|¨›While I am always ready to jump aboard MUSCOBE and go out in just about any conditions, Elise doesn't really enjoy the boat unless it's sunny, warm, and reasonably calm. Because of the cold waters and the uncertainty of the weather in Maine, she has been reluctant so far to accompany me on any of our Down East cruises. But on several occasions she has mentioned how nice it would be to cruise to Martha's Vineyard, and perhaps Nantucket. Unfortunately, I was unable to schedule any time to put such a trip together until September this year, by which time the kids were in school and the weather was too cool for her taste.
But Steve Snyder, pilot and navigator extraordinaire, managed to arrange his flying schedule for the month so that he could accompany me. And although we didn't exactly "leave at first light," we had finished breakfast and were able to get off the Corinthian float by 7:45 on Monday morning. I had stocked up the boat with the usual "emergency provisions," (Dinty Moore, beans, juice, bread, soups, etc.) and left her secured to the float the previous night with enough spring-lines to last through the winter, as there is no launch service on Monday or Tuesday this time of year.
The weather was warm and calm, but the fog was so thick that, even the drive across the causeway to the neck had to be made cautiously. Getting out of the harbor proved to be the hardest part of the entire trip, but eventually we managed to weave our way between the boats, miss hitting the lighthouse, and stumble past Marblehead Rock into the open sea. From there it was just a straight 180-degree heading, more or less, to the Cape Cod Canal, 43 miles away, and our only job was to keep an eye on the radar for other boats and look out the windows for the occasional lobster buoy.
There was a higher-than-expected amount of traffic for this time of year, - most of which we never saw except on radar - but every so often the visibility would improve just enough for us to verify our radar target as an actual boat ghosting along one way or another. By 9 AM we could see a faint white circle to the East that was the sun trying to burn its way through the fog, and as we approached Cohasset we could see the tall, gray shape of Minot's Light and some of the shoreline.
Later on we started to get hungry, so Stevo went below to fix us a couple of balogna sandwiches, with a few Nutter Butters for dessert. This proved to be one of only two meals we ate aboard. (The other was lunch on the way back home.) Aside from this and a couple of pieces of hard candy I'd brought along, we ate in style in restaurants at our various stops during this trip.
Somewhere along the way - I'm not sure whether it was before or after lunch - we passed through a swarm of flying ants, and although they were all over the boat, they pretty much stayed out of the wheelhouse. (I was still picking them offfour days later, after several thorough washdowns and some very serious weather.) We also, on Steve's watch, passed very close to something swimming with a 6-8" dorsal fin protruding from the water. We passed within ten feet of it, and it was not a whale or dolphin, but definitely a fish of some sort, probably a shark.
As we approached the canal at 11:30, we passed a huge barge and tugboat at anchor outside the entrance. Presumably they had fuel oil aboard for the power plant located just inside the entrance and were waiting for the proper tide conditions before entering.
The Cape Cod Canal is about 200 yards wide and 60 feet deep in most places, and it's a pretty easy passage for a powerboat like MUSCOBE. But there's a current of as much as 6-1/2 knots caused by the tide, which flows South with the ebb and can cause diff1culty for sailboats with small auxiliary motors. Fortunately for us, the tide was going out and the fog had lifted, so even though I had reduced power to about 2800 rpm, we were flying along at close to 14 knots. But we had to watch ourselves, because every so often the current would try to grab us and throw us around a bit.
Leaving the canal, we passed by the Mass. Maritime Academy, with its training ship, tugboats, and assorted smaller vessels tied to their pier. At the entrance to Buzard's Bay I turned the helm over to Stevo. This section requires a straight run SSE for about a mile or so, parallel to a long spit of land where you must stay between a series of buoys, beacons and day marks erected on rocks and ledges. It's a pretty easy passage in good weather, especially if you're familiar with it, but unfortunately for us this was our first time and the fog had enveloped us in pea soup again.
It is in these situations where Murphy's Law works best, and sure enough, it didn't let us down. When Steve asked me to change the radar setting to a different range, the screen started wiggling and acting funny. I changed it around and fiddled with it for a while and managed to get it back again, to my great relief, as we would soon be making the passage through Wood's Hole and the Elizabeth Islands. Here the way is quite narrow, with tremendous currents rivaling even Hell's Gate in the Sasanoa River, and the marks on the chart are not identified with their LAT/LON numbers, so I hadn't been able to enter them as waypoints in the LORAN. In this case, we were going to depend very much on the radar to find the marks for us and keep us away from the shore. Normally, the plotter would also show us our position relative to the land mass, but my last RAM card ended about half-way down Buzzard's Bay. Thus, while MUSCOBE still appeared as the jolly flashing dot on the screen, there were no land reference points - in addition to having no waypoints - in that Wood's Hole Passage, to show us our exact location.
We weren't worried, however, because with three seasons of using the radar, I had become at least semi-proficient in reading and understanding it and, equally as important, trusted it implicitly. But as I said, Murphy's Law works when you least expect it. When we passed the last danger in the northern part of Buzzard's Bay, we concentrated more on looking out the windows and at the charts. But, the next time we glanced up at the screen to see what was showing, the radar was blank!
This time no amount of fiddling would fix it, so in the desperate hope that perhaps the machine "merely needed a rest," we shut it down for a while and resorted to good ol' dead-reckoning. Turning it back on a bit later, I was pleased to see the screen come on to stand-by, and I waited optimistically during the "hour" that's required for warm-up (it's actually only 190 seconds.) But when I pressed the "TX" button, instead of seeing the friendly rings and the green blotches representing land and other targets, the screen went blank again.
After these years of almost flawless performance, was the Mighty MUSCOBE finally letting me down when I needed her? Well, the failure of one electronic navigation aid can hardly be blamed on the boat herself, but that didn't lessen the gloom that overcame me as I contemplated the $200-$300 marine electronics bill I'd be paying tonight to get things right again. Or the more immediate problem of how we were going to safely and efficiently pilot through the currents and twists and turns of an unfamiliar and dangerous channel with neither radar nor LORAN waypoints.
But hold on a minute! What was I thinking? I'd been driving boats for thirty-five years before I got these electronic devices to show me how to get around. And I'd been out in fog as thick as this hundreds of times, sometimes in unfamiliar waters and, yes, even had to admit that I sometimes didn't know where the hell I was. And I wasn't dead yet and hadn't even ever put a ding or a scratch in a boat, let alone run one up on the rocks somewhere. (Okay - so I've come close a couple of times - those of you who have read my previous trip logs.)
We still had too good sets of eyes, an excellent compass and our charts, and we knew the general direction we wanted to head. And we did still have the depth finder to let us know if we started running out of water. This wasn't Maine, after all, where you are in plenty of water one minute and on the rocks the next. Besides, even without the RAM card and the "picture" of the local topography it would have given us on the screen, we still had the plotter and LORAN. Once we found our first mark at the entrance (which we already had as a waypoint,) the chart gave the range and bearing to the next one. All we had to do was to plug that into the machine and make our waypoints as we went along.
And so, looking at our situation in this way, I began to relax a bit. (Had I known how the current roared through there sometimes, as it did upon our return on Friday, I wouldn't have been so calm.) But Stevo, who is used to working with machinery and navigation aids and is a genuine professional conditioned and prepared for all types of emergencies - seemed to be taking this all in stride, calmly driving along, first peering out into the gloom, then referring to the chart in front of him and making minor corrections as required: the quintessential airline captain - a man you just know you can trust to get you back home!
I, on the other hand, have a tendency to jump out of my skin when everything isn't "just right," which really isn't a good habit. Now, don't get me wrong: I wasn't jumping up and down, screaming and tearing my hair out in huge clumps, like many people do when things begin to go wrong on boats. Even when I have felt like doing that on past occasions, it's generally happened when I've had passengers along who would have reacted by donning life jackets and jumping overboard, if they had seen the captain showing any apprehension whatsoever. So I've become conditioned at keeping a calm and serene facade - even if I'm a raving lunatic on the inside.
However, as we neared our waypoint, which was the bell marking the beginning of the Wood's Hole passage, all the above worries became moot, because our luck changed back again and the visibility began to improve. By the time we entered the actual passage, we could see about half a mile, which was more than enough to proceed safely through with just a chart and a compass.
The wind freshened considerably, though, upon entering Vineyard Sound, and it was pretty lumpy as we turned East for Martha's Vineyard. The ferry of the Nantucket Steamship Company passed by us, and I remembered how smooth, warm, and snug inside we all were ten years earlier, when JP, Andrea, and newborn Randy had made this trip on the ferry in similar weather. But, lumpy or not, we were soon at the outer reaches of Vineyard Haven, our destination for that night and, once inside the breakwater all was calm and serene, though it was still raining a bit.
