Paddling in a Pandemic – Chapter 2


The cloud bank is sliding off to the East as I row past the stone embankment that once was a bridge. Row, row, row your boat gently on the bay, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, living day by day.

By Cecil Hoge

April 14, 2020

I have this recurring feeling that I am living in a dream. The only problem is that it is real. It is not some dream that I will awake from after a few minutes of fitful sleep. It is as if I found myself in a Haruki Murakami novel and we are all in some mysterious alternate world. I expect to look up one evening and see two moons in the night sky.

As I begin this blog story, there are now over a half million cases of the Coronavirus in this country with over 20,000 deaths. America now has the most infections and the most deaths from the Coronavirus In the world. That is not how I would like to see America First, but at this moment, America is First.

The effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic are widespread…schools, colleges shut down, restaurants, bars shut down, stadiums, theaters shut down, bowling alleys, offices shut down, gyms, beauty parlors shut down…almost 17,000,000 people laid off as of last week, hospitals brimming with Coronavirus cases, doctors and nurses working 24/7, sometimes without needed protective equipment, millions tested, yet millions more untested. Congress and the Trump Administration have enacted bills to aid laid off workers and small businesses, but there are doubts as to how fast the monies will come.

It is a confusing and strange time, but Mother Nature seems to be unaware of our human plights on this chilly and invigorating April day. Swans glide elegantly and slide silently across my bay, seagulls are circling in the partially blue sky, herons stand on stilt legs in shallow waters silently picking off unsuspecting young minnows. The tide comes in, the tide goes out. On this morning the sky is clearing as a cloud bank slides off to the East. The tide is receding, but there is still a good two hours of rowable water.

I have not explained the tide that comes to my dock twice a day. We have what used to be a 7 to 9 foot tide. Now it is more. The tide used to be in for about 8 hours and out for about 4 hours. Now it it is generally in for 8 and a half hours and out for 3 and a half hours. It varies with the time of year and the closeness of the moon, but generally, I have been blessed with more time to row or paddle each day. My wife does not see this blessing the same way I do. She is terrified that the tide will come into our house. I have a backup plan for that but my wife is skeptical that my preparations will work.

No matter. What is sure is that the tidal waters that come to my back yard are there for longer periods than in the past and this extends my paddling or rowing choices. I have to explain when the tide is out, it is really out. My whole bay, Little Bay, empties and becomes a giant mudflat. That makes rowing or paddling at low tide impractical. Another fine point I have to make about the tide is that it comes in at a different time everyday. Generally, the tide advances about an hour each day, but that can change according to the time of year, the height of the moon and whether we happen to have a strong storm coming on. In a strong storm…a NorthEaster or a Hurricane…sometimes the tide does not go out while the storm is going on. And sometimes the tide comes up on my front lawn and that makes my wife very nervous. 

So much for the peculiarities of tidal waterways!

This last weekend was Easter Sunday and my wife, my son and I had a quiet turkey dinner. It began well on Long Island with a clear blue, cloudless sky. The temperature started the morning in the high 30s and then mosied up to the 40s and 50s. A hazy sky moved in on the day of Christ’s resurrection. Many wished to go to church, but the Coronavirus shut down those dreams. There would be no Easter Sunday services in churches, except, perhaps, in a few states where the pastors felt that spiritual healing was more important than the physical chance of catching a new disease. 

Today it is a Tuesday, two days after Easter Sunday and, as I head out for my row, the weather is warmer and spring is bursting forth everywhere. Flowers are popping up all along the road that rings my bay. Green shoots on bushes and trees that soon will become green leaves are beginning to show all around my bay. New colors for a new season are appearing…yellow Forsythia, purple Violets, pink Crocuses, white Narcissuses, purple Hyacinths…white and purple, pink and yellow and every color and hue in between are showing up around Little Bay and Setauket Bay. Willow trees, always the first to show leaves, are fluttering in the distance now with yellow green leaves that soon will become full green leaves.

The signs of the new season are everywhere and it seems that the outside world is unaware of the fears of the inside world.

And on this day, there is a notable absence of familiar sounds…no planes roaring overhead, not many cars whizzing around the road that circles my little bay, no sounds of construction or new housing, no sounds of helicopters overhead. I know all that will come back in time, but for the moment I can enjoy the absence of man-made clatter.

