Swan Song, having just sailed through Wood’s Hole – en-route to Edgartown, traveling through the swells in Vineyard Sound.

Our nautical chart, having nearly disintegrated after the first few waves broke over the boat, was pretty much useless, despite having been carefully stored in a zip-loc bag. When you’re sailing a small sailboat, and the wind and the waves kick up, absolutely everything gets soaked through with sea-water, no matter how carefully you packed. Hours earlier, we had donned our foulies, cast off the mooring in Edgartown, and found ourselves fighting a steadily increasing northerly wind as we reached the outer limits of the harbor and where it fed into Nantucket Sound. Wind from this quarter meant almost a dead beat for the entire eleven miles we had to travel through Nantucket and Vineyard Sounds to get to Wood’s Hole, the narrow and sometimes treacherous passage through which we had to sail to get back to Buzzard’s Bay. From there we’d sail all the way across the Bay and finally back to Marion. It was going to be a wet, rough, and very, very long sail home. We had sailed to Edgartown a few days beforehand to race in the H Class Championship, and now we had a short window in which to leave and sail back, while the weather still held.

Tiger Moth Racing the Vineyard Ferry

Racing the Vineyard Ferry

Sailing with a soggy, barely readable chart can be a little tricky, especially upon leaving Edgartown Harbor, and trying to figure out where it’s safe to start heading north. There are lots of shallows there, and rocks, and even with a draft of only 2½ feet, nearer the shore-line we’d have to keep an eye out. We ventured out on a reach, keeping Middle Flats to port, following the buoys to stay with the deeper water, and then began to head for Wood’s Hole, turning more northward, sailing close on the wind. We had a long way to travel, and so we settled in and sailed our best course, tried in vain to keep things dry, and prayed that the wind wouldn’t let us down.   You see, we were at the mercy of mother nature’s schedule, hoping to get to the passage in time for a favorable current, or even better, slack water, to make our way through to Buzzard’s Bay. Finally, after hours of having sailed hard all morning, we arrived at the entrance to Wood’s Hole, earlier than expected, to find that the northwest current was still pouring through it from Vineyard Sound into the Bay – as the channel markers straining against their chains very visibly attested. The Vineyard ferry passed us as we approached, and the only other boats we encountered were a couple of very large ones, who were valiantly steaming away against the flow, heading to the Vineyard. Despite the current, we decided to make a go for it anyway, rather than wait the two hours until the momentary tidal equilibrium of ebb and flow, otherwise known as slack tide.

If you’ve ever sailed through Wood’s Hole, you’ll understand how unnerving the passage can be, even for large power boats.   But in a small boat, under sail power alone, it can be downright frightening.  Once we passed the red gong at the entrance to the channel near Nobska Point, we could feel the current gathering, and as we travelled farther, it pulled us along so quickly that it felt as though we were skating on ice, the careful set of the sail and a steady hand on the tiller the only things keeping us from losing control and crashing into the rocks on either side. One small miscalculation, and things could get out of hand pretty quickly. Luckily, we had memorized the chart for the Hole, so we knew where we needed to maneuver. With the current pushing us through, we decided to turn left at G “5” and take the shortcut through Broadway, (the passage with the big rocks fouling both sides of the narrow channel), and then left again on to The Strait, just after the notoriously dangerous Middle Ledge. It was exhilarating! After we had completed the passage, and had been pushed out the other side of the Hole and into the Bay, relief mingled with a certain sense of sadness that half the trek was now behind us. All told, the voyage home would be a long one; by the time we caught our mooring in Sippican Harbor, we would have been on the water for nearly 10 hours, travelling, with all the tacking, close to 30 miles.

It might sound a little crazy to most people, but we had sailed all that long way from Marion to Edgartown in order to participate in the annual H Class Championship, carrying on the beloved tradition of racing the venerable Herreshoff Twelves. And yes, our epic, 30-mile voyage from Edgartown back to Marion was sailed in this little 16-foot boat, with its open cockpit — the very boat famously designed by none other than Nathanael Herreshoff himself. These beautiful boats are sailed and raced religiously at our home port in Marion, and they have a lovely and long tradition on all of Buzzard’s Bay, most notably at Wing’s Neck, Quissett, Marion, and Naushon.

Sail Laundry

Drying out the Mainsail

When we finally got back to Sippican Harbor, we brought the boat into the Club dock, unloaded our soaking wet bags and supplies, and hosed down the entire boat, which was by now encased in a layer of thick, crusty salt. But despite her long and windy voyage, the sturdy little sloop was in fine fettle, having dutifully brought us safely from shore to shore – sailing through Wood’s Hole twice, and with several days of hard-fought racing in between.

Brava Swan Song!  For she’s “the little yacht that could!”

Deborah Bennett Elfers
I was practically born on a boat, though on a working lobster boat rather than a sailboat. In my early days, I sailed quite a lot on a Sunfish, but not very elegantly, as in our little neighborhood “fleet,” the boat was primarily used as a weapon in a wildly popular game of “kill the other guy!” Who could have imagined way back then, that one day I’d become so passionate about all things sailing?
Deborah Bennett Elfers
Deborah Bennett Elfers

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