The trip happened on Saturday and Sunday, May 12 and 13. Drew Friery, Dave Lind, and Nick Schade paddled out of Woods Hole, MA to Cuttyhunk Island and back. These are Dave's recollections of the paddle.
We wake up bright and early in the home of Diana and Scotty McCue. These wonderful people are putting us up despite not participating in the paddle, one that Scotty has enjoyed in a previous year. Since I am the early riser, I am tasked with preparing breakfast for everyone. Just as I begin the task, Nick and Drew wander down. I expect the smell of pancakes and the barking of Scotty and Di's dogs bring them out of their stupor. This may be the first time in the many years I've known Drew that I've seen him conscious at 6 AM.
I've been paying close attention to the weather for the last week. I am worried about the wind prediction. I've variously heard anywhere from 10 to 25 knot winds out of the southwest. The direction doesn't bother me, even though it's exactly opposed to our direction of travel. I am worried about the velocity and it's effect on the high current waters we plan to paddle. If the predicted wind velocity is too high, I will postpone the trip to next week. The last report calls for wind speed of 10-15 knots. This will be fine. It's a rare day in the Elizabeth Islands that doesn't see at least that much wind. Since we are planning one day to Cuttyhunk, and the following day returning to Woods Hole, the wind prediction for Sunday, our return day, is for the wind to shift around to the north. We will have no free rides this year. Not like the year we started the 17-mile return journey in Cuttyhunk with the wind at our backs and struggled to slow ourselves enough so we wouldn't finish the trip before noon with a 9:00 AM start.
Last night I phoned Leslie Monast, who has been very helpful every year we've done the trip in getting us set up with lodging on the island. She and Will Monast manage a few properties on the island for Pete. I have no idea what Pete's last name is, but he runs some condo rentals on Cuttyhunk that he calls Pete's Place. They are comfortable condominiums nestled on the side of a hill facing roughly north-east toward Nashawena Island with a pleasant view to Gay Head on Martha's Vineyard. This place is very remote, yet pleasantly civilized. Leslie informed me over the phone a few weeks ago when I made the reservation that the units are not officially open yet, but she sees no reason why she can't have them ready for us. Having done this trip three times in the past, I feel like we are developing a relationship with these Cuttyhunkers who I find to be people who are honest and easy-going. They also seem genuinely concerned with our welfare, and willing to help us out in any way we need. She even offered for us to stay on an extra night if we find the conditions get too nasty on Sunday to return.
As we eat our pancakes with Scotty, I hear the weather channel's local weather theme song. I have heard this so many times in the past, I react like Pavlov's dogs and rush out to the living room to catch the local weather report. It's not so bad, with 10-15 knot winds out of the south-west today, and moving around to the north tomorrow. Naturally the wind prediction is for winds opposing our direction of travel on both days, but it's not so fierce a wind that it will whip up waves to present problems for us. Nick feels that we can hide in the lee of the islands and avoid the worst of it anyway.
After packing the rest of our gear and driving the 15 or so miles from Scotty's house to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute parking, which we are honored to use due to our friendship with Scotty, we're ready to head out. I've filled my kayak with enough water to make it down to Cuttyhunk; dry clothes in a dry bag for hanging around on the island; lunch consisting of a cold orzo salad that Donna, my wife whipped up for all of us last night; some muffins, fruit, OJ, and oatmeal for breakfast; and a salad in a bag for tonight's dinner. I'm counting on Drew and Nick for pasta and garlic bread for this evening according to our plan. If there is one thing that can be said of our kayak trips, we eat well.
We launch in Eel Pond off of a floating ramp. It's kind of a cool launch. You walk out on to the ramp with your kayak as the ramp sinks a foot or two into the water. Then you ease yourself into your boat and shove off from the ramp. You get a little wet doing this, but as my friend Ian likes to say, if you don't like to get wet don't go kayaking.
