After brunch we headed for Falmouth, Mass., just next door to Woods Hole. Instead of a long 15-hour day fighting 15-20 knot winds and waves to the tip of Cape Cod, we took a mere 5 hours to get across the Nantucket Sound. Conditions were truly horrific until we were well into the Sound and in 80 feet of water. Both the swells (8-10 feet) and the chop (2-4 feet on top of the swells) lessened, leaving us just the 20-knot winds and 25-30 knot gusts to contend with. Piece of cake!
The sail was rough but worth it, as we arrived just in time to rent a car so we could DRIVE to P’town the following morning. Have I mentioned how much faster driving is than sailing? We opted for a quick trip to Woods Hole to see the sights, buy a t-shirt at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Society, and have an excellent vegetarian dinner at a restaurant called, improbably, the FishMonger.
The following day found us en route to Hyannis, where we did a quick drive-by of the JFK Museum and had a beautifully-spiced Indian meal in town. We arrived in P’town in the early afternoon to the distressing news that the winds and waves we had been struggling with the day before had caused one whale-watching boat to turn back that morning. Undeterred, we signed up for an afternoon trip and spent the next few hours wandering the streets, amazed at the number of buffed, shirtless men who seemed oblivious to the chillingly cold winds. We found everything from WW II gas masks to bridal gowns in the endless array of stores.
The whale-watching trip went on as planned, despite entreaties by the crew to avail ourselves of the free Dramamine they’d provided. By the time we got out of the maze-like channel of P’town harbor, the seas had calmed considerably as we sped six miles north of the harbor to the Stellwagen Bank. This Marine Sanctuary was once a sandy hill standing well above water, but melting glaciers buried it under the sea long ago. You can actually see the boundaries of the sanctuary in the form of a white-ish curve in the water’s surface. Seeing whales there is almost a sure thing, and see them we did, although in lower numbers than usual, according to a few ‘regulars’ on our boat. We were relieved to have passed on the Dramamine; the woman next to us who took it ended up taking a nap, and didn’t even bother to get up when a mother and baby finback whale surfaced repeatedly not ten feet from our boat, providing a stunning finale to our voyage. "Mom" was 75 feet long and "Baby" apparently eats enough plankton to gain 75 pounds a day.
After whale watching we went back for more people watching, and were not disappointed. The Friday night festivities were just beginning, and a full complement of drag queens were out and about, including the all-male singing group "Drag-a-pella," who were dressed in bright, tight florals, sporting '50s-style girl-group hairdos, and singing their own praises in four-part harmony. We were tempted to stick around for their 9pm show, but we had a long drive back to Falmouth ahead and decided to leave.
Our second day in Cape Cod was devoted to a different kind of water: the great Salt Marsh at Nauset. We took a guided canoe excursion offered by the Parks Service and set about exploring as much as we could before the tide went out and left us beached in the mud. The highlight of this adventure was the discovery of countless pairs of mating horseshoe crabs in the shallow water. We had no idea that the male horseshoe crab is about half the size of the female, or that they can’t actually hurt you with that big scary pointy-looking prong on the end of their shells.
The park ranger told us that a local pharmaceutical company has found a way to use the blood of horseshoe crabs to test the effects of new products. Horseshoe crab blood seems to respond very quickly to different chemicals – much faster, in fact, than the equivalent response in most lab animals. The company told the park service that they have figured out a way to extract some blood for testing without killing the crab, and can then return them to the wild. This could save time, money, and the lives of many lab animals if it can be proven that is not harmful to the horseshoe crabs – which are actually somewhat rare worldwide despite their seeming abundance in the Northeast. They simply don’t exist anywhere else but our stretch of coast. Not many studies have been done on horseshoe crabs before, so the park service has to date been unable to assess the impact this could have on the crab population. They have temporarily banned collection of horseshoe crabs in state-owned land until more research can be done.
We went to bed early that night, in order to be well rested for our early (4am) departure for Pine Island the following morning. With everything stowed and tucked away belowdecks, we were ready to brave the famed tidal rips of "The Race" first thing in the morning.