Muscobe to Menemsha

A very smart-looking Muscobe and her master. While the author loves Maine, this year circumstances dictated otherwise. Points East file photo courtesy Joel Gleason

By Joel Gleason
For Points East

While cruising the Maine coast is my preference, I have also done Cape Cod and the Islands, and some of Long Island Sound. So, I was not averse to a solo cruise to southern New England waters, especially with family as a draw. Thus, on Tuesday, July 21, I topped off Muscobe’s fuel tanks, loaded her up with iced tea, fruit juices, V8, and some Dinty Moore stew for departure the next day.

Wednesday started out overcast, with drizzle and a stiff northeast breeze. Casting off my Marblehead, Mass., mooring pendants at 0830, at an extremely low tide, I rounded Marblehead Light and headed south as the wind picked up and the rain got heavier. As I approached the red-and-white Mo (A) whistle that marked the approaches into Boston, I began to consider turning back. I didn’t want to disappoint my two grandsons, but did I really want to slug it out, pounding all alone through three-foot seas and rain for another two-plus hours to the Cape Cod Canal, and then get beat up smashing my way down through Buzzards Bay for an additional two hours to Menemsha on the Vineyard?

I was still pondering this as Minots Light came into view off to starboard. The rain stopped, a sliver of sunshine peeked through the clouds at my ten o’clock, and the Boston skyline appeared off to the west. So I pressed on, arriving at the entrance to the canal after just three hours. Slipping into the Sandwich Marina, I pulled in behind a huge yacht that had passed me going in. She was one of those go-fast boats equipped with everything, including satellite TV, and air-conditioning, and carpeting on the overheads. Perhaps if I’d been cruising with a woman, I’d have more appreciation for all those accouterments, but I’ll take my salty, seaworthy and beautiful Downeast hull. Muscobe may not have power sun visors, but she definitely looks good.

After taking on just 30 gallons of diesel ($79.80), I idled back toward the canal at 1150, while that big yacht was still taking on thousands of dollars in fuel. The tide was with us, so Muscobe was pushed along at an extra three knots until we got to the tugs and the training vessel T.S. Kennedy at Massachusetts Maritime Academy and left the canal. By now, the sun was out in force, and, with a gentle breeze behind us, I throttled up to 2500, leaving Hog Island Channel and entering Buzzards Bay proper.

Little fishing boats were everywhere, many of them right in the channel, and I wondered why they anchored there where they were susceptible to the wakes of passing boats like mine. Later, I learned that the speed limit within the channel is “10 miles per hour and no wake.” The outgoing tide still added three knots to Muscobe’s normal cruising speed of 17, so we flew along at 20 until we neared the lighthouse on Cleveland East Ledge. (These Downeast hulls were originally designed to go at 10 or 12 knots, but because they are so well designed – and with today’s powerful engines – they can go much faster, safely and comfortably.)

The shore of Rhode Island began to fade as we approached the Elizabeth Islands, where we slipped through at Quicks Hole, and the island of Martha’s Vineyard appeared ahead. Arriving just after 1400 hours, Muscobe plowed through the strong current running out between the breakwaters from Menemsha Pond, and finally turned left into the calm, secluded harbor.

In anticipation of maneuvering into my slip between the pilings, I rigged loops on two bow lines and hung fenders over the transom. I called the harbormaster, who directed me to slip No. 3, where two attendants were waiting to assist me. Fortunately, there were no boats on either side, and I was able to back in, get the loops around the pilings at the bow, and secure the stern with a little help.

After adjusting the lines to my satisfaction, I tidied up, then walked over to the harbormaster’s office to pay my bill. Randy, Natalie and the boys arrived as I was walking back to the boat. We all hung out in the cockpit while watching the usual dockside “entertainment” as several boats attempted to back into slips nearby. Big powerboats with twin screws seemed to manage all right, but sailboats – even those equipped with bow thrusters – put on quite a show.

A Catalina 35 tied up beside us, only a fender’s width from my topsides. And their dinghy, tied to their bow with the outboard raised, sat with its propeller inches from my brand-new Awlgrip paint job. After several hours, I simply couldn’t stand it any longer, and, at my nervous request, the skipper graciously agreed to snug the dinghy away from my immaculate topsides. I breathed easier.

