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May 4, 2012 3:11 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sadleir Retires After 36 Years On The Bays

May 9, 2012 10:17 AM

Ted Sadleir has pulled the bodies of 75 drowned people from the waters of the East End over the last four decades. None of them was wearing a life preserver, the veteran bay constable noted.

After 36 years of some gruesome duties, some exciting ones and some just plain strange ones—three plane crashes, devastating algae blooms, shellfish wars, houseboat wars and “the Jet Ski thing”—Mr. Sadleir retired from the town’s marine patrol force at the end of April. He is succeeded as the senior bay constable by Chris Kohnken, a 25-year veteran of the marine patrol.

A lot has changed in 36 years on local waters. The hundreds of baymen whom Mr. Sadleir once spent most of his time policing have dwindled to just a few dozen, pollution has changed the look of the bay in some ways, and easy-to-use personal watercraft have made keeping tabs on the boating public more of a challenge. But overall boat traffic has not increased substantially since he started patrolling in the 1970s, Mr. Sadleir, 62, surmised this week. The main waterways around Shinnecock and Moriches inlets, the Shinnecock Canal and Sag Harbor have been bustling for a long time.

“The Jet Ski thing changed it a lot,” Mr. Sadleir, of Westhampton, said. “For a long time, before they had the mandatory education program, we were writing 75 percent of our summonses to Jet Skis. At first, they only had the stand-up kind, so it took a little skill to ride them. Now, they’re more like a boat, and a lot of them have no prior experience with watercraft. They’re fast and they’re dangerous.”

Mr. Sadleir joined the town bay constables after graduating from the University of Rhode Island, where he’d majored in zoology—wanting to be “the next Jacques Cousteau, swimming with the dolphins.” He’d worked part time as a bayman, digging clams to earn spending money, most of his life, and like many young locals before him had been hooked by the allure of the bay.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Southampton Town sold between 600 and 800 commercial shellfishing permits to men who earned a living working on the bays. Waterways were almost always crowded with boats of clam diggers, scallop dredgers and trappers, and many of them had little interest in paying much mind to some of the newfangled rules governments sought to impose on their centuries-old profession. Bay constables in those days, particularly in the western parts of the town, spent much of their time marshaling the shellfishing grounds.

“My sector bordered Brookhaven, and their baymen were coming over the line all the time, and I chased them around a lot,” Mr. Sadleir recalled. “It’s not much of a problem anymore, because there really just aren’t any baymen anymore.”

He recalled the first days that the murky colored water appeared in some of the creeks of Shinnecock Bay and Peconic Bay in 1985, the start of the infamous “brown tide” that today marks the beginning of the end of shellfishing as a major industry on the East End. In the years that followed, the dense eelgrass disappeared, and after a few years of bountiful collections of newly accessible clams, the baymen soon started to vanish as well.

In 1996, TWA Flight 800 exploded over the ocean just west of Moriches Inlet. The town bay constables spent weeks playing harbor pilots to recovery vessels bringing fragments of the aircraft through treacherous Shinneock Inlet to the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Hampton Bays.

In 2001, a late-night call came in of a Hampton Bays teenager missing in Tiana Bay’s frigid early-spring waters. It would be nearly two months of searching before Mr. Sadleir and another bay constable would pull Marc Legotti’s body from the water.

“I’ve seen a lot of bad accidents, but the ones involving the kids, they’re the worst,” he said. “Those are the cases you don’t want to remember, but they stick in your mind.”

There have been some odd cases, like the capsizing of the commercial fishing boat Hail Mary II and her cargo of tons of fresh squid inside the bay and the years-long bizarre drama that surrounded the town’s efforts to get the owner of a derelict houseboat, James Flaherty, to remove the sunken vessel.

Mr. Sadleir will now be watching the tragedy and hilarity from the other side of the gunwale. He says he doesn’t plan to leave the area and will still earn some money on the water—he’s held onto most of his commercial fishing licenses and will catch his allotment of striped bass each year to augment his retirement a little. Beyond that, he’ll take on some new family duties, he says, passing along some of his years of experience to a new generation.

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Job well done-enjoy retirement Ted
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on May 8, 12 1:19 PM
1 member liked this comment
Congratulations. A job well done.
By Lets go mets (377), Southampton on May 8, 12 3:52 PM
1 member liked this comment
Great guy! Glad to see him retire...he deserves a happy and healthy retirement.
Best wishes Ted. You were always a pleasure to deal with.
By c'mon now (46), southampton on May 8, 12 6:03 PM
1 member liked this comment
Thanks for all you did Officer Sadleir. You were always a professional and kind/generous to others
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on May 8, 12 6:16 PM
1 member liked this comment
Enjoy your retirement, Ted! Well done!
By Robert I Ross (250), Hampton Bays on May 9, 12 6:41 AM
1 member liked this comment
Ted was the best at what he did as senior bay constable and running a professional department. There isn't anything that he doesn't know about about the local waters, marine and environmental laws. Wishing him well in his retirement...he will be missed!
By Jaws (245), Westhampton Beach on May 10, 12 3:08 AM
Job well done. Enjoy your retirement!
And everyone, please wear a life preserver!
By baywave (22), Westhampton Beach on May 12, 12 9:15 PM
Ted- we were always comfortable and feeling safe when we knew you were out there watching our interests. Wishing you a happy retirement.
Irwin and Phia
By Ibill (47), remsenburg on May 15, 12 10:41 AM