Almost as soon as I start rowing, the sky clears and the temperature rises. I row out of Little Bay, through Setauket Bay to the mouth of Port Jefferson Bay…that is about 2 miles from my dock. There I choose to pause with my morning row half complete. You may say I am stopping to smell the roses, but actually I am stopping to take a few pulls on my Yeti cup. The coffee inside is still hot and steaming even though I have rowed two miles and the air is chilly. A wide expanse of water greets my eyes.

Not many folks out on the water today!

On this morning I have not seen another human even moving. No boats, no paddlers, no rowers…it is only me and the seagulls. They cry as they circle above in the sky, perhaps, disturbed by my presence, more likely informing other seagulls of the presence or absence of minnows. When the minnows are running, it is feeding frenzy time. Too soon for that, this season is still young and the minnows so far are not making their presence known. Lucky for them.

When the stock market opens later that day it is in an ebullient mood. Why, I do not know. The day before the stock markets went down, but today is a new day. There is news that the Coronavirus may be near the peak. Maybe, we can consider opening businesses and returning to normal, maybe the Coronavirus will go away with the advent of warm weather. The stock market pundits, the digital gurus, the scallawags, the financial experts, the master CEOs, the software programmers, the Quants…all take heart and leap into the market with great abandon. By the end of the day, the markets were up over 2%. Not bad when you just laid off 17,000,000 people in the last three weeks.

I continue to be frustrated by the markets. They do not behave the way I think they should. Not that I have a dog in that fight. No, I moved what little 401k money I have into a money market account. I am into preserving the money I have, not making a killing in the markets. Nevertheless, I cannot help but think the markets are all wrong. I cannot help but think we are entering a Depression such as only my father would know. 

But the wisdom of the markets is greater than mine. They are in “Risk-On” mood. And so it goes for the rest of the week. On Thursday, April 16th, when the new unemployment claims are reported to be 5,200,000 more people, the markets shrug it off. It must be some kind of anomaly…that is the presiding wisdom. The country is getting ready to go back to normal. Restaurants and bars will soon be open. And then the 22,000,000 plus people who have filed for unemployment will so go back to work. By the end of week, the markets put in a solid gain, coming within 20% of their all-time highs. Happy days are here again.

So the markets end the week further up, proving once again their wisdom is greater than mine. I think a depression is on its way, they think the V-shaped recovery has begun. Expert economists, prolific pundits, ethereal quants, software programmers, oil traders, market gurus and assorted other scallawags predict we are on our way to new market highs. I sit back and wonder why. If you look at a V closely you will notice that the bottom of a V is a sharp point. We have have been going through this Coronavirus situation for over 6 weeks. I think it is time to admit if we are going to have any kind of recovery, the best we will get is a U shaped recovery.

I am just looking on from a distance. I am not severely affected by what is going on. Our two businesses have been remarkably lucky. We are still taking orders and shipping. We have 14 people working in our warehouse and 12 people working remotely. Our Panther Martin fishing lures seems to be doing pretty well. I am thinking part of the reason is that people can catch fish with fishing lures and therefore they can justify the expense. They can, after all, put food on the kitchen table with our lures.

The fact that our Sea Eagle inflatable boats are also doing well is harder to explain. I am somewhat baffled by that. Of course, customers can, like me, go solo paddling or rowing  or fishing where that is permitted, but some states have closed boating. I am guessing access depends on where people live. For me, living directly on the water, it is very practical and very safe to go paddling or rowing. I literally have only seen a total 5 people out on my bays in the last 4 months. I have never been closer than 50 or a 100 feet from anyone I have seen. So I am rigorously practicing social distancing. In fact, getting close to anyone else on the water is almost impossible where I live.

I know that will change as the weather gets warmer. No doubt, more people will come out on the water, but even in the height of the summer season on my bays, I am never near another boat, SUP or kayak. And I would suppose that there are many places in this great Republic where that is the case. So perhaps that is the explanation of why our inflatable boats sales are still up. It is something people can still do without the fear that they are going to contract the Coronavirus.

Of course, another explanation could be that most retail stores are closed and our website is not. And since almost all of our trade customers are other websites, they also are not closed. So, unlike many other boat companies, we are open and able to take orders.

A last explanation could be that many people are getting really bad cases of cabin fever and while they are sitting home, they are scanning the internet ordering things that they plan to use as soon as this country opens up.

Whatever the reason our businesses have lucky in this crisis and I am grateful for our good fortune.

I cannot help but think and wonder how the country will handle the transition back to some kind of normalcy. Will we open up quickly? Will it go well? Will the virus fade as the cold weather of spring gives way to the warmth of summer. Or will the country open up in some places and find the virus coming back with a vengeance sending us into a new round of closures and quarantine? Who knows. In the meantime, I intend to paddle or row whenever the weather is favorable.

This week I rowed quite literally everyday. Rowing, as mentioned before, is a full body exercise and a way to get outside on the water and see wide horizons. I do enjoy that. But the real reason that I have rowed most days this week is because of the Northwest wind. It has been running at a steady 15 to 20 mph with gusts up to 25 and 30 mph. And because this is April, the temperature has been acting like…guess what…April. Meaning that total body exercise keeps your total body warmer, not to mention the simple fact that it is easier to row through a 25mph wind than to paddle through it. Two oars are more effective than one double end paddle. So this week I have stuck with rowing.

Geez, I can actually see the bottom. Yes, there is a good side to this Pandemic.

I have to say there is a good side to this Pandemic. The waters of my bay are cleaner than I have seen them in years. That is probably because no big boats have started to motor around our bays. Usually, by this time there are some young and exuberant kneeboarders are out in wetsuits motoring around in large Mastercrafts, churning up the bottom of the bay as they motor around in circles. I would imagine the large Mastercrafts have not been able to get out because boat yards and marinas are presently closed.

And so I have the clear waters of my bay to myself. I can only hope that means that our bays will have more minnows and fish this summer. That will be seen with time. In these last years, the quality of our bays waters have suffered from a multitude of problems…road runoff, soaps, detergents and fertilizer working there way from sewage tanks to the bay waters along with all the other ingredients that sewage tanks contain. There is also the not so small issue that Stony Brook University, which is about 3 miles from my house, dumps its treated sewage into Port Jefferson Bay, right in front of the electrical plant. So there have been a lot of culprits that contributed to the poor quality of our bay waters.

What I can say though is that the present waters are clearer than I have seen them in many years. Perhaps, that is because Stony Brook University is presently also closed and without 35,000 students creating the sewage, there is far less sewage to dump into our waters. Perhaps, that is also because there are fewer cars on the roads and they spew less fumes and gas onto the road which eventually makes their way to the bays. Perhaps, that is also because there are far fewer planes in the sky and whatever pollution that is falling to earth is far less. Perhaps, farmers are putting less fertilizer on nearby farms.

I am guessing the sewage from houses surrounding our bays has not changed much. In fact, they may be somewhat increased because the houses may be more crowded because so many are staying home and are unemployed.

Whatever the true case may be, I am happy to see the clearer waters and I am hoping they will stay clearer for the summer and we see an explosion of sea life. That may be too much to ask for.

I am sorry for those who have lost jobs in this crisis. I have friend who was a bus driver. He felt pretty secure about his job. When the first closures came, his boss told him not to worry, he would have a job even if the schools were closed. After all, the schools had signed a contract with the bus company and they were obligated to fulfill their contract. That idea seemed to work well for about a week, but then the Governor of New York said the schools were not getting monies when they were closed. The schools promptly turned around and said they were not going to pay bus companies to deliver non-existent students when they had no money. It was another classic of no money, no honey.

And so my friend was out of a job. His boss did call him up and said he had good news: now my friend could apply for unemployment and get an extra $600 a week for next 8 weeks and have unemployment checks for at least 39 weeks. Heck, he might even get more pay out this thing. My friend did not take it as good news. He called unemployment to sign up. They said they would call back in 3 days. They did call back 5 days later and tell him he was all signed up. Then, when he went to report that he was unemployed for the week, he was informed that his unemployment was not fully filled out and that he had to call back to complete his unemployment claim.

