Saturday, September 8, 2012


Our run to Nantucket was around 7 hours, we are not in a hurry - and it is useful to get 2 miles per gallon. The seas were not uncomfortable but we had up to 25 knots of wind so docking to the pilings in the Boat Basin was more adrenaline charged than usual - actually I was surprised that they didn't have floating docks, the Admiral did curse while the fenders were quickly retied. I am often asked by followers of the blog - how do you know where to dock your boat, how do you find out where to go? Well it is about the same as finding a hotel in the next town - we always have a Cruising Guide to the area, and it will list out for you all the marinas, the available moorings, and the likely anchorages. You do your research; make some plans. Then you telephone and make your reservation. When you are close to the marina, you call them on the VHF and they direct you to your slip. It is important to know how either current or wind might affect your docking plan - when we arrived here I asked for an alternative slip because I did not like the first one assigned; it would have involved steering sideways a 55' long single engine boat in 25 knots of wind between pilings only 70' apart - and putting our beam of 18' between 24' of pilings at the same time. No thanks - it is always useful to have a back-up plan!

Nantucket is out in the Atlantic with Cape Cod to the North and the island of Martha's Vineyard to the West. Looking at the geography of the area one notices the strange shapes of the land masses; this had never really struck me before. The explanation is that these land masses were formed from material deposited by terminal moraines of glaciers receding after the last ice age, depositing sand and rocks picked up hundreds of miles away in Canada. As a result the surrounding sea is very shallow and the coast is subject to rapid erosion and change. In 1659 the island was purchased from its original owner for 30 pounds and two beaver hats; the intention was to farm but the soil is not good enough due to geographic origin. The settlers struck upon an opportunity caused by new markets from the industrial revolution and the desire for artificial light. Yes, it was the first oil rush.

The largest toothed animal on the planet is the sperm whale and it feeds on large squid by echolocation. The science of its complex biology is not fully known but its head contains, unfortunately for it, a large reservoir of a very pure oil called spermaceti particularly valuable in the 18th and 19th centuries for making smokeless and odorless candles and for lubricating machinery. Nantucket residents turned to hunting sperm whales around the world, particularly in the Pacific. The whaling ships had a brick refinery on board to boil down blubber and carry out a first process on the whale oil; voyages would last for up to 4 years until the hold was full of barrels of oil for the world market. Today the oil is found under the ground rather than inside a whale head, and other people are getting rich.

Nantucket did very well while it lasted and the whale ship owners and captains made fortunes and built fine mansions on the island for a hundred years or more until the discovery of oil in the mid 19th century. The whale ships rapidly became redundant. They loaded the ships with prospectors and sailed to San Francisco for the next rush - gold. Nantucket's economic fortunes waned and it went into total decline - hibernation - for a hundred years. The baby boomers re-discovered it in the past 50 years and steadily moved in. Now Nantucket's pristine cottage nature is zealously guarded by local by-laws which prohibit any signs of commercial activity and stop the island being invaded by any chain stores. There are exclusive designer shops and restaurants. For a very short season the megayachts and summer-home dwellers arrive and flush the economy with dollars; in September they disappear home and the winter hibernation sets in.The island is a wonderful place to explore and look around, although its artifical preservation does have a cost - there is not much soul. I did meet a fellow blues player however, and next time we come we will see if we can arrange a real jam.   

Looking ahead I am always checking the weather each day. The local marine forecast is the first source, either on the VHF or the internet. We have a very useful system on board for the internet; I am pleased to say that for an extremely modest monthly cost of $60 we have great access; it works pretty well anywhere including up to 25 miles offshore. The other weather sources are and WindFinder.Com; these are excellent resources for the cruiser. We can look at conditions at least a week ahead - wind speed and direction, wave height and direction, storm activity. Right now I am watching Hurricane Leslie. We have just been able to get under the wire and out of Nantucket on a calm day. But right now the wind is up in the 20's with worse to come; time to stay tied up in the slip and explore ashore until things calm down. Like I say, it is best not to be in a hurry.

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