Cruising Cape Cod and Nantucket

Saturday, 26th May.


Estelle and I flew back to Vittoria, into Boston, late yesterday evening. My favourite local ale is Harpoon IPA and several pints of this at the marina chilled us out after a tiring 5 hour flight delay at Heathrow. A day out in Boston today started with a "10 minute" walk to the railway station (that was in reality a 30 minute, 2 mile walk) and a frustrating time wrestling with the station ticket machine. We tried to get help from two other sets of locals but one lot only spoke spanish and the other chinese. After missing a train, we finally jumped the un manned ticket barrier.


However Boston was well worth a visit. We walked the 4km Freedom Trail, following a red line in the pavement that took us past all the main revolutionary and colonial - era sites. We lunched on lobster rolls, shrimp and oysters at the popular Quincey Market (started in 1825) and watched the talented street performers. Being suckers for that sort of thing, we finished the day with an entertaining trolley bus tour of Boston before opting for an easier return by taxi.

Sunday 27th May.


In the morning we provisioned at the excellent local "Stop n Shop" supermarket and after lunch departed for Scituate, over 20 miles to the south. Unfortunately Vittoria's alternator was soon putting out over 16 volts of charge into our 12 volt batteries so we had to tack out through miles of busy, narrow Boston island channels against the incoming tide for many hours for fear of destroying the batteries. It was not at all the leisurely passage we had originally expected and we arrived, just before darkness, quite stressed. It had been our third consecutive day of problems with "boats and trains and planes".

Monday, 28th May


Memorial day in the US so no chance of help to fix the alternator. Chilled out on the boat all day on a mooring buoy. In America they pronounce them boo ease. In the evening dinghied in to the pretty village for a stroll. A good bar, several restaurants open, and pretty New England houses.


Tuesday, 29th May


Had an engineer on board to sort the alternator problem. The back up one had been fitted in Boston because of suspicions with the other one but the marina had sent both alternators off for checking and they had been deemed OK. The engineer struggled to swap alternators, showed me how to disconnect it if the problem recurred and charged me $275. At low water, with only 0.1 metres beneath the hull, we departed in the afternoon for Provincetown, 30 miles away on the northern tip of Cape Cod. Into the wind the whole way and after 2 hours the 16 volt problem returned and disconnecting the alternator didn't work. Fortunately I was able to get the engineer on my mobile and we worked out how to dis connect it.

That night, on a buoy, just inside the breakwater in Provincetown harbour, we cooked the first of the season's fresh, wild, Atlantic, sockeye salmon for dinner - it was amazing, dark red and the best tasting salmon ever.

Out of the blue, I received a text from a friend in the UK asking was it me cruising out of Boston? Apparently she had an app on her ipad that showed, from my use of AIS (Automatic Information System that warns other ships of your prescence), that Vittoria was cruising in the Boston area.

Wednesday, 30th May


This morning we dinghied ashore and took a very interesting trolley tour around Prrovincetown and out to the Cape. The Pilgrims first landed here, in the Mayflower, before moving on to the more fertile lands at Plymouth on the mainland.  The Cape is a great place for wild cranberries and the town is dominated by the commemorative Pilgrim Tower. Princetown is a must see with a thriving gay and artistic community with masses of twee New England houses, art galleries, bars and restaurants. We lunched at the Lobster Pot, run by some old ladies, but ourselves and the nearby table had to send our waiters away 3 times because the amazing local seafood menu was so difficult to choose from. I loved the Wellfleet harbour oysters but Estelle was keener on Russian oysters with "caviar" and sour cream. We both agreed the local steamers (clams) were great. Some of the local lobsters were over 5 lbs and we watched a small asian lady tucking into a monster the size of her leg. There's a local wine made at nearby Truro and the Sauvignon Blanc was "different" but quite reasonable.


Mid afternoon and off to Wellfleet Harbour, a 4 mile long "estuary" about 3 hours away, to anchor for the night off Great Island. Loads of eider ducks en route - I was surprised to see them this far south. There was not a single boat in site in the anchorage and a large Red Hawk perched on our mizzen mast and a seal bobbed his head up. 

A Gay garden in Provincetown with a fine collection of Barby Dolls. Ken really shouldn't be pee-ing in front of all those Barbies though.

Thursday, 31st May


Off to Sandwich marina, 25 miles away on the north end of the Cape Cod Canal, where we'd arranged for an electrician to meet us early next morning to have another go at our alternator problem.