The only problem with that was that when he called back, he could not get through. So he has now called about 128 times and kept getting the same message: call back at another time when our operators are able to talk to you. It seems that this process of filing for unemployment claims is hit or miss. Of the 12 fellow workers that he was laid off with, one did get a call back and he did complete his filing over the phone and, in fact, he has received his first unemployment payment. So the system did work for him.

Interestingly enough, his friend’s wife, also a fellow employee, was also fairly lucky. She called at one morning at 7:36 am and was put on hold. She hung in there and by 10:02 am she did speak to an unemployment agent who did complete her filing. The agent said all she had to do was wait for a notice to come in the mail in 7 to 10 days and then she could call and then her unemployment payments would come shortly thereafter. So, theoretically, she will receive payments in two weeks or so…theoretically.

In the meantime, my friend, after dialing the designated unemployment number literally hundreds of times did finally get a call back. This time the person on the phone was very helpful and did get him signed up. Now, all has to do is wait for the money to start flowing, which should happen in early May. It is a good thing he had a little extra money to tide him over while he went through this process. That allowed him to pay his monthly bills for cable TV, rent, food, credit cards and other necessities. Lucky for him.

April 23, 2020

The stock markets started this week badly and then got better. The last two days the market has been up. Today, it was announced another 4,400,000 more people have filed unemployment claims. Of course, that is only the people who have successfully succeeded in filing their claim. The markets apparently are focused on the coming V-shaped recovery and take the news in stride. The markets start strong most of that day but end with small losses for the session.

Oil, that universal commodity, succeeded on Monday in doing something I previously thought impossible. WTI actually traded down to minus $37. per barrel. I had not thought that was possible. Some oil pundits came on financial channels to say it all was really very normal (even if I never recall it happening in the last 50 years). Nothing to be concerned about, the pundits said. It happens at the end of every quarter. Funny, I don’t remember that ever being mentioned on Bloomberg, Fox Business News, CNBC. I must have just missed it every quarter.

On that Thursday the weather is surprisingly cold and unappealing. There is not much wind, but low clouds hang over of my bay giving the day a cold and gloomy feel. By midday, it begins to rain, but that too, like the stock market that day, fades. I take the absence of rain as an opportunity to go for a row.

Out on the water, I am immediately accosted by incoming calls. My cell phone is always at the ready and so I talk about a new catalog with my printer rep and different working times for a couple of our remote workers. The calls go smoothly and I quickly return to rowing. I do not know why, no matter the weather or temperature, I never get bored, even though I am rowing on the very same bays. Somehow it is always different each time and somehow each row is new and unique.

That evening, I watched what I call the Donald Trump Show. The Donald Trump Show was a new feature that emerged shortly after the Coronavirus became a major cause of infection and death. This show was originally scheduled to be the Coronavirus Update Show headed by a couple of doctors, but then it was pre-emptied by the Vice President Pence’s Coronavirus Show, only to be finally pre-emptied by the Donald Trump Virus and Fake News Show. It comes on nightly somewhere around when CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CBS, NBC, ABC and other media channels would normally have peak viewership. And the Donald Trump Show last for one or two hours. It is like a 101 Fireside Chats in 30 days with our President, but these chats are more like Fire and Fury Chats.

Anyway, on this particular evening, The President introduced a gentleman from Homeland Security in a nice uniform who said part of his job was tracking and studying the effects of the Coronavirus. Apparently, Homeland Security is most interested in this subject. This man explained that he and his scientific team had discovered that the Coronavirus was killed quickly by alcohol, bleach and sunlight. This caught my eye. At a younger age,  I might have taken this man’s study as a recommendation to drink a lot of Jack Daniels, but being older, what caught my eye was the fact that apparently sunlight would kill the virus in about 60 seconds. 

Lessons from the New Scientific Study – Go Outside.

I have to say I really liked that conclusion of that man’s study. I might not go with drinking bleach or alcohol, but going outside in the sun seemed like a winner idea to me.

I think one of the points of this man’s study was that when the weather gets warmer and sun comes out, the Coronavirus will go away. I hope it is so. And if you ask me it will come none too soon for the Trump Administration. On that very day, the Coronavirus was approaching 50,000 deaths, up almost 30,000 deaths since I started writing this blog story. My, how the time and numbers do fly.

