Word With... Tom Leach
This month Tom Leach marks his 30th year as harbormaster in Harwich,
Massachusetts. The veteran shellfisherman and marine conservationist has
watched recreational boating flourish in his small town on Cape Cod and
has worked steadily to restore the local shellfish population and maintain
a safe boating environment. In fact, at presstime, he was set to speak
before the state legislature to promote a new PFD law after two kayakers
drowned last fall near his marina. PMY recently talked to Leach
about life as a harbormaster.
Q: How did you
wind up in this profession?
A: I moved
up here from New Jersey during college and thought this was going to be
one of those jobs you do for a while and then move on. But I stayed—30
years now. I love the people, I love the water, I love the boats. It’s
great to work in the town where you live, where you feel so much support
from the community.
changed the most since you arrived in Harwich?
much, much busier. In 1974 we used to beg people to tie up here. There
were always empty slips. Now we have a waiting list that’s about
15 years long. It’s amazing how popular recreational boating has
Q: So, you see
mostly boaters cruising up and down the coast?
we get all kinds of people: commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, cruisers,
sailboaters, liveaboards. What’s amazing is that everyone gets along
so well, which is not always the case at other marinas. We’re about
50-50 sail and power. It’s interesting to watch sailboaters and powerboaters
tie up next to each other and swap cruising stories. It’s like this
whole boating gang is married together.
Q: How do you
maintain that cohesiveness?
I make sure all our customers know that this is a family marina, first
and last. That means no four-letter words—at all. No late parties.
No loud music. We deliberately don’t offer Cablevision access. Basically,
this is not a wild place to be, not even remotely, and we make sure everyone
trying to get Massachusetts to pass a PFD law for kayakers that would
be the first of its kind in the country, after two women got lost in the
fog and drowned last year. How did you come to lead this effort?
the deaths of those girls were by far the biggest calamity of my career.
It hit me hard. Even though there was little anyone could have done, I
felt like two lives were lost on my watch. Right now the law says kayakers
only have to wear life jackets in the off-season. I think this tragedy
clearly shows the importance of expanding that law to cover the whole
It’s long overdue,
and I want to do everything I can to change it.
to the Afterlife
Do you think
your new, fully rigged Viking battlewagon will be around in 1,200 years?
If so, do you think it will carry you to the other side of the grave?
The original Vikings certainly did. In fact, they believed the boat would
carry its deceased passenger gloriously into the afterlife.
In February a pair of
amateur treasure hunters were combing for valuables with a metal detector
outside Yorkshire, England, when they discovered a Viking boat burial
site. Many archaeologists believe the find could be one of the most important
ever in Great Britain.
The lucky duo uncovered
a stash of ancient silver coins, pieces of swords, and other trinkets
that were later dated to the ninth century. Scientists conducted a comprehensive
dig and found the remains of a Viking longboat, complete with the original
iron “clinch nails.”
Because the treasure
contained coins from ancient countries as far-flung as the Middle East,
archaeologists believe the discovery could be the burial site of a rich
warrior. The Vikings often buried their wealthiest mariners inside their
boats with hoards of treasure.
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