Sandwich is very much a working harbour with a sizeable fishing fleet coming and going. It's right by a power station but nonetheless a good place to visit. The very well heeled New England village is the oldest settlement on Cape Cod. It's just over a miles walk away with an interesting glass museum and an old grist mill. Sandwich was once the base of a famous glass making industry that supplied the world until it's local resources ran out and the museum, based on an old works, has an incredibly valuable collection of antique glasse artefacts as well as live glass making. A large "Stop n Shop" supermarket on the way back and by the marina a couple of good restaurants and the excellent Joe's Lobster Mart - a fish wholesaler selling live lobsters, crabs and various shellfish, and fresh striped bass (which we bought) and various other fresh, local fish.


A fishing boat was unloading crabs and lobsters caught on a bank over 100 miles out in the Atlantic. It unloaded about 10,000 crabs and hadn't yet started unloading the lobsters. We bought 6 good rock crabs for $1 each. I shall now tell you all I know about crabs but if that's boring for you then skip on to Friday.


To my knowledge, apart from shorecrabs, hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs and some strange crabs that swim near the surface in over 100 metres depth of water off the Galician coast in NW Spain there are 3 broad types of edible crabs.

Firstly, there's our Spider Crabs (French Arraigne) that are in the same family as Snow Crabs and King Crabs.

Secondly, there's our Velvet (or swimming) Crabs (French Etrilles) that are in the same family as Dungeness crabs in Canada and the Blue Crabs that we had been eating in the Southern States. These are the most aggressive of the crab families. The Blue Crabs provide the famous soft shelled crabs, famous in Chesapeake Bay where we had seen them farmed on a cruise several years ago. As a crab grows it fills it's shell to bursting point and then finds a shelter where it casts it's shell. (Just before shell casting it is at it's best - full of tasty, firm flesh and is identified by a harder, older and more blemished shell with a gap appearing between the base of it's tail and it's carapice).

Before it's skin hardens into a new shell it is a soft shelled crab that can be cooked and eaten whole. It doesn't come out of it's hiding or eat at this stage and therefore can't be caught in pots. However it is harvested by being kept in racks after being caught at the hard shell stage. These crabs are then checked regularly and harvested when they cast their shells.

When the new shell forms a crab is at it's worst. This is the watery stage when they retain water in their flesh which is gradually expelled as they grow to properly fill their new, bigger shells. The same is true of all crabs and lobsters.

Finally, there's our Edible Crab (Torteau in France) that are in the same family as the Brown Crab, Stone Crab and, in Sandwich, the Rock Crab. Rock crabs are a slightly smaller breed than our edible crab and with a sweeter flesh - but at $1 a bargain! In the German, North Sea island of Helgoland we tried hard but unsuccessfully to buy edible crabs from local fishermen. Most people there only spoke German. At a restaurant we finally discovered that they were called Kniepers. Apparently the local fishermen just tear off their two main claws and throw them back in to grow new ones. The claws are known as "nippers" and these have the easiest to get at meat.

End of crab lecture.

The Grist Mill pond in Sandwich

We boiled up our, $1 each, Rock crabs in Old Bay

Friday, 1st June


Gabriel, the electrician, arrived at 8am and $160 later he reckoned he'd cracked our alternator problem. A wire connecting the alternator to our battery management system had been missed by both the electrician in Boston and the engineer in Scituate.

Departing at 1030 we caught a favourable 4 knot tide through the Cape Cod Canal (the marina will give you a leaflet on local tide details), took a buoy for lunch at Onset (where I'd over nighted with Skip and Glyn on our passage north) and then onto Marion, where we grabbed another free, private, buoy for the night.

Marion is only a small village but a big yachting centre in a pleasant estuary surrounded by very grand and expensive houses.

Saturday, 2nd June


A SE Gale forecast and we had planned to head for Martha's Vineyard via the (locally) notorious Wood's Hole Passage which you are strongly advised to only enter at slack water. It's very narrow, the tide reaches 6 knots and whirlpools swirl around - a mini Corryvreckan (the famous whirlpool betyween the islands of Jura and Scarba, in Scotland). Nonetheless we set off into the wind planning to reach it at slack low water.

