Dave's Cuttyhunk Trip

Kayak Trips

The day has not quite dawned. It will open up cool and windy. Nick has spent the night at our house to split his drive from Connecticut, and provide me a ride to the Cape. I am going to ready myself before awakening himself by feeding my animals, walking the canine, and getting my boat up on his car. I do these things after checking the latest weather on the weather channel, then wake Nick. The weather is supposed to clear up, warm up, and the wind die down. Sounds like a go.

After kissing Donna good-bye and wishing her a happy work day (yechh) I head to Scotty and Di's house with Nick. We are chatting amiably about the other people joining us on the trip (Drew, Ian, Ruth) as well as the weather, and general trip plans. We are going to leave from Eel Pond in Woods Hole, exactly where Drew and I set out in my double kayak not quite two years ago. Then, we circumnavigated Naushon Island. Now we will pass Naushon on our way to Cuttyhunk. The weather report is calling for moderate winds (10-15 knots) out of the north to north-east. We are travelling south-west along the chain of islands known as the Elizabeth Islands. We want to take advantage of the current that will be flowing favorably on the south-east face of the islands, in Vineyard Sound. It sounds like this may also offer us some protection from the north wind.

Scotty has provided us with enough parking passes in a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) parking lot to handle all of our cars. Nick and I are the last to arrive at his home. There we meet with Scott and Di (who are not travelling with us) as well as our travel companions, Drew, Ruth, and Ian. Ruth and Ian stayed there overnight. After some doughnuts and more amiable chatting, the five of us go off to the put-in.

The cars are parked, the gear is stowed in hatches, and everyone is ready to go at 10:00. This is a half hour later than our intended start time to take maximum advantage of the currents. That's not too bad. We have just heard a small craft advisory on Ian's weather radio. This makes Ruth and I in particular a little nervous. But we discuss the options and decide to start out and see what the conditions are like. We can always turn back, or wait in Hadley Harbor for the worst to blow out, and go back or continue on. The weather report is favorable calling for clearing and diminishing winds.

We head out of Eel Pond against the light at the drawbridge, just as a sailboat sounds her horn to raise the bridge. We paddle by the boat and out into to first of several holes we are to pass, Wood's Hole. There are four of these holes ahead of us today. They are defined by the spaces between the Elizabeth Islands where currents can reach 6 knots due to the tidal differences between Vineyard Sound and Buzzard's Bay. We have planned our start such that the current in Wood's Hole will not be too strong (2 knots) and the late start should have diminished the current further.

Entering the hole, we are helped by following winds off the starboard, pushing us across to Nonamesset Island and Hadley Harbor. We have decided to fight the weak current to seek safe harbor. Being helped by the wind gets us across quickly. At this point in the trip, I find myself wondering at the wisdom of going out today. The waves are piled up to two or three feet and I don't have a lot of experiencing in following waves. I wonder how Ruth is dealing with the conditions?

The crossing proves to be well within our capabilities, and we come into the calm of Hadley Harbor with no real problems. I scoot over to Nick discussing what our plan should be. He says that we should go out into Vineyard Sound and see what kind of protection we will have from the wind on the lee side of the Elizabeth Islands. I express concern about what Ruth might be thinking, but he seems to think that she will let us know if she becomes uncomfortable. I am kind of counting on Ruth's sensibilities to keep us out of trouble today. I know that Nick and Ian have more skill then Drew and I, so are more likely to want to forge ahead. Ruth, while more experienced and certainly a better paddler then myself and Drew, she lacks the just-go-for-it-and-see-what-happens attitude that Drew and I bring to most situations. She is more likely to think about the group skill level when considering the hazards of the trip.

We come on a little quickwater under a bridge between Nonamesset and Naushon Island that presents only a small challenge. Shortly after, we come out into the Sound. Naushon Island is affording good protection from the wind, and the following waves are enough to give us a pleasant push along the coast. Keeping a heading along the island proves easy, and we make excellent time down the coast. As we are paddling, I pick out the large green buoy number "27" in the middle of the sound that Drew and I dubbed Big Buoy on our trip of two years ago. It's a pleasure to see my old friend again.