We landed at the Vineyard Haven Marina gas dock at 2:30, after 7 hours of working through the fog. We took on 64 gallons of fuel, for an average burn of 9 gal/hr. This was a bit high, considering a good part of the trip had been a lesser rpm's, but we must have lost what we gained in the wind at the end. The "off season" price of a slip was $1 .75/ft - more than the regular season rates in Maine, but we were anticipating higher prices down here. After refueling, we moved to our slip, and I spent quite a bit of time arranging the lines and fenders to secure the boat for the night. Although there is a tide of only two or three feet here, we were tied to a fixed pier rather than a float, and there was a big Egg Harbor tied just astern of us. I didn't want to have to get up at 3 AM to rearrange things. I fussed about, tying, untying and then refastening the lines, then cleaning up and making things shipshape and secure for what I'm certain seemed like several hours to Stevo. At last I was satisfied, and we set out to explore ("smell") Martha's Vineyard.
They say that Vineyard Haven is really jumping during the summer, but on this rainy, gloomy, late September Monday, "dead" was too good a word for it. Everything seemed gray as we walked up the wooden pier toward the shore. The rain spit at us and the wind whistled through the shrouds of nearby sailboats. In the slate-colored harbor, Iying at their moorings were two windjammers. One was black with her masts raked at a sharp angle; the other was gray/white, with no masts. Just a few weeks ago they had been full of laughing passengers, objects of grace and beauty as they floated across the waves of Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds with flags flying under full sails. But now they were just two old, dirty schooners, with barnacles and other marine growth already accumulating on their bottoms.
There were several lovely old sailboats with bright masts and lots of teak, tied in slips and on nearby moorings, which in summer would have been quite beautiful. But now we hardly noticed them. The beach was composed of loose, granular sand, much like you'd find on the East coast of Florida and I imagined that, here again, when it was manicured during the summertime it was probably quite nice. But today it was bleak and deserted - already covered with a layer of dried-up seaweed, driftwood, and other objects making up its winter blanket. Even MUSCOBE's hull, brilliantly green and glistening when launched last May, was now chalky, dull, and dreary, and appeared more black than green in the gloom of this day. We really could have used some of Al Cristofori's humor to cheer things up about then, but if he'd been with us he probably would have recommended something like mass suicide instead. As I surveyed this melancholy scene, I was struck with the feeling that perhaps, after all, Elise is correct: it's a lot more fun when it's warm and balmy, and the seas are calm and dazzling blue.
Later in the afternoon the rain stopped for a while and the skies began to brighten, so we poured ourselves a drink and sat out in the cockpit. A very nice older man with white hair and the longest, bushiest eyebrows I'd ever seen came along to inquire about MUSCOBE. He was a resident of the Vineyard, retired from his own business (which his children now operated,) and looked very much the typical "yank" - you know, the ones who drive around in old pickup trucks, and they have twenty-dollar bills falling our of their pockets. Their wives never wear makeup, and they all have short, straight white hair with streaks of yellow running through it.
When we asked what type of boat he had, he told us it was a Stanley 36. These are built by John Williams Company in Somes Sound, Mt. Desert Island. I don't know how well-built they are, but they are extremely pretty to look at and are just chock-a-block full of beautiful bright-work, brass, holly-and teak decks, etc. They are also VERY expensive, which confirmed my original assessment of the gentleman. And, just in case we'd had any doubts, he also informed us he was a member of the New York Yacht Club (I told him we wouldn't hold it against him.) But he was quite pleasant, and we enjoyed talking with him.
The dock master had for some reason asked us to tie up facing away from shore, but this put the wind at our stern. This was uncomfortable, even though the rain had stopped for a while, because it was still windy. It also put undo strain on the wheelhouse curtains when we lowered them, so I decided to tum the boat around.
Rather than start up and motor around, I simply undid the lines and asked Steve to stay in the cockpit to give the stem a mighty heave off while I held the bow line and allowed the wind to blow her around and face the opposite way. I could tell he was having some doubts about this procedure, but he soon saw that it worked. Unfortunately, he had to endure another long wait while I moved all the lines to the other side of the boat, tying and readjusted everything several times. Once that was completed, I investigated the remaining slips and returned with a couple more of the large inflatable balls that were used as fenders, and inserted them between the hull and the pier. This, of course, then required additional fine tuning of all the lines. (Those of you reading this who have actually cruised with me know exactly what I'm talking about here.) At last I was satisfied, and we decided it was time for dinner.
Before we left home, I had been given specific instructions to get Randy a T-shirt from the Black Dog Tavem, which is located "somewhere on Martha's Vineyard." Looking up and down the beach, I spotted the trademark, a black Labrador in silhouette, less than 100 yards up the shore, so we decided to investigate it, and wound up staying for dinner.
We got a table on the enclosed porch, which was right on the beach less than 25 feet from the water. The place was rather Spartan, but it had a nice atmosphere. Despite the name, Black Dog "Tavern" all Vineyard Haven is "dry" so we had to omit our before dinner "comer." While Steve checked out the menu, I went out to the Black Dog Bakery, where the T-shirts were sold, and fulfilled my obligation to Randy. Then I came back to a dinner of steamers and a T-bone steak. The steamers were okay, and the steak was big, but it was thin and not all that great - certainly not up to the dining standards we were used to experiencing on our Down East Cruises.
After dinner we walked the beach back to the boat. Shortly after leaving the restaurant it started spitting again, and just off to our Southwest the sky was really black, so I shouted, "Tallyho!" and ran toward MUSCOBE, arriving just as the squall arrived and the wind and the rain came howling down and around us. Stevo had continued walking in an attempt to conserve some dignity, but as I tumed and looked over my shoulder, I saw him break into a sprint, covering the last fifty yards through the downpour in record time.
Wiping ourselves off, we settled down to listen to "Sketches of Maine" while Stevo cranked up his pipe and I poured us a "corner." Now we discovered that one of the speakers was blown on my portable stereo, which caused it to vibrate so we couldn't really enjoy any of the music. This certainly wasn't tuming out to be one of our better quality trips! ...But we made the best of it. And the forecast for tomorrow called for better weather, so perhaps our fortunes would change.
Later on, before turning in, I went up to call home. At the same time I checked out the facilities and found them to be exceptionally spacious and clean. There was even a room with a couch, table and cable TV! A far cry from cruising Down East. Those New Yorkers really like their creature comforts, I guess, while they're cruising.
Next morning we woke up at 5 :45, to the drone of a powerful diesel, idling in a fishing trawler at the next pier. I hadn't brought anything along to wake us up, as this was to be a leisurely trip, with no plans to "leave at first light," but we certainly didn't need anything to get us up this morning. And, as it turned out, we would have no trouble waking on any morning, thanks to Steve. He has some arthritis in his hips, which is painful to him under certain circumstances (such as sitting in the cockpit of a 747 for nine hours.) He has a comfortable foam mattress at home, which alleviates the condition somewhat, and while the berths on the MUSCOBE are also made of foam, they're only four inches deep - a far cry from what he's used to sleeping on. After six or seven hours rolling around driving to our destination, followed by a night aboard in the damp, dank conditions I've described above, poor Stevo became our "human alarm clock," his hips waking him up each morning at the crack of dawn. Oh, well, "fiberglass ships and iron men," and all that. Whoever said you're supposed to be comfortable when cruising? (Unless you're from New York, that is.)
As the marine forecast had promised, the weather had cleared, but it was cool and windy, calling for SE winds at 15-20 knots. After a hot shower, we walked up and crossed the street to the Art Cliff Diner ("formerly Pat's Place"), where I ordered an unusual menu item: a broccoli and cheese omelet, which proved to be delicious. Steve, who hates eggs, had homefries, toast, and corned beef hash. (He grew up on a dairy farm, and I think his mother must have made him eat eggs every day as a kid.)
After enjoying our breakfast, we idled out past the schooners and the breakwater, into a crispy deep blue sea and sky, colored by that light you get only on certain days in autumn. Heading North out of the harbor, we made a turn to the East after clearing the first two cans, and as we left the lee of the island we encountered a nasty, rough chop caused by the Southwest wind, compounded by a substantial rolling ground swell from the South-southeast. Nantucket was 26 miles away, and we were going to have to earn every inch of ground (make that water) we gained today!