Crossing Buzzards Bay, the wind increased to gale force 8 and the short choppy seas slowed us by a couple of knots causing our arrival at the passage to be 15 minutes later than low water. The sea was already boiling through at over 4 knots against us but we managed to claw our way through, fighting the whirlpools that threatened to throw us of course. Any later and the current would have been impossibly strong and the turbulence horrific.

Once through we grabbed a mooring buoy in Great Harbour, Woods Hole and gave up on our plans to reach Martha's Vineyard that day. Our nerves were pretty jangled and as we started our second medicinal bottle of wine we saw the wind speed climb to 43 knots. Gale force winds and driving rain came and went throughout the afternoon but we felt safe and secure. No one ventured out to collect a fee and we certainly weren't going ashore in our little dinghy in that weather.

Quaint houseboats in Great Harbour, Woods Hole

Sunday, 3rd June


The gale was over and the wind moderate so at 0820 we slipped off to Vineyard Haven on Martha's Vineyard, just over an hour's sail away. Took a buoy there and went ashore to explore. It's the main and pretty busy ferry port for Martha's Vineyard. Lots of traditional boats in the harbour, interesting ashore but not a lot of it. Lunch at Art Cliff's Diner was fun with an unusual and cheap menu that made it difficult to choose from the mouth watering options.

After lunch took a 2 1/2 hour Sunshine coach tour of the island that was well worth the $31. Very pretty island and just about anyone whose anyone in America either has a house here or visits regularly (including Barak Obama). If I came again I would catch a morning bus to nearby Oak's Bluff which is far livelier and has a famous community of beautiful, Victorian, gingerbread houses that once housed it's Methodist community. The Sunshine tours bus also picks up here and you can then get dropped off at Vineyard Haven at the end.

Lots of traditional boats in Vineyard Haven

Monday, 4th June


Slipped our mooring at 0920 and set off for Nantucket, over 30 miles away. With a strong, force 6, wind, a favourable tide and a mostly beam reach, we sped along, sometimes doing nearly 9 knots over the ground. By the time we reached Nantucket it was approaching a gale with the seas heaping up at the entrance channel as the water shallowed. It was impossible for Estelle to control the boat in these conditions so we headed back out to sea (just as a ferry approached!) and I wrestled the double reefed  mainsail down leaving us to storm in through the entrance at over 8 knots on only a reefed foresail.

Grabbed a buoy at 2pm and now we're sat, pitching about in Nantucket Harbour in a gale again, stranded on the boat. A buoy here costs $45 + tax for a day but $75 + tax in season!

Tuesday, 5th June


THe gale abated so ashore for the day. Lunch at Cap'n Tobey's Chowder House was good as was the local beer, Whale Tail PA. Went with Gail's tours for 2 hour trip around the island. Good trip but Nantucket Island nowhere near as interesting or pretty as Martha's Vineyard. Nantucket town very interesting though and in particular the Whaling Museum where we listened to a very informative and entertaining lecture on Nantucket's whaling history. Moby Dick was based on the true story of a Nantucket whaling ship, the Essex, that was rammed by a sperm whale.

Nantucket Island is subject to constant erosion and shifting sands. On the eastern side it is particularly bad. The lighthouse has been moved back and a regular flow of houses are lifted up and moved back from the advancing sea. Nantucket was the centre of the world's whaling industry but the shifting sand banks made it increasingly difficult for the large whaling ships to enter port and eventually caused it's end as a whaling centre.

The whaling museum with a skeleton of a dead Sperm Whale that had been washed up on the beach.

If you look carefully you can see that the left hand flipper part of the skeleton, just by the head, shows that the flipper has evolved from a land mammal's hand.

Wednesday, 6th June


Slipped our mooring at 0700 and took our next mooring at 1100 in Hyannis Harbour after 4 hours motoring into a light wind. Pain of pain, the battery situation has worsened again. The batteries took no charge off the alternator even though they were low; there was a horrible smell of hot electrics on arrival and one battery was so hot you could barely touch it. I've disconnected the alternator again and arranged to meet our last electrician, Gabriel, in Falmouth tomorrow, 20 miles away.

Tied up dinghy for lunch at Baxter's Boat House where we had a reasonable meal - I had my first smelts. Then explored Hyannis - what a dump! The only place so far I wouldn't recommend to anyone. The Kennedy's have a compound just outside of town and Joe, John, Bobby and a few other Kennedy's had mansions on it. We visited the JFK museum in town which wasn't very inspiring either.

