FROM THE WHEELHOUSE : Tragic impact never lessens

Cleanup of the wrecked Mary B II

It’s been a tough week.

Seven days have passed since the Mary B II was crushed by waves off the north tip of the Newport jetty. And people are grieving. It’s apparent on social media and in the folks who have contacted the newspaper, some of them from distant places. It’s evident in the agony of people who have found personal objects of the crew along the beach — a pad containing photos and video, a hat, a fillet knife.

Losing a piece of your community is never easy.

Newport is a fishing town and knows all too well the risks that go along with that title. We have lost boats and their men — husbands, fathers, sons. Their families are forever changed, their children fatherless. Our community has gathered before — too many times — to honor and say goodbye sooner than we should have to. Knowing the risks and having experienced it before never lessens the blow.

The irony of the fact that the Mary B II and her crew were celebrated in a photo on our cover the day we all learned of the sinking does not escape us. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Stephen Biernacki, James Lacey and Joshua Porter. We are relieved at the net of assistance the Newport Fishermen’s Wives and others have cast to help those who need it.

The accident is a reminder of the tenuous relationship we have with the sea. Fishermen work hard every day to bring a solid base to that exchange but security remains elusive. They become experts in the mechanics of their boat, and in the wind and tides, trying to create a safety net that takes some of the randomness out of the equation. We’ve been on back decks and seen crewmen put on the personal flotation device because they wanted to make sure they made it home to an infant daughter. We’ve seen sleepless captains struggle to draw the line between feeding their crews and putting them at risk. We’ve seen an entire fleet, deck to deck, watching out for each other, and a dedicated Coast Guard work without pay to do their utmost to make sure the boats get home.

Often, this intense awareness of variables works well to keep everyone safe, and occasionally it’s not enough.

When things go terribly wrong, some people look for blame. But the truth is, no matter how tough and prepared we are, the ocean is infinitely tougher. If the right wave hits at the wrong time, no one is impervious. The men and women of the Newport fleet know it, and they return to the sea anyway, because fishing at its core represents a philosophy of free will and a refusal to be dominated by fear. It is, at its heart, a spirit of endeavor. We would be much the poorer without it.

Winter is tough here regardless, for many people. In the dark of January, after a delayed crab season and — we have heard — fairly modest catches so far, along with traumatic seas, a government shutdown and delayed paychecks, things can feel a little too grim.

But the community is its own greatest strength; it’s been forged by other times like this one. It is resilient and it will overcome.

— Bret Yager


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