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Road-trip 2017 Day 10

After a serviceable breakfast at the very retro Courtesy Coffee Shop (Lounge by night) in Blythe, CA, we headed on for a last bit of the wild before finishing up our drive into Los Angeles.  Joshua Tree started its life as a National Monument (proclaimed so by FDR in 1936) and was renamed/redesignated  Joshua Tree National Park in 1994, and protects 792,510 acres of mostly wilderness where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge.  It proved to be a fine place to stretch our legs a bit.

We started our explorations in the southeastern part of the the park, part of the Colorado Desert, with elevations of less than 3,000 ft above sea level.  From near the Cottonwood Springs Visitors Center, we opted for the Mastodon Peak trail which did not disappoint.  Desert wildflowers and cacti blooms were abundant, although the intense sun of late morning made for some challenging photography. (ID help welcome!)

A few lizards also captured my attention.

 

As we made our way north and west in the park, we passed through what is referred to as a transition zone entered the Mojave Desert with elevations above 3,00 ft.  We stopped along the way for some shorter hikes.  It was at these elevations that we found expanses of the the park’s namesake, the Joshua Trees.  Tough and curious things, they’re not trees at all, rather belong to the yucca or agave family.  They have spiky succulent leaves that are kind of bayonet-shaped and every bit as sharp.

Of course in reading about the Joshua tree, I couldn’t help but stumble over references to the 1982 U2 album of the same name.  This Irish rock band was quite captivated with the deserts of the American southwest and found the landscapes to be quite fitting with the theme/songs of the album.  The cover photo however was not taken in Joshua Tree National Park, rather at another location in the Mojave Desert some 200 miles away.  While the actual tree fell some time ago, there is reportedly a plaque placed for those who go searching.

LS_20170405_171212 road snacks, Mexican-style

We left the park in the late afternoon with a plan to be at Duncan and Daniela’s place in LA for a late dinner.  A search for a milkshake or some such thing took us to a brightly lit place called La Michoacana in Beaumont CA where we picked up a couple of mangonadas, a kind of sweet, spicy, party-colored Mexican fruit drink with tamarind-coated straws.  Not bad really.   In any event, they quenched our thirst and tided us over to LA.

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Road-trip 2017 Day 9

Although much of this road trip is about exploring some new-to-us places, we made an exception passing through Arizona, opting for a repeat visit to an amazing place we’d first experienced almost exactly two decades ago while on a motorcycle trip.

LS_20170404_085337 breakfast at Baja Cafe, Tuscon

breakfast at Baja Cafe, Tuscon

Of course we started with breakfast, braving the traffic of Tucson to check out Baja Cafe. It was definitely worth a bit of a detour.  Portions were so generous we took leftovers home for another meal.  To our credit, we planned better, but they comped us a Snickerdoodle Pancake when they found out it was our first visit.  Every bite was delicious.

Fueled for the day, we headed on to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum where we spent the better part of the rest of the day.  It was every bit as wonderful as we’d remembered.  It’s hard to think of this place as a museum exactly.  Their website describes it as a “98 acre… fusion experience: zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium” which in my opinion is a spot on description.  Some of the creatures were quite captivating.  The big horn sheep  wee one was only a couple of weeks old at our visit.  The otter was also quite entertaining, but challenging to capture in a photo… it never stopped moving!  Of course prairie dogs always make me smile.  By contrast, the mountain lion was very very serious.

Of course there were lizards.

…and an aviary of birds, a couple of which were cooperative with my photographing them.  ID help welcome.

Our timing for this visit was most fortunate as the cacti were blooming riots of color. I’ll not even begin to be able to identify all of them, or even capture photos that do them justice, but it was a delight to spend an afternoon in their midst.

Having soaked up all we could of this place, we found a scenic bypass around the not-so-scenic Phoenix area and headed for the California border.

