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Reflections – Sandy

Reflections – Sandy

Nov 13, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and Captain Frank

By Mike Pehanich

This has been a blustery fall season.

As I write, the roaring 30-plus mph winds with 40-plus gusts of the past two days have settled back to a honking 25 mph blow.

Two nights ago, I returned from a trip to the Detroit area where I had fished the fall smallmouth bite on the big waters of Lake Erie and St. Clair.

Captain Frank Crescitelli, who has helped the cystic fibrosis fund-raising efforts of the Redbone organization, witnessed the devastation of Hurricane Sandy first hand.

When I arrived, baggage-laden, at my front door, a gust promptly snapped my front door from its hinges.

It was worse two weeks ago when Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast Coast and spread her bluster inland as far as Detroit and Chicago.

Sandy had churned Erie, St. Clair and the connecting river system into muddy murk, shutting down the smallmouth bass for almost two weeks. We checked satellite photos for days before our trip,

We found a band of clear water on the Canadian shores of Lake Erie on Friday and counted coup on big smallmouth all day long – 83 caught and released in all!

On Saturday, we gambled on St. Clair smallmouth and lost, managing less than a dozen walleye and smallmouth over a full day. In light of the fact that the places we fished had produced literally hundreds of smallmouth in the past, we were disappointed.

We blamed Sandy. We lamented that we hadn’t ended our last “big water” adventure of the season on a high note.

Then we gained perspective.

All we had lost were what I call the “figments of our great expectations” — the late season fish we had expected to catch on these waters of legend and lore but didn’t!

It was no loss at all, when you examine it. I had shared boat time with a good friend on St. Clair, gathered more information on the dynamics of the lake and smallmouth techniques… Our modest catch had even led to some nice photography.

I had suffered nothing more than fruitless casts, and, hey, that’s fishing!

I had come to Detroit for smallmouth like this, but Lake St. Clair had yet to bounce back from the widespread impact of Hurricane Sandy.

On the other hand, Sandy’s wrath had rendered real loss on others two weeks ago. Countless Americans living near the storm-ravaged coast had suffered irreparable property damage and cold and hungry nights.

Some lost their lives.

Many have yet to settle back into anything vaguely resembling their once warm, dry homes.

Warm and safe at home

Back at my computer on Sunday, I revisited two emails from an old fishing friend, Captain Frank Crescitelli, who runs charters off the New York/New Jersey coast for stripers, bluefish, and more.

Captain Frank has dedicated much of his angling time and energy to worthy causes and helping others. We used to meet frequently at Redbone tournaments in Florida and New York and on projects for the Redbone Journal of which I was editor at the time. The Redbone organization uses its fishing tournament platform to raise money for cystic fibrosis, and Crescitelli volunteered in any way he could – as guide, as participant, as banquet barker for the raffled trips and prizes that added to the coffer of research dollars that Redbone brought to cystic fibrosis study.

The first email Frank had sent was a notice of regret. The Fishermen’s Conservation Association, which he faithfully serves, had to cancel its FCA Heroes Homecoming, an angling event for recently returned armed forces veterans, many of whom have been “wounded warriors” and patients at Walter Reid Hospital. The event had been scheduled for November 11 – Veteran’s Day.

"Hurricane Sandy has forced our hand," wrote Captain Frank Crescitelli, who would not be taking the microphone at the FCA Heroes Homecoming event again in 2012non Veteran's Day. In addition to the widespread damage to homes, marinas were wiped out by the devastating storm.

“Sandy has forced our hand,” wrote Captain Frank. “The devastation both in property damage and loss of life is just too widespread and severe to permit us to hold this tournament. I vow that next year it will happen, and it will be bigger and better than even I had imagined it.”

Frank had sent his emails from his phone. He had no other Internet service…or electrical service…or heat.

As usual, he was grateful that his family was alive and safe. But others in his neighborhood had not fared so well.

Neighbors had taken sanctuary in his Long Beach Island home, a “rebuild” that had elevated the first floor five feet – just enough to spare those first floor living quarter from floodwater!

Sandy had destroyed the garage, which he had nicknamed his “tackle shop,” and all its contents. Yet he was embarrassed for even mentioning that misfortune.

“Gratitude” is the watchword of Frank’s life. Rare is the day spent with him that does not include some soliloquy on the importance of “giving back.” He didn’t say that cancelling the Heroes Homecoming tournament would leave a hole in his soul this year. I knew that already. What I didn’t know after the first email was the depth of this chasm Sandy had created.

“It looks as if we may have the only house on the block in (its) original state,” he explained in his next email. “Everyone else’s house is, well, either destroyed or will have to be totally rebuilt. All the marinas are, as far as I have seen, gone as well. Terrible loss of property and I’m sure life although we thank God for our friends and neighbors (are) making it through ok.”

Sandy hit Frank’s Staten Island community, too. Without power, he had used a boat battery to charge the phone from which he had emailed concerned friends. His house was “OK,” he assured us, but his thoughts were elsewhere.

The only "losses" from our disappointing day on the water amounted to a few fruitless casts and "figments of our great expectations."

“We are lucky…a few people died here in our neighborhood…some were children,” he wrote. “A house was swept away with a family inside and another woman supposedly got out of her car to see if the road was clear and watched her two small children get washed away with the car.”

Captain Frank also reported that the outlook is not good for New Yorkers whose livelihoods and passions center around fishing.

“As far as a damage report for property in Staten Island, there are no more marinas left. None,” he said. “Boats are on roadways and floating docks are on people’s lawns…far worse here than anyone expected.

“As a conservationist and a person that makes his living from the sea, the environmental impact is yet to be seen…But even if the fish are there or come back, I’m not sure who would fish for them or how they would get to them with beaches (and all) destroyed.”

I scanned the message again, dwelling on the imagery…“boats are on roadways,” ”floating docks are on people’s lawns,” and, again, the surreal image of the woman “watching her two small children get washed away with the car.”

In the solitude of his home at night, in the wake of devastation, Captain Frank had time to reflect.

“Still as I sit here in the dark and a little cold (but not very), I feel grateful for myself and the people I love. Houses can be rebuilt, but only if you are here to do it.”

A chill had entered the room, and I hunted for its source. Finding none, I donned a sweatshirt and read the captain’s last sentence.

“I’m glad my friends are still here.”

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