Photo of sailboat on Nantucket Sound

Sailing Grounds

Images and stories of coastal cruising along the shores of Buzzards Bay, Vineyard Sound, 
Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands

 

Buzzards Bay

Cuttyhunk
    Fairhaven    Falmouth    Hadley's Harbor   
Kettle Cove, Naushon Island

Marion   Mattapoisett     Padanaram    Woods Hole

Vineyard Sound

MiddleGround
   
Tarpaulin Cove, Naushon Island

Waquoit Bay


Marthas Vineyard

Lake Tashmoo    Edgartown   Oak Bluffs   Menemsha   Gay Head   Vineyard Haven    Chappaquiddick Island

Nantucket Sound

   Nantucket    Cotuit

Mashpee

Rhode Island

Newport    Tiverton

Acadia, Maine

 

The Christmas Fleet
Yuletide, Mistletoe and Scrooge

Catboats of the Cape and Islands

Working for the Steamship Authority

Working for Cape Dory Yachts

Boat Dogs

LakeTashmoo 2007

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 sky!

I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, 
within something greater than my own life, 
or the life of Man, to Life itself!

To God, if you want to put it that way.

- Eugene O'Neill, Long Day's Journey into Night

 

Each 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.

This 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.

I 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.

Saturday 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.

Slipping 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.

As 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.

Motorsailing 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.

As 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 
distant shore.

I 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 other 
vessels in sight.

An 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.

I 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.

I 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.

In 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 give 
all my attention to what was in front of me.

I did not even have time to take a photo…

The 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 waves, 
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 
it passed.

These waves were coming straight in from the Atlantic. There was no protection.  It took all my attention.

I 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 not 
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. Each 
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.

I was in complete awe of the conditions around me.

I kept telling myself “it is only water”, and it really was, only water.

In 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 continued 
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 boats 
because the weather was too severe to sail.

I 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.

Soon the sails were furled, I was tied off to the mooring, and a great sailing trip had been accomplished.

There 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 I.

It 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 in 
the moment in my life…..

The Sailing Grounds of Yuletide

Force7

32-38
mph

50-61
kph

28-33
knots

Moderate or Near Gale

Large trees sway, becoming difficult to walk. Larger waves develop, white foam from breaking waves begins to be blown.

 

 

 

Travels,  DanaMorris.net

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