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Although we love our life aboard our Cheshire, we also love a good road trip now and then.  With our engine issues last fall, our late start on moving south, we’d opted not to get too far flung this year… at least by water.  Instead, at some point during our month + in Vero Beach, we decided we’d take a month long road trip to Los Angeles where Mike’s son and daughter-in-law are living currently. We made arrangements to leave Cheshire in St Augustine, booked a rental car and started researching.

Road-trip 2017 Days 1 – 8

Our first couple of days on the road were mostly making tracks.  We spent a night with my (Lori’s) Mom and sister in Panama City Beach, FL (with a plan for a longer visit on the return leg), then on to a HoJo’s (yes, they still exist) in Lafayette, LA the following night.  Days 3-4 found us in Texas where we found a great little ethnic enclave just outside of Houston where we lunched at Little V Vietnamese in Katy TX.  That afternoon we arrived  in Warda, TX for a stay at the Garrett Ranch and a visit with Mike’s Uncle Bob and his wife Altha.  We enjoyed a couple of days of catching up, touristing about LaGrange (yes, of ZZ Top fame, but we didn’t visit the Chicken Ranch).  We did stop into the Texas Quilt Museum  one day;  the Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry exhibit that we saw was quite beautiful, and much different than the more traditional quilts I’m familiar with from our time in central Ohio and Amish country.  We also took daily spins about the ranch on Bob’s Kubota 4×4 to check on the cattle.  The boys also enjoyed talking about the rolling stock and reminiscing.

 

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Mike getting his groove on with SRV,

From Warda we headed a short distance to Austin.  We’d originally thought we’d spend a bit of time here, but decided instead we wanted to get up into the nearby Texas Hill Country explore a bit.  We did pause in Austin long enough to visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum.  It was a nicely done museum, but a bit overrun with school kids at our visit.  The Stevie Ray Vaughn exhibit was a highlight.  On our way out of town, we checked out a public art spot known as Graffiti Park at Castle Hill aka HOPE Outdoor Gallery, then headed out of town to stage for an early morning start into Hill Country.

 

 

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Lark Sparrow

 

Day 6, we grabbed a quick bite of breakfast and headed out for a morning hike at Balcones Canyonlands NWR.  This refuge exists in part to protect the nesting habitat of a couple of birds, specifically the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo.  The warbler in particular nests only in Texas.  Alas, I was unsuccessful in spotting either of them, but we did enjoy the hike and saw plenty of another bird I’ve been unsuccessful in identifying.  (ID help welcome.) Wildflowers were also plentiful, but I for some reason was having issues with trying to photograph them.

We were on to Stonewall TX for the afternoon to explore the Lyndon B Johnson National Historic Park.  It was a fascinating walk through history and the life of a man I was previously not terribly familiar with.  No doubt it was in part his humble beginnings in this Hill Country of Texas that shaped the kind of president he would become, at least in terms of his Great Society legislation, although it seems for some these actions were overshadowed by his handling of Vietnam.  We were able to tour the residence, the Texas White House.  No photography was allowed inside, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say it was like stepping back into the mid-60’s.  No gold plated anything here.  LBJ’s indulgence however was to have numerous sets of televisions scattered about this Texas Whitehouse, in groupings of three, one for each of the channels available at the time.

I was also previously unaware that LBJ had been such a friend of the environment… read more about his accomplishments here.  I can’t help but wonder what he would think of our current state of affairs.  I found it interesting in reading the document linked to see that Florida’s Mar-A-Lago had been declared a National Historic Site during LBJ’s tenure. I had to dig a little deeper and found this bit of history.  It turns out Marjorie Merriweather Post (a quite wealthy heiress in her day), upon her death in 1973, turned her outrageously expensive private estate over to the federal government for use as a presidential retreat… except that a few years later they gave it back, having decided that it was too expensive to maintain and provide presidential-grade security for such a place.  Most interesting…

 

The following day was mostly spent on the road, though we did spend the afternoon/evening in Marfa TX to check out some art/sculpture at the Chinati Foundation and later had a most tasty dinner at the Hotel Paisano.