We come in sight of Tarpulin Cove and the light house at the south-western end of the cove. It is not operating, but by day provides a good position marker. Despite the overcast skies, visibility is good with Martha's Vineyard easily visible three miles to the east. As people do not relish the notion of paddling with a cockpit full of uric acid, we decide to pull into a sandy beach inside the cove. This we do, pulling onto the beach at about 11:45. We deem this close enough to lunchtime, and combine the pee stop with a lunch stop.

This part of Naushon Island has a lovely beach, with a wooded area over some dunes in the background. We decide to get out of the wind, and eat under cover of the trees. We find a grassy spot under a tree, right next to a path that looks like its intended for off-road vehicles. The island seems deserted, but clearly someone is making use of it.

Lunch passes pleasanly, with talk about the political differences between England and the U.S. with Ian. He also entertains us with a story about returning to England and forgetting which side of the road to drive on. He nearly gave his Dad a coronary, to hear his account.

After lunching variously on pb&j, chips and salsa, avocado and bean sprout sandwich (Drew's odd choice), bagels and cream cheese (I find this a simple and effective lunch), and pickled fish on bread (poor Ian's cupboard was very nearly bare) we shove off our pleasant lunch spot in Tarpulin Cove for parts unknown. Drew and I are continuing to re-live our trip down here of two years ago. I tell Drew that soon we should see "Big Red", the large red buouy numbered 28 that marks we are close to Robinson's Hole. When I see the buouy, I point it out to Ruth and tell her that when it is at 9:00 relative to our heading, we are nearing Robinson's Hole. This is about two-thirds of the distance from Wood's Hole to Cuttyhunk.

The wind continues out of the north, north-east, pushing us on our way. It has a tendency to push us out into the sound, but we are staying close to the shore, out of the larger waves. The conditions are not too scary close to the island, and I think most of us are happy for the shelter. I find myself wondering what the conditions on the other side of the island must be. I suspect we would be having a much harder paddle over there.

We pass by Big Red and soon can see Robinson's Hole and, across it, Pasque Island ahead. The wind is really whipping through the hole, but it is narrow enough to block the worst of it. I remind Drew of the time we sat at the tip of Naushon Island looking south-west to Pasque, and thought about a trip in the future that would take us the rest of the way to Cuttyhunk Island. Now, here we are!

The crossing of Robinson's Hole proves quite exciting. I find myself looking forward to getting back into the shelter of Pasque Island. It is one thing to go out on a short trip looking for exciting water to play in, quite another to be ten miles from civilization in one direction, looking to paddle five more unknown miles to the next civilized spot. I am enjoying the surf here, but happy that I can see the end of it. I am hoping the wind doesn't turn against us, 20 knots in the face would really slow our progress!

Now I am in new territory. I have never paddled this stretch. Pasque is the shortes of the islands we will pass today, only a little over a mile long. It looks much like Naushon, rocky coast with cliffs up to grassy plains. Much of it looks like it would make a lovely golf course.

Presently we come to our next crossing. This is Quick's Hole between Pasque and Nashawena Islands. Nashawena is the last island before Cuttyhunk. I am excited about how close we are to our goal now! Just a few more miles and we have done it.

Quick's Hole is much wider than Robinson's Hole. It is more like Wood's Hole. The difference is that there is not a pleasant village on one side of the hole, as there is in Wood's Hole. The wind has plenty of space here to whip up some major waves. Soon I feel I am in over my head. I am aware that the crossing is less than a mile, and I can see the island ahead. But I am getting a little scared. Nick and Ian are playing in the waves, doing some surfing. I am trying to emulate them, but I don't have the necessary experience. I just want to stay afloat until I am on the other side.