A little ways past the drawbridge at the Eel Pond entrance we begin to feel the southwest wind in our faces. It's not enough to stop us, but it's definitely slowing us. The current through Woods Hole, which can reach 3 to 4 knots, is sedate at this time, so there are no major waves to deal with. I have brought the current information with me, but don't have the times of the tides. We usually like to go to Hadley Harbor at the start of these trips. It's a very pleasant spot, and picnickers are welcome on Bull Island, where we always stop for a rest. Also, Nick is wearing his brand new and very expensive dry suit with a very expensive groin zipper which he feels he must amortize by enjoying the benefits of having a dry suit with a zipper at the groin every chance he gets. Bull Island will present the first chance to begin the amortization of the zipper. The first use of this zipper is termed the $750 pee.
The problem is that we are not certain we can get through to Buzzards Bay after we leave Bull Island. The channel to Buzzard's Bay becomes impassable at low tide, even for kayaks with mere inches of draft. But we decide to chance it and go there anyway.
I really enjoy the stop at Bull Island in Hadley Harbor every time I do it. The conditions in Woods Hole can be very severe, with big waves and wild currents. Hadley Harbor offers a serene alternative to this. Looking across the harbor from Bull Island we can see the Forbes Mansion on a hill on Naushon Island. Today there are none but I have seen horses running in the field next to the mansion. There are no cars that I have ever seen in view near there, no factories, you don't see electric lines or sewers. There is just a lovely big house on a hill. You could film a period piece there easily. It's a step into the past after a fairly large ocean crossing from a metropolitan Cape Cod location. I love the place, and enjoy sitting on Bull Island and soaking it all in. It helps that the sky is more clear than the predictions have called for. We have a hazy, warm day in mid-May for our paddle.
We leave Bull Island and head north toward Buzzard's Bay. We soon learn that there is plenty of water to float the boats out to the Bay, so we proceed with our plan. Nick thinks we can hide from the wind on the northwest facing side of the islands. This will be true if the southwest wind is a little more around to the south than the west.
We are paddling along Naushon Island, the longest of the islands we will paddle by today. It's about 7 miles long, making for a long stretch of paddling along the coast of one island. I am keenly aware of the flack I have taken for landing on this island anywhere but the spots designated for public use by the Naushon Trustees. The island is private, and the trustees aim to keep it that way. However, they have designated areas for public use, and those designated areas are beautiful. We are planning lunch at one of them at the furthest end of the island just before we cross to the next island.
I sometimes find this part of a trip to be tedious. I love being outdoors and using my body to propel me through the water, but it's not very exciting. It helps that Naushon Island is one of the loveliest places on earth. It helps that I'm with good friends who enjoy the same activity that I do. But somehow my mind gets in a rut looking at the next point we're aiming for wondering if I'll ever reach it. It's worse early in the trip when I realize there are many such points ahead of me, and few behind. I get through these moments by concentrating on my breathing and how my body feels. I also choose a marker and watch its progress against a background so that I will have a sense of motion. A good example is to look at a buoy against an island backdrop. You can watch the progress of the buoy along the island, seeing when it first lines up with the front of the island, when it passes a certain tree or hill, and when it last lines up with the end of the island. Noting the progress of the buoy along the island periodically helps me to see my own slow progress toward the next point of land I am working to reach.
It also helps to stay near shore and watch the shoreline move alongside you. My companions and I seem to be paddling for efficiency rather than paddling into each little cove we go by at this point in the paddle. We are doing "point to point" paddling, where you paddle straight to the furthest bit of land you can see. This decreases the distance we paddle, at the expense of being able to study the shore up close. Also, at this point no one seems particularly talkative. We talk a little about Nick's kayak building business, and Drew and I share our recent work experiences, but there are long periods of silence. As I age, I find that the slow movement along the shore and the silence can still bore me, but I also come to appreciate it. A few years ago I suspect I would have engaged in light hearted tomfoolery about whatever came to my mind. Now I think more, and enjoy the peace and quiet.
