The Block Island Times

Writer's Block: A geodesic what?

By J.V. Houlihan, Jr. | Sep 24, 2012
Photo by: Pat Bender

Two weeks ago, islander Bob Fletcher came off the ferry with a bewildered look on his face, and asked me, “Houlihan, what is that?” He was pointing to the object pictured above. On a later boat, Sam Kretschmer asked the same question and said he knew I’d go find out. Immediately, my inquiring mind took over. I got my reporter hat on, and started asking questions of people I know from the docks in Point Judith.

Local diver Richard Maquardt said, “Someone’s going to grow tuna in it.” I thought he was putting me on, but that was the general consensus around the docks.

In a college acting class I had a professor who had us read all about a guy named Buckminster Fuller. He was an inventor. Old Bucky Fuller was a smart guy. What he had to do with acting puzzled me then, and still does now. Fuller designed a geodesic dome, which is kind of what you’re looking at in the above photo. Let’s just say that Fuller had some interesting ideas. Moreover, he had some wild automobile designs he developed, and coined the word “synergy.” Google it later.

Raising tuna in a geodesic dome, then maybe towing said dome offshore to a larger pen to let the fish mature and fatten up, makes sense to me. That seems to be the gist of what is happening. Perhaps we are looking at a prototype. If so, I bet Bucky would be proud. This would be a long way from how I remember tuna being caught and sold.

About 25 years ago, I saw these Asian guys strolling along the bulkhead near the ferry docks. They were very stoic guys looking for tuna. I watched a guy go on a buddy’s lobster boat and scope out a few 100-pound tunas the guy caught long-lining on his way back from lobstering. The Asian guy, with his benign poker face, took out his blade, and took a slice from the fish. He then held the slab of tuna up to the sun, checking for parasites. He rubbed the meat between his fingers, checking the oil and fat content. Finally, he tasted it. The guy liked the fish.

Next, two of his friends showed up with a truck and ice and loaded the fish into tuna coffins. After being shipped to the airport, they would head west, and within 24 hours, bang, they would be served as very expensive sushi in Tokyo. That was the drill. These guys just could tell how fresh the tuna was. It was an impressive transaction. One guy’s parting words to me were that these three tuna would be worth about $100,000 when they were sliced into sushi. A beautiful dollar can be made in this tuna business.

Buckminster Fuller was a man of vision. Two of his geodesic domes are still in use on Block Island — called The Domes, the two homes are near Fresh Pond. Their builders saw Fuller’s designs at the World Fair. Yup, he had a unique way of looking at shapes and functions. So, the next time the ferry is pulling into the Point Judith dock, take a look at the possible future of farming tuna, and give a thoughtful nod to old Bucky Fuller.

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