Thursday, 7th June


Slipped our mooring at 0440 (first light) in order to catch the tide to Falmouth, about 20 miles away. Managed to get a vacant slip at Falmouth Town marina for $40. Nearby McDougals had quoted us $170! Gabriel did a temporary fix on the electrics for $100. The previous battery overcharging had caused our isolator switch to fail apparently.

Falmouth has a narrow entrance into quite a small inlet. You'd be lucky to find any space in season and the Harbour Master reckoned we were the only British yacht to have visited. It's jam packed with a ferry terminal, fishing boats, 6 boat yards and some buoys in whatever space remains. Estelle claimed to have had her "best lobster ever" at the Flying Bridge restaurant.

It's a great little town with a lively main street sporting many good restaurants. Late afternoon went for a 4 mile walk through main street and then followed the old railway line, now a bicycle track, to Woods Hole for a couple of beers. This interesting track goes past the back of large mansions, marshes and salt ponds where herrings come into breed, and alongside beaches. Saw an amazing bright orange and black bird.

Friday, 8th June


The, close by, Windfall Market was an excellent quality supermarket but we had mistakenly walked over a mile to the local fishmongers to buy fresh local steamers and scallops for our evening's spaghetti a le vongele on board this evening.

We then left for Woods Hole Passage. We knew we had to go through at slack water so we arrived half an hour before high water. However as we watched the tide flow through against us it appeared to be strengthening rather than slackening. Bad timing again! After waiting for a bit we decided to go for it but this time we barely made it through with 5 knots of current against us at the narrowest point. At Falmouth the harbour master's office had been unable to give us tidal information other than the time of High Water and Low Water. Getting into Buzzards Bay we took a buoy at nearby Quissett Harbour, a beautiful inlet, canopied with big oaks and elms and with stunning houses. The Harbour Master came out to collect his $30 and told us we needed something called "Eldridge" to predict tides in general around Cape Cod and Wood's Hole Passage in particular. The effect of Buzzards Bay meant slack water didn't occur at Low or High Water in the passage. He'd never had a British boat visit before either.

The tide beginning to pick up in Woods Hole Passage

This "fun" boat was moored in Quissett. It's a square rigged catamaran with lee boards and a (hauled up) bowsprit

Saturday, 9th June

Off at 6am and 7 hours later took a buoy at Plymouth harbour. En route we stopped briefly at Sandwich marina again to fill up with diesel while Estelle went ashore to the excellent fishmongers. Fresh halibut for lunch, a 2 1/2 lb lobster for this evening's risotto and fresh caught swordfish steaks for sandwiches when we go whale watching on Monday.

Plymouth is where the Pilgrims first settled in America nearly 400 years ago after crossing the Atlantic in the Mayflower and briefly stopping at Provincetown which we'd visited a week and a half ago. In the harbour there's an exact replica of the Mayflower with people on board acting out the roles of original pilgrims. The replica had been made in Britain and sailed over after WW2 and gifted to the Americans.

We also saw a real life swordfish boat come in with it's extended bowsprit and harpoon on the front (we later saw it again while whale watching). Unfortunately swordfish numbers are now diminishing as the classic harpooning is dying out and being replaced by long lining that also kills the juveniles.

A walk around downtown is also interesting with quite a few pubs. The New World Tavern had live music and an incredible 32 beers on draft as well as exotic bottled beers, including a cask conditioned Scottish ale for $46.

Today's drafts were listed on a sheet, showing where they were brewed, alcoholic content (abv) and ibu (international bitterness unit). I preferred the Mayflower PA, 16 ozs for $6, brewed in Plymouth, MA, 5% abv and 40 ibu.

You could also try a flight sampler, 5 x 4oz samplers for $10. Our waitress selected for us

- Kentucky Bourbon Ale, Lexington KY, 8.2% abv, 15 ibu (with Bourbon in it, we rated it 4/10)

- Cape Cod Red, Hyannis, MA, 7.0% abv, 50 ibu (a red beer, we rated it 7/10)

- Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen, Germany, 5.3% abv, 22 ibu (a wheat beer, we rated it 7/10)

- Left Hand Milk Stout-Nitro, Longmont, CO, 5.3% abv, 27 ibu (a dark stout, we rated it 8/10)

- Opa Opa - Watermelon, Southampton, MA, 5% abv, 10 ibu (very light, tasting of watermelon, we rated it 1/10)

Part of the bar at The New World Tavern

The replica of the Mayflower with Vittoria moored in the background

Sunday, 9th June


Caught the outgoing tide out at 0740 and anchored off George Island, Boston Harbour for lunch and siesta. A pleasant spot with small ferries bringing people across from Boston. We watched a nearby motor boat catch 5 plaice pretty quickly. At 1645 we tied up back at Marina Bay Marina, Boston, having completed a round trip of 309 nautical miles in a fortnight.