Drew and Ruth are behind me, and I am waiting for Ruth a little as I cross. Ian is also behind me, with Nick not far ahead. I am trying to stay close to Ruth to give her some reassurance. Nothing is worse than being in a situation that is over your head, all alone. Thinking this, I am thankful that Nick is not going far ahead, and Ian is staying behind. I need the reassurance too.

Nick is paddling fast, letting a wave take his boat and turn it about. He just braces over the wave when it broaches him, then hurries up the catch the next wave. This looks like fun, but I don't know how to do it. I am just haning on for dear life. The waves aren't huge, maybe three to four feet high. But near Nashawena Island they become very confused with the current going along the islands, the current through the hole, and the wind whipping up the waves. Now I really feel unstable. I just want to stay up. The consequences of going over seem so dire. Will I live if I go over? I can't go over. I must stay up. I have to brace! I don't have the paddle face right! I'm going over!!

I'm over. Everything is quiet. I am relaxed. I am no longer worried about going over. I am dealing with being upside-down. I know what to do now. I set up to do a screw roll, leaving my hands in paddling position. I have poagies on, so I don't want to change my grip. Time is moving slowly, everything is very clear. I am set up to roll. I bring the paddle around, I slap it down towards me. I kick the boat around. I bring my head up, grab a quick breath.

I'm back over. It didn't work. That's OK. I have air for another try. I set up again, on the other side now. Sweep the paddle around, pull down, kick the boat around, head up, grab air. Now I see a really big wave bearing down on me.

I'm back over. Another unsuccessful roll is behind me. I'm still calm. Eventually I will try the Pawlatta roll, a roll with which I have much more success. But first, I try once more. Sweep, pull down, kick the boat around, grab a breath. I see Ian off my upright port just before I go over again.

Here I am back over again. Now I will try Pawlatta. But wait! I saw Ian. I can see his boat from underwater, it is so brightly colored. He is set up for a rescue. My decision is made immediately. I must not lose my paddle in this surf, so I grab it tightly with my left hand. My right hand a stick into the air and wave it back and forth in the kayaker's sign for a rescue. I wait.

In some unknown time, my air running low, I feel and see Ian's boat crash into mine. I am not at all afraid for my hand, which he could have hit, I just want blue sky (actually, all I will get today is gray sky). I grab his bow, but I don't feel I have a good enough grip. But I need air. I pull up enough to get me head out of the water and grab a breath of air. I go back down. I readjust my grip, and pull my boat around and upright.

To defuse any concerns over myself (and cover the fact that I feel like an idiot), I yell "I needed that!" I mean by this statement, that I was so worried about going over, that I am glad that I have now done it, so I know I can survive it. I suspect immediately that Ian is thinking that what I needed was his expert rescue. Well, he's right about that. He looks a little uncomfortable sitting in the big waves with me hanging on to his bow, so I shove off.

Now my boat feels even more unstable. I suspect I have taken some sea into my rear hatch, a thing that decreases the stability of my boat quite a bit. Nick paddles up saying "Are you OK?" I'm not quite sure what he is looking for here. I am up and breathing air. I am in the same surf that spun me around not sixty seconds ago. I yell back "I'm fine!" Am I?

Now I just want out of the heavy surf. We are not far from the protection of Nashawena, and make for it with a single-minded purpose. I have crossed out of the worst of the surf, but I am tense and I still feel unstable. Crossing near the south-east corner of the island, I go over again. But this time I move immediately to the Pawlatta postion rolling right back up. Ian, right behind me, yells "whoa, I just about went over with that one!" I'm not the only one having a problem.

I tell Nick that I would love to land and drain my rear hatch. He goes ahead, looking for a good place to land. I feel very unstable now, but I am beginning to think this is as much due to my nervousness as anything else. I calm myself a little by humming a tune, but panic is not far off.

About halfway along Nashawena Island, we realize that with the rocky coast and strong surf, we will not find a suitable landing. I steel myself to gutting out the rest of the trip to Cuttyhunk. I raft up with Ruth and Drew to rest for a bit. Drew says, "I don't pray very much, but I was praying as hard as ever during that last crossing!" I am really wondering now if we should have taken this on, or just done a sheltered paddle near Wood's Hole and gone home tonight.

