3 October - Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and a return to Newport
41:00.8N 72: 11.2W
We left Plymouth in glorious sunshine, flat calm seas and hardly a breath of wind – ideal whale watching conditions but slightly tedious for our passage down to the Cape Cod Canal and onwards towards Nantucket.
I used the time to conduct a serious repair of a previous repair on the rubber dinghy. It’s a critical piece of kit for us as we spend most of our time when we are not actually sailing either anchored or on a mooring – so the dinghy is our ‘car’ for getting ashore. It’s a ten year old Zodiac with an inflatable floor and it has been a brilliant piece of kit both on this trip and back in UK waters – big enough to carry a pile of people, light enough for me to carry. We’ve looked after it carefully and the only damage was incurred the very first time we brought PhoeniX into Jupiter Point at Plymouth and came ashore at Wier Quay, where we struggled to deflate it and shove it in the back of the car. The repairs I did at the time are starting to fail, so we took a decision to ‘ground’ the dinghy for 24 hours to rejuvenate things.
‘Make and mend’
The tide swept us through the Canal and we popped out into Buzzards Bay to be greeted by a headwind that would have made for a fine beat to windward if it wasn’t so shallow outside the dredged channel. We motored for an hour and by the time there was sufficient sea room to sail, we didn’t have far to run to Woods Hole Passage, where we planned to spend the night. Here, the tide rushes through a narrow gap between mainland Cape Cod and the Elizabeth Islands that run south west towards Long Island. Woods Hole Passage is a great piece of water and we chose to anchor on the west side in a pool between the islands called Hadley Harbor. Another of our friend Dave’s fine recommendations, it is perfectly sheltered, very peaceful and right out of the tidal stream that can reach over five knots at Springs.
As we nosed in to the anchorage we saw our friends Nicky and Reg (Blue Velvet of Sark) already there. Both boats have been up to Canada, but the Barkers got considerably further north than we did. We spent longer in Maine and Massachusetts… the result was a convivial impromptu drinks and dinner onboard Escapade.
Blue Velvet of Sark (Rustler 42) at anchor in Hadley Harbor
The following morning there was a bit of breeze and a favourable tide to take us to the island of Nantucket, some 30 miles to the east. As we passed north of Martha’s Vineyard the wind died though and we motored most of the way. In bright sunshine with clear skies, there was one cloud on the horizon marking the location of the island. It prompted me to think about the phrase ‘living under a cloud’, which always has a negative connotation – but something you can usually rely on at sea as an aid to making a landfall.
Under a cloud – Nantucket!
Nantucket is famous for whaling but today this sandy island is an upmarket tourist destination, offering fine beaches, clean air and a haven for artists and writers. Nathaniel Philbrick, author of the excellent ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ (the true story behind Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’) is one. We had a good look around the town and explored the large lagoon in the (repaired) dinghy. It all looks beautiful, windswept and uncomplicated. To do it justice we needed to spend a couple of days there, hiking or cycling around, but we didn’t have time as we wanted to reach Long Island by the weekend. So, content with a spectacular sunset and a T shirt, we sailed the following morning for Martha’s Vineyard.
… a fine safe harbour for the night
For once, there was enough wind and Julie took the boat all the way into Edgartown at the eastern end of the island whilst I dealt with a minor migraine below decks. We arrived at lunchtime and anchored off Snow’s Point on the island of Chappaquiddick. The waterfront on the Vineyard side is lined with magnificent country homes and the harbour is full of expensive yachts. The Chappaquiddick side is far more rural, marshy and romantic. It was here that Senator Edward Kennedy drove his car off a bridge and left a young woman to die in 1969; there is evidence that suggests she survived for two hours in an air pocket whilst he went back to his friends to ask for advice…
Katama Bay, Martha’s Vineyard. Reminiscent of Beaulieu?
We didn’t stay long at anchor because the tide roars through the gap where we lay and we were concerned about being pushed onto a sandbank. So after lunch we moved down the harbour towards the main town and picked up a buoy. Then, with the boat secure, we set off in the dinghy to explore Caleb Pond in Chappaquiddick and Katama Bay at the southern end of the inlet. Here we landed on the narrow sandspit that protects the bay from the Atlantic Ocean on the south side and had a fine walk through the dunes. On the lagoon side we met a local fisherman digging for clams. I shared stories with him about the clam fishermen of Galicia and he admitted that he was actually poaching on some private land. Interesting, because in the UK the waters below the high water mark are owned by the State, not private individuals. But he wasn’t the sort of chap you could have a complex discussion with… His clams were the size of my hand.
