Cruising the Massachusetts Coast
I spent my summers by the sea. Always, a beach, a dock and a longing to be out in a boat followed me each successive summer as I joined family and friends at our family vacation home in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard or later, the Jersey Shore.
My grandmother used to belong to the Chappaquiddick Beach Club, and one of the swell things about this club is the big dock that allowed members to come over to the club by small boat.
I sat on that dock for hours, watching with envy the Boston Whalers and other small motorcraft that zipped in and out, piloted by grinning young men or bikini-clad teen girls. Oh how I wanted to be in that driver’s seat.
An evening activity we used to enjoy was to go out with the Edgartown Yacht Club launch as they picked up passengers in the big harbor at night. They would let us join them as they swooped over to wherever the call cawww cawww cawww came from.
Yachtsmen would signal the launch to come get them by making three blasts on their airhorns.
Fast Forward to 2009
Fast forward 35 years, and I’m waking up after spending the night on the bridge of a 42’ Krogen trawler yacht owned by the friends of a friend. When my pal Jack asked me if I’d like to rendezvous with Denny and Laraine and spend a few days on their boat off the coast of Chappaquiddick, it didn’t take me a second to say yes.
We debated the best way to get down to Martha’s Vineyard from our Western Mass homes. Jack at first wanted to fly, but after checking the Cape Air schedule and fares, I decided that $214 roundtrip was a little steep.
We agreed to take the Vineyard Fast Ferry, that leaves during the summer from Quonset Point Rhode Island and takes a 90 minute cruise up the coast to the port of Oak Bluffs for about $84 each round trip.
The fast ferry carries 400 passengers and goes at quite a clip -- 42 miles an hour. The ride is smooth since the vessel rides above the waves, and in the back two giant jets stream water in a torrent.
It’s a pleasant way to ride, and our course took us between the unpopulated Elizabeth Islands and Martha’s Vineyard, around East and West Chop, and finally, right to the honky tonk town of Oak Bluffs, where the harbor is lined with people drinking at bars and full of pleasure boats of all descriptions.
We landed here and then jumped on one of Martha’s Vineyards' reliable and ubiquitous public buses. Two bucks took us all the way over to the former whaling center Edgartown. Denny and Laraine like docking here, just off the coast of the smaller island of Chappaquiddick, or Chappy as it's known. Though docking fees are as high as $200 per night at the private docks in town, here, it’s free to anchor and take the skiff into town.
We met the captain of the Isis, Denny Wade, and boarded his rubber skiff and rode out to the wooden trawler, anchored about 100 yards off the coast, to begin our days at sea.
Life at Sea
Denny and Laraine live an itinerant life, spending months at a time on this comfortable 42-foot three-level vessel, a boat that’s built on the frame of a fishing craft with a reliable 700 horsepower diesel that does an economical yet steady eight miles per hour.
That’s not fast but it’s far less expensive than similar-sized vessels that consume dozens of gallons per hour when they cruise as higher speeds.
The couple had just returned from cruising down the Maine coast, and this unseasonably cold May was brutal. They had to wear sweaters and run their heaters, and they were still cold. Then came June when it rained every day except for three days, drenching them and causing mold to grow in the cabin. It was tough.
Laraine spent many years as a school principal; Denny works for himself in real estate, so the two have time to follow their passion, which is the sea. They love being out on the water, and love the life on their ‘RV on the Sea.'
The water temps here in the Vineyard are extremely mild, about 70, though the air is not as warm.
We went ashore and rented bikes to cycle around the island, and popped over to Chappy to visit Mytoi the Japanese garden that’s in the middle of the 5-mile long islet.
The garden has bridges spanning ponds, and small little 'bus stations' along the route explaining the fauna. Small fish swim in the pond next to a huge array of flowers and native plants and benches on which to sit and contemplate.
In Edgartown, there are two schools of thought about breakfast -- either go basic and local, or a little bit fancy. We stopped into the tiny Dock Street Coffee House for a basic lunch: sandwiches and ice coffee. It came with a sassy local waitress who told us 'no substitutions' and smiled.
Some of the yachts who were our neighbors for the night had dogs aboard. Denny and Laraine told us about what a pain it was once when they had a dog, having to take the dinghy in to relieve him every few hours. Seeing the many dogs dancing about decks out here made me wonder why owners wouldn't choose to leave their pets at home.
One thing we did experience was a desire to get out and walk or ride on solid ground. To satisfy this desire, we headed for Wheel Happy, a bikeshop located on North Water St. in Edgartown where we rented three hybrid bikes.
These people are always friendly and the bikes come equipped with bells, locks and maps. It cost $25 for a full day rental. We headed out Katama Road to a perfect little spot that I knew would be a good stop.
A boat like the Isis carries about 300 gallons of fresh water, enough said Denny, to take care of them for about three weeks. In most ports of call you can find a communal water spigot that boaters can use to refill their tanks.
Even though our destination, Oak Bluffs, was just around the bend, we sailed straight out toward the buoy and then headed due east to anchor just outside the funky town of OB, as locals like to call it. Boaters don't just scoot along the coast, they follow charts and navigation because it's all too easy to get stuck on rocks or in low water.
They'd be cruising through the Cape Cod Canal and over to Provincetown for that town's annual carnival. Later in September they'd pull the boat out of the water for the season.
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