Springtime on the South Coast of Massachusetts is arguably the best boating of the year. Mainly because there are not so many boats out there. Only a few float in our mooring field on Swifts Neck. There are even a few winter sticks hanging around.
The weather report for Friday through Monday is looking pretty good. I think it’s time for a boat trip!
Friday, mid afternoon, Swifts Neck, Wareham, MA.
Since I have the day off from work, I take advantage of the favorable midday tide and provision our 32 foot Trojan fly-bridge sedan, Ginger Lee, with enough food, drinks, and ice for a three night trip. Destination: Vineyard Haven, Tisbury, Massachusetts, on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard.
It’s about 6:00 in the evening, I’m relaxing on the aft-deck waiting for my wife to get home from work. I got my feet up, I’m sipping a cold beer, and just watching the world go by, when the phone in my pocket jingles.
“Hey. I’m home. Are you on the boat?” my wife asks.
“Yeah. It’s a nice night.”
“I know,” she says. “See you at the beach in a few.”
I jump into our dinghy ,Salty II, and motor the 100 yards from our mooring to the beach to collect her.
“How was work?” I ask. She tells me about her day as we putt-putt slowly across the mooring field, and tie up to our boats old teak swim platform. The instant she crosses Ginger Lee’s transom, the tension of a days work visibly leaves her body. Her eyes brighten, posture straightens, attitude lifts into positive mode. There is no more talk of co-workers, clients, or bosses. Our conversation turns to our upcoming trip. Which way will we go? What will we do? What will we eat? What time should we leave? Did you pack this? Did you bring that?
I mix up a couple of drinks, turn on the Red Sox, and we settle in on our floating home for the next three days. The plan is to sleep here tonight on our mooring, and get an early start in the morning.
It’s a comfortably warm, slightly humid and sunny morning. The forecast says we should expect mid morning showers followed by a “10” of a day. A line of darkening clouds creeping along the western sky pretty much confirms this, but the front seems to be slipping sideways, so I’m hoping the rain will miss us completely. After coffee and corn flakes, we prep Ginger Lee for departure. Susan readies the dinghy by attaching a sturdy bridle line to its towing painter. My job is to take down and stow all the bird deterrents. It’s a constant battle with the birds here in Wareham. A fight, I’m happy to say, we are winning. This was not always so. Ginger Lee’s black Sunbrella flybridge top is warm and high, perfect for big, messy seagulls, but thanks to three Gullsweeps (wind powered spinning things) and a Bird-B-Gone spider (a metal spike thing), the birds are staying away. Susan is at the bow, hooking a mast buoy up to the two mooring pennants. After the engines are warmed up, I give her a thumbs-up and she drops them into the water.
We are floating free and and on our own. No longer attached to the Earth. There are no white-lined roads to guide us. No guard rails, stop signs or traffic signals. It’s wonderfully liberating. I engage the Velvet Drive transmissions and we slowly glide away.
I love these first few moments. “Good-bye Mr. Mooring. The pressures of the work-a-day world are seemingly attached to you, and now, like you, they are left behind in our wake, dissipating, becoming smaller as the distance increases.”
On our floating cottage, we are living in the moment and a new priority takes precedent: our very lives! Boating is not perfectly safe, never has been, never will be, but that element of danger is part of the appeal. What will happen this weekend? Will our engines behave or will we be one of those unhappy boaters tethered to a towing vessel? Will we make it through the tumultuous Woods Hole Cut without being slammed against can 5? What adventures will we find? One never knows.
10:30 AM Saturday
We have timed our arrival at the Woods Hole Cut for mid ebbing tide, hoping for an easy transit in the normally turbulent pass. As we enter, three sailboats ahead of us are quickly losing speed against the strong current. After bringing my engines up to 1600 RPM to maintain a workable four knots, I realize that sooner or later I’ll have to pass them. Not an easy thing to do because it’s like a washing machine in here. Eddies and whirlpools toss us to and fro. Fortunately, two sailboats peel off to starboard toward Hadley Harbor.
We are four lengths behind the remaining sailboat, when suddenly, the bow of the dinghy it was towing plows under, then flips up violently on its side! I blow my horn trying to get the attention of the couple in the cockpit. They both turn around and look right at me but somehow don’t see the dinghy doing the hootchie-koo. I pass them well to starboard, still doing about 4 knots, when they hail me on the radio. “You just swamped my dinghy with your wake!” crackled the excited voice. Susan and I looked at each other in disbelief. I radioed back. “I saw your dinghy plow under then flip onto its side. I blew my horn to get your attention…Over.
“I don’t think so!” was the surprising answer. What can ya say to that? Why would I lie? I looked back at my wake. It was an anemic six inches! Jeez! This is nuts! We just got scolded for a six-inch wake in the Woods Hole Cut, where large, high horsepower vessels routinely bury their stern and power through, waking us slower boats with four footers. It’s laughable to think that our puny wake could swamp their dinghy, but I’m certainly not gonna get into a pissing match over it. I hang the mic back on its hook. There is nothing more to say. We saw what we saw. Through binoculars we watch them exit the Cut and head southwest down the Vineyard Sound. I’m a bit upset that they would think poorly of me.
