Naushon Island Circumnavigation

Kayak Trips

Naushon Island Tour -- 17.5 Nautical Mile Kayak Trip
Saturday, August 21, 1993

Start : Woods Hole - Eel Pond at 10:00 AM
Finish : Woods Hole - Eel Pond at 6:00 PM
Conditions : Sunny, 70's, 10-20 mph wind from the NorthWest.
Chart : #13229
Crew : Drew Friery

Measured Mile from southernmost Nonamesset Island to Jobs Neck in 17 minutes with favorable wind from northwest and unfavorable 2 knot current (17 minutes per nautical mile).

Measured 4.5 Miles from Naushon Point to near WeePecket Islands in 83 minutes with unfavorable wind from northwest and unfavorable weak current (18 minutes per nautical mile).

The trip begins at 10:00 AM in calm conditions at Eel Pond. I am taking the front, I think to Drew's dismay. I want the front because I want to practice my navigation skills and the front is the best place for the navigator. I have charts of the area under the bungy cords marked with mile markers and "lines of position", and my compass and a NavAid clear compass rose that Drew bought.

We immediately go under a drawbridge out to Great Harbor under the dome noted on the chart. Drew asks "Why is the light red?" I reply, "The bridge is down, but what do we care?" We proceed against the red light (always gives me a warm feeling).

Great Harbor is equally calm. It looks like it will be a clear, warm, breezy day with good conditions. Naturally we are hoping the wind will kick up the waves, but no sign of that in the Harbor. We pass a very large research vessel with its motor running. Drew wants to give it a wide berth. What a worry wart.

Soon we can see the light house on Nobska Point. Light houses seem like tall, helpful friends to navigators. This one should be visible for many miles down the Southeast shore of Naushon Island. I will be looking over my shoulder at my good friend the Nobska Point light house.

I am looking for another friend as we round Nonamesset Island and I can see out into Vineyard Sound. This is a buoy in the middle of the sound, halfway from Jobs Neck on Naushon Island to Paul Point in Martha's Vineyard. I have decided that this must be a really big buoy to be in the middle of the sound. It is a green buoy numbered "27" with a light and a bell. I want to use it as a navigation aid because we will be able to see it all the way along this side of the island.

I describe the buoy to Drew and in so doing we come to refer to this buoy as "Big Buoy." I think that I see it from Nonamesset Island but we are looking for confirmation that I have the right one.

One important piece of information when practicing navigation is to know how fast your craft moves in various conditions. I look at the chart and see that we are near some buildings at the southern tip of Nonamesset Island. From this point to a line of position with Big Buoy and a privately owned buoy is about 1 nautical mile. I ask Drew to start a timer so we can time this measured mile and determine our speed. He starts the timer and we continue on. I have reminded Drew that we will get a more accurate speed estimate if we do not think of this measured mile as a race, but I have my doubts that this suggestion has much influence.

We are crossing Lackey's Bay between Nonamesset and Naushon Islands looking for the buoy that will give us our line of position. There are some fairly large swells coming from behind, and the wind is at our backs. Damn favorable conditions. We are taking some rides on the swells which are probably only a couple of feet high. We approach Job's Neck but we can't see our buoy. Big Buoy is visible and certainly the other one, being much closer should be visible, but it isn't. I begin to have doubts that the buoy we can see in the distance is really the green buoy in the middle of Vineyard Sound. Perhaps this is the nearer buoy, and we can't see Big Buoy. After some consideration Drew and I conclude that the buoy we see is indeed Big Buoy, and the other buoy is missing. This being the case, I estimate our position using Big Buoy and Job's Neck for reference, and determine that we travelled the measured mile in 17 minutes. Just under 4 knots. This is what Eric predicted we could do in his two man kayak. Good show!

