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Learn to SAIL BUZZARDS BAY then sail the world
Panorama of Cuttyhunk Harbor and Canapitsit Channel, Elizabeth’s Islands, Massachusetts, U.S.A.   Photo by R.Veitas-Limantas
Cuttyhunk Harbor and Canapitsit Channel
By Martynas Limantas

In a twenty-three foot Sonar sloop, Kuršė (pronounced Curshai – derived from the name of a tribe of merchants and raiders that lived along the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea in the 10th-12th century), an abundance of sunshine and good wind, my father and I departed Fairhaven harbor bound for Cuttyhunk Island across Buzzards Bay.
Martynas aboard Kuršė, Menemsha Basin, Martha’s Vineyard Island, Massachusetts, U.S.A.   Photo by R.Veitas
Menemsha Basin
It was early September in these New England waters and glimpses of the coastline offered church towers and old Victorians still submerged in summery blossoms. The seasonal heat had diminished to absolute comfort on this particular Wednesday afternoon, as we carried full sails and made progress down Massachusetts’ coastline. The wind direction was not favorable for our desired course; therefore, we tacked up to Cuttyhunk Harbor. Not only the wind was against us, it was also light. The Sonar only has a 100% jib, but we did have a lightweight drifter sail. Therefore, we furled the jib and hoisted the bigger drifter. The effect was immediate; Kuršė made faster and better progress in the light breeze, reaching seven knots at times. Within two hours, we switched back to starboard tack, stowed away the drifter and set the jib again. We had crossed Buzzard’s Bay and soon were in the lee of the Elizabeth’s Islands. With one final tack, we were on course into Cuttyhunk Harbor. We approached it with a beautiful sunset over the open sea. With the motor down and the sails furled, we entered the narrow channel leading to the visitors’ dock. We hit a sandbank but luckily managed to recover without any damage. It was only the beginning to our run-ins with shallow waters, narrow channels and “angry” currents. Luckily, this one was brief and with professionally swift work of my experienced seaman father, we were off and running smoothly once again.

The sun was below the horizon when we finally tied up at the Cuttyhunk visitors’ dock. The air was still; it was very quiet all around except for the crickets ashore.
Course of Kuršė in Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound, Massachusetts, U.S.A   From NOAA Chart 1210Tr (Not for Navigation)
Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound
The night came fast as the last of light along reddish horizon rapidly faded to dark – the full moon rose along the eastern sky. The serenity of the island was hypnotizing.

It did not take long for us to realize morning would be better suited for exploding the island. Back on board with the motor running, we pushed off and navigated slowly out the channel to anchor in the outer harbor. It was dark by the time we anchored and stowed everything away. The night sky was bright with moonlight by the time we sat down to eat dinner. Hot tea complimented a delightful meal of rye bread, cheddar cheese and salami after a long day’s adventures.

This was the life! I felt free sitting in the boat’s dimly lit stern, enjoying everything that was around me. Truly relaxed, I watched the lantern’s lightly flickering flame and wished that this never ended. The night was beautiful: cool and crisp with a bright, full moon broaching the sky; the soothing rhythm of the ocean; and breaking waves crashing ashore. I just sat and enjoyed the gentle rocking of the boat, a cool breeze and, above all, the sound of the great ocean in the distance…

We left Cuttyhunk around noon. The sky was mostly clear, only a few stretchy clouds laboriously moved from west to east. There was hardly any wind and the sails were of no use, so we relied on the motor instead. Clearing Canapitsit Channel between Cuttyhunk and Nashawena Island (Elizabeth Is.), we turned for Menemsha, located in southwestern part of Martha’s Vineyard. The sea was calm with no wind, so we crossed a six nautical mile stretch solely using the 3.3hp Mercury outboard motor. Ebbing tides made the approach tedious, but with the pleasant early September weather, the crossing was satisfying nonetheless.

A sandy, slightly curved coastline reached to both sides of the harbor entrance. Beyond the beach and past the harbor, white summer cottages peeked through the dark trees. Surrounded by dark pine trees and snappy oaks, this beautiful vacation destination made for lazing carelessly by a pool or sandy beach. Past the lower hills, you could see higher ground with more summer cottages and dark pines stretching on and on. To the far right, past the last cliff beyond the beach Menemsha’s lighthouse stood tall against the blue sky.

