Venturing out to sea in a small
boat is always a serious business, and around here
the stakes are higher due to the multitudinous rocky channels. shifting shoals
and strong, tidal currents. In preparation for taking the Bones Party on a
cruise today, my First Mate and I began the preparing early this morning.
A quick check of the Marine Coastal
Weather Forecast verified what we can see from the living room window, it's a
The next step is to check the tide tables for today, so we know what to
expect from the channels and harbors of the along our
route. As it
turns out, most of our trip today will be during the ebb tide for Buzzards
Bay. As the bay begins to empty, the channels between the islands will
initially flow southeast as the last of the flood tide pushes through them, then
they'll reverse direction and flow hard to the northwest as water from Vineyard
Sound siphons into the emptying bay. At the peak northwest flow, the
speed will reach six knots, and burble up over ledges to form circular counter
currents like small whirlpools.
Our initial float plan is to pick up a mooring in Hadley's Harbor over on
Naushon Island to eat our lunch, then make a trip down Buzzards Bay to Cuttyhunk
Island. We'd never been out with this group of people before, and so we
planned to break the trip up into bite-sized segments with lots of opportunities
to bail if anyone got sick or uncomfortable. I know this probably sounds
callous or calculating to the uninitiated, but it's prudent seamanship since
the local conditions can be challenging.
There's a theory among professional mariners speculating that every time you
do some planning, preparation or maintenance task that wasn't strictly required,
but was prudent under the circumstances, it gets metaphorically stashed away in
a big black box for later use. On that dark stormy
night, when one failure follows another and the consequences all cascade
towards a real fucking disaster, the lid of that black box flies open and all
the prudence and forethought you'd stored up comes to your aid. Sounds
kooky I realize, but I know many old salts who swear they've survived the savage sea as a result of their almost religious adherence to
this belief. I just figure it's cheap insurance and I try to keep my black
Bones, Coby and Papa Bear showed up about ten in the morning
and we caravanned down to Woods Hole along Sippiwissett Road. When we came into
town, they stopped at the Food Buoy Market in Woods Hole Village to pick up
some sandwiches. The Mate, Bones and I took our Amesbury Skiff, Sleuth,
out to South Swell in preparation for getting underway. Sleuth is
an Amesbury 12 (4 meters long) pushed by a ten horse Mercury outboard. The
Amesbury design has long been favored in New England for its stability and load
carrying characteristics. They actually seem to ride better as you put
more weight in them, and it doesn't take much to push them up through the water,
even when they're fully loaded.
The Mate loves to drive Sleuth, and by the time Bones and I lugged all
the gear down the dock, he has already gotten the rainwater bailed out and the
engine fired up. We step aboard, cast off the lines and are suddenly
sending long wakes across the waters of Great Harbor. There's something so
endlessly thrilling to me about being on the water. Doesn't matter really
whether it's slow or fast, kayak, catamaran, sail or power, doesn't matter what
kind of boat, it's just plain cool to be out there.
After dropping us off on South Swell, the Mate streaks back across the
harbor to ferry the rest of our party out to the boat. South Swell is a
stout and seaworthy little powerboat
ideally suited for the local waters. She's got a huge modern four stroke
outboard motor hanging off her stern, a cockpit big enough for a football team
and all the gizmos and widgets that make modern boating, well, modern. I
light off the engine and smile at the sound of precision machinery purring.
We're not going to need radar on this beautiful afternoon, but I warm it up
just to make sure everything is okay. Likewise I start up the GPS chartplotter.
It will be in constant use today because the accuracy of these modern
differential GPS receivers is utterly amazing. They've become too useful
to be without.
The Mate is soon back with the rest of the party and after stowing the lunch
and food we drop the mooring and slide out of the harbor and into the turbulent
waters of Woods Hole. In a power boat, even the strongest tidal currents
aren't much of a problem and South Swell cruised through the Hole with no
problems under the steady hand of the Mate. After we'd passed the last
channel marker we accelerated into the rising swell and began slicing into a
nasty four foot chop where the wind and tidal current collided. We were
taking green water over the bow and slapping hard against the steep wind
waves. In short it wasn't any fun and it was a relief to turn west and
head for the shelter of Hadley's Harbor on Naushon.