One topic of our limited conversation is Nick's fancy new hand held GPS device. It is able to track our current position, speed, estimated time of arrival, it even shows the location of many of the buoys we are passing. This will be my first kayak trip for which I will have accurate data on how far we paddled, and how fast. However, too much information is a bad thing. I don't want to know on a long trip how far I've gone, how long I've been going, or how much further I have to go. I find this information distracting and sometimes depressing. I often feel like I've gone much further or longer than the fancy electronics indicates. I prefer going with my gut and remaining blissfully ignorant. I inform Nick of this so he won't bother me with the details every few seconds. Naturally he begins giving me a progress report every hundredth of a mile. This is really helping.
Although we are paddling southwest, and the wind is coming directly from the southwest, we really only feel the wind when we are a few tens of yards from the islands. It was Nick's idea to paddle on the north side of the island to stay out of the wind, and it seems to be working. We arrive at our lunch spot on West Beach right around Noon. This is one of my many favorite spots in the Elizabeth Islands. The beach is covered with pure white sand, so that on the approach you are gliding through turquoise water with a brilliantly clear view to the bottom. There is very little to distinguish this from a Caribbean beach. In fact, while we eat our lunch I ask Nick how this spot compares with what he saw on his Caribbean paddle last winter. He says but for the temperature, there's not a lot of difference.
We munch on various things you can put in a pita pocket, like Donna's home-made cold orzo salad, store bought humus, and some kind of cheese dip thing. There's also the necessary canister of Pringles' potato chips, and Nick's excellent home made chocolate and butterscotch chip cookies. I down a moxie soda as well. The conversation is light, about the beautiful spot, too bad about the rain today (it was predicted, but it's been sunny all morning), and how this place compares to the Caribbean. We also shoe away a fair number of dog ticks. At the beginning of our lunch there was a boat parked a few yards off the beach. Now we are alone. We could be in a prehistoric land for all the signs of humanity we see, except of course for the sign put up by the Naushon Island trustees saying it's OK to have lunch here.
After Nick finishes amortizing his dry suit (now the zipper is down to $375 per pee), we head out across the next hole. This is Robinson's Hole, which separates Naushon Island from Pasque Island. This is a short crossing, only a quarter mile or so. When we get out into the hole, we can really feel the 15-knot wind coming from the southwest. Also, there's a little bit of excitement in the water conditions. The wind is kicking up some waves, which are crashing over my bow. It's a lot of fun, though more work than I've yet had to do on this trip. I enjoy when I ride up the face of a breaking wave, and crash down on the other side. These waves aren't so big that there's a lot of this going on, but their big enough to make the crossing interesting.
Pasque Island is the smallest of the chain, and we pass along it's shores relatively quickly. The next hole is Quick's Hole. I will forever be nervous about crossing this hole, after the first Cuttyhunk trip I did in 1995 when I thought I was going to die in this spot. That time there were 25 knot winds. When we were paddling in the lee of the islands, the wind seemed calm. But in the holes, you could see every knot of the 25 knots piling up the waves as the wind worked against the current. I went over at that time, but was able to accept a rescue from Ian so I got back up without having to leave my kayak.
Today this hole is much quieter. There is still some action with the 15 knot winds, but nothing like I saw six years ago. Nick is crossing out into Buzzard's Bay, while Drew and I let the current carry us into the hole a little bit so that we are ferrying across. I am thinking that it's better to get the protection from the wind than to avoid the current. When Drew and I get across the gap, we have a bit of a struggle against the current to get back out of the hole, but not too bad. Nick, of course, is way ahead of us.
Now we are paddling along Nashawena Island. This is the last island before Cuttyhunk, and it's about twice the size of Pasque, and half of Naushon. Nick waits up for us, and we catch up after a while. There is a lovely cow farm along this side of the island. We see the cows long before we see the farm. They are up at the top of a cliff, just eating grass. The farm comes into view beyond a peninsula that forms a pleasant cove for the farm. Whenever I pass here I wonder who works the farm, and what life would be like on this remote island. There is no store of any kind of the island, and the only access is by boat or seaplane. This is a much different life from mine, and from most.
