Sunday, August 23, 2015

Vacationing with the Obamas

We are anchored in the harbor at Vineyard Haven, in the town of Tisbury on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts (map).  As luck would have it, President Obama and his family are vacationing on the island right now as well, but other than Vector being overflown by a VH3-D Sea King in presidential white-top livery yesterday afternoon, we have not been impacted by his visit. The same can not be said for patrons of the annual Ag Fair yesterday morning, where an impromptu visit apparently brought everything to a standstill.

Sakonnet Light, which we passed close aboard. The rocks look ominous, but the water gets very deep just a few feet away.

Thursday we had a pleasant cruise from Fall River, down the Sakonnet, rounding Sakonnet light and heading due east across Rhode Island Sound and Buzzards Bay to Cuttyhunk Island, the outermost of the Elizabeth Islands. The Sakonnet was quite lovely, and we were surprised by how few boats we saw, a stark contrast to the other side of Aquidneck Island.

We dropped the hook in Cuttyhunk's outer harbor (map), a couple hundred feet from a bell buoy that chimed for us all night. We had a nice dinner aboard, with the starkly beautiful Nashawena Island, just east of Cuttyhunk, as a backdrop. Shortly after we arrived, the enormous three-masted schooner Arabella anchored a short distance away.

Louise pointing out Vector in the harbor from the top of the hill. That's Nashawena in the background.

Friday morning we splashed the dinghy and tendered in to the docks in the inner harbor, known as Cuttyhunk Pond. Both the channel and the pond are deep enough for Vector but there is no room to anchor, with the pond completely full of moorings. We strolled around the island, admiring the well-kept, typical southeast New England architecture, and taking in the breathtaking views from the top of the modest hill mid-island.

We stopped at the small general store for fresh milk on our way back to the tender; there are no other stores on the island, and the lone "restaurant" is a pizza shack with a few picnic tables in the driveway. We enjoyed our walk through this quaint village that few people ever see.

We just happened to stop the chain with one of the freshly-painted marks right at the gypsy. This one is 100'.

We weighed anchor shortly after noon for the three hour cruise to Martha's Vineyard. Access to Vineyard Sound directly from Cuttyhunk is via a narrow, shallow channel with a tricky current, inadvisable without local knowledge. Instead, we steamed east-northeast past the north shore of Nashawena and cut across at Quicks Hole, where we found three knots of current behind us in the hole (the local parlance for a cut through the archipelago) and I had to steer by hand to keep her steady.

While less pronounced than coming through the hole, we also had between one and two knots of favorable current all the way up Vineyard Sound until the final turn around the north end of Martha's Vineyard. We made great time, with the hook set mid-afternoon before the harbor filled up for the weekend. We got a nice spot close to the breakwater; an hour later and we would have been twice as far from town.

This is a busy harbor, with a constant parade of ferry boats coming and going. The car ferries are operated by an outfit known as The Steamship Authority, though it has no steamships. The community dinghy dock is adjacent to the ferry slips in the inner harbor, where a number of moorings are also available.

A pair of ferries cross paths just north of us. These two behemoths are not even the largest ferries that call here.

We had a relaxing dinner on the aft deck Friday, and were treated to a fireworks display in the evening, across the spit in Oak Bluffs, the annual benefit for the fire department there. Afterwards we got to watch the conga line of cars across the causeway trying to get from Oak Bluffs to elsewhere on-island.

I spent some time Friday afternoon looking into island tours. It's a big island, and with no easy way to offload the scooters, I wanted to find some alternative means to see more than just Vineyard Haven. That proved to be a bit of a challenge; there are no regularly scheduled tour buses or trolleys. Instead, tours are offered by local transportation companies in vans, at $80 per hour with choices of one, two, and four hour tours. Not bad if you can scrape together six or seven people, but a bit steep for just two. Scooters are also rented on the island, at $100 for the day, or we could have rented a car for about $80.

What I learned in the process is that the island has an extensive transit system, with a dozen bus lines covering the whole island. Eight dollars buys an all-day, all-lines pass, and we opted to pony up just $16, rather than ten times that much, to spend a couple of hours getting around the island. There are six towns on the island, and we opted to see three of them on a combination of three bus lines in a big loop. We also made a short excursion on a fourth line to the quilt shop a couple of miles from here, but it turned out that this trip was within the park-and-ride free fare zone.

The buses were quite comfortable and the drivers were happy to answer our questions. On our first ride we learned that Vineyard Haven is "dry," meaning there are no bars or package sales, although you can get a drink with dinner at a handful of restaurants. That would help explain why the next stop, Oak Bluffs, is a much busier place. There is a harbor there, too, but it is tiny, with no "outside" anchorage, and one must take a mooring ball. Moreover, when it gets busy, the harbormaster assigns more than one boat to a ball, and rafting is mandatory. Not our style.

The best I could do to capture Oak Bluffs Harbor. If you look closely you can see boats rafted up on the moorings.

We disembarked the bus at Oak Bluffs to walk around town. We opted to skip the country's oldest carousel, which is hidden away inside an arcade building. There is a large ferry landing here, too, and the fast ferries from Manhattan land here. On this, one of the busiest weekends of the year, the town was packed. We boarded another bus for the ride to Edgartown.

In Edgartown we again strolled the town, with its characteristic architecture harking back to the days when whaling crews called it home. As with all of Martha's Vineyard, the town is filled with shops hawking merchandise to tourists, in this case very upscale merchandise -- this is a spendy place to vacation. You might think you'd need to be President or something. Speaking of which, across the channel from Edgartown is Chappaquiddick Island, whose name is synonymous with an incident that likely kept Ted Kennedy out of the White House. We opted not to board the minuscule ferry for a visit.

The Edgartown Harbor from the observation deck atop the town pier. Chappaquiddick is on the left and Martha's Vineyard is on the right; the two islands are currently connected by a sand bar (center) that comes and goes over the decades.

From Edgartown we hopped on another bus for a quick 20-minute loop down to South Beach, one of the many picturesque sandy beaches on the island. This one was once home to fixed artillery emplacements, some ruins of which can be seen from the bus. We did not even get off, electing to simply enjoy the view from the bus and return to the Edgartown terminal. From there, the cross-island bus brought us back to Vineyard Haven.

That was plenty of touring. With another hour or so we could have taken another two buses and stopped in the other towns as well, but this is the height of tourist season and we had reached our bag limit. Seriously, after seeing the identical stores and restaurants in three places, three more seemed more of a chore than an adventure.

After returning to Vineyard Haven I put some fuel in the dinghy, then we walked over to the Copper Wok for dinner -- it's been a long time since we had Chinese food, and we've pretty much overdosed on quaint seafood houses now. We also knew it was one of the places in town where we could get a beer.

This morning we went back ashore for breakfast at the Art Cliff Diner, a Martha's Vineyard institution. We had a half hour wait on a Sunday morning, but the food was worth it. A provisioning stop at the Stop & Shop supermarket rounded out our visit, and we decked the tender when we returned. In a few minutes we will get under way for Wood's Hole.

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