September 13th, 2013

lego me

[Paddle] MV-ACK Interisland


Some paddles, you slide over glassy sheets of water with time to chat, drink, snack, take photos, and relax. The interisland traverse from Martha's Vineyard to Nantucket is not like that. The subsea topology is a constantly-changing mixture of channels, shelves, and sandbars. Currents can move in 3 directions, sometimes intersecting in a single spot. When it's bad, it's a den of serpents that want to grab the sides of your boat and pull you under. When it's good, it's a hammer to your stern that picks you up and hurls you at your destination. These conditions require constant attention to balance, stroke, and orientation. Just taking a drink or checking a map demanded rafting two boats together for stability. We didn't talk much. We drank furtively and quickly from tubes. We took few photos. And it was glorious.

edgarton, mv
Setting out from Oak Bluffs wicker motorcycle

Day 1 started with a ferry ride from Hyannis to Oak Bluffs. On the phone, the fast ferry people were circumspect about bringing two sea kayaks on-board. In person, the deck hands were excited to wheel our boats into the nearly-empty cargo hold. After an easy crossing, yuper and I geared up fast amid Oak Bluffs' gingerbread cottages. With a tidal switchover approaching in 90 minutes, we needed every minute we could get to make the 5 mile paddle down to Edgartown to avoid paddling against heavy current at the destination. We struck out for what we thought was the gap between Chappaquiddick and Edgartown, quickly leaving the safety of the harbor and entering open water. A strong wind from the West threw waves at our immediately-soaked right sides. Yuper got caught by a surprise wave and took a brief swim. [Sidenote: our new Mariner spray skirts feature a pump gasket so that you can bail your boat without taking in new water in rough seas. It works great, and it's a feature I'll demand on all future spray skirts.] As we approached land, it quickly became apparent that we had aimed for the wrong area and were now a few miles east of Edgartown on the Chappy shore! We turned straight into the even-stiffer headwind and slowly fought the current into Edgartown. I had underestimated this leg of the journey since it was so small compared to Sunday's interisland paddle. I really should have used my marine GPS to give us a proper heading. Eventually, we passed a lighthouse wedding, reached our little dockside hotel in Edgartown, and tied up the boats. Edgartown is sleepy during the offseason, so we limited our night out to provisioning Sunday's breakfast (couldn't find anything better than power bars) and grabbing dinner. With the hot tub out of service (grr!), we got to bed early, ready for a big next day...

Sunrise over Katama Bay
Headlamp Gear-up Arrival in Nantucket Harbor

Day 2 began an hour before sunrise as we geared up and slid our boats from the dock exactly at the 5:45am slack tide. The interisland currents run west-east, so you get a boost but only as long as the flood tide is on. Starting with slack gave us exactly 8 hours until the other slack point in Nantucket harbor at 2pm. Go slowly or have a problem, and you're working against the current at the end of the trip when you're most tired. Well-motivated, we headed south through Katama bay with the sun rising behind dark but dissipating clouds. We got hung up a few times on shallow spots, but quickly reached the narrow "cut" that separates mainland Martha's Vineyard from Chappaquiddick. This dangerous water is where wind-fetched ocean breakers meet bay currents, so we pointed our bows straight into eye-high waves and got out into deep water as fast as possible. After that, we rode current and wind directly into the sun as the GPS instructed us to. It wasn't long before we completed the 8 mi open-water crossing to arrive at Muskeget, with its large and curious pod of seals keeping a watchful eye on us. From there, we passed north of Tuckernuck island and eventually routed around the breakwater into Nantucket harbor. The shipping channel is dredged very close to shore, so we had a close call with an incoming ferry but nobody got run over and we landed safely. After a lunch and a little bit of exploring, we loaded the boats onto the car ferry back to Hyannis and drove home with shoulders less aching than expected.

MV-ACK Paddle Route crescent moon over hyannis

Total distance: about 35 miles over both days. A consistent ~10kt wind from the west and ~1-2kt current assists made total effort levels somewhat easier than distance would imply, but the help came at the cost of technical/choppy water that needed constant attention. Other than that, we had few clouds and reasonable temperatures so conditions were about perfect. This interisland traverse was one of my three outstanding "dream paddles" left over from last season, so it feels good to knock this one off. Connect this trip to 2011's Chatham-Nantucket route and I have now covered a good deal of the southern Cape's coast. Next up: figure out how to get to the evocatively-named "Noman's Land...