Now another friendly lighthouse is in view. This is the lighthouse at the point of Tarpaulin Cove. It is a very reassuring sight. There is also the Gay Head lighthouse, but I can't use it for naviagation as none of my charts show this area. Nonetheless, I like to see these markers while out in my kayak. They are reminders that man may not have tamed the sea, but we stick together in working with her. The more familiar we can be with her, the more likely we are to weather her many moods.

We are following roughly the Colregs Demarcation line noted on the chart. At least that's where I think we are. The swells have built to three feet at our backs and Drew and I are loving it. The swells are timed to pick the boat up and let it down in such a way that the middle of the vessel is completely submerged in the sea. Drew finds this particularly fascinating as he is in the back and sees it happening. As all this is going on, we find that sometimes we miss the water with our paddles because we time the stroke with a retreating swell. This is a very strange feeling. While playing in the waves and getting a pleasant ride, we decide to turn about and take the swells directly on the bow. This is good for getting a good splash in the face and cooling off. We are just plain having a good time.

At about mile 4 we decide to take a rest stop at the Tarpulin Cove light house. Drew angles us in that direction and away we go! The waves are getting a little wild so I suggest we pull in closer to shore and see if we can make better time. Drew angles us toward the shore.

About 15 minutes pass and we are apparantly no closer to the shore. Drew's superior steering skills have taken us much farther out into the sound than either of us suspected. No wonder the waves are so much fun! I begin to realize how long it's been since I have seen a bird or a lobster trap! We decide to just go straight to shore and take our pee stop before we get to the light house. Fifteen minutes later we are on shore. We conjecture from this that we were two miles off shore! Drew notes that it is no wonder we could see our Big Buoy so well out there!

It's 11:30 when we start out again. We decide to push on to Robinson's Hole between Naushon Island and Pasque Island for lunch. This is our halfway mark. We were going to loop around Pasque Island as well, but we discovered how long the trip around Naushon Island is and decided to dispense with circumnavigating Pasque. I am in the back now, steering. I think we are both more comfortable with this arrangement. Drew likes the excitement of bouncing around up front, and I like to steer.

We pass into view of Tarpulin Cove almost immediately. This is a lovely little cove with five or six boats tied up. There is a large house on shore with a correspondingly large shed or garage. At the far end of the cove is the light house that has been keeping us such good company. I wonder what the house is for? Perhaps it is for the maintainer of the light house. Or maybe some very wealthy person vacations there.

Other than this and a couple of other structures, the island appears to be completely uninhabited. There are no roads, power lines, lawns, water sprinklers, none of the signs of human domestication. The island is very attractive to our species, however. I find myself pleased that somehow we have not tamed this treasure so close to the activity on Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard. One wonders how long it can possibly remain this way.

Past This lovely cove, we can see two high cliffs in the distance. I conjecture, using my newly acquired navigation skills, that the further of the two cliffs is Fox Point on Nashawena Island. This is the island beyond Pasque Island, the island we have decided not to circumnavigate. As we continue along the coast of Naushon Island, we discover that my observation is a load of complete, unmitigated hogwash. The further cliff is just a little beyond the first cliff on Naushon Island, the one we are paddling around. This shows how deceiving the landscape can be from the perspective of three feet above the surface of the ocean. I begin to understand the difficulty the Civil War generals had fighting battles at ground level with no air reconnaissance. But I seriously digress.

We have been noting that Martha's Vineyard seems two distinct islands; the main island and the Gay Head portion with the light house on the point. As we proceed south, we begin to see the low land connecting the two pieces of the Vineyard into a single island. We know this, but someone unfamiliar with the area could well be convinced that Marth's Vineyard is two islands. All thses are lessons in the importance of careful observation and good charts to navigation in unknown waters.

Also along the stretch past Tarpulin Cove, we make friends with another buoy. This one is Big Red. He is much closer to us and marks a point very close to the turn around the southern tip of the island. We are looking for Big Red to be at 9 o'clock relative to our heading along the shoreline. Then we know that lunch is near!

