Nick's Cuttyhunk Trip

Kayak Trips

"Small craft warnings" said Ian's radio. It didn't look too bad from Eel Pond, but then again if it did we would be in real trouble. We headed out against the red light as the draw bridge as it was opening. The incoming boat didn't seem to mind, we didn't take up much room in the channel.

Wood's Hole is renowned for swift currents pouring through between Buzzards Bay and Martha's Vineyard Sound. The currents can toss the big channel buoys around like so many lobster buoys. With the wind blowing in from the bay, we should be prepared for some serious kayaking.

The crossing of the main channel was actually pretty tame. The current was near slack and Penzance Island blocked most of the wind. It wasn't until we started toward Hadley Harbor that the waves started to pick up. The wind had the full fetch of Buzzards Bay to build some nice waves. The shoals where we could see breakers at the entrance to Woods Hole knocked them down a bit, but they were left with enough strength to hide the horizon when the kayaks where in the trough. With this rough gauge you can estimate the height to be 3 to 5 feet. The waves were well behaved. Most were rounded with no breaking.

The waves were more than we wanted to deal with for any extended period of time, but we were soon in the relative shelter of Hadley Harbor. The wind was at our back and we would be able to sneak out of the harbor the back way.

Dave and Drew had spent a lot of time studying "Eldridge's" to determine the optimum route to take advantage of the tides. The currents around the Elizabeth Islands tend to flow one direction on one side of the islands and the opposite direction on the opposite side. We intended to take advantage of this by riding the current down the south side going west and up the north side coming back east.

Fortunately the wind was from the northeast on this Saturday, so we would be sheltered from the brunt of the wind and waves and what ever wind remained would be at our backs. The combination of favorable winds and tides made for excellent progress. The bluffs on the islands marched by without effort.

We pulled into Tarpaulin Cove for lunch. The cove is a crescent of sand with a house and light at the eastern end. We pulled on to the powdery white sand and sought shelter from wind a little back in the woods.

After the obligatory chocolate chip cookies and some further exploration of the woods in response to the call of nature, we re-embarked. The wind was blowing pretty strong once you were out of the lee of the land. By hugging close to shore you could avoid most of it and the waves were not substantial. So I stayed further off shore.

Robinson's hole is the narrow gap between Naushon and Pasque Island. The opening let a little bit more of the weather coming down Buzzards Bay through to where we were paddling. Fortunately, we were still pretty well sheltered. The waves picked up a little but not enough to cause anyone any concern. We were quickly across and back in the shelter of Pasque.

Pasque is a small island. With the favorable wind and current we made it to Quick's Hole without hardly trying. Just sitting around talking we made good time. Paddling made us just fly by. Before we knew it we were at Quick's Hole.

Quick's is very different from Robinson's. It is a wide straight passage joining the bay to the sound. The wind and waves from Buzzard's Bay run through unimpeded. The tide had started through the other way. Figuring on being pushed by the wind I suggested we head straight across. The wind would push us down toward the point we would round. As we crossed, the waves built up. I was having a good time. Drew accused me of smiling too much. The waves were two to three feet, with continuous white caps and breaking. The wind funneled down through the hole was over 20 knots. My kayak felt alive. With waves coming from the side the wind is not that big an effect on the boat. Much of the time the boat is down in the trough sheltered from the wind. I don't know if it is the boat or me, but I don't have problems controlling the boat in winds. I think it is attitude as much as anything.

I don't try to fight the wind and waves. If I get knocked off course, I don't struggle to readjust. I wait, figuring eventually a favorable wave will come to help me back on course. I'm not sure my attitude is shared by everyone, Ian was smiling, but when I yelled, "HAVING FUN?" to Ruth the words were blown away, but the tone was less than a complete affirmation.

The tide must have been enough to counteract the wind and waves. We were not drifting down toward the point. We were headed for the beach. While a nice spot, the beach was not where we wanted to be. I yelled out that we should turn down wind.

We were keeping pretty close formation. Dave and Drew were out front, Ian was close behind. Ruth was next with me just inshore and slightly back. We were all within about five boat-lengths of each other. The incoming current and outgoing wind combined to make the waves more violent here close to shore. Waves reflected off the shore made it hard to tell where the next hit was coming from. I told Ruth to just look ahead and not to worry about what was coming up behind. You can predict what is coming up behind by the wave you are on.

I looked over at Dave to see him broadside to a wave bracing away from the break as he slowly went over. He quickly setup for a roll. He rolled halfway up on the down wind side and was quickly knocked back by a breaking wave. Ian moved into rescue position as he setup again. He was knocked back again. He was up long enough to see that Ian was right there, a couple feet away. He didn't bother setting up for a roll. He just stuck his hand up to wave Ian in. Once he had a secure hold on Ian's bow, he adjust his grip on his paddle so he wouldn't lose it and hoisted himself up and said, "I needed that."

I cruised by and asked him if he was all right. Receiving a coherent answer I went to catch up with Ruth and Drew. I suggested we give the point some leeway to avoid the disturbed water reflected off the shore. Dave and Ian went inshore of us.

