Nantucket Stories and Tips

Clam Hash, Sea Grass, and the Attack of the Little Mermaid

Another Lighthouse Photo, Nantucket, Massachusetts

We left in the dark, navigating by retracing our path on our chart plotter, and were treated to a spectacular sunrise as we slipped through the Elizabeth Islands on our way to Buzzard’s Bay. The wind was averaging a brisk 20 knots – unfortunately it was coming straight at us, and had been doing so for the past 14 hours or so. This had whipped the seas into a fairly robust set of erratic choppy waves that were battling obnoxiously with the prevailing 2-knot current coming from the exact opposite direction. End result: one bumpy ride, with the wind directly on our nose. Fortunately that didn’t last long; we were able to tack slightly and keep about 20 degrees off the wind using just the staysail. Later we altered course to enter Buzzard’s Bay and were able to raise the mainsail as well, speeding us up considerably and allowing us to make "The Race" before the current turned on us. We made excellent time, arriving back in Pine Island with time to spare for emptying out the contents of the boat into our car, showering, and driving home.

The following Friday morning we returned to Pine Island to pick up the boat. You know what they say about the best-laid plans, though. We started up the engine and noticed that there was no water coming out of the raw water exhaust pipe on the stern. This is bad, very bad. Diesel engines will run until they melt if you don’t cool them with water. We hastily shut off the engine and spent the next few hours taking strainers and pumps apart until we found the culprit, a sea strainer stuffed to bursting with local sea grass. Better the strainer than the engine – but in order to make the necessary repairs, we had to row the dinghy to shore and make a trip to West Marine for parts.

West Marine didn’t have the right gasket, so we drove to Old Lyme, CT instead, where we bought spare parts and treated ourselves to brunch at "Pat’s Kountry Kitchen" (famous for their clam hash, believe it or not, which was ordered and deemed inedible by my adventurous spouse. Being a vegetarian, I fortunately carry a "Get out of culinary experiment free Card" with me at all times.)

After fixing the engine, we set sail for Branford, CT, a respectable distance from Groton. Branford’s harbor is terrifyingly shallow, with a narrow channel cut through it which itself is only 6 feet deep. By way of comparison, our boat’s keel extends four and a half feet into the water. I think we each sprouted 10 or 20 white hairs on the way in. Because we were planning an early departure in the morning, our hosts let us tie up at the fuel dock for the night – much easier than negotiating our way into a tiny slip meant for a much smaller fishing boat. No moorings in Branford – I suspect the harbor is just too small!

We turned in early after a shower and brisk 10mn walk to the nearest restaurant (a surprisingly good pizza and Italian food place) and departed on schedule at 4am. If the harbor had been terrifying the day before it was ten times as much so in the dark, with an assortment of flippantly named rocks (Little Mermaid comes to mind) to dodge in addition to the aforementioned shallows. We avoided all the mermaids but were less lucky when it came to the near-invisible unlighted Red Buoy #4, with which we expertly collided en route to lighted Red Buoy #6. The resulting ‘thunk’ on our hull easily caused another 20-30 white hairs to appear instantly on each of our heads. Fortunately our hull is tough, and the only damage was an embarrassing red paint mark that we will remove at our earliest opportunity.

We had allowed plenty of time to get all the way home, but fate was not on our side this time. We got as far as Stamford, CT by mid-morning, but alas, the Long Island Sound was busily filling up with water from the Atlantic. The East River serves as a giant, narrow funnel which can get 4-5 knots of aggressively flowing current at peak – and given that our engine doesn’t like to go more than 5 knots, there was no way we were going to try to do battle with it. So we pulled over in Larchmont NY, where the venerable and ancient Larchmont Yacht Club was holding its annual (since 1880!) Race Week.

The club was overrun with teenagers carrying dagger boards, life jackets, and all manner of sailing paraphernalia. But as tempting as it was to take advantage of our sudden "membership" in one of the Northeast’s most exclusive sailing clubs, we had no time to watch, and our own race to run: back to Pine Island to get the Jeep, then back home, then back to Larchmont to get the boat, then back to our marina. This last bit took three and a half scenic hours, including the always-harrowing dash across busy New York Harbor, which entails dodging the Staten Island ferry, smaller ferries, cruise ships, tugboats pushing barges, and a maniacal speedboat called The Beast that specializes in taking tourists on really really fast rides. But we dodged them all once again, and pulled the boat into her slip, where we gave her a good scrubbing, then jumped on a train back to Larchmont to retrieve the Jeep. Home, sweet marina!

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