More retrospective on our summer season…
Cuttyhunk, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket & Block Island
Having had such fun on our spring shakedown in Block Island for Memorial Day weekend, we were anxious to get out on the water again and enjoy more of our favorite but rarely visited destinations before the summer crowds descended.
The truth is, while we have exceptional cruising destinations in southern New England, they become so terribly over-run during the height of the season that we don’t really enjoy them. We have found that if we can avoid the busiest times, we can have a lot more fun. We rarely get to Cuttyhunk and The Islands any more because of the congestion, so we decided that early June would be a good opportunity to make it happen. Just a week after returning home from Block Island, we headed out again on Wednesday, June 6.
Sakonnet River to Cuttyhunk
It was a flat calm, crystal clear and cool day. We headed out of our marina in Portsmouth, and instead of heading south down Narragansett Bay we turned north, looped up under the Mount Hope Bridge, around the top of Aquidneck Island, and back south under the new Sakonnet River Bridge into the Sakonnet River. The old bridge was being dismantled — interesting to see the bits of history removed.
The ride down the river was beautiful. Still, clear, empty. We enjoyed most of it on the flybridge, until the chilly southerly began to sneak in from the ocean at the river entrance. This is one hallmark of early spring cruising: cold breeze off the ocean, even on otherwise warm, sunny days. We retreated below to the shelter of the pilot house. Just in time, as it turned out, as once we got outside the river and headed east towards Cuttyhunk we were on the open ocean and there was a swell rolling in from the south. The ride was a little less comfortable. We put some more throttle on, and had a pleasant enough trip. We were all alone out there. So different from a July or August day, when there would have been sails dotting blue ocean in every direction.
Like Block Island ten days earlier, Cuttyhunk was empty. Only three boats were on town moorings, with an equal number of local boats moored in the western corner. We anchored by ourselves in the shallows in the northeast corner. So peaceful. Clouds rolled in, but it was still a lovely spot. We were well prepared to entertain ourselves, with a ribeye for Bruce and some locally grown asparagus and lemony lentils to keep me happy. A flybridge evening, a walk ashore, and dinner on the grill. Life is good.
The morning dawned gray and chilly, but it was perfect for a good walk ashore with the dogs. You can’t really walk that far on Cuttyhunk, but it’s easy to wander for an hour and enjoy the unique atmosphere that is pure Cuttyhunk. You haven’t cruised southern New England until you have visited Cuttyhunk.
Martha’s Vineyard & Oak Bluffs
We wanted to maximize our cruising days and make the best of the good weather, so we decided to haul up the anchor and take the lovely ride up Vineyard Sound. It was a perfect day for it, calm with clearing skies, so up to the Flybridge we went. Beautiful views of the Elizabeth Islands and the north shore of Martha’s Vineyard evoke images of lifestyles of the rich and famous, playground of the wealthy and powerful. Hillary and Bill, John and Jackie, Barack and Michelle, James Taylor, Walter Cronkite…the list is long. A sail up or down Vineyard Sound on a beautiful day is a quintessential southern New England experience.
As we turned southeast around West Chop in strong current, the ferries were coming and going from Vineyard Haven, Woods Hole and Oak Bluffs. On a July or August day the waters would also be buzzing with sailboats, fishing boats and speedboats, but today, it was mainly just us and the ferries. We proceeded past the charming but often tourist-clogged Oak Bluffs, where the central features are the the central Methodist Campground Tabernacle pavilion which is a National Historic Landmark, the gingerbread cottages of the late 1800’s, the fishing-centric densely-packed harbor, fried seafood and shops. From Wikipedia:
“Some of the earliest visitors to [Oak Bluffs] … were Methodists, who gathered in the oak grove each summer for multi-day religious “camp meetings” held under large tents and in the open air. As families returned to the grove year after year, tents pitched on the ground gave way to tents pitched on wooden platforms and eventually to small wooden cottages. Small in scale and closely packed, the cottages grew more elaborate over time…The unique “Carpenter’s Gothic” architectural style of the cottages was often accented by the owner’s use of bright, multi-hue paint schemes, and gave the summer cottages a quaint, almost storybook look. Dubbed “gingerbread cottages,” they became a tourist attraction in their own right in the late nineteenth century. So, too, did the Tabernacle: a circular, open-sided pavilion covered by a metal roof supported by tall wrought iron columns, erected in the late 1880s, which became a venue for services and community events. The campground’s gingerbread cottages are cherished historic landmarks as well as very expensive real estate. Many are still family owned and passed on generation to generation. On April 5, 2005, the grounds and buildings in the Campground were designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior.”
Oak Bluffs is definitely worth a few hours of exploration, and while June would make it much more pleasant with out all the tourists, we passed by and headed on to Edgartown, which is also a very lovely destination for wandering around.
Town moorings in Edgartown were plentiful, even if there were more visitors than we had seen in either Cuttyhunk or Block Island. We contacted the Harbormaster and at his instruction picked up one of the blue balls. We had to register using DockWa. We Don’t.Like.DockWa. But we had no choice. More on that later.
For us, Edgartown is a delightful place to walk the dogs. The neighborhoods in town are historic, lovely, beautifully tended and quintessential New England. We always enjoy wandering around, and with the temps cool and the streets and sidewalks not crowded, it was especially pleasant. We opted for dinner on-board as we were well-stocked, and when we are on a mooring or hook, we are sometimes less comfortable leaving the dogs alone. A chilly Flybridge evening, then a cozy dinner below. Happy.
In the morning we once again had the urge to wander. The freedom of vacancy in normally crowded harbors gave us incentive to explore at will, so we did. And the obvious next stop was Nantucket.
We hadn’t been to Nantucket in years. It has become so expensive, so crowded, and so overgrown that we simply haven’t had any interest. But the early-season made it more accessible. We had heard that rates at the Boat Basin were 1/4 of normal in-season rates. We called, were welcomed, so off we went . It was a nice ride, cloudy, a little bumpy and breezy, but basically easy and not so long. By early afternoon we were waiting for our slip assignment at The Boat Basin. Yes, even at this time of year, with the Basin mostly empty, we had to wait for other traffic to settle in ahead of us.
We were directed to a slip that backed up to the small shingled shops on Old South Wharf, which was perfect. Our neighbors were friendly, most of the slips were open, and the sun was coming out.
Our stay in Nantucket lasted three days, because we were having so much fun. We ate well (it turned out to be Restaurant Week), we never needed reservations, we shopped (so much for saving money), and I went for a few very pleasant runs to explore outside of town. Our favorites: Le Languedoc Bistro (a sentimental fave from many years ago), Dune (a new find, thank you Jane from Peter England),and Petticoat Row Bakery.
The shopping bonanza came from a chance glance into Peter England, one of the shingled shacks on the wharf near our boat. Jayne showed me how to get clothes to fit, and with Bruce’s encouragement, we ended up giving our credit card a workout! After Jayne did her thing, we peaked in to the sister-shop, Kari England, and did even more damage! Kari made it worth our while by buying us drinks from the nearby Slip 14. She went over and brought them back by herself — balancing Bruce’s Manhattan without losing a drop. We were much too happy. And much better dressed!
After three days, we were broke and had to leave. Sadly, though. We had a great time and hope to return again, definitely in the off-season.
The weather turned gray when we left on Monday, June 11, but as we headed west, the choppy sea eased, the sun came out, and we had another lovely ride across Nantucket Sound and Vineyard Sound, ending once again in Cuttyhunk for another very quiet and lovely Flybridge evening, a visit from the Raw Bar, and a beautiful sunset while walking the pups at the end of the day.
One more decision: do we head home, or extend the fun? Again, to maximize the advantage of great weather no crowds, we decided to head back to Block Island. We wanted an early start. Dawn was beautiful as I took the dogs ashore for the morning walk.
It was a beautiful run in light air, mostly fair current, and an easy swell rolling in from the southeast. We were in Block Island by early afternoon, and once again, there were loads of moorings. It was a spectacular afternoon. Cool, clear. We walked into town with the pups, then returned to have dinner aboard. We like our simple boat routine.
We stayed in Block for two nights. Long enough to find and purchase ANOTHER PIE! This time it was chocolate cream. And it too, was DELICIOUS. If you ever have a hankering for pie while in Block Island, definitely stop by The Depot. You won’t be sorry.
We had a beautiful trip home. It was one of those days that would have been perfect on a sailboat. There was a good swell rolling in from the south, and a stiff westerly. Even without sails, we went flying down the swells and were pushed along by the breeze. It was a really fun ride. And a perfect end to a great spring cruise.