The Leaky Jetty
February 9, 2016
The third storm of the year barreled through New England in early February. None of the storms had been major ones; the Weather Channel hadn’t even given this storm one of their hokey names. But each storm had done a little more damage. It was a cumulative process.
I had learned not to take pictures in the teeth of a storm but to wait until the day after. The surf would still be up but there would be less snow and wind to contend with.
So I met Geoffrey Day at Joppa Flats and we drove to North Point to photograph and measure how much the dunes had eroded during the storm.
But when we arrived on the beach we couldn’t believe our eyes. Ten-foot waves were breaking over the dunes, and 3 feet of water were rushing down paths and filling the swales behind the dunes.
We made our way gingerly from post to post measuring furtively before one of the waves caught us unawares. But we became separated when Geoff paused to take pictures and I looked back and saw him take a waves and then emerge up to his knees in water just a few degrees about freezing. But the air temperature was 25 degrees and the wind chill closer to 12.
Geoff sloshed toward me and we proceeded through the dunes and over a twenty-foot high cliff to the beach above the jetty. There, waves were surging up over the berm and rushing almost a quarter of a mile down a runnel to where we stood. All of a sudden the water would rise up four feet around us and then swoosh down between boulders in the jetty with a frightening roar.
I retreated to shallower water to make sure that a rogue wave didn’t break over the jetty from the opposite direction and sweep us both out to sea. But Geoff stood his ground and kept on filming in the foamy maelstrom.
We weren’t in any immediate danger but we were definitely pushing our luck. Back on land we compared notes as to exactly who had been dumber.
It was only when we were walking back through the waves that we discovered that Geoff’s cell phone had been ruined and that our feet were being chafed raw by the sand and what felt like ice crystals forming in our boots.
I guess I won the dumbness prize because I returned the next day with Ethan Cohen to use his drone to map what was left of the dunes. But the surf was down, the wind had abated and the temperature was close to 32 degrees. We managed to stay dry shod and it felt positively balmy.
This time we were able to fly the drone over the other side of the jetty at low tide and discovered that there was a fillet of sand that measured about 200 feet long, 50 feet wide and probably 4 or 5 feet deep. It was the sand that had flowed over and through the jetty during the storm. During the following week the longshore currents would push that sand a hundred feet down the beach. In a month it would be helping to protect the North Point houses.
We also noticed that the ridge of sand was still about 4 feet higher than the jetty. It represented several more acres of sand. If the Corps lowered the jetty 4 more feet enough sand would flow over the jetty to start to grow back the 400 feet that had been lost since the jetty repair. Nature was giving us a pretty big hint as to exactly where she wanted a weir to be installed!
William Sargent’s latest book, Plum Island; 4,000 Years on a Barrier Beach is available in local bookstores and through Amazon.com.