Week 3: Boston to Nantucket


Sailing down the Cape Cod Canal

We had a final Boston sendoff on the morning of October 2nd with a visit from my friend Ben. Not only did he get to enjoy the beautiful fall morning out on the water with the best view in Boston (see photo, previous post), but we gave him his first commute by sea by dropping him off with the dingy close to his workplace.

With great wind and weather, we threaded our way through the island-strewn Boston Harbor, rounded Hull, and then were off sailing south down the Massachusetts coast. That evening we anchored outside of Plymouth Harbor, but due to our deep draw (9 feet), could not go inside.

The main event of the next day was our passage through the Cape Cod Canal. A canal without locks, this is an open stretch of water separating Cape Cod from the mainland, making it into a man-made Island. We timed our approach to match the tidal current and were soon cruising through it at 8 knots (this is fast for Koukla). The canal saves a lot of time for ships heading up the coast that don’t want to go all the way around the cape. While in the canal, we saw a large fin flopping from side to side as what we believe was a basking shark swum up the canal against the current (there was also a possible basking shark sighting before entering).


Sun Dogs north of Woods Hole, MA

We anchored just north of Woods Hole, which you could see across a thin stretch of land by climbing up the stays. This turned out to be pretty scary when the wind blew, and it is a lot higher when you are up there then it seems from deck, so I did not go all the way. That evening as we were at anchor, a thin veil of clouds filled the sky so the sun looked like a light through smoked glass. The conditions were just right to produce “sun dogs,” small rainbow-colored spots on either side of the sun.

Woods Hole the town is named after Woods Hole the small, tortuous gap of water between the southwest corner of Cape Cod and the chain of tighly spaced Elizebeth Islands that continue southwest from there. Since it links two large bodies of water, it has strong currents at all times except for a brief window right around the slack tides (right at high or low tide when the water level’s rate of change becomes zero). We managed to time things just right and slipped through without problem. A short sail later and we anchored at broad Falmouth Harbor. That afternoon we went ashore. In a wide-ranging wander, Danica and I walked through town, explored the grounds of a monastic-looking Episcopal church, followed a long straight bike path, took a side trek through a bird sanctuary, and then reached the shore. There was a nice, long beach fronted by a series of small wooden cabins, which would be called beach houses since they aren’t in the woods. We returned to town for an excellent dinner with Danica’s uncle Bob, who lives on the cape.

The next day we motor-sailed to the island of Nantucket. At first glance, the town of Nantucket has little to set it apart from countless other small New England coastal towns now living off of tourism: filled with galleries, restaurants, and boutiques, all selling basically the same stuff. But one thing was immediately striking: it doesn’t look like anyplace else. Nearly every building is of weather-bleached bare wood shingle, many topped with distinctive rooftop porches that were originally used for putting out chimney fires (the term “widow’s walk” was not used historically). The streets are mostly rough cobblestone.

The main attractions of Nantucket are the many great beaches, bike trails, and the whaling museum. Horatio & Molly pulled out the fold-up bikes while Danica and I headed for the museum. I had heard good things about this museum, so I had high hopes. As you would expect, there was a sperm whale skeleton, a whale boat (not the ship), and a large scrimshaw collection, but overall it was not what I had hoped for, the best part being an audio-visual whale hunt presentation.


Danica and Isaac in front of the oldest existent windmill in the United States

In addition to the museum, our tickets gave us access to guided tours at four other historic sites around Nantucket’s “downtown,” including the oldest windmill in the united states, which is sometimes still operated for demonstrations (not in our case), and the oldest house on Nantucket (late 1600s), where we got a surprisingly long and in-depth tour that managed to convey some details of daily life three-and-a-half centuries ago. In our walks all over town to get to these sites, we managed to swing by two old observatories (closed for the season), see a quaker cemetery (a large empty field since they consider tombstones idolatry), and to visit the small lighthouse at the harbor entrance. The effort to visit all of the historic sites and all the places we found in between made the museum tickets well worthwhile.

On our final day there, we met up with a native-Nantucketer friend of Bev’s and were given an tour to some of the other parts of the island. We watched seals floating in the water off of a deserted beach on the island’s southern shore, saw cranberry bogs, and at my request visited what might have been the highest point on the island. There was some dispute about the true highest point, but since this contender was on the coast, included a lighthouse, and did not require a four-wheel drive vehicle to reach, it was the clear winner.


Photo from Sankaty Head, the highest point on Nantucket (111 feet above sea level)

[note: later research shows that where we went, Sankaty Head, really was the highest point on Nantucket, not Folger Hill or Altar Rock like you will see listed some other places. It is the highest point in a 28 mile radius, which could be why it was incredibly windy there.]

On our last night on Nantucket, there was a spectacular sunset filling the sky with crimson clouds. Unfortunately, we don’t have any photos of it. Fortunately, our desire to take photos of it made us realize that I had accidently left the camera in Bev’s friend Shelia’s car. With some inconvenience we were able to retrieve it, but it would have been much worse if we hadn’t noticed until the next day.

The history and look of Nantucket are unique, and I believe we made the most of our stay. But, by this point staying four days in one place seems long, so we were happy to finally be setting out Wednesday morning. Little did we know of the raging waves and wind that waited for us outside the harbor…


This Nantucket sunset is not nearly as good as the last night


9 thoughts on “Week 3: Boston to Nantucket


  2. Pingback: Top East Coast Lighthouses | Nantucket Brand Blog

  3. Pingback: Moving Sankaty Head Light - Sankaty Head Lighthouse - Nantucket Brand | Nantucket Brand Blog

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