I ask Drew to open my rear hatch and use my bilge pump to get some of the water out. This he does quite expertly. Now he is putting the hatch cover back on. "How do these straps work?" He can't figure out how to strap the cover back on. He makes several attempts, getting nowhere. Meanwhile, we are blowing out into the Sound.

Ruth shows her state of mind now by saying, "Guys, we are getting into some surf here!" I twist around into an impossible position and start trying to strap the hatch down myself. "Guys!" I am trying to feel the catch where the strap goes. "Guys!!" I've almost got it. "GUYS!!!" I get it on, seemingly just in time. we separate and paddle back towards shore, where Nick and Ian are calmly resting and discussing the lovely crossing, and why it is so much fun to get blown at high speed along such beautiful islands.

Meanwhile, I am most uncharitably thinking that Drew is a complete idiot. Now, in a more sober time, I will realize that I, too had trouble puzzling out how to lash the hatch down, while the boat was on stable, dry land. But now that I know how to do it, when we are getting blown out into heavy surf and Ruth is getting panicky, the one who can't figure out how to secure my hatch is clearly an idiot. Fortunately, Drew can't read my mind (or so I have been told).

Now we are really close to Cuttyhunk. But I can't get my mind off of that last crossing, from Nashawena to Cuttyhunk. I voice my worry, as it is weighing heavily on my mind. I am not too badly off here, next to the island blocking the full ferocity of the wind, but I am not paddling at my best in my current state of mind. All I need is another crossing like the last. I take my mind off of it for a while by humming a tune again, but the fear is lurking not far away. Ian has a chart, and he reassures me that Canapitsit Channel is much shorter a crossing than Quick's Hole was. Indeed, it is hardly a crossing at all, with a great spit of land reaching out from Cuttyhunk and forming the southern extreme of its harbor. I find myself doubting how easy this crossing will be. I really need to calm myself down.

Now we can see houses on the Cuttyhunk hillside. Civilization helps to calm me down a little. However, I imagine myself blowing out to sea with warm housing so close by. Hum a little tune, Dave. We come to the crossing and, it's not so bad. There is major surf right at the entrance to the channel. Up ahead, already making the crossing, Nick decides to avoid the channel. We would normally go through the channel, then turn west into Cuttyhunk Pond. With the windswept surf in the channel (it really looks nasty) Nick decides to make for the southern side of the spit. I like this idea, and would do this whether Nick were going this way or not. I will be happy to land anywhere on the island. It is a small island. I just want to feel solid ground beneath me, and I picture myself falling to my hands and knees and kissing it.

We come alongside the spit of land without incident. We head toward some pilings we can see in a small harbor looking thing in the spit. We are in very calm water now. I can see the shore ahead. The landing is sandy and calm. I am finally relaxed again. As I come around the pilings, I am a few feet from shore. Nick and Ian have already pulled their boats up. Drew and Ruth pass me landing on shore. I decide to do a roll right here, to boost my confidence. This I do, though it is not a very good roll. At least I get myself around.

Now sitting in the calm water of the bay, I don't feel the urgency to get to shore. I land, but forego the kissing of the earth. My dentist would perhaps approve. We have landed on the narrowest part of the land spit, and so carry over it quickly. The trip to the fishing pier, where we were told to land in order to find a phone, is short and easy.

On shore again, Drew decides to use my cell phone instead of hunting for change for the pay phone. He makes the call from the protection of the pay phone booth, which leads to some ribbing about yuppie cell phone owners. I like having my phone in my boat. I think it makes it less likely that I will venture out into a dangerous situation, just to return to civilization at a pre-arranged time. This way, I can wait out a tough spell, and make a call telling people who care that I am OK. I recommend it, especially for us married folk.