Battening down everything that was loose down below, we prepared to take our lumps. Winds had been forecast at 15-20 knots, but as the morning progressed we knew they were getting much higher than that, perhaps gusting to as high as 40. The seas increased to six or eight feet, and the wind tore at everything, ripping off the tops of the waves and flinging the water around until there was a fine mist everywhere. I considered turning back, but by now it was too late, and so we continued on. We were taking the big seas from our starboard quarter, and I soon terminated our usual practice of alternating watches every half-hour, and stayed at the wheel myself. Not that Steve couldn't have driven; but things had reached a point where I wanted the wheel in my hands at all times now, taking full responsibility for whatever happened.
This is a difficult feeling to explain. It's like bringing the boat into the dock, I guess. Just about anybody could probably do it, but if you start letting other people land the boat pretty soon somebody's going to hit something or put a little ding somewhere. It wouldn't be anything serious enough to bother with, but everytime I looked at it I'd wonder if it would have happened had I been driving. And that's how I felt now; if we had any little mishaps, I wanted them to be my mishaps.
The seas were tossing us all around now. One moment MUSCOBE would be hardly moving as she struggled mightily up the back side of a giant wave, then we'd be surfing crazily down the other side, to plunge madly into the next one, often nearly burying the bow. Every so often a swell would grab hold of her deep keel and wrestle her around, twisting first one way, then the next, in an effort to broach us. But her oversized rudder proved more than sufficient to keep us headed properly.
I remembered how huge MUSCOBE had looked while under construction in the shed at Young Brothers back in 1987; now she seemed like a peanut shell bobbing on the waves. I must have thanked Colby, Vid, and Vin, along with their designer, Ernest Libby, several hundred times before the day was over, for building such a strong, sound, seaworthy craft. I thought of all the used or production-line boats I could have purchased, and those defective Bruno & Stillman lobster hulls, which tended to break apart at the junction of the two halves of the hull in seas such as this. This was why, after extensive research and countless discussions with commercial fishermen, I had decided upon this boat. This was why I made all those seven-hour drives to Corea, with the dog in the back of the station wagon and the kids screaming, "Daddeee! When are we going to be there?! !" This was why I waited eight months from the time construction began until I was able to take delivery, rather than simply picking my new boat off the shelf. This was the day MUSCOBE had been designed and built for. In another boat I might have wondered about the hull's ability to take such a pounding. But I remembered Colby Young's answer when I once asked him about it: "Hell!" he said. "You couldn't do anything to break the integrity of that hull. Do you know how thick she is down at the keel? Do you know how many layers of glass we lay on each boat we build?" I believed him when he told me that, and it was a comfort to think about it now.
But in spite of all that, I was beginning to wonder if perhaps I should take up golf. As the day progressed things seemed to be getting worse. It got so that I didn't even look out the side windows of the wheelhouse any more, because from that angle you could see just how deep the troughs were, and you could see them coming at you, and they looked BIG.
Each waypoint consisted of a bell or buoy separated by six or eight miles along our way. As we made each one we turned a bit more to starboard, which brought the waves around from our stern and quarter to more directly broadside. At each course change I dreaded more and more our final turn after the bell at Tuckernuck Shoal, when we would have the seas directly abeam.
Almost every boat trip is a learning experience, and this one was no exception. I had raved for years about how dependable and safe MUSCOBE was, and I'd had her out in some pretty heavy seas, but this was just about the worst I'd seen. I'd been in bigger ground swells, but that was by choice, and I had been merely joyriding, heading squarely into them going out and directly away coming back. But that day I had learned just how good the boat was in a following sea, and that it was nearly impossible to bury her nose running down the face of a swell, even with the throttle wide open.
Today, however, was different. The ground swell was smaller than on that day years ago, but I didn't have the option of choosing my heading. As we had a definite destination to make, we had to go that way, no matter where the seas came at us from. In addition, there were both the ground swells and the smaller, but fierce, chop whipped up by the wind. I had reduced power enough to allow the seas to move slightly faster than we were going, so that they'd slide under us and MUSCOBE didn't have to fight her way up and over them. For quite a while, as I saw the exceptionally large ones coming at us, I'd turn the boat into or away from the wave as was appropriate, which took us off our heading much of the time. But then I learned the lesson for the day: as I got tireder (and lazier) I began simply letting MUSCOBE have her head. And in doing so I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that we didn't roll over, and we didn't broach when those waves hit us. Rather, she generally took the sea, shook it off, and straightened herself out pretty much all by herself, or at least with a minimum of help.
That is not to say I still wasn't working. At one point, above the roar of the engine, the wind, and the waves, I heard an exceptionally loud splashing noise just behind me - much closer than usual - and when I turned to look, there was a sheet of green water pouring over the starboard quarter and rear seat into the cockpit. I jumped up into a sitting position on the wheelhouse chair and yelled to Stevo, "Get your feet up! " In the rough sea he already had hold of the overhead hand rail and, using this he jumped onto the engine cover as the water came swirling forward and around the box. The cabin door, though open, has a lip at its foot which, together with the elevated angle of the bow, prevented any water from going below. Still, some must have gotten up over the lip around the engine, because later that night (yes, we did eventually make it) I turned on the bilge pump, and it ran for an unusually long time.
We'll never know just how much water we shipped, but I remembered my old 50-gallon aquarium, and it seemed as though four or five of them had been emptied into the cockpit. Those oversized scuppers Young Brothers installed in the transom suddenly seemed like pinholes. I had often looked at them when MUSCOBE was tied safely to the float, thinking how big they were, and how much neater and more "yacht-like" smaller ones would appear. But right now I'd have preferred a couple of manhole covers back there. Even those big, commercial-type scuppers (which are actually bronze deck plates and very practical,) MUSCOBE took several minutes to bail herself out. We closed the cabin door in case we took another, even bigger wave, but that proved to be the only one of significance, which was fine with us.
Because of the excellent visibility, we saw Nantucket from a long way off, and it was a long haul getting there. The dreaded right turn at Tuckernuck Shoals turned out to be a piece of cake, for both MUSCOBE and her crew. By then we were seasoned heavy-seas sailors, ready to take on anything Nantucket Sound had to offer... Well, almosf anything.
To make the last quarter mile or so into Nantucket Harbor, you travel between a very well-marked pair of artificial jetties, constructed from stones which have been dumped in straight rows out for some distance. These are probably as useful in keeping the sandy bottom from shifting around as they are in smoothing out the seas, and they were a welcome sight to us. Later, after visiting the whaling museum, we learned that many of the whalers returning from the Indian Ocean full of cargo, had to be artificially raised by a sort of floating dry-dock in order to get them over the bar and into Nantucket's shallow harbor.
At long last,(it was actually only 3-1/2 hours) we pulled alongside the gas dock at Nantucket Boat Basin. This is quite a marina, occupying two of the long docks extending out into the harbor. These earth-filled piers are similar to the one at the Customs House in Salem, which goes out for several hundred yards into the water and was where the ships used to unload their cargoes in the early 1800's.
There must have been several hundred slips here, although most of them were empty now, and there was some room for some very large yacht-types. I could imagine the activity that must go on here in the summer. We topped offMUSCOBE's fuel tanks with 22 gallons and found that she had burned only seven gallons per hour this trip, due to our reduced rpm's in the heavy seas. I asked for a quiet slip, back out of the wind, and the dock master, George, assigned us one on Old South Dock, right near the heads and showers.
We pointed MUSCOBE into the slip into the direction of the wind, which was still blowing pretty well, and I spent the next fifteen minutes or so getting her tied properly and arranging additional spring lines. (Would have done a more thorough job, but I knew we'd be back there later.) There was water but no hose, so I dug out my own hose, which was brand-new and had never been used since I put it in the boat in 1987, and gave her a thorough wash down, washing and re-rinsing the windshields several times. (Even so, when it all dried off I had to go up front later and clean the windows with a sponge and a bucket of fresh water to get all the remaining salt off. And when the lines dried out, they had so much salt in them that when you bent them it would flake off, just like the sugar comes off those coffee rolls you get at the bakery.)
By now it was not only sunny, but it was warm out of the wind, so after securing the boat we decided to explore the town. Old South Pier, like all the others there, is covered with small, cedar-shingled buildings occupied by shops, art galleries, and rental cottages. The filled-in part of the docks is very nicely restored with cobblestones, bricks, or dirt covered with crushed white shells. MUSCOBE was at the very end of the landfill portion, but the pier extended out beyond on pilings for a way, upon which were erected two-story summer cottages with little porches coming out from the second floor. They were decorated with lobster buoys, and with the sea gulls perched on the roofs it was all quite picturesque.