Several people walking by offered variations of, “What a beautiful boat!” Muscobe is pretty fetching; even a salty, old Downeaster is appreciated down there in sport-fisherman country.

Randy’s crew had been at the beach all afternoon, so Muscobe’s cockpit was soon spread with sand – one of the joys of having grandchildren. I can’t wait for them to get old enough to help me operate the boat. And this should be sooner, rather than later, as Randy has just purchased his own 25-foot Grady White.

I turned down Randy and Natalie’s offer to come over for dinner, choosing instead to stay aboard and enjoy the tranquility of the evening in beautiful Menemsha Harbor. Alas, this was not to be. Shortly after they left, a Beneteau Oceanus 45 backed in on our port side. These sailboats have a wide stern and large aft cockpit, and this one was full of both adults and kids having a great time. And a good time they continued to have: loud, raucous, and generally inconsiderate of everybody, playing obnoxious music until well after midnight.

Beautiful as Menemsha is, I was reminded of the serenity of Maine. My quiet, peaceful evening in the cockpit was not to be. Finally, I could take it no longer, and I asked as tactfully as I could (I was livid) if they could either “take it below or dial it down a notch.” They turned down the music, but otherwise continued to party for another half hour or so.

I awoke briefly the next morning at 0530, then slept fitfully till seven. Mercifully, the people next door left early, and peace and calm returned. Randy picked me up at around 10 a.m., and we all drove over to Gay Head to play tourist, viewing the lighthouse and the scenic bluffs around it. Later, they took me to the home they’d rented, a typical Cape, cedar-shingled outside and knotty pine throughout inside. Located in 35 wooded acres, there was a stream and fire pit in the backyard, where the owners kept a few guinea hens. It was absolutely beautiful.

Natalie packed a lunch, Randy threw some beers and sodas into the cooler, and we headed to Lucy Vincent Beach. Located on the south side of the island, this beach is open to the wind and, thus, has big waves. Masks were required for access, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they could be removed once on the beach. Intimidated at first by the huge waves, little Randy, Jr. and Jack were now swimming and diving fearlessly into them. After some urging from them, I reluctantly joined them in the water, for the first time in many years. But hey, when your grandsons call, you respond.

After several hours we headed back to their place to relax, and then, after a shower, I realized that the tops of my feet were badly sunburned. So I resorted to some medication (Scotch) until it was time to go back to Menemsha to pick up lobsters, steamers, salmon, and corn on the cob Randy had ordered at Larsen’s Fish Market. While this popular spot has no provisions for inside dining, a long line was outside waiting for meals.

Dinner was fabulous. As the sun got low, we walked down to the fire pit by the stream and lit it. Randy invited me to spend the night, but I again opted to sleep aboard, so he drove me “home” to the boat, asking me to call in the morning, and again when I got safely back to Marblehead.

All in all, it was a great visit. It was especially enjoyable for me to see my son – an attorney who is often stressed out by the responsibilities of his job – relaxing and just enjoying his family.

That night I did get to enjoy the peace and serenity of Menemsha. While I was away, a 45-foot Sea Ray from Warwick, R.I., had tied alongside, and I had a pleasant conversation with the couple aboard. The big cruiser had underwater lights beneath the swim platform, and we sat for a few hours watching huge stripers swim back and forth underneath us. A crescent moon gradually receded toward the western horizon, as the bell outside the breakwater sounded gently in the distance. And the stars were brilliant. Offshore as we were, thousands more were visible than at home, where the air is not so clear. At 2230, I opened two portholes below, crept into my sleeping bag, and slept like a rock.

I awoke early Friday morning to a bright and sunny day. My feet were on fire, and my legs and back were punishing me for all the walking we’d done the day before. After washing up and battening things down for the trip home, I considered slipping out unaided. But caution prevailed, and I asked the harbormaster for help with the lines, which was immediately granted. The attendants, and the harbormaster himself, Ryan Rossi, are outstanding. Courteous and professional, they were helpful to everyone I observed while I was there.