Monday, 10th June


Freinds of Estelle had been in Boston last Easter and gone whale watching. They'd seen no whales and as compensation had been given complimentary future free tickets. As they had no plans to return to Boston they'd given them to us.

The round trip was over 4 hours with nearly 1 1/2 hours of fast travelling on a large catamaran out to the Stellwagen Banks where whales feed on sand eels (locally called Lancets). I've never seen so many whales in one place. We got really close to about a dozen large Humpback whales, many more, smaller, Minky whales, and even seals were feeding on the sand eels.

When we got back we went into the big 3D - Imax cinema by the Aquarium where, at that time, they were showing "Return to the Wild", which Estelle thought was amazing but I thought was a bit of a "woman's thing".

Front of Humpback whale on Stellwagen Banks - notice it's blowing

Swordfish fishing boat on Stellwagen Banks. Notice long bowsprit with harpoon man leaning out and tall spotting platform aft

Tuesday, 11th June


A morning sorting out the boat and organising repair work - most importantly a thorough sort out of my electrical problems that had been caused by original work here. The marina agreed to waive previous charges, thoroughly check everything, and replace, at no charge, my damaged battery and isolator and anything else they found.

In the afternoon we left to catch our plane back to the UK.



- Cape Cod had been a great place to cruise with many interesting places to visit that were comparitively close to each other. The weather had been unseasonably bad - it's normally really good this time of year. I was glad we hadn't come in the main season because, we were told, it gets terribly overcrowded. You can queue over an hour for a restaurant at this time and in order to get a mooring need to arrive in the morning.


- Everybody is amazingly welcoming and the fact that you are British makes you an instant celebrity. Being on a British sailboat is "awesome" and the fact that you've crossed the Atlantic is stratospheric. People would walk across the marina to see Vittoria. The only other foreign yacht we saw during this cruise was a french yacht going into Boston.


- Massachusetts is one of 6 states that make up New England, so named because of all the English landing and settling here. The traditional New England houses abound and are a constant attraction. Many towns have English names - Barnstaple, Weymouth, Truro, Bedford, Chatham, etc., etc.


- I've probably bored you enough on this topic but the fresh seafood is fantastic


- Depths are not defined on the charts as they are in Britain. At Spring tides we saw depths posted as over 1 metre (feet?) below chart datum. The UK chart datum is defined as the lowest astronomic tide. The America chart datum is something like the mean Low Water Springs - so beware. Apologies to Art who told me this on our trip up from Puerto Rico and I had found this difficult to believe then.


- Customs is a confusing mess. Because they have so few British cruising yachts the local officials, mostly, do not know the rules.

In Puerto Rico, our first USA landfall, customs told us we could cruise anywhere in the states without any further customs requirements but that when we made our first mainland landfall at Savannah we should give customs a ring to register and in case they wanted to come out as Puerto Rico's status is slightly different to mainland.

In Savannah, when we rang, they insisted I visit them. Then took half an hour ringing around to find out how to deal with me. They then charged me $17 and said I must check in and pay at every other American port I visited. I had no confidence this was correct and ignored it.

In Plymouth, both the yacht club and the harbour master said I must check into customs there. I ignored them, but it made me think that maybe Savannah was right.

Arriving back in Boston I thought I'd better cover myself so I rang up Boston customs to check in. I got passed around but ended up with a confused customs official who said he would take my details and mobile number and get back to me if he required anything further. He never rang back!

I would guess that the rule is that you must check into every American port you visit but few local customs officials know about this. Personally I would ignore them again.


- If you plan to go through Woods Hole Passage get a copy of "Eldridge" first! I later googled it and found you can buy it on Amazon - Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book, 2012. It costs £15 in paperback and seems to cover an area between Virginia and Massachusetts with Woods Hole Passage referenced on it's front page. I should have bought it when I first came to the states - it's a bit late now.