From the pier we walked over to The Tavem for a drink, then went next-door for lunch. Steve had fish 'n chips, and I had a bouillabaisse of clams, mussels, and other fish items. The service was bad, Steve had to send his fish back as it was raw, and my soup was "fair. " As you get closer to New York, they start putting tomatoes into the fish dishes, and I don't like that very much. It's tasty, I guess, but not what I'm accustomed to. After lunch we set out on a tour.
Most of the main streets of Nantucket proper are cobblestone, and the side streets are laid out with the ballast stones of the old ships, with sand filling in the spaces between. It's what gives Nantucket her charm, though Stevo, ever-practical, looked upon this as inefficient and inconvenient.
But I disagreed. Everywhere you turn in Nantucket you see its history. Downtown has been beautifully restored to its nineteenth century character. Granted, there's an A & P right next to the town parking lot, with the tanks of the Harbor Fuel Company just behind it, but all in all things seem pretty close to what it must have been like when the harbor was full of whalers and clippers. And the cobblestones only helped reinforce for me that feeling of going back over 100 years in time.
As I walked over those ballast stones, I wondered how many miles of ocean they had traveled, how many ports they had visited. And it struck me that, if these stones were here in Nantucket, did that signify they had returned, still in the bilges of whaling ships bereft of cargo because they had found no whales? I couldn't imagine sailing all the way to the Canary Islands, picking up provisions and perhaps one or two more crew, then proceeding South down the entire coast of Africa, rounding the Cape of Good Hope before turning North again and into the Indian Ocean - an incredible journey in itself - and then crisscrossing for month after month, finding no whales at all, and finally reversing course to return home three years later with nothing to show for it!
As we walked through the town, I tried to absorbed the beauty of all the buildings which had once been the homes of those ship's offcers and the entrepreneurs who financed it all. Everybody knows of the millions of dollars that were made in the whaling industry in the early 1800's, but I wondered, how many fortunes were lost on voyages that failed, ships that sailed off and never made it back again, or came home empty? How many marriages were destroyed, children deprived of educations and the chance to achieve? How many wives and children were transformed into widows and orphans?
Anyway, that's what the cobblestones and ballast stones did for me. I wouldn't be thinking of them so romantically the next day, however, as I attempted to navigate over and around them on a moped!
We walked around for an hour or so, to get the lay of the land and find a good restaurant for dinner that night. Nantucket is full of great restaurants, but many of them were now closed in the off-season. I was looking for one in particular, which Elise and the kids and I had eaten in ten years earlier on our visit here. I knew the general location but couldn't remember the name. But although Steve and I walked out that way, we failed to find it. We did locate a couple of bike/scooter/jeep rental shops, however, and decided that tomorrow we would give that a try.
Stevo had never been to the island before, so of course the Whaling Museum was a "must." We arrived just as the ship's bell was rung six times (three o'clock) and sat down for a lecture on the whaling industry in Nantucket, in a large room with one of the original 30-foot whale-hunting boats in the center.
The whaling industry was started in Nantucket by men who hunted baleen whales in small boats venturing out from the shore. One day, one of these boats was blown far out to sea by a storm, beyond the edge of the continental shelf, where they discovered a new species of whale: the toothed sperm whale. I guess these particular guys must have been nuts or something, because they killed that whale and somehow towed it all the way back home. And here they discovered that, not only did the sperm whale contain much more oil than baleen whales, it was of a much higher quality. This oil, known as "case oil," is even today one ofthe most efficient lubricants known to man and, equally important, it does not thicken in cold temperatures. Because of these properties it is still used today to lubricate parts in the space shuttle and in the exploratory satellites we send off to the far reaches ofthe solar system.
In addition, the sperm whales contained a wax-like material in their upper jaws, which to this day makes the best candles in the world, because they last much longer than wax and are dripless. Some of the whales also contained a material in their intestine, which was formed around the indigestible beak of the giant squids upon which they fed, much like a pearl forms around a grain of sand in an oyster, and this became important in the manufacture of perfumes.
And so a new industry was formed. But these animals were far out to sea and difficult to catch. They hunted squid which lived five or six miles deep in the ocean and the whale could stay down for as long as two hours looking for them, using its echo-location system (it's obviously pitch black down that deep.) So larger boats were needed to catch them. These were built, and as the men of Nantucket became more and more proficient at their job, the local sperm whale population became decimated. Then ships had to be designed which could make the long trip to the Indian Ocean, where the whales were numerous, and stay there long enough to capture and carry suff1cient cargoes home to make the trip worthwhile.
The actual killing was done in small, oar-powered boats such as we now sat beside. Once the whales were sighted from the crow's nest of the ship, these boats would be lowered. When the sperm whale is on the surface, it's usually because he's come up from far below, so he's tired and needs to replenish the oxygen supply of his body cells. The boat's crew would row alongside, and then the mate would harpoon the animal. The head of this harpoon was mounted on a pin in the middle, so that when you tried to pull it out the point turned sideways and was difficult to remove. Obviously, this procedure not only startled, but hurt the whale, who would take off in a hurry.
The harpoon was fastened to a long manila line coiled in tubs in the boat, and which ran around a wooden bitt at the stern then up and out through a notch in the bow. This was paid out as the whale took off, and the bitt was cooled off with salt water. This, of course, we all know was known as "the Nantucket sleigh ride," and it often lasted many hours or sometimes even days, carrying them many miles from the ship. Each time the whale, who was already tired, slowed down or stopped, the crew would haul in on the line, until eventually the whale - still very much alive and kicking at this point - was too tired to go on.
Now the boat pulled alongside again, but this time the mate used a killing lance. The harpoon was made of wrought iron, so it could bend and flex with the movements of the whales. (We saw some harpoons in the museum that looked like coiled springs from so many gyrations of the dying whale they were embedded in.) But the lance was tempered steel and razor sharp. As the boat pulled up to the exhausted sperm whale, the mate drove it into his back again and again, just above his pectoral fins where the heart and lungs are located, until hopefully, the exhalations from its spout turned bloody, indicating a mortal wound.
Now, as you might suspect, the whale didn't like this very much. I have had MUSCOBE right alongside whales, and watched them as they glided slowly beneath her keel, so close I thought they were going to touch, and I want to tell you: they are BIG animals! If you'll pardon my language, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that, when I'm that close to them the last thing in the world I would think of doing is something that is going to really piss them off! I saw a humpback whale breach this summer, and crash so close to a boat that the people on deck were covered with a solid sheet of water. I'm sure the whale had it all timed and planned perfectly - he was just having fun. But that boat was close to sixty feet in length, constructed of modern building materials, and I have no doubt it would have been crushed had the whale landed on it. I hated to think what an angry whale, thrashing and flailing in pain, could do to a small wooden boat. No-one alive today could fully understand exactly what it must have been like. (I remember a time when I was surprised by the sudden sting of a bumblebee that had gotten into a very delicate part of my shorts, and I want to tell you there was some serious thrashing and smashing going on! When it was all over, that bee lost big-time, or course, and I doubt if the odds were much different when that lance struck for the first time.)
As I stood in that hall, with my arm leaning on the gunwale of that whaleboat, she suddenly seemed awfully small for such a momentous task. In fact, this particular boat had a patch where she had been stove in by a whale in one place. And throughout the museum were paintings of the whale hunt, many showing whales thrashing about, completely smashing these tiny boats. God only knows what happened to the crews.
My imagination helped me: I thought of Steve and me in those rough seas earlier that day, a few miles from land, equipped with LORAN and our other electronic devices, two VHF radios, dependable life jackets, and U.S. Coast Guard stations located nearby in Wood's Hole and Nantucket. Then I thought of six men in an open boat, perhaps a thousand miles from the nearest land, probably without life jackets and perhaps not even able to swim, floating in the water amidst the wreckage of their boat, wondering if the mother ship will find them before they drown, die of exposure, or are eaten by sharks drawn to the blood of the whale. (I think if I had lived in those days I would have chosen a career as an accountant.)
But what if the men won and the whale lost? Well, the ship was back there somewhere, so they would tie a line around the whale's tail and started rowing! The idea was to get the whale back to the ship before the sharks reduced it to a skeleton. Here again, having been so close to whales myself, I simply cannot imaging tying up to one and rowing anywhere.
But they must have succeeded far more times than not, because there are many, many beautiful mansions there in Nantucket. And they were built on the captain's share of 1/1 8th of the cargo's market price. And speaking of market price, I'm sure that's something we don't hear about much, which played a big part in the industry and the fortunes of those involved. If you got back with a ship full of oil, but came in right after three or four others (there were hundreds of ships sailing out of Nantucket alone,) you probably earned a lot less than the first ship to arrive. And the crew? What did they get for three years of risking their necks and coming home smelling so bad their clothes had to be burned? Their share ranged anywhere from a high of six hundred to as little as six (that's right, six) dollars.
