The Watering Hole

Residents of all stripes approach cautiously for fear of crocodiles in the form of home-heating bills
Dave Wagner, above, and George Lombardi, both of Springs, caught this 40-pound cobia fishing on Lombardi’s boat, Tough Tony II, off Stuart, Fla. They caught 12 cobia and released 11. George Lombardi

    During the winter months, the Montauk Post Office is like a watering hole in the Serengeti. Residents of all stripes approach cautiously for fear of crocodiles in the form of home-heating bills. Their junk mail becomes buffalo chips to feed the fire. They drink in gossip and news of the whereabouts of others not seen at the hole of late. They bay for summer, yet speak in fear of the herds that will descend on their place as the weather warms.

    Now and then I’m told, as though asking, “Montauk must have changed a lot since you’ve been here?” Well, yes and no. I’ve lived here for nearly a half-century, but tend to view myself — as I greet the older silverbacks at the watering hole — newly arrived. It’s all relative.

    The greatest change has taken place at the watering hole itself. Back in the day, Montauk denizens loitered there in summer, grazing for information and kinship as they do now in the colder months.

    These days come June we gather more furtively — a quick drink for fear of predators. That, and summer is the season to make hay while the sun shines. Or, do we become hay? We are fodder in a sense, happily grazed upon for a price. I find that the older members of our herd panic the least. They know that winter drives the predators and ruminants away, always has, always will.

    At the watering hole on Monday I met Capt. Michael Potts. The bad news was that his Bluefin IV charter boat has a blown engine, a serious situation with the 2014 fishing season nigh.

    On the plus side, Skip Rudolph, captain of the charter boat Adios, said he towed the Bluefin to a yard in Rhode Island at no charge.

    Senior Chief Jason Walter of the Montauk Coast Guard Station walked in with a package. He said he was unable to attend the dedication of a new beer to the service men and women under his command on Saturday, but appreciated the gesture. The Montauk Brewing Company, founded three years ago by three local young men, created Guardsman Stout in honor of the Montauk search and rescue station and the crew of the cutter Ridley. The dedication, with free food and beer, took place at the Swallow East restaurant across the harbor from the Montauk station.

    On my visit to Goldberg’s Famous on the outskirts of the watering hole, I met Jack Perna, principal of the Montauk School. I asked whether the kids were still following Beamer, the 200-pound blue shark that was tagged in their name last July during Montauk’s first Shark’s Eye, no-kill tournament. It was held from the Montauk Marine Basin. Beamer was fitted with a satellite tag that allows the school kids to follow her travels on their computers.

    Mr. Perna smiled and told me an amazing thing: That during Beamer’s southerly migration this winter, she visited Rincon, Puerto Rico. What? Rincon, where dozens of Montauk families of the surfing variety have retreated in winter for years? Was it only a coincidence?

    I think not. By letting her live, we welcomed Beamer into the fold last summer. I think she was visiting the Montauk diaspora in appreciation. The watering hole is larger than we thought, and getting friendlier.