Friday, July 27, 2012

First-time waverunner ‘bravely’ takes on wind-blown bay

Oh, sure. The forecast calls for only 70-degree weather and chilly 25-mile-an-hour winds on the day I decide to jump on a waverunner in Manahawkin Bay. The previous week on an outdoor garden tour, it was a sweltering 100 degrees. That just figures.

There was no time for acting like a baby as I headed to Route 72 Waverunner & Kayak on Bonnet Island, in what is technically still Manahawkin. Driving east on the Causeway toward Long Beach Island, I almost missed the U-turn, and with cars whizzing by, I almost missed the ramp for East Bay Avenue. Yet when I finally got on that old road, I felt like I had been catapulted into another land.

Photo by Ryan Morrill
Route 72 Waverunner & Kayak shares a beautiful
spot on the thoroughfare with Bonnet Island Estate
in the background.
Passing a quiet marina with bobbing boats to the west, and then past beautiful Bonnet Island Estate as I approached the water’s edge, opposite the landmark The Dutchman’s Brauhaus, I noticed a small hut with big, colorful signs – “Waverunner & Kayak Rentals” – which assured me I was in the right place. It was almost 10 a.m., and the west wind was blowing strong. But I didn’t care. (I soon learned the hard way that this was the type of wind you want to avoid on the water.)

About a decade ago, when we were all teenagers, my older brothers had gotten a chance to ride waverunners during a family vacation in the Bahamas, while I watched from the beach, angry I wasn’t allowed to join them. Now it was my turn.

I had decided on wearing long pants over my bathing suit, but when I jumped out of my car and saw the water, I had second thoughts and changed into the shorts I meticulously packed in my bag (yes, I’m that indecisive). But all clothing bets were off when owner Scott Hemmes insisted I wear a spring suit – a wetsuit with three-quarter sleeves and short pants reaching to the knees.

You’re never going to find a wetsuit that fits me,” I told him, politely. But Scott took the challenge and quickly sent employee Brad Ahto to fetch a shorty from the nearby Ron Jon Surf Shop in Ship Bottom. I thought for sure Ahto wasn’t going to be able to find my size, but to my surprise, he came back with exactly the right dimensions – a child’s suit, I presumed.

After zipping into the snug-fitting wetsuit and buckling into a life jacket, I began to feel (and look) the part. Then I sat down to fill out paperwork and sign my life away. “Wear this, keep that attached, do this, don’t do that, scan constantly, operate defensively…” My head was starting to spin. It was my responsibility whether I injured myself or crashed the boat.

Okay, fine. These things must be said. What really got under my skin was the demonstration video, which seriously stressed the need for a wetsuit to protect against forceful water entry into, and I’m quoting here, “the rectum or vagina.” I squeezed my legs together and glanced at Hemmes with a nod of appreciation for supplying a my-size wetsuit.

After listening to employee Jay Desch explain the rules of the water and the proper way to drive a personal watercraft, I had become so confused about what button was what and which lever was which, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to handle this beast by myself. (I’m very much a visual learner, so listening to Desch's instructions got me nowhere, except into a further state of panic!)

Swallowing my pride, I looked at the four guys getting ready to push me and two other waverunners into the bay, and pleaded with puppy dog eyes for one of them to accompany me on the ride. I was immediately told employees were not allowed to ride with customers. But after sensing my fear, Hemmes allowed Ahto to join me on the back of the Sea-Doo watercraft. Ahto told me flatly that I was in charge of driving.

This is where I must make clear that this kind of exception was a one-time consideration. All riders (minimum age 5) to age 15 must ride with a friend or family member. Anyone 16 and over, with proper identification, may ride solo. Those 17 and under must provide a parent/guardian signature.

After Ahto saddled up behind me, I let Desch and Kevin Waitikowich push us backward off the dock ramp. Then it was just Ahto and I on the waverunner, followed by waverunner patrolman Joe Scriffiano, who was there to guide us if we encountered any trouble on the rough, open bay. Accelerating slowly through the no-wake zone, I realized I could barely steer straight against the stiff cross-breeze from the west. But with Brad’s coaching, I eventually got it (sort of).

For a while, I thought I might just laze around the bay. But with Ahto behind me, I summoned some nerve.

Photo by Ryan Morrill
Gosh, I look terrified. But how cute is that boy?!
Should I accelerate?” I asked him timidly.

Go for it,” he encouraged.

I squeezed the throttle lever on the right handgrip and zoomed through the water, heading straight for the first white buoy I saw. I knew those buoys kept other boaters away from the waverunners, and that’s where I wanted to stay: as far away from everyone else as possible.