Ah, yes.... The romance of those old whaling days.
Anyway, this story is beginning to sound like a sequel to Moby Dick, so I'll change the subject here in a minute. After the lecture, we toured the rest of the museum, which itself was the actual building where the oil and other products where processed and shipped all over the world. There's a skeleton of a whale in the museum, which washed up on the shore nearby about fifteen years ago. After deciding to remove the flesh and put the bones in the whaling museum, the locals tried using every modern contrivance - even payloaders - to remove the blubber and flesh without success. They finally resorted to taking the old knives and flensing tools from the museum itself and, although they had no knowledge of their use, caught on fast and got the job done quickly and efficiently. (Their wives, however, wouldn't let them bring their clothes home either.) The bones were packed in wire crates and lowered into the harbor for two years, where marine animals finished the cleaning job, and the skeleton was reassembled where we saw it in the museum.
By this time, I was beginning to get "tourist overload" and suggested to Steve that we call it a day and look for a place to have dinner later on. One of the guides remembered the restaurant we were seeking: The Mad Hatter. Unfortunately, it had closed years ago, but the same man now owned another place called Arno's 41 Main, so we decided on that.
First, however, we returned to MUSCOBE to find her nearly hanging by her lines, as the tide had receded several feet. I found it hard to believe, but there is a three to four foot tide here, while in the Vineyard, only 26 miles distant, the tide is only about two feet. Anyway, we pried everything loose, and I spent the next 20 minutes.... well, you already know.
At around 6 PM we poured a "corner" and turned on the music to enjoy the twilight, as we listened to my mother's choral group perform Mozart's Requiem Mass - as good a performance as any professional group I've ever heard. The wind was still blowing, and across the quay there was a large Hinkley, MALAGUENA, with a loose halyard that was flapping and banging against her aluminum mast, making quite a racket. I really hate it when people are that sloppy, but there was someone on board, so I hoped they would fix it before bedtime, which they apparently did, as it had stopped when we returned after dinner.
We checked out the heads and found them to be clean and more than adequate, with lots of room, nice showers, and Spanish tiles on the floor. Unfortunately, there were no electrical outlets for my razor, so I would have to walk to the office in the morning to shave. (I guess all those New Yorkers have 110 Volt current on their boats.)
From there we walked up to "41 Main" where we enjoyed a good dinner, although it was a bit pricey, as we had found just about everything so far on this trip. I had monkfish, which is supposed to be as good as lobster but doesn't even come close, in my opinion. ("Good, though!") We had a waiter named Rusty who had the biggest teeth I've ever seen. He was trying to be really nice, but he was so syrupy and sweet I just wanted to throw a pie in his face. All in all, it was a pretty good restaurant.
Next morning, Steve was up at 5 AM to take some Advil for his hips. After he went back to sleep I was Iying there, half-in and half-out, when the fume detector began to chirp. I got up and shut it off, then removed some hatches to sniffaround in the bilges but, although there was a slight odor left over from our filling up, nothing should have set offthe sniffer. I made a mental note to check it out later and went back to bed for another hour.
At around 7:00 I went up to take a shower, leaving a very conspicuous note (STEVO: DO NOT SMOKE YOUR PIPE ON THE BOAT!) When I returned he was up, and although we both investigated again, could find no reason for the thing to be going off. There was a very slight sign of some leakage around the fuel gauge mounted on the starboard gas tank itself, so I tightened all the screws, but other than that I simply assumed that the device's sending unit must have gone bad again. (Later in the day we would learn the actual cause.)
While Stevo showered, I walked around to the office to shave. Then we set off across the cobblestones, with him mumbling and grumbling, to look for someplace to have breakfast. We covered most of the town, but places were either closed, too expensive, or not to our liking. We finally wound up back at "41 Main," where I had eggs Benedict and Stevo had ham, toast, and home fries.
From there we went to the bike shop, where we rented mopeds for the day. We were required to wear helmets, and after preliminary instructions in the use of the machines, we were ready for adventure. As we started up to leave I turned toward Stevo, slightly behind me, and nearly fell over laughing! That big man, with his bulky wool jacket, sitting on such a tiny machine with his pipe sticking out of his mouth, and wearing that ridiculous-looking helmet with its ridiculous little visor sticking out in front really hit my funny bone. If he'd been riding a Harley he might have pulled it off, but not on a moped. determined to get a picture of him later on, which I did. (Of course, I looked perfectly fine, I'm sure. Anyway, Stevo is much too kind to have laughed at me.)
In a moment we were off. I'd like to say we manly men of the sea went speeding off gloriously into the bright autumn sun, to the far reaches of Nantucket' mysteries and adventures. More to the truth, however, it was two bumbling idiots, bouncing, crashing, wobbling and careening over the cobblestones, me with my camera slung around my neck, drawing wry smiles from all who saw us. And Steve thought these babies were tough to walk over... We decided later that the Nantucket Historical Society had kept the cobblestones and ballast stones, not for historic charm and ambiance, but rather as speed bumps for idiots on the mopeds.
But we were soon out of town and onto good, old macadam. Our first destination was the airport, which is the setting for the TV series "Wings." By the time we got there, we had pretty much figured out how to handle our machines. Stevo's was older and needed air in the rear tire, so his top speed was around 25 mph, while I could manage 30 or a little better. The airport was larger than we expected, and everything appeared to be new construction. Like everything else on the island, with the exception of the Jared Coffin House and a few others which are constructed of brick or stone, these were covered with cedar shingles. In another year or so they will have weathered sufficiently to make the place look like it's been around since the turn of the century. We checked out the restaurant, which had autographed photos of the cast of "Wings" on the wall, then jumped onto our trusty steeds to head for Siasconset on the far eastern tip of the island, about eight miles from Nantucket proper.
Siasconset turned out to be gorgeous, just what you think of when you imagine those little Nantucket cottages. Everything is surrounded by tall hedges, but we could tell that these people had their act together. Everything's cedar shingle, of course. We went by one place overlooking the sea, and I could see inside through the large picture windows. The place looked as if it had been decorated by my mother-in-law, with an unlimited budget. Everything looked perfect and very "waspy:" oriental rugs, beautiful upholstery coverings, gorgeous dining room furniture, and a beautiful arrangement of dried flowers on the table -- yet not a soul around! Whoever owned that place had big bucks!
At the end of one road along the beach was the huge tower of the Nantucket LORAN station operated by the Coast Guard. Nearby we drove down a side road and explored some of the huge sand dunes for which Nantucket is so well known, and walked out onto the beach, where we found hundreds of black skate egg cases, with their strange prong-like projections. In one development of homes, we startled a flock of strange peacock-sized birds grazing beside the road. Although they ran away from us into the brush, they were not really wild. They were some type of fowl, but I don't know which.
We covered just about every street in Siasconset and found everything from magnificent, huge homes to tiny little rustic cottages. Most of the narrow little streets were paved with the ever-present crushed white clam shells and lined with hedges which must have been very old, as they had grown very tall, well over our heads. I wouldn't mind renting a place here for a week some summer. It's really nice, as long as you're looking for peace and quiet.
At one point we turned offonto a dirt road in what I thought was a short-cut. Having owned a motorcycle, I warned Steve to be very careful in the loose sand, as it can be treacherous if you don't pay strict attention every second. But the scenery was so beautiful and interesting, that it was hard to keep our eyes glued to the road, and I soon found my front tire getting mushy on me, so I was forced to slow down. I was about to mention it to Stevo, who was ahead of me, when I saw his bike going first to the right, then left, but he made an excellent recovery by jumping offand landing on both feet, without ever letting go or putting the bike down. I still don't know how he did it. (He wouldn't fare so well later.)
As we were going through this area the smells of bayberry and other plants was wonderful, But there was another aroma that was sweet and very nostalgic, which I couldn't put my finger on it for some time. Finally I realized what it was: grapes. I had noticed that the vines of Concord Grapes covered everything around here, so I decided to stop and taste them. Stevo created an opportunity for this, by losing control again, this time falling down conveniently. I stepped offand picked a few, which turned out to be very sweet and tasty, except for the seeds and the skins.