West Chop is in sight and the weather is quickly deteriorating. Scary dark clouds are engulfing the two new wind turbines in Fairhaven, obscuring them from view. It’s obviously raining there and coming our way fast. Ahead of us in Nantucket Sound, two dozen or more sails are silhouetted against the white and grey horizon.
“What’s with all the sailboats?” I ask.
“Could be a race.” Susan speculates.
“It must be. They’re all grouped by size.”
We watch them flash by. Crew members in colorful foul weather gear are leaning well off the starboard rail. Salty spray, wind and waves are attacking them furiously. I can imagine the face-in-the-weather excitement happening on those boats. A twinge of something very much like guilt hits me as we motor by, sipping hot coffee in our warm and dry salon.
The rain finally catches up with us just as we make our southerly turn between the East and West Chops. The surf kicks up a bit as raindrops pit the water giving it an unusual appearance, like a pebbled driveway. An immense luxury yacht falls in behind us to port as we reach the long Vineyard Haven breakwater. I hail the Harbormaster on channel 9 but get no response. After three more failed attempts. I try again on my other radio, a reliable Standard Horizon handheld. Still nothing. Suddenly over both radio’s we hear the captain of the large luxury yacht (with his heavy New Zealand or possibly South African accent) hail the Harbormaster and get an immediate answer! “That’s odd,” I say to myself. After waiting for the channel to clear, I try again with no response.
“I don’t get it. Are BOTH our radio’s busted?” I look at Susan questioningly.
“Maybe you should try it with an accent,” she deadpans. So with my best, snooty, pseudo English accent, I hail the Harbormaster one more time, drawing out yaaahd in Vineyard Haven like I heard the luxury yacht captain do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, but we both crack up laughing. Finally, as a last resort, I pick up my cell phone and call. You could have knocked me over with a feather when an actual human being picks up the phone on the first ring!
After getting our mooring assignment, I test both radios with the Falmouth based automated radio check system on channel 28, and discover they are both working perfectly.
“Well, apparently they receive me in Falmouth,” I say.
“But not in the Harbormaster’s shack a hundred yards away!” Susan finishes my sentence.
I really like this automated radio check system. Simply tune to channel 28, key the mic and say something such as: “Testing one-two-three.” After a second or two, if your radio works, your message is repeated back to you. It’s so cool! You get to hear your own radio voice!
As soon as I pull up to our assigned mooring float, the rain stops abruptly. Susan snags the pennant with a boat hook and drops it over the bitt just as the sun breaks through the clouds. By the time she walks back to the aft-deck, it’s a glorious, beautiful day. A real ’10’ just like the weatherman said. A sparkling 70 degrees.
“The sky is so blue!” I bubble.
“Look how clear the water is!” Susan says. “You can see the bottom!” The water is indeed crystal clear, not like the brownish green water off Swifts Neck. “I love this place!” I say, surveying the colorful surroundings. It’s cozy, but not crowded, and it has a laid back feel.
Mostly sailboats are moored here, it’s like a forest of sails. It seems every boat in here is interesting in some way. The houses that line the shore are not big or expensive looking. There are no grand mansions with manicured lawns. Everything seems low key. A car ferry glides by and the travelers on the upper deck wave to us and we happily wave back. “I’ve only been here ten minutes and I don’t want to leave…ever!” I said. “I like it too!” Susan agrees.
There are places in this world that just appeal to you, sometimes they slowly grow on you, and sometimes they just grab you right away. For me, Vineyard Haven is the latter.
We had originally planned on spending only one night here and then move on to either Lake Tashmoo or Tarpaulin Cove, Naushon Island, but when Harbormaster Jim pulls his center console up to greet us and collect his fee, we tell him we will be staying two nights.
“That’ll be fifty dollars,” he says. We could only come up with forty-two dollars in cash, so we promised to come by his office later, after we hit the ATM. He says that will be fine, turns off his outboard, and chats with us for a solid twenty minutes. The man was probably in his fifties. He wore his thick blond hair on the long side, and it suited him. His uniform was casual, clean, and khaki.
“It’s nice to talk to someone without an accent. Where ya from?” he asks.
“Wareham. It’s our first time here,” Susan offers. He gave us the rundown on the whole place, especially the interesting Black Dog story, and how they went from a small cafe to their large presence here, and world-wide.
“They own the two tall ships over there and sail them regularly,” he points with his chin towards the two impressive vessels.
“I hear this is a dry town,” I cut in.
“Well it was, but last year they voted to allow beer and wine, and ya know…the world didn’t come to an end!” His wry smile reeking of approval.
“I’ll be sure to alert the media. My cruising guide says no booze,” I joke, and for effect, take a healthy slug of Budweiser.
“Well, I gotta go, enjoy your stay.” He shakes our hands, starts up the Yamaha outboard, and idles slowly off.