Boating on Vineyard Sound

August 22, 2012 by Beth Colt

Exploring VIneyard Sound in a boat

Re-discovering Cape Cod from the water is one of my favorite parts of summer.  As the days started to get shorter, and the crispness of autumn snuck into the air, I rushed to take my boat out onto the Sound.  The warmth of the summer water made me feel bold, and we packed the boat with kids and set off in our small vessel last week.

We departed from Woods Hole in the late morning with the goal of visiting Lake Tashmoo on Martha’s Vineyard, and making it up to Menemsha to get fresh fish for dinner at Larsen’s Fish Market.  Some people would take that time to go fishing themselves — I would rather buzz around with a boat load of kids, see the sights and purchase my fresh catch from one of the world’s best fish markets.

Martha's Vineyard boat trip

So off we set with sunscreen, bathing suits, beach towels and plenty of cash to buy our fabulous fish.  First stop, Lake Tashmoo, just about 20 minutes across the Sound on a clear calm day like this one.  Storm clouds hovered over this part of the Vineyard, and I am usually the first to wimp out in the face of real weather but the rest of the sky seemed bright enough and we pushed on.  Brave!

Summer visit to Marthas Vineyard by boatLake Tashmoo was once a pond and the entrance has been opened to a small channel that then lets you into a rather large protected harbor.  We slowed way down to avoid leaving a wake (waves would disturb the other boaters moored and anchored about) so it took the better part of half an hour to putt putt all the way in and see the whole thing.  There were scads of lovely boats, and houses with great green lawns yawning down to the sandy shore below.  It was exciting to peek in the back yards of the valuable waterfront real estate on Martha’s Vineyard and we were not the only ones snooping along the shore.

At the entrance, there is a barrier beach that was packed with people enjoying a lovely day in the sun:

Visiting the Vineyard by boat

Onward we traveled to Menemsha!  The Vineyard is not small (18 miles long) so we powered at full speed for about 20 minutes along the coastline to get to this tiny little town at the very end of the island.  A channel with a strong current flowing let’s you into a beautiful protected harbor packed with real fishing vessels.

Menemsha Harbor with lovely red fishing vessel

We struggled to get a spot to tie up, then found one along the pier and ran to get our fresh fish from Larsen’s.  The kids clambered along the island road to the local ice cream shop, and the day was so hot that it was a challenge to eat the ice cream before it melted all down your arm.  The smarter members of our crew bought “frappes” which is the New England way of asking for an ice cream shake.  Yum.

colorful fish signs in Martha's Vineyard up islandLarsen’s is an institution up island on the Vineyard (you can read more about visiting Up Island as a pedestrian on our blog).  I have seen Larsen’s t-shirts proudly worn in Los Angeles and New York, a way insiders telegraph to each other that they are “in the know” about what is cool on the Vineyard.  It was lunchtime when we got there and people were clustered around lobster trap tables enjoying the fresh fare and harbor views.

Larsens Fish on the VineyardI especially liked the look of this meal, but there were too many kids with us to indulge in a lobster feast.   Gotta love those all-American paper cups:)  Next time!

Lobster meal on paper plates in rustic setting

We explored the Menemsha harbor a wee bit more, then read a few days later of a shark sighting right near there.  I guess they come for the same reason the fisherman like these waters — plenty of fresh fish!

I love my annual peregrination to Menemsha, and I will be back soon before the weather turns the water cool again.  You simply can not beat a day on the waters of Vineyard Sound.  You can re-create this journey with one of many local charter boat captains.  Book a room at the Woods Hole Inn and with a little advance notice we would be happy to set a day trip just like this one up for you.  Sharks, lobster and all:)

Visiting Vineyard Sound

Rain or Shine…ing Sea Bike Path

June 12, 2011 by Beth Colt

Local sculpture at the 3 mile mark on the Shining Sea bike path in Falmouth.

The sky was glowering when I biked out of Woods Hole on the Shining Sea bike path yesterday, with a blustery wind blowing from the southeast which is where the summer storms blow in from.  The breeze was warm enough, it was cool and pleasant, a perfect day to explore.