Later we discovered we were on a dead end, and so turned back to the main road, going North until we came to Sankaty Light, an old lighthouse painted red and white near a very nice golf course. An avid (and very good) golfer, Stevo wanted to investigate the country club, so we found the entrance and drove up. It turned out that it was a private club for very posh, corporate-type members only during the summertime, and open to
the public the rest of the year. (Or do I have it backwards?) Anyway, it was very nice, complete with a large dining room and beautiful views all around the island, but we drew a few stares from the resident members.
The only problem I could see was that it's impossible to play golf there! The wind blows in a steady gale all the time, and I don't see anything to prevent your ball - once you've hit it - from coming right back and beaning you. Maybe in the summer it's not so windy. Anyway, what do I know? I'm not a golfer.
We explored a few more side roads before getting back to the main road and finishing the loop back to town. There wasn't much room for us on the road, and although I kept looking in my rear-view mirror, every once in a while a car would sneak up and surprise me. Most people were natives and were quite courteous and considerate, and we tried to imagine what a zoo it must be during the season, especially with a bunch of New Yorkers driving around. (Folks, have you figured out yet, that I really don't like New Yorkers? They are one of the few ethnic groups that I truly dislike.)
We had lunch back in town at the Atlantic Cafe, which was excellent, with lots of atmosphere: pictures of old ships, hull models and replicas hanging from the rafters, etc. I had a Samuel Adams and a delicious bacon cheeseburger. We had seen only about half the island, but I was getting tired of mopedding and hoped that Steve would mello out after lunch and want to call it quits. But no, we had rented those things for the day, by God, and it was only 2:30, so off we went, bouncing over the cobbles, and out of town - this time to the West.
Once you get out of town, the homes and cottages continue along the shore, but there's an awful lot of open space otherwise. We saw several new homes under construction and, though there's lots of room for development, I hope the island will always maintain its wild, windy, open character.
We zigged where we should have zagged, and the road turned to sand again, but we forged ahead. Steve dumped his bike another time or two, but he seemed to be managing okay otherwise. After going two or three miles, we realized this was not taking us anywhere, so we decided to turn back. By now I had had my fill of mopeds, the open air, and the spirit of exploration but was trying hard not to show it. Unfortunately there was still plenty of island left for us to find.
As we retraced our route back up the dirt road, I zoomed ahead, just for the thrill of going fast enough to approach the envelope. Soon I noticed a conspicuous emptiness to the road in my rear view mirror, so I stopped to wait. Steve, I assumed, had become proficient by now in mopedding through the sand.
I was wrong.
Looking back at the long, straight dirt road, at first I saw nothing. Then, from behind a crest in the road Stevo appeared, first his helmet, then his body, and finally the moped. Closer he came, over the sand, and I was reminded ofthe scene at the water hole in "Lawrence of Arabia," where Lawrence and his guide try to take a drink from the Bedouin well and Omar Sharif comes riding slowly in from the horizon, across the shimmering sands on his camel.
When he finally pulled alongside me, I noticed that both Steve and his moped were completely covered with sand. It was on his helmet, his shoulder, and all over his pants and his shoes. It was also all over the sides of his tires, his kickstand, muffler, running boards, and most of the rest of his machine. The lens of the left turn signal was broken, and there was a good-sized crack in the plastic faceplate under the handlebars of his machine.
"Did we fall down," I asked, with a perfectly straight face?
"As a matter of fact, yes," he responded, equally casually.
"Well," I said, giving his bike the once-over. "This trip looks like it might be getting expensive,"
Fortunately, Stevo had made out far better in the crash than his machine, and we had a good laugh as he cleaned himself and the bike off. We then resumed our tour, arriving at last at a little cluster of homes known as Madaket (where do they get these names?) at the far western tip of the island.
We parked here and again walked out to the beach, and through the dunes to where the waves were pounding against the shore as the wind howled around us. It was no weather for swimming, or even sun bathing, but it was still beautiful with the sun hanging low in the sky as we stood on the deserted, vast expanse of sand. It struck me, as it has so many times, how varied is the beauty of the sea: there's the rocky coast of Maine, the emerald waters of the Caribbean, the mangroves along the shores of the "Low Country" of the southern U.S., and this unique piece of real estate we now stood upon, left here by receding glaciers ten thousand years ago. "Next stop: Ireland," said Steve, looking past the horizon, deep in thoughts of his own.
And I haven't even seen Hawaii, or the South Pacific, or Southeast Asia, or Japan. I guess that's why I find the ocean so appealing: realizing I've seen so little yet finding what I do know of it is so fascinating and diverse. But even standing there in that lovely spot, imagining how wonderful it would be in the warm summer sun, I knew I still loved Maine the most.
As we walked back to the bikes, I realized that there were two settlements, Cisco and Surfside, we hadn't visited yet. Mercifully, however, Stevo was running low on fuel and suggested that it was "getting late and we ought to be heading back."
He got no objection from me, and in another fifteen minutes we were wobbling and bouncing over the cobblestones again. After the beating Steve's bike had taken, I wouldn't have been surprised to see it disintegrate beneath him as he negotiated the bumps. I think we must have made a pretty good advertisement NOT to rent mopeds, to anyone who was observing us.
Fortunately, we had to drop offthe machines at a different location from where we had picked them up, and nobody seemed to notice that Stevo's moped had depreciated about twenty years. Steve is one of the most honest and forthright people I know, and I'm sure he would have left that place as the owner of his moped, had they required him to do so. But, since they seemed to see nothing out of the ordinary, we weren't about to argue, and we beat a hasty retreat.
Later, I asked him, "Do you think it was you who smashed the lens and cracked the front of the bike?" "I really don't know," he replied. "I didn't notice whether they were there when I picked it up this morning, but it did seem to rattle a lot more on the way home."
All in all, it was a very good day.
Upon returning to MUSCOBE, I immediately checked the sniffer (after checking the lines, of course) and it again went immediately to "explosive. " I decided to run the exhaust fan for a while to see if that made a difference, and when I turned it on, Steve commented that it seemed to be running slower than norrnal. Upon checking, we found the voltage to be very low on this battery, so I switched to #1, and the fan's rpm's increased dramatically.
I decided to start up the boat and charge up #2, but when I turned the ignition to "start" all we got was that dreaded "click" that indicates your battery is gonzo. Switching to #1 again, we started the engine and all was well.
So now we had a lively debate as to the cause(s) of our problem and possible solutions. We knew we had (1) a probable faulty voltage regulator, (2) possible NG circuit breaker, and (3) one very dead battery. Was the high voltage the regulator was allowing the alternator to put out causing the fluids in the battery to boil over and "cook" the battery? Was the bad battery really "bad," or could it be brought back with a charge? Would running on "both" tomorrow charge up the "dead" battery, or would it suck what juice remained out of the good one? (The last thing I wanted was to go back in seas like we'd been in, with the possibility of an engine failure.) Should I buy a new battery here? Should we stay over another day, and get a marine electrician to fix the problem now?
I lifted the hatch over the batteries and checked the fluid level in the one I could reach. It was down a bit, but not enough to be a problem. Unfortunately, the dead one was back in behind where I couldn't see anything without disconnecting them and moving them around, and as they are big, heavy-duty marine batteries, they really weigh a great deal. Also, as we had no hydrometor or voltmeter, we decided our best bet would be to run on battery # 1 for the remainder of the trip, as it seemed okay. I didn't want to take a chance of introducing that bad one into the circuit.
We learned a couple of interesting things from all this. First, when we switched over to the good battery and tried the sniffer, it stayed in the green. So, like the radar, it fails (or, in this case, sends a false signal) under low voltage. (Steve jokingly remarked, "Well, you now have two additional instruments to add to your "warning indicators. " When your sniffer goes off or your radar fails, and you can't smell anything, you know it's just an indication of low voltage! ") All kidding aside, I was thinking that here is still another reason to have diesel power: they simply don't need electricity once you get them going.
The second item of interest was the batteries themselves. Three years ago, Winter Island Yacht Yard dropped and broke one of my batteries while removing them for the winter. They replaced it, of course, but what I didn't know yet was that it was this three-year-old replacement battery that had failed. The original, which Young Brothers had installed back in 1987 was still good and going strong. I don't know what brand those originals are, but by God I want another just like them when I replace this one next spring! Yet another testimonial to the caliber of boat the Young Brothers build and the equipment they put in them. I remember when I first brought the boat to the Corinthian in 1987, and Bob Hastings, the dock master - and a good mechanic in his own right - looked under the engine box and exclaimed, "My God, look at those cables and that wiring! Do you know how much that stuffcosts?" (I certainly did. "Engine hookup and wiring: $1,000" was an item on the sheets that I had always thought was a bit steep. But I don't now.)