We are staying at a place called Pete's Place. The folks that run it are very kind. We were unprepared for the lack of facilities on the island, so we don't have enough food for supper. They deliver a care package of microwave popcorn, Oodles of Noodles, and some rolls. There is a grocery store on the island, but it closes very early. Instead of just eating the food provided, we decide to see if we can get the grocery store to open up. After all, it's in someone's home, the island is one mile long, how far away could the owner be?

We go to the store, and through the barking of the dog who owns this stretch of street, I knock on the door. Ian and Drew are with me. Through the barking, I hear a harsh exclamation. I don't know what to make of this, so I wait a bit to see what will happen. A woman appears, openning the door a crack. I say, "Could you sell us some food?"

The woman glares and replies after some hesitation, "Sure."

I say "Good guard dog!"

She replies "She knows what time it is!" Another hesitation, "But c'mon around in back and I'll open up."

At this point we are not feeling welcome here. We rush into the store, grab the food we feel we need, asking no questions of the storekeeper, pay, and rush back out. She has been on the phone the whole time, apparantly in the midst of a family crisis. At least we got food!

We return to our temporary abode. It's more like a 2 bedroom apartment then a motel. It's really quite comfortable. I especially enjoy the hot shower after my rolling in the sub 50 degree water. Then we go for a walk around the island.

Cuttyhunk is very small. There are two paved roads on it, and I don't see a signpost naming them. Perhaps they are Cuttyhunk1 and Cuttyhunk2. People get around on island primarily on golf carts and mini bikes. There are a couple of pick-ups, but the only one I saw running was the one that the folks from Pete's Place used to transport us 100 feet up the hill to the rental unit. We walk the length of the island, then out a spit of land to another hill with a couple of homes on it. It's a nice way to wrap up the day. We catch a beautiful sunset on the way back, now that the clouds have cleared away enough. The sun sinks very quickly over the distant hills of the mainland. Looks like sunset in the desert or over the Pacific.

We return to our home to munch on chips and salsa, popcorn, and a heaping plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce. There is much talk about the crossing of Quick's Hole. We are wondering what tomorrow may bring. A 25 knot wind in the same direction as today will probably keep us on the island for the day. None of us want this to happen, and I go to bed hoping that the lovely sunset portends fair weather tomorrow.

I find the bed rolling and heaving when I close my eyes. In my mind I am rolling up in heavy surf. My heart is pounding. I am worried that I have to do all the same crossings tomorrow that I found so frightful today. I dream of the time that I will find the surf as fun as Nick and Ian seem to. Eventually, I drop off into a deep, dreamless sleep.

The sun awakens me at 6:30 AM. My room faces the west, but the sun is so high and strong as to make sleeping seem pointless. Ruth and I put together a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon. This arouses the rest of the crowd. There is something about the smell of fatty bacon that banishes anything but eating it from the mind, including sleep. I know for a fact that Drew the human vacuum cleaner is thinking of little else at this point. I am thankful that the nice lady at the grocery store deigned to allow us this boon. But for her we would be eating Ian's canned fish for breakfast.

The day is fantastic, with a fresh breeze at 10 knots or so out of the north, north-east as yesterday, and bright, beautiful sunshine. I love this hour in the morning, when the sun is bright and the dew hasn't yet dried from the grass. The early bright sunlight is giving us an early start, as we are shoving off at about 9:00 AM, after our hearty breakfast, and cleaning up the house in appreciation for the hospitality afforded us. We also left a small tip.

We have been transported in our sleep to a vastly different land. The ocean here is calm and friendly, like a lake. The land is bright and welcoming. The crossing to Nashawena, despite the wind in our faces, is pleasant and easy. I still can't stop worrying about the Quick's Hole crossing that is coming up. Somehow, I feel this part of the planet is my mortal enemy. It certainly put the fear of God (or at least the Greek god Poseidon) into me. But I convince myself that the Quick's Hole of this new land to which we have been transported overnight will be as vastly different and friendly a place as it was foreboding and terrifying yesterday.

