A Travellerspoint blog

Nantucket, MA

sunny 62 °F


Martha's Vineyard was a microcosm of how the trip was supposed to have gone but had not yet done so. We arrived; we were able to do the things that we wanted; we decided to leave and did so. No weather constrained any part of the visit, although it did rain a couple of nights. On a one stop roll, we left early Tuesday for Nantucket. The forecast was clear, the radar screen was clear, no wind of any kind was predicted, the NHC had nothing going, easy-peasy .... Not! We got under way a little before 0600 and planned to eat along the way. I thought that it would probably have been a good idea to know the ferry schedules, we didn't, since 0600 seemed like an hour when things might start happening. As soon as we cleared the breakwater we saw one ferry headed into port; at 0600 the ferry at the dock headed out. We were able to get far enough west to stay out of their respective ways without any issues with shallow water. In doing so we passed close by this schooner, Shenandoah, part of the Black Dog business megaplex on Martha's Vineyard. It was cool to see it anchored in the outer harbor, no different than it would have been 150 years past.



Along the way we saw this strange antenna (?) tower partly below the horizon along the southern coast of Cape Cod. My rough guess placed it near Hyannis Port. It looked like some sort of gigantic transformer toy, awaiting an ambitious four year old to rearrange it back into a galactic warrior.

It was just a short trip, 31 nm. We didn't think that it would take very long. About two hours out we hit a fog bank and the fog just got thicker and thicker and then thicker some more. I hadn't turned on the radar; we never use it is daylight. So I rebooted the system to get the radar up and running. There are several buoys that are also used as waypoints. I was using the GPS distance to the buoys to try to estimate the visibility. At one point we were barely able to see a very large object that was 0.1 nm away, maybe 200 yards. That seemed pretty thick. We slowed down a little just out of caution. Carol called a marina in Nantucket harbor to get a report on fog in the harbor; she was told that things were not too bad, maybe a mile or more. That sounded good enough to keep going instead of turning around back to Martha's Vineyard. About six miles out we must have hit a hole in the fog because things got pretty clear; that was encouraging. About five miles out visibility completely shut down as we were on a direct heading for the channel entrance; that was discouraging. The radar showed a lot of contacts on the water but we were surprised twice: first when a 50-ft. sailboat we had seen in Vineyard Haven appeared about 200 yards to starboard and then, five minutes later, a 40-ft. powerboat appeared about the same distance to port ..... never saw a hint of either on the radar scope. A few miles closer to the island we saw a large contact on radar moving very fast, guessed ferry and bore away. Good guess, it passed maybe a half mile off. I was getting quite concerned when, it's a miracle, about one mile out we saw the red and white sea buoy with the island faintly visible behind it. After that everything was easy and we moored at about 1120. I was later researching the island and found that is it called: "The Little Grey Lady of the Sea" because of its appearance from the sea when it is fog bound. I'll ditto that. Having passed the "boat handling in the fog" test once I'd prefer not to take it again but we're told that fog happens in Maine in the summer so, who knows?

If we did nothing else this trip I had declared a dream of sailing into Nantucket Harbor. In the event we got the "into the harbor" part just fine, but the "sailing" part, not so much .... there was zero wind and the tide was running out. Motoring was good enough. Carol had bought a bottle of "cheap" champagne to celebrate our arrival. Liking that beverage too much to drink that version we settled on my last Newcastle Brown Ale while Carol had wine. Since Europeans have been visiting here for almost four centuries and amerinds for untold centuries before that our arrival was not a conspicuous achievement save to ourselves. The dream was achieved in substance if not in style.

As my dear friend Big John is fond of saying, If you're lucky, sometimes s___ will do you for brains! A case in point, and a disaster dodged: after lunch we decided to put the dinghy in the water, which we did. When lowering the motor with the dedicated davit a stopper knot came undone, the line ran free and the motor plunged. There was a very small optimum target landing area: six inches one way and 85-lbs. land on my bare feet, six inches the other and those 85-lbs. sink straight to the bottom of the bay. The motor landed on the dinghy's transom, I was able to grab it, balance it and, then, get it mounted without letting it fall over the side. In Big John's terms: I was lucky since rarely do I position the dinghy directly below the motor. I do the rigging and the knots .... did that one a few years ago and have never checked it since. Obvious mistake on my part. I may blame Carol anyway.

On the knot: it's a type of stopper knot rather like a fisherman's knot. Its main attraction is that the knot is short, lying hard against whatever it circles. I have used that knot on three other critical pieces of rigging: the mainsail halyard, the foresail halyard and the mainsail outhaul which, probably, is under more stress than any other line on the boat. I have checked some similar fairleads and seen that they have sewn the ends of the lines together, a pretty good solution and something I may try to do since we carry sailmakers thread and needles.

A piece of blog trivia: just got an email from Travellerspoint that the Martha's Vineyard entry is featured on their homepage. More than 100 entries and we finally made the cut. The compensation, however, remained the same for the featured entry vs. all the others: $0.00.

