Calm amidst the storm
The wind is shifting, and gusting, as a 40-foot vessel is dragging anchor, drifting perilously like a missile across the Great Salt Pond. Swooping in to save the day is the harbor crew, who arrive to carefully assist in securing the vessel.
There is no hesitation; no stress. They heard the call over the radio from a concerned boater, part of the neighborhood watch that polices the pond, and swung into action. Calm. Decisive. Effective.
“It’s a safety thing,” said Jameson Padien, an eight-year Harbors Department veteran, while navigating the patrol vessel. “Boats can drag into the sides of other boats, making it a more stressful situation. So you can’t get too high or too low doing this job. You have to remain calm.”
“That was the first thing that Steve taught me: ‘Always remain calm,’” said Padien, 21, noting a sink or swim mentality that’s been adopted by the harbor’s staff. “Steve throws you into the fire, and you learn by doing. You crash before you learn to tie-up properly.”
Padien was referring to New Shoreham Harbormaster, Steve Land, who invited The Times to ride along with Padien and his mate, Phil Trudel, on a sunny, windy, Aug. 8. It is Trudel’s first year working for the department, after serving eight with the Coast Guard.
During Padien’s shift, Gary Ryan and Nick Phillips staffed the accompanying marine patrol vessel. What ensued was a hectic journey through a throng of mooring fields, responding to a myriad of missions and missives.
There were boats with names such as Firefly, Tigress, Alchemy, Sweet Caroline, and Paradiso, that cruised into the pond through the Coast Guard channel, beating back the tide. Padien is the first person they call, requesting rental of a mooring, hoping to avoid having to set their anchors.
Padien said setting an anchor can be a risky proposition. Anchors aren’t as secure as moorings. “That’s why everybody wants to be on a mooring,” he said. “It’s peace of mind.”
Padien said there are 90 public moorings and about 200 private moorings that provide anchorage on the pond; with about 500 boats anchored on the pond per day. Boaters can reside for one evening on a private mooring, if it’s available, and must contend with a free-for-all when seeking a public mooring, which are “first come, first serve,” but allow for an extended stay.
The Harbors Department uses a computer to keep a daily record of mooring rentals. Paiden said during the Verizon outage, July 27-30, the Harbors Department was relegated to using a paper system. He also said he is constantly eyeballing the pond to ensure that boats are where they are supposed to be.
Securing a mooring for an incoming vessel is Padien’s main task, which is a nonstop fielding of calls from boaters, while coordinating placement on a limited amount of anchorage. “There’s a lot of moving boats around,” he said.
In between there are priorities, such as medical emergencies, search and rescue missions, collecting a stray paddle board or dinghy, and providing information and resources to boaters. The Harbors patrol hands out a harbor guide containing rules and procedures, as well as phone numbers and radio channels for obtaining services.
There is also the matter of cautiously navigating the mooring field, dodging dinghies and vessels, while guiding a boater to a designated mooring. Padien seems to do this with relative ease, throttling the engine up and down, while arriving on the starboard side of a vessel to collect a mooring fee.
“I spend more time out here than I do in my own bed,” said Padien, who credited Tom Benson and Kate McConville with teaching him how to drive the boat.
One of the more challenging aspects of the job, Padien said, is being on patrol during inclement weather. “You get humbled by it. I have a lot more respect for Mother Nature now. The wind and the rain sometimes come sideways at you. We’re out here for the whole thing; to maintain a calming presence.”
Bob DiSanto, a veteran captain in southern New England who operates the Safe Sea vessel on the pond, said he watched Padien grow up, and admired his development into a capable patrol captain. DiSanto works hand-in-hand with the Harbors crew to keep the pond secure. “I try to get to a boat before it hits something, because then it can become a real mess out here.”
“He’s an asset,” said Padien of DiSanto. “We work well together. It’s a good relationship.” Padien noted that they encounter a few dragging boats per day that require careful coordination and attention.
This is the daily routine for Padien, who said the 2019 season is his swan song. “I’ve hit my ceiling” working for the Harbors Department. “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards,” he said. Padien will be a senior at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, where he is majoring in biology.
As for what he will do with his future, Padien mentioned possibly attending medical school, or taking a year off to travel, and then making a decision about charting his next course.
There’s no messing around for Padien; it’s all business as he takes pride in his work. “It’s important to me,” he said. “I want to represent the island the best way I can. We interact with the public, so we have to be polite and respectful. We’re the first face people see when they come onto the pond.”