We are approaching the end of the island, and the last crossing to Cuttyhunk Island. It is early, only 3:00, and we wonder what we will do on Cuttyhunk Island if we arrive so early. We decide to paddle around the island, a thing that none of us have ever done before. But first we will take a brief pee stop on the west side of Nashawena Island to further amortize Nick's dry suit. We pull into the rocky shore, and go up a little ways to sit on the rocks. We eat some more cookies, I drink a Pepsi, then we lie in the sun for a bit. Drew had said he could use a little nap, but now I find that lying in the hot sun after 14 miles of paddling makes me sleepy too. I drift off for 10 or 15 minutes, thinking about those things that come to your mind when you half awake but dozing. It's amazing that a rocky beach can serve as a comfortable napping spot, but it does very nicely.
We start the last crossing to Cuttyhunk at about 3:45. We figure there's plenty of time for a circumnavigation. When we come out of the shadow of Nashawena, we can see Cuttyhunk clearly, but the houses that we can normally see on the island are obscured in the haze. The crossing goes quickly despite the wind in our faces, and soon we can see a few houses on the near shore.
Now we are passing into kayaking territory I have never seen before. I have done this trip three times before, but never paddled around the island. Drew and Nick pull ahead of me as we pass the northwest side of the island. Although Nick is always in front, Drew and I take turns as the straggler. Now it's my turn.
We see a bunker up on a hill that was used during WWII. There's also a small light house and tower at the far end of the island. As we round the southwest tip before beginning the paddle back to the northeast side where we will put in, we come face to face with the biggest waves of our trip so far. They aren't huge, but they are big enough to get up a little speed as we surf them. I am being a little careful, partly because I have a throw away camera in my life vest that I want to keep dry, but mostly because I am always a little nervous in surf. Nick and Drew are having a blast.
Now that we've turned to the northeast, the wind out of the southwest is a godsend. We make excellent time up this side of the island, but still it seems a long time getting to Cuttyhunk Harbor. We have to go all the way around a spit of land that juts out to the northeast of the island. We pass about 100 yards from the place where we will be staying, but we still have a mile of paddling left. Nick has programmed his GPS with the main Cuttyhunk Harbor buoy as a waypoint, so he knows exactly how far to the entrance to Cuttyhunk Harbor. Unfortunately, we have to see the distance increase as we paddle along the spit away from our home for the night. But soon we are around the spit and approaching the harbor again. We paddle right up to the waypoint buoy, which confuses Nick's GPS slightly. Then we paddle the remaining few hundred yards to the ramp where we will take out for the night.
We have arrived after 23 miles of paddling at about 6:00 PM, tired and happy with the day. We pull the boats up to shore, and gather our gear to haul it up to the condo we are renting for the night. I come up with the idea of using the paddle as a bindle from which to hang dry bags. This makes it possible for us to carry everything up the hill to the condo in one trip.
We find our home away with just a little groping. Nick's and my memory serves to bring us to the right place. We stow our stuff and hang out our wet clothes. Drew battles his dry bag in which he stored a couple of sticks of butter, and a broken bag of M&Ms, making for an interesting chemistry experiment. The shower beckons, but we decide to get in the island stroll before dark. It feels wonderful to walk after having your legs constricted for most of nine hours. This year we walk down the hill and take a right to walk along the south-east side of the island, the same side that we just enjoyed surfing along. We find an old grave yard, and a state park with a walking path. Along the way we encounter the usual large population of rabbits, and even find a rabbit skull along the path. The walk is invigorating and helps to ease the cramps, but does nothing for our hunger pains.
We return home after forty-five minutes or so ready to eat. Dinner is lavish, with ravioli in sauce that Drew has been keeping in his freezer since wooly mammoths roamed the earth, a Caesar salad toted to the island by yours truly, exquisite garlic bread made with fresh garlic and gobs of butter mixed with small pieces of M&Ms, and a bottle of red wine donated by Drew and enjoyed by Drew and I. We had some little difficulty getting the broiler started to make the garlic bread, but after that dinner went down quickly and refreshingly.
