HUDSON RIVER SOJOURN - Remarkable Sandy Hook clammers

August 4, 2019


The Highlands and Sandy Hook mark the northern end of the Jersey shore.  A notable ridge of several miles length, they stand to the south of us.  New York City is eight or ten miles to the north. We’re anchored in Sandy Hook Bay.

Coming in yesterday, the unmistakable lines of a man and his work skiff - each perpendicular to the other  - caught my eye. By his motion, I could tell he was working a rake.  Either clamming or maybe getting after bay scallops. If they were scallops I wanted some.  

He had the T-handle end of the rake in both hands, pulling and lifting, working the bottom, keeping his back into it all.  It was a bull rake alright, but not one like I’d ever seen before.

I’ve seen George and Guy, Cliff and Big Bill and Bob working bull rakes in Rehoboth Bay.  Hard work digging those ten and 12-foot rakes into the bottom trying to scare up clams. If you can position the boat properly with the wind - across it - that added power can help.

But the rake this guy was using was almost three times as long as their rakes.  When he started bringing up his rake basket, hand and over hand, feeding it over the other side of the boat as he brought it up, I saw the long handle with its T-end forming a metallic arch.

He was clamming - hard clams - in 27 feet of water.  “The rake’s 27 feet.  It could stand to be a couple of feet longer for this water but I’m doing all right.”

He said sometimes the clams are up in the bay bottom, sometimes down a ways.  “Today they’re down.  Sometimes they’re so far down I can’t find them.”

But not this day.  It was 10:30 a.m. and he said he had just about five bushels.  “That’s about 3,000 clams,” he said.  “A decent day.” Sounded like it to me. I’m not sure what clams are bringing these days.  From the sound of them emptying into his boat I could tell they were small.  They fetch the best price.  His would bring a few hundred dollars, I’m guessing.

He told us that the empty and old, uniformly brown houses near the tip of Sandy Hook were part of an inactive military fort. “The government doesn’t have enough money to fix them up so they just sit there. I don’t know why they just don’t print more money. That’s what they do isn’t it?”

We were easing away as he continued his work, being productive, making money with his back and arms and local knowledge. His words skipping over the glassy bay surface sounded something like “thirty trillion on his credit card.”  That’s a lot of clams.  Then he said:  I don’t think it’s going to affect me, but I worry about the young people.”

Amen to that.