Once inside the small and narrow harbor, we docked. Down along the pier stood anchored fishing trawlers with a few fishermen unloading their day’s catch. The other side of the harbor consisted of privately owned docks, occupied by cruising motor boats and yachts. Along the dock were small fisheries that sold a vast assortment of shellfish caught by local fishermen: mussels, clams, scallop, shrimp and lobster.

Menemsha Creek, Martha’s Vineyard Island, Massachusetts, U.S.A.   Photo by M.Limantas
Menemsha Creek
After Kuršė had been docked, the sails furled, and other necessities stored away, we set off to explore the area. The smell of fish and sea was strong as we walked past rusty fishing boats and on down the wood-planked dock. Past the pier along the hilly terrain, white summer cottages nestled in the wooded landscape. The streets were full of tourists enjoying the last days of summer, and appeared mobbed in comparison to the stillness of Cuttyhunk Island. We walked slowly passed gift shops, eateries, restaurants, hardware and tackle stores and a local market; the day was beautiful, warm and sunny. On the way back, at one of the fish stores, we indulged in a hot cup of local clam chowder. It was delicious!

Once back on board, we decided to anchor outside the harbor. By now, the wind had picked up slightly and was blowing from S-SE. For this wind, Menemsha Bight provides an excellent shelter, diminishing wind drag and eliminating rolling waves. We exited the harbor through the narrow passage with extended seawalls reaching on both sides and carefully steered the boat out, watching for the shifty, strong current and mini-whirlpools. Soon after, we turned off to the left and anchored.
Menemsha Bight, Martha’s Vineyard Island, Massachusetts, U.S.A.   Photo by M.Limantas
Menemsha Bight

Though we had settled into our berths and anchored, we did not stay put for very long. Tuning in the weather forecast, we were informed that the wind would be shifting to the N-NE after midnight. That meant that even though the evening was beautiful and the winds had died down, by morning, it would be blowing directly at us-we would be on a lee shore. We considered our options for better shelter. Moving in closer to shore or hiding behind the seawall seemed a bit too dangerous due to the changing tides and strong currents. The other side of the bay would provide very little, if any, better shelter in comparison to our current anchorage. Therefore, we decided to take our chances and enter the very poorly marked Menemsha Pond. Poorly marked for reasons we were soon to discover!

The sun was setting behind us as we re-entered Menemsha Basin. Once again carefully navigating Kuršė – strong grip on the tiller – watching the currents and staying to the left down the narrow channel to avoid shallow waters, we made slow progress towards the red buoy. We passed the privately owned docks to our left and to our right were mini sand dunes with growing reeds along the shore, giving way to a small lagoon where a few catamarans rested. The current was very strong due tidal flooding, so we had to stay vigilant at all times, noting the progress of the boat. As we approached the red buoy, located at the end of the channel, which we needed to pass on the left, we noticed a forty-foot yacht hang up on shallow waters just beyond it. As we only draw four feet, taking a chance, we proceeded. Just as we passed that same sharply tipping red buoy and nearly collided with an anchored boat, due to my novice boating skills, we went aground!

My father revved up the motor, while I leaned out on the port side of the boat, pulling on a shroud to tilt it to reduce our draft, in an effort to get us moving. Unfortunately, our efforts were to no avail. The water was too shallow and the boat was solidly aground, and unwilling to give even the slightest inch. We persisted, doing our best to tilt the boat, but the keel just would not budge. We finally decided to turn off the motor, anchor, and wait for help. The tide was still coming in and would peak in about a half hour… In the mean time, help arrived in a form of a small powerboat. A line was attached and after a struggle and the resistance of the sandy bottom of the channel, the sloop came off. We thanked our rescuer and were on our way.