Dave had taken on a little water in his rolling practice and he was looking a little unstable. Sure enough, he went over. I turned to see if I could help. Drew and Ruth continued on to find a place to land. Ian was right there for a rescue. Dave rolled right up first try.

By this time we were almost out of the worst of the waves. We paddled around the point looking for a suitable place to land and drain Dave. Most of the shore was large rocks with little opportunity for easy landing. It would do in pinch, but this was not yet a pinch. Dave and Drew decided to pump Dave out, so they rafted together with Ruth. Ian and I drift around talking about the crossing of Quick's Hole, the relative merits of various kayak designs, and assorted other things that one talks about when drifting in a kayak, during a slow drizzle, off Nashawena , with 20+ knot winds blowing above your head. Ian allowed as to how there were one or two times when he actually had to brace while crossing Quick's Hole.

Drew got Dave pumped out and learned how to close Dave's hatch and we continued on. We immediately found a beach suitable for landing. Since we were now almost to Cuttyhunk we didn't bother.

It looked like there were breakers all the way across the entrance to Cuttyhunk. The wind blew the tops of the waves into spectacular spin drift. After the Quick's Hole experience Dave wasn't too happy about it. I led the way across, looking for a break between the waves. They actually didn't look exceedingly large, the wind was just making them look menacing. The passage up the center of the channel looked relatively calm. I kept an eye out for other places where the waves broke as we neared the other side. A nice long section of spindrift appeared of a wave directly where I was considering going. So I didn't.

There was an alternative. Cuttyhunk harbor is protected from the south by an exposed sand bar with a breakwater at the end. When I had looked at Ian's chart I had noticed the sand bar was quite narrow at some points. By heading south around the breakwater we had sheltered paddling up to the sandbar. I aimed for what appeared to be the lowest part and landed on a nice sand beach.

Dave did a quick roll before landing to prove to himself that he could. We then carried the boats across the bar and paddled the rest of the way into the harbor.

Cuttyhunk is a popular cruising spot during the summer, but two weekends before Memorial Day it is pretty sleepy. There were three sail boats moored and a few boats at the town pier. The people we were renting our accommodations from came down in their pickup to help us with our stuff. They informed us that no restaurants were open and the general store closed at 4:30, in other words 15 minutes ago. Contemplating PB&J for dinner we checked out the house where we were spending the night.

The house had a shower. Our hosts brought over some spare provisions. The sky was clearing. All was right with the world. After hot showers all around we took a walk around the island.

Last time I was at Cuttyhunk it was inundated with deer. The deer are no longer a problem, there are just 2 or 3 bunnies on every lawn. Browsing bunnies, boxing bunnies, bounding bunnies, big bunnies, baby bunnies, bunnies, bunnies, bunnies. And happy dogs.

Cuttyhunk is not a big island but it has a small year-round population, a school, library, and historical society. We quickly covered most of the island and took in a beautiful sunset. The proprietor of the general store even opened up to let us buy the makings of spaghetti and breakfast.

Nobody had any problem sleeping and we awoke to a glorious clear day. A slight wind blew in from the northeast. After an scrambled egg breakfast that couldn't be beat, we paid our hosts, packed the kayaks and headed out.

A completely different day from the trip out. Clear and sunny with a breeze of less than 10 knots. Sure, it was in our face, but it served to cool us down. The view over our shoulder back toward Cuttyhunk presented a cozy little village on a pretty little island. This is not what it looked like in the wind, rain and mist of the previous day. I had fun doing slalom through the rocks a long the shore.

We pulled out at the eastern end of Nashawena to reconnoiter Quick's Hole before crossing and relieve bladder pressure. There was a heard of contented looking Highland cattle grazing on the point when I miss a great photo-op of Dave with his wet suit down around his knees. Quick's Hole was very calm, but nobody wanted to explore the white caps I saw.

We put back in and made an uneventful crossing over to Pasque. After more rock slalom, we made it to Robinson's Hole. We crossed over to a nice beach on Naushon, for lunch. After a good meal including, chips and salsa, Pringles, and cookies we continued on up the coast.

I like paddling right on the edge of the ocean. In amongst the tidal rocks you can find a lot of fun. Cutting through narrow gaps between boulders, finding alternate paths out of little bays, timing the waves to make it over a shallow spot, it beats taking the straight point-to-point path. Sure, you paddle further, but you aren't paddling because its the fastest means of getting there anyway. Of course my brand-new wood kayak now has some ugly dings and scratches.

Dave knew the back way in to Hadley harbor, so we headed in for a nature break on Bull Island. After doing what needed to be done and reading the informative sheet posted about Lyme disease, we made the final push back to Wood's Hole.

Just as we passed Penzance entering Wood's Hole harbor, we sighted the first other kayakers of the trip. We pulled into Eel Pond eight hours after leaving Cuttyhunk. Ian and Drew practiced some rolls before we packed up.

We arranged to meet Donna and Lisa at the Bourne rotary, from there we went to "Stir Crazy" and excellent Cambodian Restaurant. The drive home after dinner took a couple hours.

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Nick Schade

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