I had forgotten what I had been told about keeping the throttle going when turning, so when I tried to steer right and the Sea-Doo didn’t cooperate, I panicked and hit the brake (the lever on the left handgrip).

I’m sorry!” I cried out. “I didn’t mean to be such a baby!”

Chuckling a bit, Ahto tried to reassure me that I wasn’t being a wimp.
After regaining composure, I squeezed the throttle again. The waves were so choppy, the jolts kept lifting my 95-pound frame off my seat. I was gripping the handles so tightly, I knew my arms would be sore the next day. (And, wow, I was right!)

The saltwater sprayed everywhere, drenching me (and Ahto) from head to toe.
You look great!” I joked, after catching a glimpse of Brad’s hair sticking straight up. But my lighthearted remark concealed that I was secretly nervous and was desperately trying to direct my jitters elsewhere.

I never really adapted to the speed of the waverunner amidst the choppy waves. I even had to stop a few times to sooth my stomach, which was feeling rather unsettled.

Hey, if you need to throw up, that would be normal,” remarked Ahto, astutely observing my queasy demeanor.

I knew throwing up over the side of the watercraft wouldn’t have been normal per se, but I appreciated Brad’s efforts to comfort me.

Feeling this way sparked an old memory as a young girl of 5 years old or so: I had obliged to getting on a Jet Ski with a family friend one summer, but even moving at what was probably only five miles per hour, had me begging to get off. It’s a flashback that occasionally pops into my head during what seems like unnecessary times – except this time.

My eyes were beginning to sting. After stopping a few times to rub them, I decided to jump off the Sea-Doo and go for a hasty swim. But the water was so shallow, even for me – a mere 4-feet, 10-inches tall – that I could feel the bottom of the bay with its slimy seaweed and mushy mud. At this point, I had gotten used to the water temperature, but my life vest was floating up toward my ears, and I wanted to get back on the waverunner. After hoisting myself back up by the handle at the stern, following Ahto's instruction, I realized my toe was bleeding; I had probably stepped on a broken clamshell. Ouch!

Although I was glad to have braved the water and tried something new and adventurous, I was happy when Ahto and I were called back to the dock. I jumped off the Sea-Doo a little nerve-wracked and looked at the guys who had helped me suit up and begin the day’s adventure.

It must be fun doing this for a living,” I said, wobbling a bit as I tried to reclaim my land legs. Although I meant what I said, I didn’t mean I would enjoy it!

I get to work outside on the water. It’s not really a bad day,” summed up Desch, working his seventh summer at Route 72 Waverunner and Kayak.

I’ve got saltwater everywhere: in my eyes, in my ears, in my hair,” I exclaimed, rubbing my salty arms.

Photo by Ryan Morrill
Owner Scott Hemmes has been
in the watersport business in
Ocean County for decades.
Welcome to it,” said Ahto. “It’s my job; I’m always salty,” he added, handing me a Band-Aid for my still-bleeding toe.

I laughed and accepted the Band-Aid, happy to be back on land.

I’d had a rough first experience on a waverunner, yet I had a strong inkling that I would give it a second go another day – when the wind isn’t blowing so hard. My brothers may have gotten to ride a waverunner once, but I was going to ride one twice!

What I love most about this business more than most is that everyone is having a good time,” said Hemmes. “They’re not paying to get their car fixed. They’re enjoying themselves, and everyone is happy around me.”

Hemmes opened the local business in 1997 after working many years at Pier One Water Sports in Toms River, and at Margo’s Marina, which is now the site of Mallard Island Yacht Club on the western edge of Manahawkin Bay.

He also operates Holgate H2O Sports on LBI, and Pedals N Paddles in Seaside Heights. He is president of America at Play Inc. and also runs several companies in Florida, including Beach Road Watersports, Beach Road Boutique and Beach Road Bistro.

To set up your own adventure at Route 72 Waverunner & Kayak, visit, or dial 609-361-7147. Summer business hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

This article was published in The Beachcomber.

Homeowners share landscape passion on LBI Garden Club Tour

Who wants to attend a garden tour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on a day when the forecast calls for 100-degree weather? Well, maybe not everyone. But the select few who did show up for the tour were happy they braved the blistering sun.

The annual Tour of Gardens, hosted by the Garden Club of Long Beach Island, was held on Thursday, June 21, the hottest and most humid day so far this year. But club members and tour-goers didn’t seem fazed by the heat one bit. Besides, several of the houses featured on the tour supplied cold drinking water with wedged lemons and limes in cute little drinking pitchers.

