Moored in Nantucket

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Wed 22 Sep 2010 01:20
41:17.094N 70:05.604W Tuesday evening

We're moored on Straight Dock, at the end of Main Street, Nantucket, right where the whaling ships used to discharge their cargoes. It's a beautiful sunny day and Andrea is sitting in the cockpit reading her book with a cup of tea. We've spent the day in Nantucket having arrived here pretty late last night and we're off to Black Eyed Susan's for dinner in an hour.

Yesterday was extremely long and eventful - hence no blog entry as I was unable to speak at 9pm, let alone write anything. We were up at 0700 to get onto the fuel dock in Plymouth as early as we could. For the last few miles into Plymouth the night before, we'd been running on fumes and I didn't want to have to motor around the harbour waiting to get onto the dock. Just as we were about to let go of the mooring and head over there, a local boat came along and did a leisurely fill-up. As he was about to leave, another one came along. This could take all day. Luckily, Kali called over to them that we were waiting and they graciously waved us on.

I don't think they would have done so if they knew how much fuel we needed and how long it would take. We filled our two main tanks so that's about 1200 litres and it seemed to take an age. Luckily, one of the guys from the waiting boat came over and got into a great chat with Andrea, Kali and Sam while I was filling the tanks and he turned out to be really friendly so I hope we gave him some entertainment in return for his generosity. We had a bit of a nightmare getting off the dock as the wind was blowing us on hard and I wanted to get off quickly and let the other guys get on with their day. In the event, the bow thruster wasn't powerful enough to get the nose through the wind and Andrea had to make quick work with a roving fender before we did what we should have done in the first place and reversed off with a bow spring.

We headed out of Plymouth harbour down the same winding channel - the local guys thought it was "awesome" that we had done it in the dark the night before, especially as I think they were responsible for some of the lobster pots in the middle of the fairway. We were expecting a day of 20-30 knot winds from the North and that's exactly what we got. Getting offshore was bouncy as the swells could feel the shallow bottom but it calmed down a bit as we got into slightly deeper water and then turned South with the wind behind us. We had the full genoa up, doing a respectable 8 knots or so as we headed for the Cape Cod canal.

The canal is big enough for large ships and cuts off the rough passage around the outside of the cape. The tide runs hard through it - up to 6 knots - so we had asked the Corps of Engineers who operate it what time we should do our transit. Luckily, any time from 0830 until 1430 was recommended to us so we just headed straight in and were immediately doing 10 knots over the ground as we took the opportunity to have some lunch in the calm water. There are two high bridges over the canal and one railway bridge which can raise or lower but is kept raised. In the event, we barely had time to eat our poached eggs on toast (Sam does perfect eggs) before we were shot out the other end and back into the choppy water.

We now had a short stretch across Buzzards Bay with the wind behind us again and the genoa pulling us along a treat. In the middle of the bay, there's a lighthouse built on a metal plinth which looks like a strange statue as you approach. We shot past that and on into Woods Hole, a harbour come channel through the Elizabeth Islands. Suddenly, we were in a narrow channel with buoys everywhere and the tide against us so it was on with the engine and dodge a ferry before we were once again in the open water of Vineyard Sound with Martha's Vinyard island ahead of us. We now had a good beam reach so it was furled main and genoa out and engine off again.

I'd been steering for most of the day and I was knackered by now so Kali took over. The sea was getting up, aided by the shallow water all around us. It's a really odd piece of sea in that area as there are shoal patches everywhere and even the channels are only about 7 meters deep. There are Safe Water buoys scattered around and everyone makes passages joining them up. We passed another couple of ferries going into Martha's Vinyard and then a navigational mark that's even bigger than the new West Pole outside Chichester Harbour. Just after that, it was time to turn South again for the approach to Nantucket itself which, again, is a narrow channel between shoal areas. Sam steered that bit with the genoa up again and then we were around Brant Point and into Nantucket Harbour.

As we came in, the harbour was choppy as the whole island is only a sand-bar and doesn't really slow the wind down. In the middle of the harbour, there was a massive 3-masted yacht anchored that I recognised as belonging to the guy who founded Netscape. There were plenty of empty mooring buoys but we fancied a quiet night and wanted to be able to walk ashore as we planned to stop for a day or so. The marina had some intimidating notices about not entering without permission but they had all gone home so we had to get the Coastguard to contact them and get permission for us to enter. By now, it was nearly dark and we spotted a likely-looking dock, got everything well fendered up with boards etc and headed in.