Slipping out between the pilings uneventfully, I retrieved my fenders, stowed the lines, and, at 0800, followed a big Wesmac powerboat out into the strong incoming current between the breakers. Adding power once we were clear, I turned to a heading of 340 to make Quicks Hole. Menemsha faded into the distance behind me as we thumped along into a stiff northeast breeze, passing a few sailboats along the way.

Once through the Elizabeth Islands, I turned northeast and, after about half an hour, I could just make out the canal railroad bridge in Bourne, far off on the horizon, which made steering my compass course much easier.

After passing East Cleveland Ledge, I motored up the Hog Island Channel at cruising speed. With the incoming tide pushing us, we again clocked nearly 20 knots. As I approached Mass Maritime, a barge pushed by a tug passed, headed the opposite direction into Buzzards Bay, throwing a huge wake that tossed Muscobe around.

I then began to overtake a motoring sailboat, a Lord Nelson, and was contemplating whether or not to pass them, when a canal patrol boat approached with blue lights flashing. I immediately slowed, then stopped and waited. As they pulled alongside, a uniformed crew member stepped out of the cabin and said,

“Cap, speed limit in the channel is 10 miles per hour and no wake.”

“Outside the buoys you can go as fast as you want,” he added. I apologized and thanked him, embarrassed. I should have known this. But, from now on, I’ll stay out of the channel if I want to get in and out of there at cruise speed. No wonder some of those fishermen looked askance at me as I roared by them on the leg west.

Once in the canal, I anticipated a quick passage, with a boost from the incoming tide. But, to my surprise, I began to encounter areas of substantial crosscurrents, big eddies, and huge waves higher than Muscobe’s deck. We plowed along at about 11 knots, with things thumping and crashing down below, as I wondered how I had gotten myself into this predicament.

Eventually, we passed under the Sagamore Bridge and approached the east end of the canal. I decided not to refuel at Sandwich Marina, as I wanted to use up as much of last year’s fuel as possible. I switched tanks and headed north into an easy sea with a slight northeast breeze.

It was a beautiful New England summer day as I headed home. Deciding not to input waypoints into the machine, I more or less winged it, navigating using the paper charts the old-fashioned way. How hard could it be? Once past Manomet Point, southeast of Plymouth, you simply steer 360 all the way to Marblehead Rock.

As we came up to Plymouth, I saw two boats approaching from the opposite direction. They were close together, obviously cruising as a pair. As they got closer I could see that one was a Downeast hull similar to Muscobe’s; the other was a popular stock powerboat. As they passed, I couldn’t help but feel smug. Both were going about 15 knots. The (brand name deleted) was pounding along, bow high, and throwing a big rooster tail, while the Downeaster was slipping gracefully and effortlessly through the waves like the salty lady she was.

A few flashes blazed occasionally on the northeast horizon, off the windshield of a working lobsterboat turning in the distance. Minots Light appeared off the port bow, with the Boston skyline showing faintly through the haze beyond it. A black-hulled bulk carrier and a green LNG tanker loomed ahead, anchored and waiting their turn in the port of Boston. Sailboats began to appear as we approached Marblehead.

At exactly noon, after five hours under way, we throttled back as Muscobe rounded Marblehead Light and entered the harbor on a very hot Friday afternoon. After taking on 61 gallons of fuel, I slipped alongside the Corinthian Yacht Club float, washed down the boat, and enjoyed a couple of refreshing cans of cold Arizona Iced Tea. It was about 48 miles from Marblehead to the Cape Cod Canal, and roughly seven miles through the canal. Then it was a little over 14 miles from the canal to Quicks Hole, through the Elizabeth Islands, then six miles from there to Menemsha. That’s about 69 miles each way. I burned 91.2 gallons going both ways, a total of 10.7 hours. That figures out to about 8.5 gallons per hour and 1.5 miles per gallon.

All in all, this had been another great Muscobe cruise, but my aching body screamed in protest. Next time, I’ll bring along a crewmate to help with the grunt work.


Joel Gleason, a long-time contributor to Points East, holds a 100-ton USCG Master’s license, and has been boating out of Marblehead since he was six.