We pass amiably up the north-west side of Nashawena Island, ganging up together occasionally to practice sculling and chat about the lovely weather. Being on the other side of the island chain now, we cannot see Martha's Vineyard close by, as we could yesterday. The mainland is more distant here, making me feel further from the global village. Presently we near the end of this island, and Quick's Hole. Nick spies a beach in a small cove, and all agree the time has come for a pee stop.

Up a hill, all these islands are just hills jutting up out of the ocean floor into the bright sky, there are grasslands. Mowing the grass are cows that Nick says are highland cows. They are hairy, looking like little wooly mammoths. There are large rocks strewn at random around the rolling hillocks, and a road running away toward the other end of the island. We are close enough to Quick's Hole that I can see it over a hill. It looks quite as calm as Canapitsit Channel between Cuttyhunk and this island, Nashawena. I am no longer worried.

The crossing is indeed very easy. I am enjoying this day a lot. After yesterday's excitement, for which I am developing an appreciation, a pleasant paddle on calm water suits me fine. Time is making yesterday's panic more remote, and I am starting to enjoy the memories of paddling in heavy surf. But for today, I am happy to enjoy an easy paddle.

Pasque Island passes quickly, and we cross Robinson's Hole to Naushon Island. We head to a long, sandy beach not far up Naushon Island with an eye to eating lunch. The water here is Carribean green and clear. The sand is snow white, making an excellent spot to eat and enjoy the bright sun.

After lunch we make our way along the island, looking forward to the final crossing of Wood's Hole to our starting point at Eel Pond. Ruth is getting tired now, and sick of fighting the wind. I tell her to keep her eyes on the Weepecket Island's ahead. When we are close to them, we are close to the north-western end of Naushon Island and our last crossing.

We are perhaps one or two hundred yards off the coast, and the wind has now to the north-east, right over the island. Ruth wants to get up closer to the island to block this wind. As we approach the island, I see the place where Drew and I landed on our trip two years ago. It's the spot where the surf was big enough to land me on my butt when I got out of the cockpit. This puts us much closer to the Weepeckets than it actually appears, and I tell this to Ruth. Her spirits are improved also by getting into the lee of the island. It is very calm and warm here, and I am enjoying it also.

Presently, we rejoin Drew, Ian and Nick who have stayed further away from the island. We play among the rocks a little, and eventually come around an outcrop to an entrance to Hadley Harbor. I earlier told Nick that we could get to Hadley Harbor from this side of the islands, but he doubts me. I'll just have to show him!

We paddle up a little river, past some horses grazing on Uncatena Island, and under a bridge into Hadley Harbor. What did I tell you, Nick. I get out into the small harbor, where there are some pleasure boats tied up, and stop paddling for a bit to look around. I like this spot a lot. It is not overly well known, small, with a view of a large mansion on Naushon Island where you can occasionally see horses scampering about. I drink this in for awhile, then join the others who have landed on the tiny Bull Island. Here, we empty our bladders one last time, and sit about in the sun looking at the lovely harbor.

We are here a little after 4:00 PM, close to slack current in Wood's Hole. This suits me fine, as Wood's Hole can be vicious. We get back in the boats, and head out of the harbor towards Wood's Hole. The hole is very calm right now, Nick and I rush out across it toward a large buouy in the middle. We stop there, waiting for the others and watching a bird nest in the buouy. We wouldn't have done this during yesterday's crossing!

Now we complete the final crossing, and are approaching the entrance to Eel Pond. The trip has been both eventful and pleasant. I have learned a lot about myself, and probably improved my skills by challenging them. I am tired, but sad that the trip is so close to completion. I don't want it to end. In the pond, Drew and Ian entertain us with a couple of rolls. I don't feel like joining in, as I did my rolling yesterday and like being dry today. Soon summer will be here, and I will want to roll to cool off. But today I am content to have an easy day's paddle behind me, and the memories of yesterday's difficult crossings to ponder.

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