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Kite-surfing and social distancing, but no Sullivan’s at Castle Island

A masked bicyclist passed a road barrier near a quiet Castle Island early this week.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

No parking, no Sullivan’s, no crowds, no lines, no sea gulls poaching French fries.

That’s the new abnormal at Castle Island, usually one of the city’s favorite destinations for strolling, running, cycling, and simply enjoying the harbor views from a large blanket spread on the lush grass.

But these aren’t usual times, and the crowds have dwindled outside Fort Independence and on the walkway circling Pleasure Bay. It’s a jarring contrast to the way things were, a reminder of what’s been lost. Now, nearly everyone is wearing a mask, and those who do not are getting a wide berth.

“It would be nice if we could go to some other country until this is over," said Brendan Gilroy, a 58-year-old construction worker who has been off the job for two months. “I guess we just have to make the best of it."


Gilroy sat with his back to the granite fort, an Australian labradoodle at his feet and Logan Airport across the water in front of him. Normally a hive of activity, the airport was eerily quiet this recent afternoon, its runways nearly empty as only a few planes taxied onto them or brought passengers from elsewhere.

A runner had a path all to himself at Castle Island.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Overhead, the roar of jet engines was absent, and the only barrier to a conversation at normal volume was a brisk wind off the harbor.

That wind swept across the empty parking lot in front of Sullivan’s, the Castle Island seafood and snack shack that has been shuttered through the lockdown. A locked grate, more suited for the dead of winter, barred the entrance where a long queue would snake outside in happier days.

“Rest assured,” a notice read. "When the time is right, we will be here to provide the comfort beach food that our family has provided to your family for close to 70 years.”


The adjacent playground was unused, not a single child clambering about while parents rested on the benches. Near the playsets, stacks of overturned hulls from the Harry McDonough Sailing Center waited to be launched in better times.

Still, a small but steady stream of people walked around Pleasure Bay. They included Marie Morris and Maura Hanrahan, masked 30-something friends who decided to stroll clockwise on the loop, flouting the orders from two large digital signs that pointed visitors in the opposite direction.

“I’d rather do this than sit inside the house,” said Hanrahan, who lives in Lowell.

Mike Doucet can relate. The 62-year-old Lexington man, known as Kiter Mike, was not letting the coronavirus keep him from his sport.

The sport is kite-surfing, and Doucet was zipping around Pleasure Bay, rising dozens of feet in the air and splashing back in the water with a yelp of joy that, for a moment anyway, seemed to signal all was well with the world.

Doucet and a few buddies in wet suits gathered on the beach near Day Boulevard, which has been closed to cars on the ocean side of Marine Park. One friend is originally from Morocco, another from Ukraine, a third from France, They joked with each other, gauged the changes in the wind, and rode a breeze that blew from 15 to 25 miles per hour.

They did not wear masks. They also didn’t get closer than 6 feet to anyone.

“You’re social distancing anyway because you’re out on the water and away from each other,” Doucet said. “You get in your car, you get your suit on, and you get in the water. Afterward, you get in your car and go home.”


Doucet, who sells seafood, said kite-surfing has helped fill the empty spaces in his schedule.

“I still wake up at 4 a.m. without an alarm clock,” said Doucet, shrugging as he stood in the sand. "So you’re up, you make coffee, and there’s not so many things you can do around the house. This is a godsend.”

Gary Pikovskay, 41, a native of Ukraine, beamed as he prepared to take to the water for the first time in more than two months. Pikovskay had been quarantined in his Cambridge home, but with a broken leg, not because of the pandemic.

“This is my first day outside since I had surgery,” Pikovskay said. “The whole virus thing has kind of passed me by. In a way, it’s good timing.”

Good timing, however, does not extend to other parts of the group’s routine: the hot dogs, fries, and Cokes at Sullivan’s. The stop afterward at Santarpio’s across the water in East Boston. And the camaraderie over a post-surfing beer, Doucet said.

Empty tables at Sullivan's.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

It’s all about adaptation in the age of the coronavirus.

At the far end of the beach, Giovanni Sambotti prepared to pack up his windsurfing equipment as a spitting rain fell. The 47-year-old from Cambridge had been surfing for only the second time this spring. In any other year, Sambotti said, he would be out three to four times a week.


Sambotti said he is not afraid of contracting the virus, but wants to do his part to keep others safe.

Still, the change in routine has been difficult. Sambotti held his sail, admired its sleek lines, and smiled slightly.

“This," he said, “is my psychologist.”

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com.