Most every experienced surfer knows how to rate the pucker factor in increments of fear, as happened early evening on the Fourth of July in Montauk. Dozens were caught off guard by a rapidly building swell and forced to “scratch for the horizon” — paddle seaward to escape a serious pounding.
Okay, you’ve made it “outside.” Now what? You either take off on a wave that wants to drown you, or. . . . And that’s when the pucker factor is at its puckering peak, when the surfer realizes there is no “or,” no alternative. At that point it either becomes one of the best days of his or her life, or the opposite.
“The waves were waist-high. We were wondering, ‘Where’s the swell?’ Then a head-high set came through, fun waves for a while, then it hit, triple-overhead, 15 feet,” was how Scott Pitches described the arrival of Hurricane Arthur’s violent pulse.
Arthur started as a low-pressure system that drifted off the coast of the Carolinas early last week and moved south into the Bahamas. On July 1 it became the first named storm of the season with winds that accelerated to 100 miles per hour in the next two days as it moved north and east.
The storm was moving fast as it passed about 100 miles east of Montauk. As a result, its pulse dissipated quickly. It was all over in a few hours and by morning, only the stories remained.
They circulated quickly: Grant Monahan’s giant tube ride at Hoffman’s, Chuck Weimar forced to swim a couple hundred yards to shore through the maelstrom when his leash snapped, Peter Cappola’s scary hold-down. Then, there was Lee Meirowitz’s great ride captured on video at the spot known as End of the Road.
It was the second big, fast-moving swell to visit the East End in the past few months. On March 26, a northeast storm produced perfect 8-to-10-foot waves accompanied by a 25-knot offshore wind (in water that was not quite 50 degrees). That swell, too, arrived near dark and was gone by morning.
Marty Ross, a veteran surfer with Australian roots, said he attempted to paddle out at Surfside in Montauk, but was repelled not only by the waves themselves, but by a wall of water, a combination of spent waves and storm surge. The storm was so close to the coast, it had an abbreviated fetch, the distance the wind has over water to develop a swell. When tropical swells are far from shore, a long-period swell develops. There is breathing room between sets of waves. Not so in Arthur’s case. The result was a powerful focus of wave energy that, fortunately for the coastline, did not last long.
Big waves, big sharks. The second annual, no-kill, Shark’s Eye tournament will get under way on Saturday from the Montauk Marine Basin. The action will take place offshore both Saturday and Sunday with food and entertainment featuring Brian Neale, and commentary by Sean and Brooks Paxton, the Shark Brothers, who pioneered release-only shark tournaments in Florida. Festivities will include a dock party on Saturday night. Jimmy Buffett’s tour schedule prevents him from fishing the tournament as he did last summer. However, his boat Last Mango, with Capt. Vinny LaSorsa, will be fishing with a crew of Wounded Warriors.
Closer to shore, surfcasters have been productive, especially along Napeague’s ocean beach west through Amagansett to the Georgica Beach jetties. Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett reported 28 to 30-inch bass being taken on bucktail lures early, and on clam baits throughout the recent days.
Then there’s the curious phenomenon taking place at Georgica where hickory shad, Alosa mediocris, a member of the herring family, have been schooling. John Tostrucci caught one on light tackle and watched it go airborne, as hickories are wont to do when hooked. There is nothing mediocris about the Georgica shad. Bennett said Tostrucci’s fish was nearly five pounds.
Bennett figured the anadromous species has been milling around outside Georgica Pond, attracted by the smell of its freshwater. Speaking of Georgica Pond, Bennett said the blue-claw crabs were small but numerous so far this year. He added that the crab population in Three Mile Harbor seemed to be on the rise after years of no-shows.
It was probably a shad, bunker, or some other kind of herring that drew a 54.12-pound striper to the vicinity of Matt McDermott’s hook on May 31. The big bass won McDermott first place in the Montauk SurfMasters Tournament spring shootout this year. Ben McCarron took second place with a 43.75-pounder caught the day before. Mike Coppola’s 31.16-pound bass was the third heaviest bass. The tournament ran from May 9 to June 28.