Elizabeth Islands and Martha’s Vineyard

After refuelling, we dashed across Newport entrance to Cuttyhunk in the Elizabeth islands in poor visibility. When we arrived early evening we anchored next to two boats we knew and settled in for an early night. In the morning we were completely fog bound and couldn’t even see Cuttyhunk which was only a few hundred feet away!

The dock in Cuttyhunk

It was a ‘full English breakfast’ type of morning so after our brunch and a morning of catching up with work we were ready to explore.

The island only has about 35 permanent residents and the small museum depicts the basic lifestyle over the years. The nearby 75 acre Penikese island, has had a variety of uses. In 1904 it was purchased by the state of Massachusetts for $25000 to use as a leprosy hospital then closed in 1921 when the state burnt and dynamited the buildings! It was also briefly considered as an isolation island for people with AIDS and from 1973 to 2011 a private residential school on the island was used for juvenile detention of troubled boys and operated a substance abuse treatment programme.

Overlooking the islands

We decided to leave late afternoon as the visibility was adequate and we had no wish to be fog bound again. This is a fairly typical weather pattern for the area. We had a pleasant sail, passing some of the other islands on route to Hadley harbour in convoy with two other boats, and on arrival even managed to russell up a meal for six. It was a beautiful setting with a few grand isolated and very private holiday homes. As the sun set a deer came down to explore the small sandy cove.

Hadley Harbour

We moved from the outer harbour to the inner lagoon for the next night and explored the shallow creeks in the dinghy, deciding to leave the next afternoon for Martha’s Vineyard as the weather was benign and settled.

You have to love the typical New England Verandas!

Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts island, sits in the Atlantic just south of Cape Cod. A longtime New England summer colony, it encompasses harbor towns and lighthouses, sandy beaches and farmland. It’s accessible only by boat or air. Vineyard Haven, on the eastern end, is a ferry port and the island’s commercial centre. Another village, Oak Bluffs has Carpenter Gothic cottages and an iconic carousel.

We arrived mid afternoon and anchored in Vineyard Haven. We took a quick trip ashore to get our bearings and decided to eat ashore. We had a good meal in the Black Dog pub. The story is that Robert Douglas, born in Chicago in 1932 spent his childhood summers escaping the hustle and bustle of the city at his parents’ summer home in West Chop. He watched the Vineyard ferries traversing the waters between the island and the mainland and in 1960 he left the Air Force and built a topsail schooner for himself, using early construction techniques and materials wherever possible. He later acquired a black Labrador dog and the inn.

One of the ‘Black Dog’ schooners

Out of his love for the sea, his island home, and of course, his dog, The Black Dog brand was born. So says their website!

We decide to sail the next day to Edgartown on the east side of the island to get a more protected spot away from the passing ferries.

We went up the river but found there was no anchoring allowed so returned to the outer harbour. Boats of all shapes and sizes, traditional and modern were here. Including one of the worlds largest super yachts called Le Grande Bleu. She is 113 m long, 18m wide and comes complete with a helicopter pad, 72 foot sailing yacht and 68 foot motor boat, both of which can be winched into the water! Originally owned by Roman Abramovich, he reputedly gifted it to a colleague, when he bought a larger one!

A 72 ft yacht on the deck

We met up with some fellow ARC sailors on Supertramp who were planning to sail north to Maine. We swapped details on experiences so far and plans for the future, including potentially getting our boat wrapped and updating equipment over the remainder of the summer.

The Edgartown Yacht Club

We enjoyed the facilities at The Edgartown Yacht Club which perpetuates the maritime traditions of Martha’s Vineyard and Edgartown and encourages friendly competition on the waters around the Island and ashore which was founded in 1905. The social life of the Club – so creative and active today – began in these earliest years with clambakes and old-fashioned ice cream socials.

Martha’s Vineyard – a big US tourist destination

Those first few years of the twentieth century were a time of great change in the town of Edgartown. The whaling era, which had come to a sudden end after the Civil War, still animated the memories of the oldest inhabitants, and family vacationing through the summer season, as we know it now, was some years away.

We took the bus to explore the island because apparently cycling can be a little risky on the island! We went to the Gay Head light, which had had to be moved to stop it falling into the sea from the eroding Aquinnah Cliffs — the clay cliffs, formerly known as Gay Head — were carved by glaciers millions of years ago. From the top we could see the Elizabeth islands we had previously been to.  The Aquinnah Cliffs are part of the island’s Wampanoag reservation.

The lighthouse cottage

The Wampanoag are one of many Nations of people all over North America who were here long before any Europeans arrived, and have survived until today. Wampanoag, means People of the First Light.

The eroding Aquinnah Cliffs

In the 1600s, there were as many as 40,000 people in the 67 villages that made up the Wampanoag Nation. These villages covered the territory along the east coast as far as Wessagusset (today called Weymouth), all of what is now Cape Cod and the islands of Natocket and Noepe (now called Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, pursuing a traditional economy based on fishing and agriculture.