We make very good time to Robinson's Hole arriving at about 1:30 PM. No half hour approaches to shore this time. We considered lunching on Pasque Island just so we could say we made it, but there were several structures at the good landing sites, and Naushon Island offers more privacy (and less chance of being kicked off). We land right at the tip of Naushon Point. Here we note a rather large current gushing through Robinsons's Hole from Buzzard's Bay to Vineyard Sound. The buoys are laying over perhaps thirty degrees from vertical. This is particularly true at the narrow opening formed by the point where we are lunching. Drew is concerned that we will have to fight this current right after lunch, but I think that the current will slack before we need worry.

We lunch on taboule that Donna made for yesterday's river trip on the Nashua River. We also have brownies that Lisa made for the same trip, and a wine provided by my pal Drew, per tradition. I hope this tradition continues. Drew also has brought a new pair of binoculars which we use to look over at Martha's Vineyard and passing boats. Through these we can see clearly that the Gay Head light house flashes white, followed in 7.5 seconds by red, then white again in another 7.5 seconds for a full cycle every 15 seconds. Further away it appeared to flash white every 15 seconds (the red flashes were not visible). I wonder if this pattern has some meaning.

An hour passes incredibly quickly with good wine, good company, a morning's work behind us, and the sun beating down. After what seems twenty minutes, but is indeed a full hour, we pack up the yak and continue on our way. The current did slack to almost nothing so we have no problem from it at all. Now we will be travelling northeast up the other side of the island. What will we find?

We poke our nose out of Robinson's Hole and are confronted with the wind in our faces and waves crashing on the bow. Drew remains in front (I think we both like this arrangement) and he is loving it. I see an oppurtunity to find our speed in more adverse conditions, so I ask him to mark our start time. I will check our speed when we stop for the next break. Meanwhile, we are riding up and down on four foot swells, taking them on the bow and off to the side as we follow the coast north. I can't see Drew's face, but I know that I have an ear to ear grin that won't go away. I am whooping like an idiot every time a wave bigger than the last crashes over the boat and we hurtle down into the ocean. This really is what life is all about. I don't quite know how to put this feeling into words. I am in the natural elements. I have some tools that I have learned to use (such as my kayak or my bicycle). The world is just doing what it does naturally, and I am experiencing it directly and responding to it in the way I do naturally. I look around and see waves breaking over my boat, Drew ahead whooping no less like an idiot, the island to the right looking like a Scottish post card, and I never want to be anywhere else. This is perfect. I have had this feeling several times before, and I think my life now will be a continuous search for this. I have found this feeling when hiking Mount Washington with Kirby, and the clouds cleared away from the mountain moments after we began hiking back down; when biking to Williamstown and back in two days; walking my dog in a park with my wife; sitting at my terminal looking at the Boston skyline through my office window. It's how I imagine I might feel if I ever have a child. This feeling permeates my life and I see it in so many guises, but somehow it's never quite as intense as when I am living a little closer to the edge of the abyss, watching nature from a front row seat. I don't quite know what it is, but I know I like it!

Drew also seems to live for this excitement. We discuss the differences in our perspectives when I mention that I am experiencing "kayaker's high." He says that it seems that I never get bored. He is happy as long as there is excitement, but as soon as the surf lets up, he gets a little antsy. He says that I seem to have incredible staying power. I note that I am very patient, and that I can let my mind wander whenever things slow down a little. I say that, for instance, I will think about what I am going to write in my journal about this trip. As I say this, a wave comes broadside and body punches us both. I say, "that makes it into the journal." Drew finds this funnier than I might have thought. I am always surprised when people laugh at me. I think I am being so serious, but I almost never come across that way. Ah well, there are heavier crosses to bear.