We’re not canceling the tour because of the heat; there’s definitely a breeze,” Garden Club member Cathy Sutton said optimistically.

Every year, the Garden Club showcases a handful of different gardens throughout the Island and sometimes on the mainland. With nearly 175 current club members, there are more than enough new gardens to explore each summer.

Photo by Kelley Anne Essinger
Equipped with water bottles and sunscreen, representatives of The Beachcomber began the tour at Gretchen and John Coyle’s bayfront home in Beach Haven. Island-native plants such as beach plum, rugosa rose and rose mallow surrounded a vintage, white playhouse with green shutters, built in the mid 20th century by Nat Ewer, who in 1948 famously towed the schooner Lucy Evelyn to Beach Haven, where it was used as a gift shop until it burned down in February 1972. The anchor and ballast rocks from that vessel are also on display in the courtyard, underscoring the Coyles’ love of Island history. (They have long been active in the LBI Historical Association.) A small portion of the brick pathway even featured a piece of the old Baldwin Hotel that stood many years ago in the center of town.

The property’s other native features included lush beds of vegetables and annuals, alongside other fruits and flowers.

I don’t know a petunia from a daffodil. I work for my wife,” said John Coyle. “She tells me to prune this and prune that. So I prune this and prune that. And I still have to make my own lunch,” he said with a chuckle.

It’s been a lot of fun. We have to fight the erosion on the water, but it makes things interesting. It makes my wife happy, and when your wife is happy, life can be eternal,” he added, grinning.

The Beachcomber’s next stop was a few blocks north, on the ocean side of Beach Haven. Award-winning artist Pat Morgan and established writer Richard Morgan boasted a creative garden that was both colorful and environmentally sound. The first thing we noticed was the pinecone mulch, which Pat said helps suppress weeds and lasts throughout the year.

Rounding the back, we found a shade garden covered with pine needles, which we learned helps deter slugs from the garden’s hosta lilies. A vegetable garden sprinkled with rose canes to keep bugs away sat near a slew of potted herbs. Flowers of all kinds, including euphorbia and coreopsis lead the way to a half-shaded chair, where Pat Morgan said she enjoys her mornings.

It’s very peaceful. It’s like a little sanctuary, separated from the vegetables and herbs and other useful stuff. It’s my pride and joy,” she said, beaming with delight.

The Beachcomber was greeted by Necola, a friendly Manx cat at the home of Michael and Nancy Davis on 2nd Street in Beach Haven. Michael Davis affectionately told us, “Every garden needs a cat.”

Add in Pinkie (a no show during our stop), and this garden has two.

Photo by Kelley Anne Essinger
The old-fashioned layout, filled with hydrangeas, roses, butterfly bushes, hybrid honeysuckle and more went perfectly with the house’s history. It was the fourth of the town landmark “seven sisters” matching houses with cedar shake siding, built by Floyd Cranmer in the 1920s.

A small, trickling pond filled with goldfish and sunbathing toads kept the peace, surrounded by Leyland cypress and trumpet vines. A large bayberry bush and herb garden completed the picture-perfect courtyard.

It’s mating season, so the toads are very noisy. But they sing you to sleep,” said Davis.

Stealing the show, on the other side of the house, was a colorful “bottle tree,” put together, explained Davis, with wooden stakes found lying amiss on the beach. It was the centerpiece of an adventurous garden segment with images of all kinds of creatures.

Eager to see what gardeners on the other end of the Island had in store, The Beachcomber jumped ahead to Judy and Marc Lipman’s house in Barnegat Light, Central Avenue at 5th Street, five blocks from the north end of the Island. The eclectic garden had it all: plants, trees, flowers, vines, bushes, fruit, vegetables and even quirky yard ornaments. Some of our favorites included a flowerbed made out of an old wooden grill and a rainbow-painted table in the shape of a fish, alongside a representation of Barnegat Lighthouse painted on a wooden fence slate.

Because the homeowners happened to be out on the tour themselves, a listed inventory left open next to the water cups described everything to see in their backyard. There was even a blueprint for those who needed more of a visual map.

We only had a few bushes and trees when we first moved in,” said Marc Lipman, when we caught up with him later on the tour. “It was a slow process. Sometimes we trade plants with other people. And now our garden has come a long way.”

Directly next door, The Beachcomber took a heat break at the Edith Duff Gwinn garden at the Barnegat Light Museum, which is the premier showcase maintained by members of The Garden Club of Long Beach Island. Sitting upon a bench beneath the shade, surrounded by playful butterflies, chirping birds and winding nature paths, we almost forgot about the 100-degree weather and the fact that we were working.

