We have made it, dear reader, to Nantucket - the
whaling island. For generations, Quaker ship owners living on the island would
send crews out to sea to fill the holds with barrels of whale oil, literally
obtained by emptying the vast cavity of the whale's head, then melting down the
animal's blubber in portable ovens erected on deck. There is a whaling museum
here which is said to be excellent, and it had better be: we spent the day being
cold, wet and slightly alarmed to get here.
You see, we had arrived on Martha's Vineyard
yesterday after 55 miles of some of the hottest sailing we've had this year.
Despite months of exposure, we both burned as if it was our first day in
Marbella. Even after we arrived in Vineyard Haven, and the sun went down, it
continued hot and muggy into the night. Alex and I repaired ashore, keen to
settle in one of the highly reputed 'taverns' for a snifter. We were nearly
thwarted by some queer local by-law which proclaims that one must buy food
before one can order alcoholic beverages. It seems there isn't a bar on the
island, and despite its name, the tavern was nothing of the sort.
Ever the quick thinker, I suggested ditching our
left-over lemon chicken supper on the boat in favour of some local shellfish at
the Black Dog, this securing our right to purchase a pint. This worked
splendidly, and we had a fine view from our table out over the harbour, where we
could watch a day-trip schooner anchor and drop its sails. After supper, we
ambled to the kino, where they were showing Bad Teachers - a very funny but
ultimately brainless number starring Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake. By the
time we were ready to head home, a light fog was already gathering over the
harbour. The outboard refused to start, so we had to paddle our way back to
Today, then, was a stinker. It began with dense
fog, which duly lifted, only to allow the passage of a monumental
thunderstorm (see pictures below). A small school of Optimists was buzzing about
the harbour as a thick black cloud rolled in. With no warning at all, the wind
leapt from 8 knots to 35 knots, gusting up to 41 knots (it reminded me of
our Solent sailing course six years ago). The Oppy's scattered but amazingly
remained afloat. Summer Song heeled over and darted about on her
Spurning the further delights of Martha's Vineyard,
we set sail at about 11am for Nantucket - 25 miles away as the crow flies. But
as we got the sails up, the fog swooped down to envelop us again. Nantucket,
which we had been able to see briefly, disappeared as if eaten - only to
reappear seven hours later when we were two miles out. As we tacked back and
forth, staring into the swirling fog to spot buoys and boats, we heard an
intriguiing announcement from the Coastguard, over the radio.
'Securite, securite, securite.
'For information relating to a dead whale in
Nantucket Sound, please switch to channel 22 A...'
We don't have this channel, but Alex was able to
obtain the whereabouts of the whale carcase by radioing in to the Coastguard. I
set a stealthy course for the beast, thinking it would be easy to spot from a
distance and with notions of photographing it. In the fog, though, this began to
look like a less clever idea. As we approached its last reported position,
visibility was down to a hundred yards, and we began to worry about sailing into
a mountain of putrifying whale flesh. The tide had done its work, though, and we
sailed through the spot without incident.
In the meantime, we got into a large fish. It was
the third in 24 hours, but this time he stayed on the hook. As he came up to the
stern, it was clear the beast was a decent-sized bass. Graham would be mortified
to know that I put the fish out of its misery with a swig of Teacher's whisky.
It gave up the ghost very quickly, and depoarted with a pleasant malty smell to
it. We are having grilled fillets for supper.
The hatches are being battened down, as the fog is
closing in again. We're anchored half a mile from the shore, but you can't see
it, and even the boats moored around us come and go as the fog wafts around us.
Every surface glints like crystal with thousands of cold droplets of water. In
what is becoming a familiar accompaniment, a fog horn on the shore sounds its
eerie, disjointed dirge. Even the guide books here warn that it is a rare day
when you can view the island as you approach. In fact, they do little other than
warn. We shall see...
Block Island... waiting for the fog to
Then a sunny evening on Martha's
Here, for your viewing pleasure, is a before and
after of extreme Optimist sailing
In the teeth of 40-knot winds
All afloat... except for one