It’s 9:40 a.m. Tuesday (deadline day) when an email comes from my editor.
“This just came in. Can you get the story?” he asks. Attached is an email from a reader, Bob Higgins-Steele, with the subject line: “Longnook fishing boat aground right now.”
“I got it,” I respond. Twenty minutes later, I’m at Longnook Beach, where the only other car in the lot belongs to Jock and Lynda West, who had come to take photos, not knowing they’d see anything other than the sunrise. Seeing the boat fetched up on the sand, they feel they’ve hit a jackpot.
So do I.
Running down the dune, fueled by adrenaline taking the place of caffeine, I send a text to my editor, despite the lack of cell reception: “This is nuts.”
In front of me is a 78-foot blue-and-white groundfishing boat, the F/V Carrabassett, humming quietly on the sand like a museum version of a shipwreck, ready to tell the story of a voyage past.
I have never seen anything like it.
Over the course of the next few hours, I learn that people are on the boat and that they are safe, and that the boat has a legacy — it belonged to Carlos Rafael, known as “The Codfather.” I make a note to read up on that story.
Provincetown fishermen come to see the boat for themselves that first day. They tell me about their own experiences at sea. Their families have faced the tragedy of ships sinking. Among their friends are some whose boats’ steering problems left them “high and dry on Race Point Beach.” They’ve had close calls themselves when, exhausted during an overnight trip, they fell asleep at the wheel.
I hear near-dissertations about maritime law and gossip about illegal shrimp and parties on board.
It’s the boat’s second night aground: outfitted with headlamps, two of my roommates — also reporters — and I approach the boat. I yell across high tide to a crew member who is hanging around on the ship: “When will you be leaving?”
“Hopefully tomorrow!” he yells back. “Who are you?”
He swears and disappears inside the cabin.
That didn’t go the way I’d hoped. I had imagined they might invite me on board to tell me how exactly this ship from New Bedford ended up on Longnook Beach.
Still, a lot of my experience in local journalism up to now has been slow-motion: watching four-hour-long select board meetings, mulling over permits, and listening to conversations about town finances. Where the news builds over time, a reporter might learn to see ripples before a storm.
Out there on the beach, the reporter’s challenge to follow the unpredictable felt different. I won’t forget the fishermen sharing tales, the teenagers taking selfies, the couple from Montreal pointing in awe at the whirring radar, the green light, the boat buried in the sand, and the sound of crashing waves.
As I’m coming in off the dune that first Tuesday, my phone regains reception and bings. It’s a text back from the editor: “Welcome to our world.”