Oystercatchers in a land of plenty at Chappaquiddick. Note fully inflated rubber boat!
We reached Edgartown in the late afternoon and had a good look around the eastern half of this pretty waterside town. There’s a load of money here, but there are also plenty of fishermen making a living as they always have. Like Nantucket, the ‘old money’ here comes from whaling and the ‘new money from tourism – with some very wealthy families investing heavily in the infrastructure for many decades.
A boat for every season? Hinckley and house at Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard
The following morning we caught a bus to the western end of the island where Gay Head rises up out of the sea and peers across at the Elizabeth islands and Cape Cod. It’s also an Indian Reservation and the home of the Wampanoag tribe. They seem to be well-established with a variety of small businesses and a very different feel to the Aboriginal Reserves I remember from the Northern Territories of Australia. We had a fine ‘bbq ribs’ lunch by the lighthouse before a lovely walk down to the vast, empty sandy beach that runs along the south of the island. Here, the geology is a strange mix of sand and clay; the clay is beautifully coloured and the Indian legend is that the giant Moshup killed a whale here and his blood stained the cliffs. We had it pretty much to ourselves as you can’t drive down there (so that rules out a large proportion of the visitors to the island and the lighthouse).
Gay Head, Aquinnah, Martha’s Vineyard
On the way back, we jumped off the bus at Chilmark and walked over to the north west corner of the island and the harbour of Menemsha. A vast version of Newtown Creek on the Solent, this is the antithesis of Edgartown: a working fishing village with a Coastguard Station, some tourism and plenty of locals either working on the water or enjoying it. We were befriended by an artist painting beach scenes with a stack of canvases in the back of her car – it turns out she was a lecturer at Harvard who knews another famous Martha’s resident , the architect Norman Foster. We really liked it there and wished we’d had time to take Escapade in there and pick up one of the two deepwater moorings.
Fishermen’s homes in Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard. Compare and contrast with Edgartown…!
We enjoyed Martha’s Vineyard a lot. Apparently many other people do too and in the summer it can be a bit crammed. But in early October, it was pretty fab – although the weather was a little changeable. The following day – Wednesday 3 October – after some heavy overnight rain we set sail at first light for Newport, Rhode Island. We managed to catch the tide all along the north coast of Martha’s Vineyard and down the south side of the Elizabeth Islands, before turning north west across Buzzard’s Bay and into Rhode Island Sound. It was grey, drizzly with patchy fog, but the wind filled in from the south and we had a cracking sail from late morning all the way into the anchorage at Newport. This was essentially a logistics stop – water fuel and laundry, plus the opportunity for Julie to catch up with a friend from work.
The following morning, the fresh water system failed as I was in the shower. I spent the day fiddling with the settings on the water pump pressure switch (essentially a screw that determines when the water pressure switches the pump off) and the accumulator tank (which attempts to ‘balance’ the demand cycle when you turn on a tap) trying to get an equitable balance. I have not got that right yet, but it’s workable. I resolved to fit a ‘manual’ pump for fresh water in the galley at the next refit – amazingly after 20 years, this boat still doesn’t have one…
So I missed the run ashore in Newport. Fortunately, there in the anchorage was Blue Velvet. Nicky and Reg invited us to drinks with two other Ocean Cruising Club boats and then supper onboard. We had a cracking evening admiring their lovely boat and Reg’s skills with his new gizmo – a pressure cooker!
After a windy night at anchor, we had another early start as we made our way south west towards the south eastern corner of Long Island and the Hamptons. Our destination was Three Mile Harbor, nestling on the north shore of the easternmost fork of Long Island. We screamed down Rhode Island Sound at over 9 knots with a reef in the main and genoa, but the wind eased as we pulled away from the mainland and negotiated the strong tides of The Race and Block Island Sound. The chart suggests that Three Mile Harbor might be too shallow for us, but Julie had spoken to the manager of one of the marinas there, who reassured us. In the event, we skirted round Gardiners Island and slipped into another beautiful, tranquil, expanded version of Newtown Creek late on a glorious Friday afternoon with never less than 2m under the keel.
Fishermens Memorial, Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard