Images and stories of
coastal cruising along the shores of Buzzards Bay, Vineyard Sound,
Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands
Cove, Naushon Island
Padanaram Woods Hole
Cove, Naushon Island
Mistletoe and Scrooge
of the Cape and Islands
for the Steamship Authority
for Cape Dory Yachts
I lay on the
bowsprit, facing astern, with the waves foaming into spume under me,
the masts with every sail white in the moonlight, towering high above me.
I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it,
and for a moment I lost
myself-actually lost my life.
I was set free!
I dissolved in
the sea, became white sails and flying spray,
became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred
without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy,
greater than my own life,
or the life of Man, to Life itself!
To God, if you
want to put it that way.
O'Neill, Long Day's Journey into Night
autumn I sail my vessel “Yuletide” back from spending the summer on Lake
Tashmoo, Martha’s Vineyard. I sail across Vineyard Sound,
through Woods Hole, and then on for a two hour leg across Buzzard’s Bay to
Fairhaven. It is almost dead north from the mouth of the jetty at
Tashmoo, to arriving in Fairhaven.
year I sailed solo. This was not the first time, but this voyage became an
extraordinary experience, a test beyond anything I had ever faced,
and, in transcending the challenge, one of the most intense tests of my sailing
skills, and my self-identity.
had been following the weather forecast for days. I got out to the boat on
Friday night. The lone remaining osprey circled overhead, the others
having already departed their southern migration.
morning I awoke. I had a strict timetable so that I could manage the currents of
the sound and the Wood’s Hole channel. It was a narrow
window of 40 minutes to get through the hole with a slack tide. A quick coffee,
and then preparations: The forecast was for twenty knots of wind out
of the southwest, a stiff breeze, but no big deal. A reef was tucked in the
mainsail. Everything below was stowed and lashed down. I made a
thermos of coffee, and brought anything I might need into the cockpit and stowed
in waterproof bags.
the mooring. I headed off, with the 120% Genny set. I sailed past the empty
Osprey nest, and through the narrow channel that leads to
Vineyard Sound. All I could see were whitecaps ahead of me.
I passed the entrance jetty, I could feel the wind built, and I saw the 15 know
breeze stiffen up. No mains’l for this leg… the water was chaotic,
swells everywhere, no pattern. It looked like a washing machine. I kept the
motor going to manage the current, which was pushing me east, away
from Wood’s Hole.
to Wood’s Hole was uneventful. Confused seas, but the wind direction put me
exactly on track for the entrance buoys. As I approached
the entrance I furled the genny, and motored. Although sheltered by the
Elizabeth islands, there was still a good wind.
I passed Hadley’s Harbor to port, I sighted the tip of West Island, seven
miles across Buzzard’s Bay. It was a clear day, and easy to sight the
reset the genny to her full 120%, and sailed into the swells. Beyond the lee of
the Elizabeth’s the wind and seas started to build. There were no
vessels in sight.
hour along, halfway across the bay, the wind had really stiffened, and was
tearing the tops off the waves. All I could see was the seafoam mixed
with the wind. The foam covered the bay, looking astern, the seascape was
covered in whitecaps, looking forward was a sea of whitecaps as well.
The waves were getting big, higher than eye level, I had to look up at them. The
spacing between them was tight, and it was a southwest wind, so I
was taking the waves of the port forward quarter.
sighted a freighter, headed from the Cape Cod Canal, steaming west, directly in
my path. It was a large vessel, and I had limited options to avoid it.
I did not particularly like the odds of successfully executing any change of
course by myself in these worsening weather conditions.
was relieved that the freighter gave way, and I could simply continue on my
course. I looked back and saw the waves breaking up and over the pilot-
house of the freighter, three stories up. The spray covered the vessel as she
made her course. These waves were enormous. The wind was now up to
29 knots, and I was moving 5.5 knots through the waves, taking each wave over
the port bow.
looking back at the freighter I shifted my vision, and a wave broke into the
cockpit. A minute later a second wave broke and I realized I needed to
all my attention to what was in front of me.
did not even have time to take a photo…
boat handled well and the genoa sail was actually perfect for the seas and
winds, driving powerfully through the waves. I needed to keep her on a
very precise angle to the wind and waves. With each wave the bow would rise at
the exact moment it needed to, and the sea would pass underneath.
It took a lot of attention, but the boat was doing fine. I noticed that
every ten minutes or so a pack of combers would arrive, usually three or four
stacked higher and closer than the others, they looked ominous, I steered across
each one, trusting the boat would continue to rise above each wave as
waves were coming straight in from the Atlantic. There was no protection. It
took all my attention.
have never felt the intensity of the moment as I did at this time. I was alone,
in severe weather conditions in the middle of Buzzard’s Bay. There was
another boat in sight. There was no past, there was no future, just the very
immediate present. My reality became the wave directly in front of me.
wave demanded my total, absolute attention. Time stood still as I addressed and
navigated countless hundreds of waves, each one individually, each
distinct. Once a wave was beyond the boat, it disappeared from my attention.
There was only one wave, the one that was directly in front of me. I was
completely in the moment, I was alive.
was in complete awe of the conditions around me.
kept telling myself “it is only water”, and it really was, only water.
time I was to the lee of West Island, and the seas became less formidable. One
more big gust as I crossed Nasketucket Bay, but I knew it was coming,
a familiar slot of amplified winds. I knew these waters like the back of
my hand, I was expecting the gust. I sailed through the town anchorage and
through the narrow, unmarked channel of four foot depth towards the familiar
water of Little Bay. No bouys, rocks hidden just below the surface, and a
speed of five knots. I flew through the anchorage, waving at people aboard their
vessels. It was days later I realized that they were sitting in their
because the weather was too severe to sail.
entered Little Bay with four feet of water, and sailed upwind of a canoe who was
fishing, and blocking my channel. I strained to windward , realizing he
had not a clue where the channel was, nor the many rocks.
the sails were furled, I was tied off to the mooring, and a great sailing trip
had been accomplished.
is a sense of timelessness when I sail…that trip could have just as easily
been two centuries ago, and I would have experienced the exact same
conditions and feelings. It makes me feel a part of something much larger than
took weeks and months to sink in, to understand that I had spent my whole life
of sailing learning and rehearsing for this one day, that I had transcended
time, had never lived in the moment as I had for the last three hours. I
addressed each wave, addressed each moment. I had never felt as completely
the moment in my life…..
Sailing Grounds of Yuletide
or Near Gale
trees sway, becoming difficult to walk. Larger waves develop, white foam
from breaking waves begins to be blown.