Straight Up On the Rocks

As I See It

Bill Sargent, The Daily News of Newburyport, Edition February 2, 2019

On November 27, I drove to Plum Island at low tide in the early morning to see how North Point had fared during the previous night’s nine-foot plus high tide. The sun showed through a blue sky to the south while light rain and a low fog bank still hung in the north.

But the most remarkable feature of the day was that there was no storm to speak of, just long period 10-foot high waves. This had created an interesting scenario. Waves riding on top of the Merrimack River wing bar had eroded about 12 feet off the northern half of the beach but the southern half of the beach still wide and unscarped.

The Merrimack River’s south jetty has been steadily settling, so last year 60,000 cubic yards of sand flowed through the jetty, the year before about 30,000 cubic yards. During the summer, waves had pushed the sand up onto the beach raising the southern end of North Beach by about five feet.

But autumn storms and high tides had shifted the transfer of energy from onshore to offshore so that now a 100-cubic-yard apron of sand lay just offshore.

This sand was so efficient at absorbing the energy of the waves energy that the amount of erosion was much less on the southern end of North Point Beach than on the northern end.

The skies were still low and gray when I drove up to Seabrook just before high tide at 2 p.m. Water was already rushing into the Black River, which is actually a sound that runs from its inlet in Seabrook behind Salisbury Beach to the Merrimack River north of Plum Island.

Two of Seabrook’s waterfront restaurants were already flooded.

During such conditions cooks often had to prepare food while standing in several inches of salt water, even though the owners of one of the restaurants had raised its floors six inches only a year before.

But the most disconcerting image was seeing the Seabrook nuclear power plant looming above a truck up to its hubcaps in the rushing waters.

The Army Corps of Engineers had built a several mile long seawall to protect the back of Salisbury Beach but it, and the rising sea, had the river to widen its banks on the mainland side where the power plant already has issues with its deteriorating concrete.

But things became even more interesting as I continued to Salisbury where waves were breaking over the dunes and washing several blocks down the streets into town.

Sand washed in by the wind and waves covered the lot where Salisbury businessmen hoped to build the dumbest development on the East Coast, a 240 unit condominium on the Atlantic Ocean’s traditional overwash area.

A cold front had moved in while I was concentrating on taking photographs of the 10-foot high waves washing through the pilings that support the Seaglass Restaurant.

I had always been intrigued with the restaurant’s dramatic setting and since I was cold and needed to relieve myself I went inside where I was greeted by an entire well-lit gingerbread village which must have covered 50 square feet of floor space.

People were enjoying cocktails as 10-foot waves broke in front of their tables and washed under the restaurant. When the Hawaiian Christmas music died down for a few beats you could hear the roar of the waves packing 64 pounds of pressure per square inch as they slammed into the pilings undergirding the restaurant.

Why do we like to build restaurants, condominiums and casinos in such vulnerable locations? I suppose we like the thrill of seeing nature’s fury while we are inside such a safe cocoon.

But does it also reveal an innate hubris that we are so clever we can thwart Mother Nature at her own game?

Or are we just gamblers at heart?

Obviously some people love watching nature from such an artificial environment.

But to me it’s like watching a football game from a corporate financed skybox.

The food is certainly delicious and it just seems to keep coming but you have to look at a TV screen to see the players and you can’t experience the sights, sounds and smells of the stadium and joke, yell and scream with your fellow fans.

I’ll take my waves straight up on the rocks please.

Copyright © 2019 The Daily News of Newburyport, Edition 2/2/2019

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