To me, this is what the epitome of a garden is all about,” said Neal Roberts, editor of The Beachcomber. “Conversation is fine. But sitting in a peaceful garden is the highest appreciation of solitude I can think of,” he expressed.

After stirring ourselves from that brief meditation, we made our way to Wendy and Bill Clarke’s seasonal home in Harvey Cedars. Maintained by David Ash Jr. Landscape Contractors, the stunning shade garden consisted of daylilies, hydrangeas, holly shrubs and a delicate fern patch. Sun-loving peonies, roses, lavender, thyme and rosemary sat happily near the property edge on Kinsey Cove – a view Wendy Clarke said she loves admiring from her living room windows.

I’ve been here such a very long time – since I was 2 and a half. I feel right at home,” she remarked. She said that because she is active in a Princeton garden club near her primary home, she prefers to let a professional landscaper care for the vacation home where she wants to relax.

Our next stop was in North Beach at Dee Muoio’s house, where she graciously gave a couple of tour goers an up-close and personal look at a piece of just-pulled elephant garlic – just one of the many interesting species the garden offered. A large cold frame used for growing plants in chilly weather, a 100-foot row of strawberries, three kinds of cucumbers, four types of squash and four different kinds of beans were just some of the other wonderful ingredients Dee said she uses for cooking. More vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers were also on the menu.

Photo by Kelley Anne Essinger
I plant a lot, and I hate when things get messed up. So I divide everything with wood and other barriers,” she said. “I’m thinking about donating to St. Francis (Parish), and I also give stuff away to my neighbors and to my son,” she said, handing this reporter a basil plant. “From my garden to yours,” she said with a smile.

Georgia and Dick Doyle’s oceanfront oasis in Surf City was The Beachcombers next stop. The garden was chock full of bayberries and bayside beach plums, which Dick Doyle had a passion for even as a child. Driving around the Island with local gardening legend Martha Mack, looking for plants to relocate onto the dunes, is one of his fondest early childhood memories. Now award-winning members of the Wissahickon Garden Club, the Doyle's have created their own beautiful beach retreat.

The garden tour ended for The Beachcomber at Mary Ann and Jim O’Neill’s house on the mainland, in the small development east of Manahawkin affectionately known to locals as Mud City (because of its vulnerability to high tide flooding). Sitting close to the bay, the colorful scenery boasted many saltwater-tolerant plants, including October daisies, rugosa roses and “Island hibiscus,” a rare variety uprooted from the surrounding marshes.

Raised beds kept plants away from looming flood waters. Everything in sight, including the planters, cold frames and patio furniture, were designed and crafted by Jim himself.

If you missed out on this year’s Tour of Gardens, or you just can’t wait to attend next year’s event, feel free to stop by one of the many grounds maintained by the Long Beach Island Garden Club, including the Barnegat Light Borough Old Coast Guard Station (now restored as the town hall on Seventh Street); the Beach Haven Public Library, Beach Avenue at Third Street; and the Community Gardens at the Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church, Marine and Pearl streets in Beach Haven. To learn more, visit

This article was published in The Beachcomber.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Yacht Club ‘at home’ for a century on Little Egg Harbor

Beach Haven is home,” the theme that resonates around the Little Egg Harbor Yacht Club’s centennial, could not have been more fitting than it was during the opening commissioning and celebration at the historic clubhouse on Saturday, June 23. The commemoration reunited 100 years of current and former clubhouse members, many who were present to reminisce about the good old days, as the sun went down over the twinkling waters of Barnegat Bay. But great fun and lasting friendships were not always easy to find 100 years ago.
Photo Courtesy of LEHYC
The earliest image in the LEHYC archive is 
of this sneakbox in 1913; a traditional waterfowl 
hunting boat, first designed in Southern Ocean 
County in the 19th century.

The passion for genuine camaraderie, and of course sailing, has always been the core foundation of the LEHYC. On July 13, 1912, a small group of Beach Haven Yacht Club members broke away from what was turning into more of a professional fishing club and less of a racing boat guild. The new group formed the LEHYC. The organization is now known across the country as a prestigious place to sail. It has twice been awarded U.S. Sailing’s esteemed St. Petersburg Trophy for supremacy in race management. The club continues to host many leading regattas, or sailing championships, including several at the national and international levels.

