “Perfect Storm” and being transfixed by the author’s level of detail. The book by Sebastian Junger transformed this once in a lifetime meteorological event into a visual masterpiece. The book’s tone was dark and stormy, and the author continually flashes back to the crew aboard the fishing trawler “Andrea Gail” as it continues to edge closer and closer to the unpredictable super storm. Little did the crew realize what was ahead for them. First a key weather buoy malfunctions, then the vessel’s extended stern begins to show signs of stress underway, meanwhile the captain steers further away from shore looking for more swordfish to fill the half empty hold.

Meanwhile, friends and family gather to discuss what’s happening. That was us on Facebook in March and April unsure of what was ahead, trying to predict what the summer of 2020 would look like based on shifting and contradictory forecasts. Daily we shared stories of hope and despair. We sat in our homes on the island quietly waiting in a bubble of calm.

There were two scenes from the movie “Perfect Storm” that especially galvanized the situation for me cinematically, helping to transform this story of timing, mistaken forecasts, and best reckoning into a climatic rescue scene. The WBZ-TV Boston weatherman Barry Burbank is standing in front of the “green screen” describing the three tropical lows that are about to collide. For us it was Covid-19, politics and tourism coming together.

Meanwhile the swordfish trawler “F/V Andrea Gail” was heading straight into a monster wave. That’s us the community of South Bass Island, heading into turbulent “Covid” waters. Were looking for anecdotal information from our sister islands. Most had closed off traffic, double tied up the ferry boat at the dock and weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Neither did we.

When the “Shelter in place” order was being shared, we were shocked and scared of this hidden mysterious foe. It was like living under a wave ready to crash. The news media, TV and regional newspapers were ready to pronounce us ‘dead’ or conversely help us preach the prophecy of promotion and “reopening.”

Our shared story as the little island navigating the storm could and did go both ways like a flag in an oscillating storm system’s intensifying breeze. And as we went forward we remained in the distant but glaring search light of investigation.

As our season approached, some people were certain that the State of Ohio regulations, guidelines and enforcement would keep us safe, help us navigate the way home. Islanders and mainlanders alike grew restless. Surely if the storm had missed us this long, we would be able to safely steer through the turgid waters.

What happened next was never on anyone’s radar. Cottagers returned, the weather got nicer, and the governor raced to get Ohio businesses open. The surrounding states got mired in more and more cases of Covid-19 and their progress came to a dead stop on reopening. Their “crews” not willing to wait for their own state’s rescue, jump ship and head for ours.

May 21st the island opens for business, reluctant and timid, waiting to see what happens next. The people came. The next week we open up more. We can see the bright lights ahead. More people are coming than we ever imagined. We are underpowered and limited in capacity. It’s like the engine on the “Andrea Gail”. Designed to push a certain amount of weight on open waters, but never expected to breach bigger and bigger waves.

The people, like storm waves, began to wash over us day after day. Our crews grew fatigued of guidelines and procedures and the locals decide we were almost safely home. Off come the masks and 6-foot social distancing is mostly forgotten.

Bigger, more rogues waves that behave in ways we are inexperienced with, add to the islands success and woes. Some passengers, visitors and islanders, dance on the deck not worried about the safety of the islands bigger community. The glaring questions of TV and news arrive. “Why are you heading into the storm?” Don’t you see what’s ahead?” This is not a rescue beacon, it’s a search light looking for survivors. Looking past the diligent, hard working businesses that are trying to get this boat home focused on the few that forgot that a storm was coming.

The “perfect storm” is about the unpredicted enthusiasm of visitors, the reality that guidelines don’t influence people to follow the captain’s rules, rescue ships may be miles and days away and the glare of news media only really focuses on the next big story, and not saving the crew. The only way this boat gets home is if each person aboard realizes that their personal actions are the most important part to keeping them safe. Sebastian Younger revealed in his book’s narrative that despite the confluence of unknowns, that the crew of Andrea Gail could have gotten home and so can we.

This piece of Put-in-Bay journalism has been provided to courtesy of the Put-in-Bay Gazette, Put-in-Bay’s only local newspaper. Visit their website for more information and to subscribe!