Naushon Island is John Forbes Kerry country. His Forbes ancestors amassed great wealth as China Traders and
purchased several of the Elizabethan Islands in the early 1800's. The islands
have remained in the Forbes family since that time. Naushon, Nashaweena
and Uncatena are used by members of the Forbes family as summer vacation homes
according to a complex reservation system based on the family genealogical
chart. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential
candidate, rates high enough on the Forbes hierarchy to
merit a farm house on Nashaweena Island for his personal use!
Hadley's Harbor is the hub of island life with a schedule of visits daily
by the island ferry, the Cormorant. Cormorant shuttles
people, supplies, horses and the occasional tractor back and forth between the
islands and Woods Hole. Most everyone and everything comes and goes
through Hadley's, so just kicking back and watching the harbor traffic can be
entertaining. As we settled onto a mooring at the head of Hadley's for lunch, we
watched Cormorant cruising past with a crowd of nostalgic vacationers
heading for home.
While the rest of the party enjoyed their lunch, Bones set out on
an unholy mission to recruit legions of Seagulls for his nefarious plans.
The bread chunks flew, the wings flapped and soon he had dozens of these
monsters in his thrall. A mad cacaphony ensued with the gulls shrieking
and Bones, his arms raised to his new subjects, cackling "ME!, Me me me!,
ME!." It was not a pretty sight and a shiver ran down my spine when he
began referring to them using names we recognized - "dannye, halspal,
up and away! Mwuhahahahahaha!" The damned things
followed us around the whole rest of the day too.
After lunch we needed to make some tracks, so we lashed the deck chairs down
tight and ramped up to warp speed for the run down Vineyard Sound to Cuttyhunk
Island. The Sound was in the lee of the north winds and the water was
smooth and glowing in the afternoon sunlight. Sweetness.
South Swell is a planing hull which means that at a certain speed
she'll hop out of the ditch that a boat makes as you push it through the water
and 'get up on a plane.' When that happens, half to two thirds of the hull
comes out of the water, there's a burst of acceleration, and you suddenly feel
as though you are flying. I brought South Swell up on a plane as we
rounded the southern edge of the island and used the lines of lobster trap buoys
as a giant slalom course as we rocketed towards the west.
I turned the wheel over to the Mate as we slowed down to explore Tarpaulin
Cove. There's a lighthouse on the point, and the caretaker's farmhouse
along the western shore. This was the site of the tavern where, in 1779, the innkeeper overheard British soldiers discussing
their plans to raid the town of Falmouth for supplies and conscripts the next
day. He dispatched his son, John Slocum to ride the length of the island
at night, row a skiff across the unlighted and unmarked Woods Hole Passage, then
acquire another horse and alert Colonel Joseph Dimmick, the leader of the
Falmouth Militia of the upcoming attack. When the Brits arrived the next
day, the militia was ready for them and the plan was foiled. In an
apparent fit of pique, the British ships lobbed a few cannon balls all the way
into the town center prior to their departure, one of which is still lodged in
the wall of a restaurant off Main Street. The Battle of Falmouth is a classic
piece of local lore.
After touring the Cove, we ramped back up to speed and followed the coastline
all the way to Cuttyhunk Island. Plenty of words have already been
written about the many scenic and historical treasures of Cuttyhunk. I
suppose you could summarize them all by noting that, back in 1602, after
exploring the entirety of Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and the
rest of the Elizabethan Islands, Captain
Bartholomew Gosnold chose Cuttyhunk for his first attempt at a permanent
settlement. The place has a unique magnetism.
We threaded our way through the narrow and rocky Canapitsit Channel and
took a quick tour of Cuttyhunk Harbor before heading home again. I love
the languor that always seems to descend on a boat once it heads for home.
I let the Mate take the wheel, with a stern admonition not to hit anything, then
I wandered back to the stern to watch as our wake expanded hypnotically across
the horizon. None of us felt the need to talk, stunned by the moment I
Tomorrow we PARTY!