At the end of the summer in 1912, the LEHYC had more than 30 memberships – a total of about 70 individual affiliates. Over the next few years, membership grew and the club leaders decided they needed to obtain some waterfront property land. Purchased from one of the club’s founding members, the organization acquired a lot on Berkeley Avenue in Beach Haven. Members quickly built a rickety dock, where they held sailing and motorboat races. Meetings and parties were held at any one of the town’s largest local lodges, such as the Baldwin and Engleside hotels.

In 1916, four years after the club’s initial get together, members had a three-story clubhouse with a porch and balcony built on the acquired land in Beach Haven. Meetings and small parties were held on the third floor of the new building, while members lounged on the second floor, above the ground floor grill room and men’s locker room. Many of the club’s biggest events were still held at the Island’s largest hotels well into the 1930s.

By 1921, the club maintained the first of the organization’s four 25-foot, single-design sloops – a small, wooden sailboat with single mast – to accommodate the club’s influx of adult members. In 1923, the Skippers program was formed. Led by established sailors, the program taught young boys from ages 6 to 13 about the ways of the water and the art of sailing. A Skipperettes program for young girls came about in the late 1920s. After World War II, the two programs were united to form a co-ed youth program, renamed in 1990 as the Junior Sailing and Tennis Program. Junior sailors now learn and compete in Optimist, Laser and Club 420 dinghies.

There was no activity specifically for the children until the Skippers program in 1923,” said LEHYC historian Doug Galloway. “I don’t know when they really got involved with actually sailing the boats because they also had some other activities. They swam, for example. The bay was probably horribly polluted, but they swam in it anyway. They had all sorts of crazy things. They’d get out with basically a boxing glove on a 10-foot stick and a canoe, and they’d try to stand up and knock the other guy down – canoe jousting, they called it. They’d take half a wooden barrel and try to paddle it in a paddling race.

They learned how to sail, too,” explained Galloway. “Sailing was, I won’t say it was different; I will say the way you went about learning it was different. Now, you’ve got lesson plans and you teach specific skills, one after the other. In those days, it was basically, put you in a boat and see if you can go out and learn how to do it,” he added with a laugh.

Rapid expansion of the LEHYC took place from the 1940s through the 1960s. During that time, a Junior Sailing building was erected. It was later demolished and rebuilt in the 1980s.

Photo by Ryan Morrill
The yacht club, pictured in the 1940s.
A group of enthusiastic tennis members personally purchased the first few of the club’s six tennis courts, which the organization eventually bought from them. The last set of courts was procured later in the 1980s. Weekly tennis events now include men’s, women’s, children’s and parent-child tournaments.

The LEHYC also has an active private fishing club that competes locally and nationally. The fishermen share their catch with the club’s members during the summertime at the annual Fish Fry. Bocce, golf, exercise classes, art, bridge, a book club and a pre-sailing program for children ages 5 to 7 are also integral activities at the club. Special fun events include happy hours, cookouts, dinner-dances and tranquil sunset sails.

The club owns 3½ acres of land, extending along the harbor from Norwood Avenue to Pearl Street. The property includes 120 boat slips, open to members with motorboats and large sailboats that are unsuitable for lugging in and out of the water.

(Members) pay the club an equivalent fee to what they would pay at a commercial marina,” said Galloway. “We deliberately keep (the price) just a little bit lower than a commercial marina because we don’t have the marina services; we don’t have a mechanic to go work on your boat. There are always a couple of kids who do boat cleaning, but that’s their own business. Generally, they’re member’s kids,” he added, motioning to a young man setting up for the night’s event, who used to work as a boat cleaner at the yacht club as a young boy.

The LEHYC now has about 670 family memberships, including 450 active memberships, for a grand total of nearly 1,800 people. Many of the club’s members live in the surrounding areas such as Philadelphia, New York and Delaware. A few live as far away as Boston and even San Diego.

Living far away from one another does not mean that the friendships formed within the club are any less true. As centennial events at the clubhouse begin, anyone can plainly see that the adoration between club members and for their seaside homes on the Island has endured well over the past 100 years.

I think it’s remarkable that our family has gone through 100 years of generations, and we’re still associated with the organization,” said Dylan Herrmann, son of Rear Commodore “Bud” Herrmann. “A lot of the other families here are just like us; we’re not rare at all. There’s a lot of family tradition here.”

We’re celebrating the club’s 100 years and supporting our dad,” added Bud Herrmann’s daughter, Sarah. “Everyone obviously loves it here because they stay friends across generations.”

Photo by Ryan Morrill
Commodore Edwin Cox III leads the centennial 
ceremony held dockside on Saturday, June 23. 
I’m one of the real natives,” said Jay Cranmer, one of the club’s former commodores. “I was born and raised here. It’s great. My sons, John and Jeff, learned to sail here, too. It’s exactly what commodore (Edwin Cox III) said: It’s a family club with generations and generations of families.”

