EASTPORT, Maine — Matt Andring, 27, of Tennessee and Nick Forfinski, 32, of Washington will leave Eastport in about two weeks, but they said they absolutely plan to return someday.
Their five-month stay on the Maine coast, where they have been mapping the bottom of Cobscook Bay for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has left a permanent impression on the men, members of NOAA’s Navigation Response Team.
“This is the most welcoming place I’ve been to,” Forfinski said last week. “Beyond the physical beauty here there is a great sense of community.”
“It’s been fantastic,” Andring said. “There are so many interesting people and events. We felt the support of the people the instant we arrived, and it didn’t go away.”
The two said they have bonded with the community and really enjoyed two highlights — the Fourth of July celebration and the annual September Pirate Festival.
They said the survey itself now provides a complete and accurate representation of the bottom of the bay, including an interesting ridge, a volcanic dike that bisects the center of the bay.
Andring called this geological ridge an “intrusive volcano dike, or rock bridge.” He said it is in very deep water and is about 10 feet tall.
The surveying went without problems, he said, adding that they were accompanied by porpoises and whales on some of the workdays.
“We made it all the way to Robbinston,” said Forfinksi, the team leader.
When the pair, along with Cmdr. Lawrence Krepp, began the project five months ago, they thought the survey might have stretched into next spring. But good summer weather helped speed their progress.
“The weather was beautiful,” Andring said. “Aside from a few mechanical problems, everything went smoothly.”
The duo used a 32-foot Sea Ark to pass back and forth throughout the bay. It was equipped with high-tech sonar shooting sound beams to the sea bottom to generate color-coded charts of the ocean floor. The sound is shot at seven pings a second, at a decibel too high for humans to hear. The longer the sound takes to return to the boat, the deeper the water.
Eventually, the charts will be available online for all Down East fishermen.
The loss of 16 fishermen at sea in the past five years is what prompted NOAA to map the bay.
When it was discovered that except for a few small changes in the 1970s, the last comprehensive mapping of the bay was done in the late 1800s, Maine’s congressional delegation pressed NOAA for an immediate full-bottom survey.
Both surveyors said they realized their work did not provide a single reason or place that can be blamed for all of the sinkings and loss of life, and, in that, they are disappointed.
“But there is an upside,” Andring said. “We now have a huge amount of high-resolution data to help keep them safer.”
Forfinski said he was surprised at the steep shorelines. “It is very unusual for the East Coast,” he said. “You can be just 20 feet offshore and be in 20 meters of water.”
Another part of the surveying that both admitted was frightening was Reversing Falls, an area near where several of the fishing boats have sunk.
“It was scary,” Forfinski said. “We had to time it carefully with the tide and go in during a slack water current.”
Both men said they are now extremely respectful of the 20-foot tides and strong currents in the bay.
The pair also was surprised at the evidence of fishing found on the bottom.
“We saw drag marks everywhere,” Andring said. “Places that we thought would have been considered marginal for fishing had many drag marks.”
Forfinski said the bay also has some pretty impressive rock croppings that now will be accurately mapped.
Once they pack up their gear and hook the Sea Ark to the back of their truck, the pair will head to Jersey City, N.J., to complete a mapping project in the Hudson River.
“But we’ll be back someday,” Forfinski promised.