And so, with our mechanical problems solved to the best of our ability, we went to dinner. I don't remember the name of the restaurant, but it was located right on the pier in town across from the information booth. I had lobster, and Stevo had lamb, if I remember correctly. After that it was back to the boat for an early turn-in, as I was determined to get up at 3 AM, if I had to, to get started ahead of that wind.
My internal clock woke me at about four o'clock, but I was too late. The wind was already howling, or it had never stopped, so I rolled over and we slept in. We had breakfast in a restaurant right next to the boat, the Morning Glory Cafe. Steve had his usual, while I had an omelet that had so much cheese I almost couldn't eat it (but I managed. "Good, though.")
We checked out of the marina and started out at 9:30. But for the wind, and the difficulties we had getting to Nantucket, it is a wonderful place. The Nantucket Boat Basin was beautiful, and the people are very nice too, but next time I think I'll just take the ferry.
Though it wasn't as bad as when we came in, we could see as we rounded Brant Point Light and ran out between the jetties that it was rough. A large sailboat on the horizon was sailing away from us, heeled over at nearly 45 degrees. We were being followed by an older wooden, cabin cruiser, and I thought that he must have been either insane or suicidal to come out in this. (He was neither; when I looked for him twenty minutes later, he had scooted for home with his tail between his legs.)
Not so the Mighty MUSCOBE, however. It was lumpy, but nothing we couldn't handle. This time it was Northeast winds, so we were getting the waves right off our starboard bow. A short way out, we passed that sailboat, and then went by a tug hauling a barge full of crushed stone - of all things - toward Nantucket. Soon we were alone, however, and as the seas were all over us again, I shut off the wipers to save them and relied on the radar for sighting traffic.
Again, it seemed to take forever, but we finally made the mark at Tuckernuck Shoals and turned left (West) toward the Vineyard. Now our turns had just the opposite effect from what they had done to us coming out: at each waypoint we turned a bit more away from the waves, and pretty soon we were running smoothly along, with the wind at our backs, in complete comfort, with no problems other than the necessity of resetting the circuit breaker a few times.
At noon we were in Edgartown, our destination for that day. We topped off with another 20 gallons at Edgartown Marine and moved to our berth for the night. (Should I tell you about the lines?) Again a thorough washdown was required to remove all the salt, before we could walk up to "smell" Edgartown.
Edgartown was also a whaling town, full of beautiful nineteenth-century homes but, unlike in Nantucket, they are almost all uniformly white with black shutters. Most have widow's walks on the roofs, and it was here some time ago that a great controversy arose when someone in a local newspaper published an article stating that these widow's walks' primary function was not to allow wives to look out to sea in search of their husband's returning ships; rather, their purpose was to provide a place from which to pour sand down the chimneys to put out chimney fires! (This guy must have been from New York!)
Our first stop was "The Newes," a restaurant and pub associated with Kelley's Inn. A newspaper article displayed there listed it as "The best place for lunch on the Cape and the Islands," so we went in. (Interestingly, the same article listed the Black Dog as the "best breakfast.") The lunch was delicious, but for some reason I wasn't hungry, so I limited myself to a glass of Samuel Adams and a bowl of onion soup. Steve had some sort of big sandwich, which he said was delicious.
For every beer you buy in this place you get a Wooden Nickel. When you get 500 of these, you can get your own glass or mug, with your name engraved on it, in which they serve you each time you come. Another 500 nickels gets you your name in brass on a bar stool that is reserved specifically for you to sit on when you're there. As it was highly unlikely that either Steve or I would be accumulating enough wooden nickels to be of any use, we gave ours to Bruce, the manager of the marina, after we got back. (At $1.35 per beer, 1000 wooden nickels adds up! I think I'll just buy my own chair.)
From the Newes we gave Edgartown the once-over, which took about an hour. There were many inns and "bed and breakfasts." with beautifully-manicured lawns and gardens. On a side street we found an absolutely huge tree, sort of like an elm, with giant limbs going out every direction. On it was a sign indicating that it had been brought here from China in a pot in 1837 by the sea captain who owned the house where it now stood. It was a delightful autumn afternoon, and the streets and shops were jammed with tourists. I picked up a few things for the folks back home, we chose our restaurant for that evening, and then headed back to MUSCOBE, where Stevo promptly went below for a nap.
I had filled out a work order on our arrival, requesting that the mechanic take a look at our electrical system, but it turned out he was too busy to get to it this afternoon. So I borrowed a hydrometor and a voltmeter, and decided to do a little trouble-shooting while Steve was napping. Although it took me about two hours, I did learn that the replacement battery that was indeed "junk," as it had two bad cells. I had to free up some of the cables, which Young Brothers had very neatly attached every six inches or so with wire fasteners to the deck carlins before I could move them without disconnecting the terminals. And, they are not only heavy but in an awkward place to reach.
Satisfied that I had narrowed down my electrical problems, I replaced the hatch cover and stood up, to discover that in reaching down and out to move the batteries I had done something awful to my back. One of my disks, and perhaps even a vertebra or two, must have moved out and around to the other side of my kidney, or something, as I was hardly able to stand up. But gradually the pain began to subside, and I knew that in time it would go away.
Steve was still asleep, so after putting away my tools I climbed up and lay face-down on the pier to observe the thousands of tiny fish - I think they were pogies - that were in the water. In addition to the fish were some jellyfish I had seen only once before, off the Corinthian float last spring. These little jellyfish, about the size of a small child's fist, are shaped like an acorn squash and have several long lines of iridescent beads running the length of their bodies. Some of these lines are blue/green while others are red/orange, and when the animal is disturbed, the colors change, running up and down their length the way the light bulbs used to travel around old theater marquees. They are truly beautiful, and I'd like to observe one under a microscope, but you'd probably have to damage it to do so. Oh, well, perhaps it's better to just imagine what they're for and how they work, rather than knowing everything.
At around 4:30 I decided to wake Steve up, or else he'd be up all night. Besides, as the sun was now well over the yardarm, I didn't want to break an old tradition, and I didn't want to not break it by myself. Steve mentioned that we might just get a new battery here, but they were already closed. And I really had already decided to attempt to duplicate the original, but not until next spring. Also, I couldn't find anything on the battery itself that told me what brand it was. (The bad one, of course, was clearly marked: "General.") Well, at least I know what kind not to get.
We walked up to a restaurant called The Navigator at dinnertime. "Dinnertime" was the subject of a debate all during this trip, as Stevo thinks dinnertime should be around 8:30, while I go for around 5 6:00. I eat early (you have to when you have a family), or I simply skip dinner. I have never been able to enjoy a late meal; I always feel like I should be in bed. But good, ol' Stevo was good-natured about it all, even consenting to sit down to dinner at 6:00 one evening after we had had lunch at 2:30. (I did have to put up with some grumbling about that one, but it didn't last long.)
The Navigator was a Hawthorne-By-The Sea-type place located right on the water, and we got a table at the window overlooking the boats in the marina outside. I had steamed clams, which turned out to be quahogs, rather than littlenecks (damned New Yorkers!), followed by - if I remember correctly baked stuffed sole. I don't remember what Steve had, but our meals were delicious, although very expensive. After dinner we walked briskly back, as it was getting cold, and wound up turning in fairly early.
On Friday morning we were up, showered, and away by 0700 - our earliest start yet. This, our last day, started out beautifully, though cool. The only clouds in the sky were offto the East, where the sun was coming up; otherwise the sky was clear. There were a couple of locals fishing off the pier, eyeing us as we left. I don't know if we did everything to their satisfaction, but they seemed to be watching us pretty closely.
With a light breeze at our backs, we spent the next half-hour trying to find a place to have breakfast. Wood's Hole had a place, according to the book, but you had to go inside a drawbridge that they wouldn't raise during the commuter hour (we would be getting there around 9:00,) so that wasn't any good. Most of the other little coves and stops like West Falmouth were either too shallow for MUSCOBE, or the nearest restaurant was "a mile walk from the town landing."
We were still mulling this over as we passed Oak Bluffs, when I remembered the newspaper article about breakfast at the Black Dog Tavern. It was not yet 8:00, and it was just minutes out of our way, so in we went. The Vineyard Haven Marina was not open yet, so we simply tied up and walked to the restaurant.
We were seated at a table on the enclosed porch which, unlike during our last visit here, was now bright and sunny. In the gloom of our first night here, I hadn't paid much attention to the surroundings in this tavern, but it is actually quite nice. In addition to the view and the proximity to the water, the inside is decorated in a nautical motif, and most of the items looked quite old and were probably valuable. There was a pleasant, rustic flavor to the place, and apparently the flavor of the food was pretty good too, as the restaurant was packed at 8:00 in the morning.