It was an interesting night, our first in this harbor. I thought that Carol had put all of her carefully hoarded laundromat quarters into the Magic Fingers Mattress Massager because the bed didn't stay still the whole time. This is a fairly good harbor but is very open to the northeast. Got up this morning, looked out to see 2-ft. whitecaps rolling by the boat .... from the northeast. It's windy enough that the wind generator kept the Ah, amp hours, positive for the night, a rare occurrence. The generator was also very noisy ..... of the wake us up type of noisy, which it did several times. There are two bolts which I will need to tighten, bolts which haven't been checked in longer than the failed knot. The first evening here we went to the dinghy dock and the dock was crowded. Today we looked out and saw all the dinghies tethered behind their mother ships, like ducklings following mama. The chances of getting to the dinghy dock without getting soaked: 0%. The chances of getting to the dinghy dock without getting swamped: maybe 50%. So, we, like every other boat in the mooring field, had a quiet morning on the boat and waited until things calmed down a bit after lunch before going the half mile to the dinghy dock.


The National Park Service cites the Nantucket Historic District, comprising all of Nantucket Island, as being the "finest surviving architectural and environmental example of a late 18th- and early 19th-century New England seaport town." So, Carol and I set out to see if that is a true statement.

Flower Boxes:



Part two of Big John's aphorism about luck is this: we have hit these two islands at exactly the right time, no planning involved: it's before the heavy tourist season and it's also the peak of their Spring here because everything that blooms is blooming. There must be a law that says every old house must have flower boxes because all the houses here are old and most do. It's a New England thing, I guess. Regardless, it was striking to me. So, I took lots of pictures. Carol and I have no particular affinity for growing things, although she does have a few flowers in the front yard. This is just a sampling of all that we saw and only some of what I photographed.

The bottom two flower boxes got extra points for originality. The first used driftwood, pretty cool for an island. The second, hard to tell in the picture, is in the form of the hull of a rowboat, again, pretty cool for an island.


Nice Front Doors:



The old town had some substantial homes, but only one or two that we saw might have been for a truly prosperous owner. The homes of the merely well to do were good enough. Of course, there is the obligatory red door which would have pleased my mother who thought that they were a requirement, one that several of her homes had ..... red front doors.

Nice Houses:



These houses were probably for well-to-do families maybe wealthy families. We may have missed more of these in our walk about the town; it just didn't seem that there were that many notable houses.

Regular Houses, Still Nice:



There were lots of houses like these: modest in size and design. Of course, these are megabucks houses on the island which, I recall reading, has the highest housing prices in the U.S. The bottom left picture is of a house style called a salt box, unique, I think, to New England. This style house has a single story in the back, but two in the front giving it that distinctive roofline, sloping to the rear.

Brick Buildings:


There were more brick buildings here than any other New England place we have visited. These two buildings, an inn and a bank, were just a few of the commercial buildings done in brick; they may have been preponderant. Nantucket had a very destructive fire in the 1840's like Chicago's in 1871. Chicago response was a building code that, in many cases, required brick construction. Maybe something similar happened on Nantucket. Probably 2/3's of the commercial district is brick. There were also several brick homes, generally done in the Federal style.

What is not clear is where the bricks came from. They're red clay, looking a lot like Georgia or the South, and I doubt that any of that unique soil exists on this island.

Houses with Roses:




The roses were majorly in blossom here, with a pink variety clearly a gardening favorite locally. Many houses had trellises with pink roses climbing cedar shake walls. The clear winners, the two bottom pictures, were in Siasconset. It's not obvious in the first of the large pictures, but both houses had roofs covered in rose vines.



There were a lot of churches in the main town of Nantucket, but only these two had steeples that rose well above the town to be visible from the harbor, i.e. our boat. It's a little hard to reconcile Puritan imprecations to modesty and a golden dome.

Widow's Walks:

Pictured are all of the widow's walks that we saw around town: exactly zero, which surprised me at the time. Many houses had built platforms on their roof peaks that resembled a widow's walk, but no real ones which require a flat section of roof. Of course, we might have missed them, not having walked in the right neighborhoods. My idle speculation is this: there was a great fire in 1843 which destroyed much of the town. By 1850 whaling, in general and at Nantucket in particular, was fairly played out, a time which was also concurrent with the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania. A walk atop the newly rebuilt houses may have seemed pointless.





On our second full day in Nantucket, we decided to go to Siasconet, in the southeast portion of the island. Nantucket is not big enough to warrant renting a car, so we took the bus. We got a senior discount on the bus fare, $1.00 each, each way, when Carol told everyone that we are 66. I, of course, let everyone know that she was not being truthful, her actual age being 67, that having already been accurately reported in an earlier blog posting (Pre-flight #2 - 2013; 03/29/2013).

The ride through the center of the island was interesting. The island is much developed, having some places that look like tract homes, if that phrase can be used with $1 million plus homes. The flora was mostly boring consisting of stunted, scrawny wind twisted pine trees and some sort of unimpressive deciduous tree. The western side of Martha's Vineyard is much more appealing.