We are hopping from point to point on Naushon Island, enjoying the surf and trying to keep Drew interested. We decide to take a rest stop at the next point. I doubt that we have made good headway against the surf, but we will know when I get a position fix on the Weepecket Islands. We pull into a small cove where there is a rocky beach in front of a steep, grassy hill. The surf is crashing in fairly heavily and we make a not so graceful landing. In fact, I land in the water on my butt. Drew finds this most amusing. We climb the hill for a view and a position fix. NOTE: THIS IS NOT LEGAL PLEASE READ I find that we have travelled 4.5 miles in 83 minutes. Not much slower than we accomplished under favorable conditions. This comes as a surprise.

Meanwhile, we look around at the island. We can see the shoreline quite far down the island from this perspective. North is occluded by the rise of the island. This island really does look like a Scottish post card. I expect to see a man and his dog herding sheep over the rise. It is very picturesque. This would make a lovely camping spot. It's too bad that I could never get Donna out here.

We are going to travel through some small waterways between islands north of here to return to Wood's Hole. We will pass between Naushon and Uncatena Islands and check out Bull Island in the process. As we go into the narrow riverway separating the two islands, we pass a woman in an inflatable raft. Further down the riverway, we see a couple standing in the water in the middle of the river. The water is up to their ankles. We begin to wonder if we can get through. We find a way by scratching through some very shallow water. A few minutes later (the tide is running out) and we would not have floated through.

We pass under a bridge where some boys ask us how deep the water is. They are trying to get up the guts to jump in. Beyond the bridge, the river opens into a small harbor with small sailboats tied up. Many of the boats have partying people. At one place there are three boats tied together and a mass of revelers whooping it up. Drew asks if they have beer. They do, but not for us. Someone yells "Alaska is that way!" Jokers everywhere.

We pull onto Bull Island for a last pee before the Great Harbor crossing to Woods Hole. I march down a path and into two lovers enjoying the seclusion. I think they never saw me. Ah, love.

Now we are almost done. We are certain that we have finished our trip safely and in the time allotted. Just one more easy crossing and we are home. We could not have been more wrong. You see, there is this fascinating phenomenon at this place in the world. Buzzard's Bay and Vineyard Sound have tides that are out of synch by three hours. This gives rise to some incredibly fierce currents through the openings between the Elizabeth Islands. The effect that we saw in Robinson's Hole is amplified here. As we cross the main channel we wait a little for the channel to clear of large boats. Then we zoom across. Drew and I naively note the strange eddy's and standing waves at the far end of the channel. But we push ahead, ignorant of the maelstrom happening all around us. Soon we notice that the buoys are laying over the way the buoys in Robinson's Hole had been. Now we are worrying a little. We push ahead, finding the boat buffeted by many cross currents and finding it exceedingly difficult to make headway against the strong current. What in fact we do is ferry across, making almost no headway against the current, but managing to stay afloat and get to the calm across the way. At least once, we both felt that the boat was going to capsize. I shudder to think what this might have meant. Hurtling into a concrete buoy would really ruin my day. The alternative is to be swept out to sea without my kayak, an equally unpalatable option.

Fortunately, this turns out to be the most difficult crossing. There are two more crossings against current, but not as bad as this one. One was at the tip of Penzance, where there was what appeared to be a river emptying into the ocean (in fact it's just an island off the peninsula making an opening for water to gush forth), and the second was across from Penzance to Eel Pond. These crossings really tested us, and I wonder how we might have planned this trip if we had known about the currents. Now I must get a copy of the Coast Pilots for this area and for any place I plan a trip.

I have one more moment of panic when we have trouble finding the entrance to Eel Pond. The dangerous crossing has really set me off my balance. Normally this wouldn't bother me at all. We find the entrance, and this time the drawbridge light is green. Drew notes a five mph speed limit sign so naturally I speed up. There isn't much speed left in us.

That night, ruminating on this trip, I find myself thinking a lot about the crossing of the fast current. While perhaps not my favorite part of the trip at the time, it was the most exhilarating. I am glad it happened. We survived it, we learned a lesson, and we tested ourselves against some of the toughest stuff the ocean has. It makes life worth living. I only hope it doesn't kill me.

Dave Lind

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