Sculpture in Chilmark Harbour, Menemsha Creek a fishing village on of the locations on the island where Jaws was filmed

Newport, Rhode Island

We left Bermuda at 09:00 on Thursday 29 June. We arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, USA, another previous home of the Americas Cup, after sailing for just under 4 days on Monday 3 July at 07:00.

The hazy view and the eary sound of the fog horn on Beaver Tail Point lighthouse guided us into Newport where we anchored in Brenton Cove, where you can anchor for free outside the moorings for up to 14 days. After a quick tidy up we contacted the customs office to organise our customs and immigration clearance.

Brenton Cove Anchorage

We were given several options of docks to take the boat into to meet the customs officer who would do the paperwork and potentially search the boat for items that are not allowed to be brought into America. We chose Perrotti Park, a dock which turned out to be very easily accessible and where we met another British boat also waiting for customs. The customs clearance was quick and easy – too quick unfortunately as the customs officer, who was new in her job, despite taking our money omitted to issue our cruising permit, a document legally required when cruising in the US. (Eventually after many phone calls and emails we did get a copy, but it took several days)

It always surprises us how friendly everyone is in the long term cruising world. A chance encounter provided an invitation to sundowners that evening and the opportunity to meet other cruising boats who had previously crossed the Atlantic in a different rally called the Barbados 500. We had briefly met most of these boats in Bermuda just before we left – they left together the night before us. Their occupants provided a new social circle and the opportunity to learn about other destinations, intentions and experiences.

Having cleared customs we returned to the anchorage and started by cleaning up the boat and getting settled for some time exploring, plus some sleep.

Clairborne Pell (Newport) Bridge, spanning the east passage of the Narragansett Bay

We had hoped to make it to Bristol to see one of the oldest 4th July parades in the states, however we were quite tired from the journey and woke up too late to catch the bus to make the best of the day. Instead we watched an amazing fireworks show from the boat which was one of the best spots in the harbour.

Independence Day fireworks

Although American independence from British rule is widely and happily celebrated there was no animosity towards us joining in the party. Houses and boats were cheerily dressed in red white and blue. Everyone was enjoying the holiday atmosphere and the events.

Newport has a a holiday atmosphere and although it is clearly centred around sailing there are plenty of other activities too. We spent almost a week here acclimatising to living in America.

There was the visit to the chandlery to purchase charts for the area, several very good bike rides with a handy leaflet marking routes, cliff walks, beaches, surfing and several historic houses to visit and also there was the opportunity to provision the boat at a fraction of the cost of in the Caribbean.

We spent a happy half day at the Breakers Mansion on Orchre Point Avenue – the grandest of many huge mansions, learning about the 1890s summer cottage, it’s construction and lifestyle.

The Breakers Mansion

Commissioned and owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, whose family fortune was made in steam ships and later in the New York Central railroad. The mansion was built in the Italian renaisance style with lots of excess, gold gilt and platinum on the walls and ceilings.

Amazing opulence

Lavish parties and the importance of being seen and dressed for the occasion were clearly the order of the day, with the women of the household changing outfits five times a day for different activities. It was a totally different world for the rich families of the gilded era.

Italian Renaissance style

We used the bikes to explore and shop for provisions. The more or less flat environment was a welcome change after the volcanic hills and narrow roads of the Caribbean which made cycling impractical.

The iconic Newport Yacht Club Burgee over the Stars and Stripes

We had Sunday lunch at the New York yacht club’s Newport base. A lovely old house with a commanding presence and view over Newport Sound and the anchorage.

Ladies dressed to lunch

After a few days we decided to explore the rest of the estuary and sailed up to Bristol for a visit to the Herreshoff museum.

Beautiful Herreshoff designs

We were able to pick up one of their free buoys and also got a discount on the entrance fee for coming by boat! A very interesting exhibition and the opportunity to look inside some of the old vessels built by the talented brothers.

You could even climb on board some of the vessels

We spent the night in Potter Cove, on Prudence Island,  a wonderful national estuarine sanctuary with an abundance of green grass and variety of trees, another reminder of home and a complete contrast to the Caribbean.

It was time to move on so we left early to exit the river via Dutch harbour and purchase some fuel from a commercial fish quay at Galilee, in Judith’s point harbour. This was the cheapest place for refuelling our 1000 litre capacity fuel tanks, so worth the slight detour west before continuing east again towards the Elizabeth Islands.

The Galilee Fuel Dock – the cheapest diesel in the area

The random names here are great. Most have been copied from English towns and villages, based on their heritage and the area was very reminiscent of Beaulieu, with the large houses set in sweeping lawns only ending at the river bank and their private jetties.

Even the weather was cooler and variable much like England! The main difference is the size, everything is bigger! It is New England, USA.