It took about 20 minutes to get there and having arrived around lunchtime we stopped to eat at the Scisconet cafe where Carol had, what else, another lobster roll, part of her continuing program to "Kill a Crustacean Today!" At dinner the previous evening we had chatted with a couple that had visited Siasconset that day. The lady had remarked about the houses with roses on the roofs. Found those pretty quickly and it seemed that we had covered all the territory of interest.

We were just wandering around when Carol started talking to two guys who had just returned from a "bluff walk." They showed us how to access the path and we set off. The path literally does go along a bluff, maybe 40~50-ft. high. It also uses people's backyards for the pathway, well worn from many footsteps. To our right was the beach, the waters as calm, clear and blue as in the Bahamas. To the left were incredible houses. I took pictures of ones that were older, probably 60~100 years old. There were many newer ones. The top left picture is of a gothic-y looking place in a state of advanced decay, the only such one we saw.

The houses were special, each with an unimpeded view of the water; steps down the bluff to their own private beaches, probably owning land to the high water mark. These houses were well protected from storm surge but there was erosion. In a millenium or three the sea will claim all of these houses as it due.

We walked back on the road and I thought that I might be able to match up house front to their seaside parts. Unfortunately, every house had a privet hedge to provide some privacy.

All along the bluff there were these wild roses blooming; they seem to do well in the sandy, salty soil. We also saw this "sundial" on the side of a house, never having seen such a thing before. It was quite accurate.


It Pays to Advertise:


I have no idea what this store sells but it has one of the best ever "signs;" neon cannot compete with this. The door is also a contender.

Nantucket Conclusion:

First, is Nantucket the"finest surviving architectural and environmental example of a late 18th- and early 19th-century New England seaport town?" We're not even close to being smart or knowledgeable enough to respond to that issue. What we can say is that Nantucket is pretty impressive and that we would both rate it as a strong number two to Martha's Vineyard, followed by Newport, RI. Had we not seen Martha's Vineyard first we would probably have been crazy for the place. We enjoyed our stay here and, I think, would be open to returning. In American Bandstand terms: it has a good beat and you can dance to it.



Carol, of course, loves flowers .... loves their scents, loves their colors. It's kind of hard to surround her with a trellis of irises; they don't actually climb very well. So, here she is in a halo of roses. Carol has gotten so skinny on this trip that, rare for a 67-years old woman, she looks exactly like she did in January, 1968, when first we married. Well, maybe not exactly, exactly. There's the hair, once long and wavy, now shorter and curly, suitably bobbed for life on the boat. And there are the scars on her legs, not there in 1968, but the reason she's here in 2013. Other than that, she looks just about the same to me.

I think that I had related in an earlier blog entry that Carol had promoted herself from ship's cook to culinary coordinator for the cruise. Of course, the more impressive title comes with prerogatives, not so much what to eat as where to eat. She had been doing fairly well with coordinating us to restaurants but, somehow, lost control of the process in Martha's Vineyard, where we ate on the boat every night. So on our second evening in Nantucket, to balance the scales, she chose a lobster restaurant for her first, 1 1/4-lb., Maine lobster. I know it was a lobster place because it had a lobster flag. It was not her first lobster ever, but first in many, many years.

Lobster eating is complicated, messy and involves a lot of details, like sucking the legs, cracking the chela and whether to eat lobster tomalley, mostly the liver, green when boiled. She comported herself admirably consuming all of the poor beast that sacrificed itself for her dining pleasure. I don't know what it is that compels her to such levels of crustacean cruelty, but she does it mercilessly, with much vigor and no remorse. The result of her serial crustacean depredations: crabs are now an endangered species, lobsters will certainly follow if we get to Maine.

Life on the boat seems to keep a person focused on very practical matters: weather, maintenance, fuel, etc. It does not readily encourage the contemplation of existential issues, save one, which has nothing to do with trees falling in forests: if I've been there and don't have a t-shirt how can I really know that. Of course, this could just be the advent of the aging process and the CRS syndrome (Can't Remember S___). I had not indulged that existential need for shirts and hats until we hit Martha's Vineyard which inspired me to purchase two shirts, neither from the park at Gay Head thinking that that wouldn't play well where men's fashion is mainly Carhartt and camouflage, both of which I own, and a hat. Nantucket was worth a shirt and hat, and I would have bought a sweatshirt but I refused to pay the stupid asking prices.

We spent much of the morning getting water and fuel on board. To head north we need to traverse Buzzards Bay. To get to the bay from these islands the easiest thing to do is transit the passage between Woods Hole and two islands: Nonamesset and Uncatena. The problem, per the cruising guide, is with deep draft, low power boats trying to handle tricky, shoaled, rocky waters with or against currents that can run to six knots. i.e. sailboats. So, we're going back to Martha's Vineyard to use it as a staging location to be able to access that channel quickly during slack water. After that it's a couple of days to Provincetown, our next planned port of call.

Posted by sailziveli 19:09 Archived in USA Tagged boats boating

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