We were up early Sunday morning to catch the favorable tides out of Newport Harbor for our 68 nm trip to Nantucket. At 5:49 am, I slipped our mooring lines off and Adrienne guided us out of Newport Harbor. By 6:15 am, we were in Rhode Island Sound and heading east for Nantucket. The sun just over the horizon was blinding but the seas were gentle three-foot rollers and winds were light.
We had had the generator on since 5:30 am and everything seemed fine. I turned on the water maker and for the next two hours, and we made nearly 100 gallons of water. The generator never missed a beat. It seems that our problem all long had been the sea grass in Newport Harbor.
Across Rhode Island Sound and Buzzard Bay the current was against us and we were able to only make about 8 – 9 knots. However, as we neared Vineyard sound the current began to shift and we were moving along briskly at 10 – 11 kts. The ride was delightful compared to the other times we had traversed Buzzard Bay and Vineyard Sound. Adrienne did have fun dodging the Martha Vineyard and Nantucket Ferries. It seems that every time she takes the helm commercial traffic of some kind shows up.
We were soon in Nantucket Sound. I was thrilled to find the winds quite light, and we easily snagged our mooring buoy. By 1:30, we were tied up and making lunch.
After lunch, we launched the dinghy and tried out the new outboard. It took a while to get used to the sensitivity of the throttle, but we were soon tied up at the dinghy dock. We took a walk around town to stretch our legs and take in the quaint houses with window boxes and gardens filled with magnificent flowers. As we walked, we felt fatigue catching up to us, so we headed back to the boat for an early dinner and bed.
Monday morning, we decided that we would take a walking tour of the city given Monday afternoon by the Nantucket Whaling Museum. The tour was based on the story of the whaling ship Essex as recounted in Nathaniel Philbrick’s book In the Heart of the Sea. So we hopped in the dinghy to buy our tickets at the Whaling Museum since we were not sure how popular the tour might be.
After buying our tickets, we wandered around Nantucket looking at the various art galleries and other stores. We particularly liked Dane Gallery, which had some beautiful hand-blown glass “latticino shells” by Treg Silkwood. One of them would look great on in our family room back in Florida. After touring for a while, we hopped back in the dinghy and went back to the boat for lunch.
Our tour was to begin at 2:15 pm, so after lunch, we drove the dinghy back to town and headed for the museum. Since we were a little early, we detoured to the bakery and had a few cookies to kill time. Our tour started promptly at 2:15 pm. There were nine of us on the tour plus our tour guide Karen. Almost everyone on the tour had read the book, but Karen gave us a brief synopsis. The Essex was a Nantucket whaling ship that sailed to the South Pacific in the early 1800s. The ship was sunk by a large sperm whale and the book is about the crew’s efforts to survive in three small whaling ships. The story of the Essex was the inspiration for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
Our tour started at the Easy Boat harbor, where the Essex had left Nantucket in August 1819. At that time Nantucket was the whaling capital of the world. On board were Captain George Pollard and First Mate Owen Chase, both of whom we would learn more about on our tour. Our tour guide, Karen, was excellent. Her descriptions of Nantucket in 1819 helped to bring alive the lifestyle on the island in those days. Nantucket today is a cute boating and beach mecca for summertime visitors. But back then it was a working-class community with poverty and the dirt and smells that came with processing many tons of whale flesh every year to produce the precious whale oil that was at the heart of the economy.
Most of the men aboard the Essex were from Nantucket and they were all young. Pollard, the captain, was the oldest at 28. And the crew and officers were well acquainted with whaling and whale ships since they lived and breathed whaling from their infancy and played among the whale ships as children.
The expedition started out successfully enough during the first year. The crew had killed many whales and had barrels of whale oil on board. But shortly into the second year, while the crew was in the middle of a whale hunt, an alpha bull sperm whale, which measured some 85 feet in length, rammed the side of the Essex and tore a hole in the side causing it to sink. As mentioned, the Essex carried three whale boats, which were small and light and used for the hunt. But in this case, they became life rafts. All the crew, about 20 men in all, managed to get into these boats before the Essex sank. They had precious little food and water, and only two boats had any navigation equipment. They were in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean.
Pollard wanted to head toward the nearest land, which was a Polynesian island. But the men objected because they believed that cannibals inhabited the island. Instead, they wanted to sail to Valparaiso, Chile, over 1,000 miles to the southeast. Against his better judgment, Pollard agreed to sail for Chile. The irony is that the 8 men who survived this journey, 5 of whom were from Nantucket including Pollard and Chase, did so by resorting to cannibalism. At some point along the way, they decided to draw straws to see who would be killed. The man who got the short straw was shot and consumed by the remaining men. Pretty grim.
One boat was lost and never heard from again. Two were found not too far from Valparaiso. The men were near death, basically bones inside skin bags. They were honest about their ordeal and admitted to the cannibalism. All 5 Nantucketers returned to Nantucket and all 5 returned to whaling. However, after a successful career as a whaling captain, Chase died a broken man with mental illness. Pollard became a captain and was given command of a whaling ship, but this one was lost on an uncharted reef off the Hawaiian Islands. He was never given command of another ship after that. He was well loved by Nantucketers, however, and returned there to become the night watchman for the town. Both men lived into their 70s.
On the tour, we saw both Pollard’s and Chase’s houses, as well as the Unitarian Universalist Church where many of the Nantucket crew from the Essex worshiped and were married. We strolled down Captain’s Row, where many of the sea captains built houses. We also learned that the families the whalers left behind had to struggle to make ends meet because the men got paid when they returned from their whaling trips. Women outnumbered men 4 to 1 and really were in charge of governing Nantucket because the men were so often at sea.