We had the same waitress as the other night, and I noticed that she and the other waitresses here were very strange. One had hair cut nearly as short as a man's, and she had every earring she owned on one of her ears. Another was quite attractive looking, but she stared straight ahead at nothing, as if she were in a trance, or on drugs or something. I have no idea what was wrong with her - perhaps she was blind, or her body had been taken over by aliens or something. All three wore what looked like men's clothing they had retrieved from the local Morgan Memorial. It was baggy, shiny and worn, with the most unattractive color combinations imaginable, like orange and brown. Our waitress had gray teeth, and wore sloppy, baggy brown shorts over her furry legs. Perhaps they were all holdovers from the Greenwich Village of the 60's (damned New Yorkers!)
The breakfast itself was great. I had dropped eggs on an English muffm in Black Dog's Sauce, which was a sort of cheese-Hollandaise-tomato & onion combination - was very good, and quite different from anything I'd ever had. Stevo surprised me by having something different: ham, toast, and home fries. We also had two glasses of real, freshly-squeezed orange juice, which was as good or better than what you get in those places down in Florida. That newspaper article had been correct, as far as I was concerned: this was the best breakfast in the islands and the cape.
At 9:00 we walked the beach back to MUSCOBE and the marina, wondering if they were going to give us any grief for using their pier. We prepared some plausible excuses, in case we were questioned about tying up to the pier (we forgot our reading glasses in the Tavern the other night, or, we left a towel in the head.) If pressed, we would have purchased ten gallons of gas, but we escaped unnoticed.
The ride across to Wood's Hole was pure pleasure. The visibility was spectacular, the sky was clear, and with the wind and the sun at our backs it was thoroughly enjoyable. Unlike the other days, we saw a few pleasure boats on their way from one place to another. I saw a number of Fortiers, which are apparently quite popular around here. These boats are hard-chined, 28 feet in length, and usually have a little cutty cabin forward and a canvas top running back from the windshield. One of the Corinthian launches is a Fortier, without the cabin, of course, and they make a nice seaworthy little boat for day trips or short cruises.
The tide was flooding, which meant it would help us through the canal but be against us as we passed by Wood's Hole. And was it against us! I'd heard about Buzzard's Bay and Wood's Hole, but one can't really appreciate something until he experiences it himself. Extending Southwest from just off Wood's Hole is a string of islands known as the Elizabeth Islands. There's a lot of water on either side, in Vineyard Sound and Buzzard's Bay, and the passage is rather narrow and fairly deep. As a result, when the tide is moving, you get a great deal of water trying to get through a narrow space in a short time, with predictable results.
As we approached the entrance and turned North into the passage, we could feel the current begin to take hold of MUSCOBE. At its narrowest point, which was actually several hundred yards across, the water was fairly roaring along at what I'd say was seven or eight knots. The nuns and cans were all dragged over at steep angles, with the tide foaming and boiling around them, and we were pushed first one way and then the other, as the current grabbed at our hull as it flowed over and around the irregularities of the bottom.
We were in no real danger, of course. MUSCOBE's big Chrysler V-8 was more than a match for Wood's Hole Passage. I'm sure it would have gotten suddenly much more interesting, had we lost our engine. But even then, as long as we could keep her offthe rocks we'd simply be swept back into Vineyard Sound, where we'd have been able to get the anchor out to hold us. Unless the current carried us out of the channel and into the shallows, or on the wrong side of that day beacon over there...
But before I could finish imagining any more predicaments, we were through and passing the last mark, and now the tide was helping to push us up Buzzard's Bay toward the canal. Piece of cake, although I definitely wouldn't recommend attempting to pass through there against the tide in a sailboat with a light auxiliary engine. That tide could grab you, turn you around and throw you out of there so fast, you'd be back in Vineyard Haven before you knew what was happening to you.
We slipped easily up the coast, past West Falmouth and the western end of the cape, enjoying the beautiful visibility and scenery. It was one of those days when the visibility is so good, and the air so clear, that when you look off at a group of islands on the distant horizon, they seem to be taller than they actually are, floating on a thin cushion of nothing, suspended just above the water. I remarked to Stevo how much this day was like the best we had had in Maine, and he agreed. But, beautiful or not, it wam't Maine. For example, there were hardly any lobster pots along here. Had we been Down East, we'd have been constantly making minor course adjustments to avoid all the pot buoys and their nasty little (goddamn) bobbers. And even if we did get caught on one and had to go swimming, the water was warm here, for heaven sake! It was almost 60 degrees!
Weatherwise, this was certainly our best day yet, and I'm sure a large part of it was due to the fact that the mainland was now protecting us from the wind. Soon we were proceeding up between the bells and day marks at the entrance to Buzzard's Bay, which on Monday we had been trying to identify on radar and then visually, as they ghosted up to us the fog.
Once past the Maritime Academy, we were in the canal, where we passed a number of big power boats going in the opposite direction - perhaps on their way South for the winter. By 11:15 we had emerged into Cape Cod Bay, and turned left for the long, straight run home.
The winds were still light and the seas calm, so there really wasn't much to do but keep MUSCOBE going in a straight line more or less due North. Coming down in the fog, we had followed the buoys nearer the shore, which were entered as waypoints in the plotter. But today we could see forever, so we just went straight. Aside from some lobster fishermen, and an occasional pleasure boat headed South, it was actually quite boring. The only exciting event on this part was passing the huge buoy in the center of the ship channel a few miles outside Boston. (No, we didn't hit it. And no, nothing else happened. It was just exciting to see something for a change.)
It's at times like these that I think about what it would be like to have an autopilot. They are apparently quite sophisticated now, with their own internal compass, and they can be linked up to your LORAN. You just tell it the heading you want, or the waypoint you want to get to, and they take you there. I guess they are pretty accurate too, because I've seen some big fishing boats with huge dents in the bow, and I'm told those dents were obtained upon the "arrival" at some waypoint. Reminds me of that old saying, "Yeah, but you ought to see what the other buoy looks like!" (Sorry. I'm a sucker for a pun.)
By now it was after noon, and on Steve's watch I turned off the radar and went up to the bridge, where I discovered it to be very pleasant, as the wind was from behind. When it was my turn to drive, I decided to stay up there, and we finished the trip from there. When I removed the cover from the bridge wheel and instruments, I found the corpses of hundreds of those flying ants. The had apparently become stuck in the moisture that accumulated under there in the fog, and then been crushed by the cover as it flapped up and down.
From this height we could easily pick up the familiar (and ugly) stacks of the Salem Power Plant, which gave us something to steer for without constantly referring to the compass. While still a few miles from Marblehead, a black Coast Guard buoy tender crossed our path, heading into Boston, and then in the opposite direction a large tug, towing a barge full of gasoline passed us going to some destination outside Cape Ann.
Soon we were passing the Tinker's Island "Bong," as Randy used to call it. It's funny how kids get their own names for those things we think of as so familiar. We've accumulated quite a list over the years, but some of the classic nautical ones include, "Booch-bay" and "Falmouth Foreskin. "
By 3:00 we were following Jackie Burns and his son into the harbor, as they came home from work in Caroline, the sister-ship to my 34-foot MUSCOBE II. I hope they got a lot of lobsters, but of course they waited until we were well past their mooring before beginning to unload anything. (I saw him in the coffee shop a few days later and asked if he had gotten many on that day. "Oh, no, Joel! There aren't any lobsters out there now," he responded - the same answer he's been giving me for forty years now."
We took on a last load offuel for the season at the Boston Yacht Club fuel dock: 70 gallons in 7.5 hours, for an average burn of just over 9 gal/hr, then crossed back to the Corinthian to unload our gear and wash down. I was going to give them an end-of-the-season gun as we approached but, frankly, I was just too damned tired, and it probably would have been obnoxious anyway.
And so, the ever-faithful, Mighty MUSCOBE brings us safely home once again, after yet another cruising adventure. And I do mean "ever faithful," not only for that one day going out to Nantucket, but also for all the other days. Boating is so much more enjoyable, let alone more safe, when you simply don't have to worry about the boat letting you down - you just need to keep an eye on the weather, make sure you've got engine fluids (you know, gas, and stuff), keep your crew happy, and use common sense.
As my seventh season draws to an end, it's a pleasure to look back on the six and one-half summers I've spent in this - the best boat I've ever owned. She still looks and acts like new, draws a crowd wherever she goes, and, still, has never let me down.