For most of us, this is where we socialize,” said Galloway. “We’re a great gang of people who get along really well. There are always political things, but basically it’s a great group of families.”

Centennial events, open only to current and past generations of club members and their guests, will continue throughout the summer to include a three-day reunion weekend filled with fun events such as sailboat races, tennis matches, cocktail parties, dinner-dances and more. Sailing competition for 2012 includes the E-Scow Eastern Championship Aug. 2-4; the LEHYC Down Bay Regatta Aug. 9-12; and the 2012 USODA (Opti’s) Atlantic Coast Championship Oct. 6-7. For more information, visit online, or call 609-492-2529.

This article was published in The Beachcomber.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Father-daughter duo takes on Old Barney

When my dad and I drove into Barnegat Light on Friday evening, June 29, we were shocked to find the streets practically empty. Only a few cars, bike riders and pedestrians could be seen navigating the roads. But when we turned into the entrance of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, we realized everyone seemed to be gearing up for the beach campfire and evening lighthouse climb, sponsored by the Ocean County Department of Parks and Recreation and Friends of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park

School children with their friends and families with young children were crawling all over the place, toting lawn chairs, blankets and bags of marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars for s’mores to make at the campfire. While everyone seemed to be in good spirits, we knew there had to be some party poopers lurking about.
Photo by Ryan Morrill
The crowd waits for the bonfire to open up
near the Barnegat Lighthouse.

Heading toward the Visitor’s Center, we passed an older woman frowning and complaining about the nasty flies that were biting her “to death.” Looking at each other with silly grins after overhearing this woman’s conversation, my dad and I agreed that we had “a crankpot” in our midst. We burst into a fit of giggles before making our way into the center, where we introduced ourselves to the Friends of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park staff.

It’s going to be a perfect night!” exclaimed FBLSP vice president Charlotte Bank. “We have marshmallows, a bonfire and music. And the moon is on its way!” she added, also referencing the organization’s July 3 “Lighthouse Full Moon Night Climb” – the first of four scheduled this season.

After browsing the Interpretive Center’s “Story of Barnegat Lighthouse” – a photo and text depiction of the history of the lighthouse “from shipwreck to first class seacoast light” – we decided to seek out the music we could hear playing in the distance.

Making our way toward the dunes, my dad, Steve Essinger, who runs Essinger and Sons Landscaping in Barnegat, kept calling out the different types of plants we passed on the walkway.

The trumpet vine is in bloom … look at all that beach plum … poison ivy, that will set you up for a good itch!” he exclaimed.

Winding past kids throwing a football, then zigzagging through families that set up camp near the campfire (vigorously burning and not yet opened to the public for roasting marshmallows), we found the Basement Musicians’ Guild, a three-piece cover band featuring Joe Stamboni, Tony Pileggi and Rick Hohowski. The band is best known for playing some of history’s best country, folk and classic rock at the Albert Music Hall, across the bay in Waretown. At that moment, they were playing one of my favorite songs: “For What It’s Worth,” by Buffalo Springfield.

Standing in the sand for just a few minutes, we understood why the woman we passed on our way into the park was so upset about the flies. We were being attacked by what appeared to be black flies, known for their fierce bites.
We quickly returned to the Visitor’s Center, where we hoped we could find bug spray. No such luck.

People keep coming in to see if they can buy bug spray,” said Gerry Perko, FBLSP corresponding secretary. “My husband is carrying a flyswatter around at the lighthouse, and he said he could probably sell it for $25!” she added with a laugh.

Braving the black flies, my dad and I approached the lighthouse where we gazed in awe at the stature of the tower and all its glory, standing erect on the south side of Barnegat Inlet. In the 17th century, Dutch explorers named the inlet Barendegat – “Breaker’s Inlet” – because of the large, cresting waves that made navigation challenging. Sailors have used the site since the late 1800s as a navigational tool, assisting them in reaching the harbor and avoiding the treacherous rocks and sandbars that encompass the shore.

The lighthouse is in beautiful condition. Even the supports that hold the walking tower are in beautiful shape,” my dad stated with near disbelief.

It had been close to two years since either of us had seen the lighthouse in person, and my dad was clearly blown away by its stunning beauty.

Man, that thing is tall. It’s 165 feet above sea level!” he exclaimed, after reading some of the educational plaques located near the base of the lighthouse.
I nodded in agreement, also awed by the astounding structure.

