A Treasured Moment in Time
When we dock, there's no welcoming committee. No one's working on the fishing pier. Six boats still bob in the water, but nobody is messing about in them. There's something appealing about visiting a place in the off-season; you have it all to yourself. There's no competition for the best dock space and no standing in line. Plus, we can make believe that the island is as empty of people as the day Bartholomew Gosnold claimed it for the Queen of England. With fewer than four hours of daylight left, my brother Allen and I decide to hike to the west end of the island to a tower memorializing Gosnold's discovery for Europe of the island and Cape Cod, on the Massachusetts mainland.
The walk up Broadway, the main street, calls to mind a visit to a ghost town in the Old West. Not a soul in sight. Although it's Friday, the island store is closed. From the hill above the monument, we can see the bridge to the seaside city of Newport, Rhode Island, about 25 miles to the west.
When we get back to the boat, it's almost dark. We remove the washboards to get below, and the smell of roasting beef, onions and garlic welcomes us aboard. While we've been exploring, my brother Davis has been cooking a prime-rib dinner. A substantial evening meal is a tradition on the boat. There will be no Dinty Moore beef stew out of a can for Nepenthe's crew. Besides feasting on prime rib, we are going to have all the fixings: oven-roasted potatoes, winter squash, garlic bread, and gravy, with a little red wine thrown in for taste.
My dad and Uncle Ernie are sitting at the table paying cribbage. Cribbage is another tradition on the boat. If it were a summer evening, Ernie and Dad would be playing cards out in the cockpit, enjoying their highballs and watching boats sail into the harbor and anchor. But this evening they're down below because the temperature is already in the 30s F, and a low of 25 F is predicted. As much as I like a summer night at anchor, coming into a warm cabin heated by what will be a delicious dinner and lit by a flickering wick of an old brass lamp has to be one of the cherished benefits of having your own boat and family and friends to share it.
Saturday morning, we wake to clouds. A cold wind is blowing out of the northeast. NOAA radio announces small-craft warnings for the waters from Chatham, Massachusetts, to Watch Hill, Rhode Island. So Nepenthe and crew will brave the waves and 25-knot winds and go home today. Heading for Westport, the wind will be on Nepenthe's starboard quarter, giving us a broad reach. Our boat will head home like a wayward child who doesn't want to go to bed.
When we reach the halfway point in our sail home, it starts snowing. Sailing in the snow is something most people don't do for recreation in these waters, and it may be a sign that we tried to stretch the season just a little too far. But for me, having the snow hit my face is another reason why I love this family tradition and the crewmembers, who are eccentric enough to love it with me.
As we approach the Westport River, our objective is to sail into the mouth of the river without starting the diesel. The trick is to avoid hitting Knubble Rock, to port, while not running aground in the shallow waters just off Horseneck Beach, to starboard. In a strong breeze, there's no better way to end a sailing season than to sail all the way right to the docks at the F. L. Tripp and Sons boatyard at Westport Point, a mile and half upstream.
But today the northeast wind is blowing right down the river. So as we did at Cuttyhunk, we start the engine and motor the rest of the way. We tie up at the floating dock next to the Travelift because Nepenthe is coming out of the water tomorrow. In a couple of weeks, I'll drive down to Westport to make sure she's safely stored in the shed. Then I'll take a walk on Horseneck Beach. I'll do the same thing in February just to see her and tell her that we can't wait until she's launched again on tax day, April 15.
With Nepenthe in his wake, John Bergstrom now sails Adagio, a 34-foot O'Day, on Cape Cod waters.