Very carefully, surrounded by beautiful views, we powered on. Suddenly we realized that our forward progress was due only to the rapid current. The motor was running, but not propelling. The shear-pin had broken! Quickly, in order not to drift aground once again, we anchored. The motor was brought into the cockpit, the propeller disassembled, the shear-pin replaced, then put together and placed back in the water. All along, unnoticeably, the sloop kept drifting. Luckily, before another meeting with the sandy bottom could occur, the motor was in place and propelling once again. With the boat heading 180 degrees to its previous heading, we moved for the exit.
Jonas and Martynas enjoying clam chowder and beer, Martha’s Vineyard Island, Massachusetts, U.S.A.   Photo by R.Limantas
Jonas and Martynas
The desire to spend a night within calm confinement had vanished. There was no reason to risk another unpleasant accident. We went back to our original anchorage outside the harbor and settled for the night. Soon nightfall was upon us. We sat in the stern, drank hot tea and discussed evening’s adventures; the boat was gently rocking and soon we went to sleep.

The morning dawned with waves rolling onto shore and a gusty N-NE wind. Up and out of my sleeping bag, after I had gazed through an open hatch for a second or two, I went up on deck. To wash up, we dove into the ocean – a natural wake-me-up, good exercise and above all proper hygiene. Not long after, we pulled up the anchor and headed for the harbor. We spent the day exploring, driving around and visiting different parts of the island of Martha’s Vineyard. After supper, around five, we returned to the sloop and with the sun now low, we departed and headed for Tarpaulin Cove (Naushon Island, Elizabeth Is.).

The wind was light, but nonetheless we managed to make headway with full sails. As we gained distance from shore, the wind increased. Halfway across Vineyard Sound with the sun dipping to the horizon, we were now “flying” and the jib and mainsail working in perfect harmony; we were pushing seven knots. The sloop glided through the water, on a starboard tack, beautifully slicing the waves. The last of the days light soon faded, but with clear skies and a full moon rising, the visibility remained clear. We entered Tarpaulin Cove guided by its lighthouse and anchored solely under sail so as not to disturb the deep silence. A dozen or so boats lay anchored for the night. It was a calm evening with a starlit sky. We stored away all that was necessary and sat down in the stern to discuss our last crossing. Some voices and faint music came from surrounding boats, but soon ceased and only the undulating waves and pines created a lasting finale for the end of the day.

I was up before dawn, slipped into my pullover and went on deck. I sat and watched as the eastern sky started to change. It was very calm and hardly any wind. Soon the sun emerged from under the sea with a promise of a beautiful day. The coastline behind me and the lighthouse up on the cliff slowly came into focus.
An old haven for pirates, Tarpaulin Cove, Naushon Island, Massachusetts, U.S.A.   Photo by M.Limantas
Tarpaulin Cove
The colors were sharp, the rocks, the beach, the pines…

Soon we were ready and with motor in use, we parted glaucous waves down along the rocky coast of Elizabeth’s Islands. For stability purposes only, the main sail was up, because the wind was very weak. We headed for Quick’s Hole between Nashawena and Pasque Islands (Elizabeth’s Is.). There were a few fishing boats along the shore with seagulls trailing their sterns like a tail; down across Vineyard Sound, a ferryboat approached Martha’s Vineyard; and a towboat hauled a disabled motor boat.

Heading from Tarpaulin Cove, the closest channel between Pasque and Naushon Islands is the very narrow Robinson’s Hole, which is darted with strong currents, shallow waters and rocky coasts on both sides. Our intention had originally been to sail past the unwelcoming strait and slip through the wider and much safer passage known as Quick’s Hole. Did we not have enough adventures already? With a resounding NO!, and the assurances of my father, I accepted instructions to aim for the green entrance buoy for Robinson’s Hole. Once past the first buoy, one green, three reds and the last green still loomed ahead. With the motor revved to three quarters of its potential and moving against a daunting current, nerves taunt and adrenalin pumping, we inched our way through. Ever so slow, eventually, we were back in Buzzards Bay – very calm Buzzards Bay and only fifteen nautical miles away from our mooring in Fairhaven Harbor…with enough gasoline?

The sun was up and the morning haze had burnt off, overall a great day to spend on the water. To our misfortune, there was only one factor missing – the wind. There was hardly any. With the mainsail up for stability, and the motor for forward motion, we snailed towards Fairhaven. We had to run the engine, burning gas. One thought hung over us like the proverbial black cloud, do we have enough gas? Luckily, we did - just enough. We passed the entrance and the engine died as we tied off to the mooring.

It was a great trip!

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