We decided we needed a picture together, standing next to the statue of Lieutenant George G. Meade of the U.S. Army Bureau of Topographical Engineers, who was appointed by Congress to draw up the plans for the new Barnegat Lighthouse, which was supervised by Lieutenant W.S. Reynolds in 1856.

Dana Miller, a friendly woman from Bedminster, N.J. who was staying in Barnegat Light with her sisters and children, was chosen as our photographer. Luckily, she was happy to do it.

I asked her if she was going to climb the lighthouse, but she informed me that she had broken her foot and had just recently gotten her cast off.

But my kids have gone up and down the lighthouse twice already. We came here yesterday, too. They’re very gung-ho about it. We all love it,” she said with enthusiasm.

Miller went on to tell me that she and her sisters have been coming to Long Beach Island for the past “50 odd years.” They rented with their parents as children during the summertime, and years later kept the tradition alive by doing the same thing with their children.

Photo by Dana Miller
My dad and I pose for a picture with
the monument of Lt. George G. Meade.
After my dad and I agreed we couldn’t imagine life without the Island, he announced that he couldn’t see the light at the top of the lighthouse. So we decided we better go find it.

FBLSP president Serena White greeted us at the entrance with a happy smile. When my dad jokingly asked her if the lighthouse was air conditioned, she excitedly guided us to some air holes located inside at the base of the lighthouse, where they were blowing out cool air. We all stood there trying to figure out exactly how the air holes worked, but none of us were experts in this theory, so we decided we would just enjoy their presence.

It’s natural air conditioning. That’s probably where the keeper used to take his naps,” White said with a jovial laugh.

Kids ran past us, zooming up the narrow spiral staircase that leads to the tippy top.

Go faster, don’t fall!” they shouted.

My dad and I looked at each other and decided it was time to climb. We couldn’t remember how many steps there were, so we decided to count as we went – silently, of course.

Arriving at the first balcony and window, we both declared 16 steps. After agreeing on the same number of steps, we browsed the plaques on the walls and peered out the window, where we could see people gathering near the now-subdued campfire to finally roast marshmallows over the glowing coals. Resuming our climb, we reminded each other to start with step 17.

We continued this way until we were one number off. Neither of us knew who was right, but at the finish we decided 217 sounded like a more familiar number than 216.

After we found the light on and spinning, we ducked out onto the observation deck, where a cool breeze was steadily blowing. With so many people standing up there, it was difficult to travel around and get the panoramic view, so we decided to climb back down and take a walk on the 1,033-foot concrete walkway on top of the South Jetty. I was bent on counting the stairs the whole way down, but I miscounted on the first flight and decided it wasn’t worth it.

When you get to the bottom, just say 217!” my dad announced.
I liked his thinking. So that’s exactly what we did.

Twilight was setting in when we started on the pier, but the flies were still biting and the air was still humid. I spotted a couple of fishermen on the jetty and asked if they had caught anything.

Paul Mari from Cherry Hill had just caught a bluefish, which he said he was giving to his pal, Josh Gutierrez, who had traveled down from Camden to fish with him.

We come down here about three or four times a week. I took a sick day from work today,” he said, chuckling.

I was content chatting with the men about their night’s catch and even taking a peek at the bluefish. Then a black fly bit me on the face. So I quickly said goodbye and told my dad, who was gabbing on the phone with my brother, that it was time to go.

We’re high-tailing it out of here, Steve!” he shouted into the phone.
We made it to the parking lot without any more bites, but others weren’t so lucky.

I’ve been coming to this event for years, and I’ve never seen the bugs this bad,” said a woman passing by. “I wanted to leave after 10 minutes. I can’t stand bugs or humidity.”

I nodded in agreement.

For those who prefer cooler weather and fewer flies, an autumn campfire and lighthouse climb takes place Saturday, Oct. 27 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. The night will feature storytelling by Robin Moore.

Friends of Barnegat Lighthouse State Park host their “Lighthouse Full Moon Night Climb” from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 1, Aug. 31 and Sept. 29. See and

This article was published in The Beachcomber.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Happy 40th, St. Francis Community Center

Walking into the Long Beach Island Community Center, better known as the St. Francis Community Center, is like attending a great, big family reunion. Working staff and volunteers co-mingle with visiting members, laughing and chatting about everything and anything. The conversation topics range from recent recreational events to the hectic Causeway traffic and sometimes-crazy Island weather. It is plain to see that an immediate and overwhelming sense of community exists within the confines of the center – a mission the organization has maintained over the past 40 years.