The tour and our guide were excellent. We both have read the book, and the tour made the book come alive for us. It was very worthwhile.
After the tour, we returned to Curiosity to relax and get ready for dinner, which was at the Centre Street Bistro. We were there the last time we were in Nantucket, and our recollection was that the food was very good. This time, we found it to be good, but not excellent. The menu was imaginative enough but the execution could have been better. We started out with an appetizer of thinly sliced seared tuna over a bed of Asian slaw and dressed with sesame oil and balsamic vinegar. This was quite good, but there was entirely too much dressing. I had Bistro Pad Thai with fried shrimp for my main course. Again, it was good, but the pad thai lacked some flavor and the shrimp were bland. Adrienne had pan fried chicken breast with burrata, basil, and fresh tomatoes. Also good, but the chicken wasn’t seasoned and it was fried to an inch of its life. We opted for a dessert of blueberry pound cake with fresh raspberries, lemon curd, mounds of whipped cream and raspberry coulis. The flavors were very good, but they could have cut the amount of curd and whipped cream in half.
After strolling around town for a bit after dinner, we headed back to Curiosity to relax and get ready for the next day.
Our plan for Tuesday morning was to rent a scooter and tour the island. We packed our bathing suits, lathered on the sunscreen and caught the launch to shore. It had been over four years since we last rode a scooter but the scooter shop was very good at giving me a refresher course. After a few trial runs, Adrienne hopped on behind me and we were off. Our plan was to visit two beaches – Madaket on the far western end of the island and Siasconet on the far eastern end of the island. This would be about a 30-40 mile ride.
We left the scooter shop and faced our first obstacle – cobblestones. Many of the streets in central Nantucket are paved with very uneven cobblestone. Riding a scooter on them is a very bumpy and slippery procedure, and there is basically no way to avoid them. But with Adrienne navigating and me driving, we made it out of town and headed out the appropriately named Madaket Rd. The road was relatively straight but occasionally we would reach a series of tight s-curves. Normally these would not be a problem but there was a very strong cross wind that was definitely impacting my driving. We reached one curve, where it was obvious that I was not going to make the turn. All I saw was a mailbox rapidly approaching the front of the scooter. Fortunately, I was able to stop quickly and although the bike nearly fell over, we were able to catch it and maintain control. Whew!! Too much excitement!
After catching my breath and letting my heart rate subside, we continued and soon reached Madaket Beach. The beach was beautiful with gently crashing waves from the Atlantic. We sat and watched the beach for a few minutes and then walked over to Millie’s Market and bought a large blueberry muffin and a bottle of water, which we promptly consumed. Scooter riding is hard work!
Back on the scooter, we headed east planning to tour some of the areas north of Madaket Road. We turned up a road and headed north. The road quickly became dirt and after a while I figured we had no idea where we were going and the road did not have great traction. So we turned around, cut through some very nice housing developments and finally reached Cliff Road which led us back to town.
To get from Madaket to Siasconset, you have to go through town, which means more cobblestones and a lot of traffic. We made it without incident and soon were heading out of town to the east. We turned up Polpis Road, which wandered through the northeast section of Nantucket. It was a nice ride, with a lot less wind, and I was getting more comfortable driving. Soon we reached Sankaty Head Lighthouse. We hopped off the scooter and headed up to the lighthouse.
Sankaty Lighthouse was built in 1850 on the easternmost cliffs of Nantucket Island, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Over time the cliffs eroded away until the lighthouse was on the verge of falling into Atlantic. In 2007, the lighthouse was acquired by a non-profit foundation and moved about 400 feet inland. The move was highlighted on a TV series called Monster Moves, which you can watch on Youtube (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ftrZtGZ9Hgw) and which we actually saw last year. When we arrived at the Lighthouse and read the placard about the move, it took us a few minutes to remember that we had seen a show about this. It was an engineering feat and well worth viewing the video.
We then headed to Siasconset, had some sandwiches for lunch, and headed down to the beach. It was low tide, and the beach rapidly slanted down to the water. Right at the water’s edge, the sand was covered with many small rocks. While I waded in the surf, Adrienne took the plunge and swam in the chilly water. She found it quite refreshing. We stayed on the beach for about 45 minutes and then it was time to return to town.
This time, we took Milestone Road, since it was a straight shot back to town. Unfortunately, the wind was howling again and there was a lot of traffic on the road. Cars and trucks were constantly passing us. It was not the most interesting or pleasant ride, but we made it, and by 3:30 pm, we had returned the scooter unharmed and with all our limbs still intact. I was exhausted.
After a quick ride back to Curiosity and a shower, we took the launch back to town for dinner. We had reservations at The Proprietors Bar and Table, a restaurant that was opened by the former chef at American Seasons, a restaurant we had really enjoyed the last time we had been in Nantucket.
After the scooter ride, I needed a drink, so I read over the specialty cocktail menu. The only problem was I recognized none of them! Nonetheless, after talking with the waitress, I ordered number 7. No name, just number 7. It was a drink containing Sotol (a distilled spirit that is the state drink of Chihuahua, Durango, and Coahuila), honeydew melon and basil. Weird but good.
Adrienne and I then shared three small plates. The first was Crispy Rock Shrimp with miso chili dressing, avocado, and furikake (an Asian spice mix). It was excellent. The second was Crispy Thai Style Broccoli with peanut sauce, Sambal and lime vinaigrette, and an Asian slaw. This was so good that even George Bush might eat it and like the broccoli. The third dish was Kimchee Pancakes with Pork Belly. This was the least successful. Good but not as good as the other two. Overall, however, this is a restaurant to which we would definitely come back.
Tomorrow we are off to Hyannisport.