A Day at The Race

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WATERFORD, Conn. — I have a witness.


He's an anchor guy here at ESPN, and a buddy of mine. He's been here since like about the first week, back when you would accidentally come across the network on that new thing called cable and shout to the wife, "Don't know what the hell this is, but I've got to have it."

You probably saw Bob back then, and for the next couple decades. Bob's been everywhere, covered everything and won tons of journalism awards for telling the truth about all those things. Which is why I was damn thankful he was riding shotgun in my minivan.

One place Bob has never been is deep-sea fishing.

Bob: "So what's your next fishing story."

Me: "Unbelievable … I have to go to some place called The Race, it's where the Long Island Sound meets the Atlantic Ocean … I sent that crazy editor guy in Arkansas some story out of some paper around here that called the place a 'whirling cauldron of rapids, whirlpools, roaring current, dozens of shipwrecks …'"

Bob: "And he said …"

Me: "Sounds terrific, GO."

Bob: "What do you fish for."

Me: "Big-ass striped bass and bluefish. So basically my next story involves me fishing Armageddon with 60-pound test."

Bob: "Can I come?"

So after assuring all those in charge here that I would try not to lose Bob overboard, or at the very least that I would get pictures of him about to enter the drink (side bets of photos of him puking would have meant I wouldn't have had to buy lunch until about mid-October, a little fact he didn't know about until he read it here, like you) Bob was about to go deep-sea fishing.

It's 5:20 freakin' a.m. — the time of the morning that the cops look at you longer when you drive by — and we're heading down a road in Waterford, Conn., to where our fishing charter boat, the MiJoy 747, is docked, when my iPod playlist inexplicably starts playing: the "O Fortuna" movement from Carmina Burana. Don't ask me, I have no idea how to say it either.

I'm shocked because of the 40 songs in the playlist, 38 are by Elvis.

You may not know the name of this song, but YOU KNOW this tune from the movies. It's the one played right before someone gets their head chopped off, or the end of the world is near, or something is going to jump out of that closet and scare the bejesus out of you.

It's that hymn thing that you probably have no idea what they are hymning, or singing, or whatever it is that they are doing that sounds so eerie.

But whatever it is, it's not a good sign. You and I both know that.

So, while we're driving up to go fishing in a swirling cauldron of rapids, whirlpools, and sunken boats, Freddy Krueger's theme song comes on:

O Fortuna (O fortune)
velut luna (like the moon)
statu variabilis (you are changeable)
semper crescis (ever waxing)
aut decrescis (and waning)

It's like the hymnsters wrote that song for this trip, and the Arkansas editor guy somehow slipped it into my Elvis playlist.

But here's the part where I'm glad I have a witness: Midway through the chorus, a BLACK CAT walks in front of my minivan. All Bob can do is point.

Bob never takes his eyes off the cat as we pass it by, which is good, because when his head was turned, I popped two Dramamine. I know a sign from God when I see one — and besides, no one will pay to see pictures of me blowing lunch.

The boat, Joe and the Rip

After checking Bob's camera bag for any signs of a goalie's mask or chainsaw, I felt it was OK to board. Just to be safe, I left the iPod in the minivan.

You never know.

The MiJoy 747 is a 85-foot aluminum fishing boat built in 1973 that sails out of Niantic Bay Marina in Waterford. It's owned by 80-something-year-old Mary (who by the way has a SWEET early 1970's Candy Apple Red Oldsmobile Convertible that she drives every day) and manned today by Captain Paul Brockett and first mate Joe Devine. The Captain's been with the family-owned business for about 45 years; Joe has been working the boat since 1974.

Joe knows The Race.

"The Race is about 3-miles-wide," he says. "The deepest channel is about a mile, a mile-and-a-half-wide and 250, 300 feet deep."

For those of you with one of those nautical chart things, you can find the Race in Long Island Sound between Race Rock and Valiant Rock. The engine of The Race is the moon. Tides. The lunar stuff the creepy folks are chanting about.

The Race is where Long Island Sound meets the Atlantic Ocean, and depending on the tide, it's where billions of gallons of water come screaming into, or out of, the sound. "The current comes through the race at over 4 knots, sometimes as fast as 6 miles per hour," says Joe. "It's like a river going in and out down there. It flushes all the water in and out of the sound."

Joe is full of good news.

"Basically The Race is very deep, then it becomes very shallow, then very deep again, like a plateau," he says. "You can see a lot of chop out there in certain places, lots of white caps. That's the Rip. All that water is being forced over a very shallow area, so it boils up."

And he just keeps talking. I'm fishing now — in my pockets, for more Dramamine.

"Out in the Rip you get this wind against a tide situation and the waves build along the Rip Line where it's shallow," he says. "They'll build very steep. I've seen waves in the Rip build up to 12, 12 ½ feet. Every year a couple of boats go down in it."

Great. People never tell me stuff like that when I'm actually standing ON LAND. Bob hears none of this; he's taking pictures of fishing poles. For a second I think of bringing him up to speed. But don't. Lunch money, you know.

From port side, a shout: "Hey, Steve just caught a fish!"

From starboard, an answer: "I know, I just saw pigs fly by…"

And so go the members of the Danbury Rod and Reel Club.

Story continued on Page 2

Don Barone is a feature producer for ESPN. Other stories of his are available on Amazon.com. You can reach him at Don.Barone@espn.com.