Drew has a rule that he can't go to bed before 10:00 PM. After cleaning the dishes and all taking a wondrous hot shower, we break this rule by only a few minutes. We have sated all our needs and run out of energy to keep our eyes open. I adore this kind of exhaustion. A day like this feels like the most productive possible for my body and my mind. It is a release of mental and physical energy that leaves me somehow more energized than when I started. Tonight I will sleep well.
We awaken early to the sound of heavy shoes and vacuuming (!) in the condo above us. The owner, Pete is staying there with his fishing buddies. Pete seems pleasant and accommodating if a little distracted when I dealt with him last night. I am amazed the boys are up vacuuming at such an early hour. We arise and make the oatmeal and break out the Dunkin' Donuts muffins and OJ. This meal is quick and does the job, giving us the energy to paddle our sorry butts all the way back to the mainland.
The weather this morning is overcast, a little rainy, with more wind than we had yesterday. The forecast is for wind out of the north, not directly against us but not with us as it would have been if it hadn't turned. We move quickly to get started as the forecast calls for increasing winds during the day. I am a little worried, but our small group consists of strong, knowledgeable kayakers, each with the ability to paddle against strong winds, and possessing a good combat roll. We plan to hide in the lee of the islands as we did yesterday. I only worry about the holes between the islands, where the wind can scream through and kick up big waves if the wind opposes the large currents.
We are on the water by 8:30. We go through the gap between Cuttyhunk and Nashawena without incident. There is a good wind here, probably 15 knots or so. The wind is stirring up the water, but certainly not to an extent that gives us any trouble. Indeed it is a fun crossing.
We pass into the lee of Nashawena Island. The effects of the wind are greatly reduced here. We make solid headway along the cliffs to our left. On our right we have the view of Martha's Vineyard that was denied us in the hazy conditions yesterday. We can see the Gay Head light house at the southern tip of the Vineyard. Although today the weather is overcast and threatening rain, the visibility is much better than yesterday. Halfway along the island, Nick and Drew have pulled ahead and I am pushing myself to catch up. My attention wavers from the conditions around me long enough for a small breaking wave to broach me and carry me inexorably toward a good sized rock on shore. I brace into the wave to stay afloat, and nervously watch as I careen toward the jagged rock. I imagine my boat smashing into little pieces, and I am marooned on this remote island. As I approach the rock, the rushing water forms a soft cushion beneath my hull. My boat kisses the surface of the rock lightly, and I am plunged nearly under in the shallow water. I reach to the bottom and hip flick the boat back upright as I paddle away for the shore to get out of the breaking waves. I can see Drew happened to be looking back and saw the whole thing. Nick yells "What's going on back there?" I'm fine, I catch up and we talk about the experience. Nick notes that he often finds that the water that is rushing you toward the rocky coast also provides protection from the rocks. It seems so fitting somehow.
We soon come to Quick's Hole between Nashawena and Pasque islands. This is a scary place for me. We pass the spot where I capsized and received a rescue from Ian after trying a couple of rolls. Today the water is choppy, but the conditions are much easier than six years ago. This is one of our longer crossings, and we have a bit of fun in the mid-size waves. We are approaching a rock on Pasque island that looks like it has been marked with white paint. I wonder if this signifies anything important. As we approach, I see it signifies the completion of the digestion process of many, many cormorants. I remark on this to my paddling buddies. I wonder whether they were similarly fooled.
Part of our paddling banter consists of whether any of us have ever seen this side of Pasque Island. We are on the Vineyard Sound side. My memories of this trip have me always on the other side. We realize that our during our first trip down here we must have passed this side of Pasque because we were hiding from the wind, just like today. This kind of small talk helps pass the time, and keeps our memories of this area sharp.
We decide to land on Pasque Island just before the crossing of Robinson's Hole to Naushon Island. It is about 10:30, and we need a pee and a snack. We land on a beach of small, round stones and take care of the necessities.
We have seen very few fellow travelers out here today. There have been a couple of fishing boats, and no kayakers at all either today or yesterday. The weather is fairly pleasant for this time of year, albeit a little cold today. You would think more people would want to be here off season before the throngs arrive. It's nice to have the place to us.