The bike path, which is one of the biggest draws to Falmouth, is on the reclaimed path of the old railroad tracks (abandoned in the 1960s).   This means it is a nice straight line, far from any road except a handful you cross along the way.  How rarely do we get to bike on a paved road nowhere near a car? A special experience, it makes me wish that cities and towns across the country would have to foresight to install a unique right of way such as this one.

The bike path was extended last year, and now runs 11 miles from Woods Hole to North Falmouth. I dream that someday it will extend (as the abandoned train tracks still do) all the way to the Cape Cod Canal and hook up with the path that swoops out toward Provincetown making all of the Cape safely bike-able and connecting us in a green way to our neighbors in Chatham, Wellfleet, Truro and beyond.

I am working towards riding the whole thing round trip, and yesterday I made it past the five mile marker.  The first mile out of Woods Hole is in the shady beech forest, passing over several old wooden bridges the bike wheels going thump thump thump on the weathered boards.  There are glimpses through the trees of the houses on Fay Road that line a private beach looking out at Vineyard Sound.  Tiny intriguing foot paths veer off to the right and left with small painted “private please” signs.

About a mile up, you get your first big reveal of the ocean.  Surf Drive, one of the most beautiful of Falmouth’s many beaches, stretches two miles before you, surf crashing today over the breakwaters, the shore dotted with little cabins on stilts.  I think of the people who used to come here on the train, most headed to the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard,  and imagine that this view was an exciting moment as they emerged from the woods and saw Vineyard Sound for the first time, caught a whiff of that distinctive smell of eel grass drying in the sun, and felt the cool breeze off the water.  I can only imagine this was the first real taste of summer vacation.

View of Surf Drive from the bike path on a stormy day.

Yesterday, the southeasterly wind buffeted my bike as soon as I emerged from the woods.  I passed the Trunk River which is a tidal pond that empties into the ocean.  Herring run here in season, and fisherman gather at the breakwaters to catch fish drawn to the current.  There is another small wooden bridge, and a sign about the life of the tidal river that is worth a quick stop.

From here, the path veers inland, back into the lee, past several conservation sites with salt-water pond views and walks, toward the main streets of Falmouth.  The vista to the left across the Oyster Pond is particularly delightful, even on a gray day, with the Spohr Gardens in the distance.  Once in Falmouth, you can take a right off the path at the bus station for a pick-me-up at the locally-run Coffee Obsession on Palmer Ave., or continue onto Main Street for ice cream, homemade fudge, cupcakes and lots of fun local shopping.

I did not stop, as the weather was still threatening.  Past the village, from the path you can see the back side of the bus station, the back corners of the Steamship Authority parking lot, and the cooking vents of Seafood Sam’s  then you are back in the woods again, the canopy high above you and the light filtered green with the glow of the spring leaves.

I made it up to the Sippewisset Marsh, about mile five, before the rain started coming down in those large droplets that you can almost dodge between but indicate that much more is likely on the way.  I paused to look out over the marsh and read a sigh posted there about the Wampanoag.  It says, among other things, that “Sippewisset” means “place of the brook” and that this was a sacred site for Native Americans on their annual peregrination towards the fishing holes and summer hunting of what we now call Woods Hole and the islands.

History buffs will enjoy learning that this marsh is also the site of Rachel Carson’s 1950’s era scientific exploration into the devastating effects of DDT (a pesticide) on the environment which inspired her to write “Silent Spring” the book that launched the environmental movement in the US, ultimately inspiring the US Congress to ban the use of DDT.  Were she alive today, she would reflect again on the sacred beauty of this marsh, again filled with osprey and many other shore birds that have returned due to her clarion call.  Even with the threatening rain, I pause for several minutes to appreciate this achievement, a nice confluence of the scientific with the spiritual.  Louis Agassiz would approve.

View point from the Shining Sea bike path in Falmouth.

The ride home, I pick up the pace as the rain starts to come in earnest.  It is all subtlety downhill now,  I realize as soon as I turn around, and the trip back is faster and easier.  I fall into a trance as the rain drips softly from my hat and the view in reverse rushes past.

Rolling back into Woods Hole, almost two hours and ten miles later, I am ready for a snack and a place to put my wet feet up.  Lobster taco time!  Thank god for Quicks Hole, the restaurant on Luscombe Avenue across from the Landfall, the perfect spot for a dripping wet biker to unwind a bit before heading back to that comfortable suite at the Woods Hole Inn.