By April 24th, 10 days after I started this blog story, there were almost 50,000 deaths in the U.S. from the Coronavirus. That is an increase of about 30,000 deaths in 10 days.

So, as you can see from the chart above, deaths from the Coronavirus has been increasing rapidly. Earlier on the Donald Trump Coronavirus Show, our President had said that earliest projections of deaths for the Coronavirus could result one to two million people dying. But now, thanks to quick action by Donald Trump on testing and closing down flights to China and Europe, a later projection showed that they expected the real total to be somewhere between 100,000 and 240,000. Then, a few days later the President announced that a new highly regarded model projected only 60,000 deaths. That was about 7 days ago.

The only problem was now the death toll was already almost 50,000 people, so it was getting mighty close to that 60,000 number. Enter the gentleman from Homeland Security.

I gathered the message was like that little girl’s song in the play Annie: “The sun will come out tomorrow.”

April 25, 2020

I went for a row this Saturday. It was the first day you could imagine that spring had arrived. The temperature got up into the low 60s, the wind, while cool and a little breezy, was relatively mild out of the Northwest. Water clarity of my bay was at an all time high…at least in my experience. I could actually see the bottom even though it was over 6 feet deep. That was unique in the my experience. Many days last summer it was impossible to see my paddle blade even though it was only 6″ below the surface of the water.

Over the weekend there has been a big outcry because on the Friday Trump Coronavirus Show the President suggested that perhaps we could consider injecting bleach into our bodies to get rid of the Coronavirus. Or perhaps we could shine UV light into some internal parts of the body to blast out the virus. Both of the suggestions were met with wide derision from the medical community. The President then said he was just being sarcastic in order to answer a rude question from a rude reporter. I don’t remember the rude question or the rude reporter or thinking that the President’s remarks were sarcastic.

I suppose sarcasm is in the eye of the beholder.

In any case, the President was so miffed that he sent out a tweet saying as long as he faced questions from rude reporters maybe the Trump Coronavirus Show was “not worth his time”. That was strange because I thought these Coronavirus reports were supposed to be for the public’s benefit. I guess everything is in the eye of the beholder.

That did not last long, because two days later the President gathered some industry leaders (an impressive group of lab testing companies, major retailers and drugstores) and held a press conference that looked an awful like the Trump Coronavirus Show. The upshot of that was these various companies were getting together to provide more and better testing. Now, once and for all, America was going to have all the testing it needs.

Asked by a reporter whether we would be able to test 5 million people a day, he said, “Yes, we are getting there soon.”

The next day the President denied every saying we would ever be able to test 5 million people a day. That was echoed by another gentleman in his Administration, who when asked about testing 5 million people a day, said, “Not on this earth.”

April 28th, 2020

Jared Kushner, the President’s son in law, got on Fox News and said they had done a great job in handling the Coronavirus Crisis. 

Later that day, the United States passed 1,000,000 Coronavirus cases and 60,000 deaths from Coronavirus. If you remember way back when, when I began this blog story on April 12th, there were just over 500,000 Coronavirus cases in the U.S. and 20,000 deaths in the U.S. In other words, in a little over two weeks, the number cases doubled and the number of deaths increased two and half times.

None of this seemed to bother the stock markets which went up strongly that day.

April 30th, 2020

It is jobs claims day and with it another 3.8 million put in claims for unemployment. That brought the total in just 6 weeks to 30,000,000 people who claimed unemployment. For the day, stocks go down, but for the month, stocks have their best month since 1987. The S&P, for example, ended the month up 13%. Go figure?

I wish I could say I was rowing and paddling each day this last week, but the weather has been pretty miserable with rain and high winds and temperatures in the 50s and 60s.

Tomorrow is the first of May and guess what: rain and high winds are forecast. The weekend looks a lot better with the hope of sunny skies and higher temperatures. It might actually get close to 70 degrees. I think I will row or paddle then. 

About Cecil Hoge

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1 Response to Paddling in a Pandemic – Chapter 2

  1. Rod Chapin says:

    Thanks for the posts that are generated form your thoughts from the river. Keep them up.

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