TIDE IS HIGH
Recently, on a cloudy Memorial Day weekend, Malory Nathan, the senior North Hempstead bay constable, pushed his 27-foot Safe Boat off the town dock in Port Washington to stop recreational boaters for quick safety checks in Manhasset Bay.
“It’s a lot easier to deal with these people at two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon,” says Nathan, recalling near-physical confrontations with less cooperative local drunken pirate-types he summonsed. “I don’t want to put a damper on their holiday weekend.”
Boaters call Nathan’s watery turf, which runs from the Stepping Stone Lighthouse in the eastern half of Little Neck Bay to the western half of Hempstead Harbor, “Exit One” given its proximity to the mouth of the East River, making it a refueling port for transient boaters and especially long-distance sailors biding the tides.
“We’ve had our share of everything you could imagine here,” Nathan says, donning Maui Jim sunglasses while at the helm of Marine 5 and listening to four different radios. “Everybody thinks all we do is ride around on a boat all day.”
Below the dark-green surface lies a treacherous seascape epitomized by the jagged hidden rocks not found off the South Shore. And something else lies nearby, which might surprise the Gold Coast celebrity yacht clubber scene. Just a mile offshore over the New York City line is Hart Island—the final home to nearly a million mostly poor, many unidentified folks at Potter’s Field, the world’s largest taxpayer-funded cemetery now a century old.
At 2:31 p.m., in the middle of Nathan’s best fish story of the day—regaling how he was responding to a dolphin pod 200 strong, making him a stranded marine mammal first responder—comes the first catch of the day: a small boat in distress in Hempstead Harbor north of Tappen Beach in Sea Cliff. He guns it, but Nassau County police Marine Bureau officers beat him to the scene, so he hangs back.
Were it a serious call, the response time could have been 15 minutes before he arrived. Things can go bad quickly on the water. This time, police just have to tow a small boat off a sand bar.
The question now is: How long can Nathan rely on that backup?