Lunch is at the traditional location, Tarpaulin Cove halfway along Naushon Island. There is a lighthouse here below which we stop and break bread. There is a lovely beach for landing the boats. When we land, we break out lunch. This meal nearly finishes off Donna's Orzo salad, and does finish off Nick's homemade cookies. After lunch we each make Mother's Day calls to assuage our guilt at frolicking in the ocean instead of visiting dear old Mom. Mom is having a pleasant day, but doesn't really understand why I'm calling from the island instead of waiting until I get home. She is so darn practical.
After visiting the light house we shove off for the Tarpaulin Cove crossing. We talk about our parents. I think my parents are more provincial than the others' are. My folks don't go to the ocean, don't understand the effects of wind on the water, nor where in the world I am. Nick's parents have sailed here in the past. They are nautical and well traveled. Nick says that my folks have awareness that his do not. I begin to cite examples, such as my folks speak Swedish, my Dad saw action in WWII. Nick stops me and says that war is a life experience that leads to levels of awareness that can be achieved in no other way. I guess my folks are less provincial than I think.
Our next stop is yesterday's first stop, Bull Island. The timing of the tides suggests to us that we will be paddling against a stiff current to get into Hadley Harbor from this side of the islands. However, due again to the timing of the tides, Nick's GPS tells us that we are making over 6 knots on our northeasterly heading. I don't feel as though we are paddling very hard. We have been pulling away from the island to get out into the current. We can see the current line, and we are running at a good clip right alongside it. The wind is not helping us, but the islands block it and it is not strong enough to cut our speed appreciably. At this pace we can expect to land in Woods Hole by 4 PM.
We make the turn into the opening to Hadley Harbor, thus losing our push from the current. Drew and I are paddling together, Nick is near the shore I think checking for another way through. I think I remember that there are a couple of pathways we can take to Hadley Harbor. I'm pushing for the more direct route.
We link up again near a bridge over a narrow opening between Nashon and Nonamesset Islands. Nick has decided that this is the right way to go. The current is indeed gushing under the bridge, against us. Judging by how hard we have to paddle to get up it, I guess there's a 6 or 7 knot current at the peak. I wait in an eddy for Nick to go up the hill, with Drew behind me. Nick paddles hard and gets to the top handily. I push out into the current, conscious that if I turn into the current too quickly I will get swept around 180 degress and ride easily away from my destination. The water is pushing me toward the wall of the bridge. I paddle hard and lean to get away from the edge. As I pass under the bridge, I am looking up a small hill of water just beyond the bridge. From experience I know that this calm looking hill before the churning water is the place where the water is running the fastest. There is no bridge abutment slowing the water down at this point. I push on my foot pedals against my paddling to coax the boat the last few feet over the top, and cruise out into the relatively slow moving unfavorable current. I get far enough up that I won't get swept back under the bridge, and watch Drew's successful struggle up the hill.
I go into the island before we put in for a last fluid output. The island is small so I can see the other side facing the mainland. I look to see the effects of the current. We will have an unfavorable current getting out of Hadley Harbor, then a favorable current to take us over to Eel Pond.
The final crossing is uneventful. Nick and Drew get way ahead of me. At first I struggle to keep up, then I decide that I am in no hurry. I am tired, but I also want to prolong this last, short 2 mile paddle to the final take out. I mosey by the Vineyard ferry, listening to the instructions to the passengers and wondering who they are and what they will do on the island. There is a large WHOI research ship docked that commands my attention for a while. I pull under the bridge over the entrance to Eel Pond and look up at the down lookers studying their expressions. I am so close to the completion of this trip, that I want the last minutes and seconds to linger indefinitely.
This trip occupies a very special place in my heart now. I've done it several times, and each time it is a different trip. This time I made the trip with people who are as strong or stronger paddlers than I. The conditions were unfavorable, but not severe in the least. The addition of the Cuttyhunk circumnavigation lends a macho air to this trip, and lent a little bit of excitement in the surf. I believe I will make this an annual part of my kayaking repertoire.
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