Photo Courtesy of SFCC
1972: This summer marks 40 years since the original
center was dedicated by Bishop George W. Ahr.
In 1972, Long Beach Island was much more of a seasonal destination than it is now. The longing for a year-round facility where local residents of all backgrounds could intertwine with one another was a prominent force within the community. The St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Brant Beach understood that need. In July 1972, the friars raised enough funds for a new building to be erected behind the church for the purpose of serving the public.

Activities at the center began with senior services and recreational events such as a lunch program and social games, along with volunteer opportunities. More senior services were added over the years to include home-delivered meals, health screenings, transportation, fitness classes, day trips and workshops.

In the late 1970s, the outdoor pools, tennis courts and large recreational gymnasium were the focal points of the St. Francis Community Center, alongside the saunas, weight room and firing kiln, which are no longer in existence. Recreational activities now encompass sports lessons, arts and crafts, card games and dancing.

A counseling services center was opened later, offering family, educational and self-help support services. A youth services office followed shortly thereafter.
The center’s most recent additions include an indoor aquatics center, built in 2003, and renovation of the outdoor pool area, completed in May 2005. A second floor was added to the back of the building, known as the “knight wing,” where the parish offices are now located.

In a nod to environmental advocacy, the center has also been home to a clam nursery, or upweller, a project managed by ReClam the Bay for the past six years.

Special events have grown to include art and antiques shows, raffles, a Festival of the Sea carnival (Aug. 8-12 this year) and an 18-mile run (Oct. 7), founded in memory to the 11 Israeli athletes killed by terrorists during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. A generation later, the three-quarter marathon is also dedicated to the memory of the nearly 3,000 who died on 9/11.

The St. Francis Community Center supports all of Ocean County and has expanded its support services to the mainland. A satellite office in Manahawkin – the Ocean County Southern Services Center – serves all of Little Egg Harbor, Tuckerton, Eagleswood, Stafford, Barnegat and Waretown. The Berkeley satellite office in Bayville serves Lacey, Ocean Gate, Pine Beach, South Toms River, Beachwood and Berkeley.

It’s great because we have the senior population and we have the children – we have 14-month-old and preschool kids here. It’s wonderful because there’s events that happen, and everyone can all come together in the gymnasium and be with everyone else,” said Connie Becraft, executive director.

Photo by Kristin Blair
2003: One of the center's most
recent additions includes an
indoor aquatics center.
It’s really a great facility. The brains behind it were very forward-thinking in what needed to be done,” she said. “And we’re very lucky to have it here in Ocean County – I mean very lucky to have it here. You can see the passion in this organization. You know it’s a friendly place the minute you walk in. When you walk in the door, you know this is some place that you feel safe, and you feel like you want to be here.”

In honor of the St. Francis Community Center’s 40th anniversary, the organization scheduled three events this year that are, of course, open to the public.

We’re holding three different types of events with three different price points for three different types of audiences. So there’s something for everyone here – if you live locally, or if you come down to the Island in the summertime,” said Lori Dudek, communications coordinator. “We want everyone to be able to celebrate our 40th anniversary; we want to make sure everybody is included in one way or another.”

A celebratory brunch was held in April where families and parishioners reminisced about the past 40 years over an assortment of breakfast and lunch foods, served by Touch of Elegance Catering (Sweet Jenny’s in Barnegat).

An LBIsland luau will take place on the bayfront premises, 47th Street in Brant Beach, on Saturday, July 14 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Beach Haven Catering will be serving up hors d’oeuvres, roast pig with roasted pineapple barbeque sauce, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, salad and spirits. A raw clam bar provided by the Bay Shellfish Restoration Program and ReClam the Bay will also be included. Musicians and Hawaiian hula dancers will help you dance the night away. Tickets to the event cost $60 a person ($50 if bought by July 7).

Raffle tickets for a chance to win a $5,000 gift certificate from Home Town Travel in Manahawkin cost $25 each, sold only to the first 1,000 purchasers. 

And for the postseason, a 40th Anniversary Gala will be held at the Sea Shell Resort and Beach Club in Beach Haven on Friday, Sept. 28 from 6 to 11 p.m. The night will consist of cocktails, dinner and dancing. The winner of the Home Town Travel gift certificate will be selected and announced that night. Event tickets costs $150 a person.

Scrapbooks of old newspaper clippings and a photo slide show showcasing the past 40 years at the St. Francis Community Center will be on display at both upcoming events. A “Then and Now” picture DVD can be ordered for $15.

For more information, visit, or call 609-494-8861.

This article was published in The Beachcomber.