As we came alongside the dock, I realised that the upright piles were about 2 meters apart and that we were going to be blown on. As we came in, sods law meant that all our fender boards and fenders missed the piles and we were blown sideways onto a pile with a sickening crunch. Oh Shit. Nobody panicked, though, and we got tied up and then assessed the situation. Saxon Blue has a lovely, tough teak toe-rail with a stainless steel strip on the outside so she's well able to take rubbing up against a pile with no problem. The trouble is that all her stantions stick out further than the toe rail so they're the first thing to touch. We have to put thick fenders into the gap and make sure they take the weight and we'd not managed to do that. The result was that the stantion aft of the port side gate got pushed inboard until the rubbing strip could do its work.

In the event, the only damage was to the fixings for the stantions which is more of a problem than it should be because they fail beneath the toe-rail rather than above it but that's something I knew I needed to sort out with Discovery Yachts anyway and I think I've got a solution now. Anyway, we were still being blown onto the dock and didn't want to rely on just a few fenders to keep us off. The dock opposite us was also free so we decided to winch Saxon Blue over there. Sam walked around with long lines and we ran them to our anchor winch and one of our primary sail winches and off we went. It worked a treat and we soon had her safely alongside the other pier, getting blown off and protected from the piles by our large inflatable fenders.

Andrea saved the day once again by getting some chilli cooked so we all staggered down below and ate that. I was now so tired that I couldn't really think and Kali must have felt the same as she'd been on the go all day as well, doing the navigating when she wasn't steering. She's really grown into the role of skipper since Richard Haworth got off in Greenland and I rely on her a lot to do all the hard work of diligently working out our routes, leaving me to do the bits I like. I have a look at the charts and get on with it, safe in the knowledge that she's read all the Pilot books and really worked out the tides and hazards. In short, I enjoy myself and she keeps me safe. I think we're making a good team and we both trust each other to keep going until we actually drop from exhaustion.

(Just got back from Black Eyed Susan's now after an excellent dinner so I'll take up the story again)

Anyway, I was comatose by 10pm last night although I did wake up at 0400 and go out to check the lines. We had a gradual awakening this morning and did a few jobs on the boat. I went off to the marina office to pay for our berth at a scary rate of around 200 dollars a night and then we went out for a late breakfast. After that, we went to see Graham the skipper on Leonore to return the charts they'd lent us. Kali and Sam headed off to get some bikes to explore the island and Andrea and I went into town.

The town is so beautiful. The streets are wide and lined with trees with hundreds of fancy boutiques selling nice stuff that nobody needs. It's such a contrast to the Arctic where you can only buy what everybody needs. All the houses have Cedar shingles and there is a strict building code so they all look very similar. I think a lot of the whaling era houses got destroyed in a major fire but everything looks old. They don't allow chain stores on the island so everything is a local business. We found a bank to get some cash out and it was more like a museum with exhibits inside like weighing scales from a century ago and carved whalebone canes all in cases with labels. From there, we found the whaling museum which was a bit underwhelming but did have a full-sized Sperm Whale skeleton and an original whaler (the small rowing boat used to catch the Sperm Whales) in excellent condition with all its equipment. Oddly, the whalers only had 5 men rowing plus a man on the steering oar so there were 3 rowlocks on the port side and only 2 on starboard. At the bow, there's a special high thwart with a semi-circular cut-out for the harpooneer to jam his thigh against as he hurls the lance into the whale.

The collection of harpoon heads was interesting. They evolved over time to hold in the whale more securely but the heads look tiny compared to the quarry. To think that these tiny pieces of steel would hold into blubber well enough to tow a boat along is incredible. The museum also have a large collection of scrimshaw. I love the pieces with pictures of the whale boats and their activities. One Sperm Whale jaw section had an entire scene carved on it with whales being harpooned, others fighting back and yet others being flensed at the side of the whale ships. Most of the pieces had pictures from contemporary magazines transposed onto them and, although the craftsmanship is impressive, they're not so interesting for me. From there, we came back to Saxon Blue for a rest before dinner and then of out for an early tea.

Black Eyed Susan's is "intimate" so we got chatting to the couple on the table next to us who are from New York but have a house on Nantucket. They told us some good stories about the island and what it's like to live here along with how many Google founders also have houses here. The guy used to be on the Board of American Express so he soon had us worked out. "Who did you sell your company to?". Very New York - no messing around. After dinner, we went for a walk to the lighthouse on the point, had an ice-cream and still got back to Saxon Blue before Kali and Sam had even gone out for their dinner. That's my idea of a good night out.

So that's it for the last two days. We're going to stay here tomorrow as well to wait for some contrary winds to die away before resuming our journey south again.


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