From Marfa, we were positioned for an early visit the following day to Fort Davis National Historic Site, an old frontier military post that protected west Texas and travel along the San Antonio – El Paso Road.  It’s an impressive collection of preserved and restored buildings with some hiking trails in the surrounding hills, another great opportunity to stretch our legs.

It was pretty desolate in terms of wildlife, but I did see a hawk and another small bird I’ve yet to identify, and was most entertained by my first Greater Roadrunner.  Beep Beep…

LS_20170403_130848 Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner, Fort Davis National Historic Site, TX, side view

 

We finished out this day with a drive on into Arizona.  More exploring to come.

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I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve transited the ICW in north central FL.  We’ve made some outside runs off shore along this stretch as well, but often we’ve been inside.  The bridges are familiar to us.  The landmarks are familiar to us.  Occasionally we’ve stopped along the way… Cocoa, New Smyrna Beach, and a couple of stays in the Merritt Island/Canaveral area… but for whatever reason, although we’ve anchored nearby often, we’d never gone ashore at Daytona Beach.  Worse yet, although we’ve seen it numerous times from the water, we’d never managed to stop and visit the lighthouse at Ponce Inlet.  For this trip north, I vowed to remedy this.

We arrived in Daytona mid-day on Sunday, and after getting settled in a new-to-us anchorage, we went ashore on the Daytona Beach side of the river to find a bite to eat and scout the bus stop we’d need for the following day’s adventure to Ponce Inlet.  On  a tip from former cruising friends, we went in search of the Daytona Taproom; we were not disappointed. Great burgers, fries and plenty of local beer options.

After a lunch that was much more substantial than our usual, a long walk was in order.  We opted to make a big loop, over to the beach side, south to Main, then west on Main toward the Halifax River/ICW, and finally north up to where we’d left the dinghy near the Seabreeze twin bridges.  Little did we know that this route would take us through the heart of the tail end of Daytona Bike Week.  Despite our having motorcycled for years, we’d never seen this event in person… wow, just wow.  I couldn’t even begin to try and photograph it for fear of tripping off the curb in the crowds.

The following morning we were back ashore for breakfast before catching our bus.  The mass exodus was underway, with bikes on trailers everywhere and the monumental clean-up effort underway.  We caught our bus and settled in for the 10 mile ride south.

LS_20170320_095310 sunrise over condos, Daytona Beach FL

sunrise over condos, Daytona Beach

From the water, we hadn’t appreciated the size of the park grounds at Ponce Inlet, officially known as the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum.  An impressive stand of live oaks on grounds were home to a number of Red-bellied Woodpeckers.  A couple of them were even cooperative with my efforts to photograph them.  There was also a collection of Cuban Refugee Rafts;  we’d seen such exhibits before, particularly in the Florida Keys, but they always manage to make me catch my breath.

 

Standing at 175 feet, Ponce Inlet Light is said to be the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest masonry lighthouse in the country. (Cape Hatteras on NC’s Outer Banks takes first prize in this category.)  Like many other lighthouses we have visited, the various keepers’ cottages and auxiliary buildings now serve as museum space.  Ponce also is known for their lens restoration, and in fact have a dedicated building, the Ayers Davies Lens Exhibit Building, which houses an impressive collection of restored Fresnel lenses.

The Lighthouse Friends page for Ponce de Leon Inlet Light provides some interesting history, including a bit about author Stephen Crane’s real life adventure.   He was shipwrecked during a gale off the Florida coast while enroute to Cuba, and tells of this adventure in his short story titled The Open Boat.  Curiously, this light was previously known as Mosquito Light, until it was decided in the mid-1920’s that the name itself was not helping to encourage settlement in the area.  Of course we had to make the climb, all 203 steps, and were rewarded with a nice view of the inlet.

After our climb, we took a stroll out to the water.  I was saddened to find a Cormorant with a fishing hook caught in its bill… an all too common occurrence really.  Birds get hooked and/or entangled either in discarded line and tackle, or often get snagged when they try to steal a fish that’s already been hooked.

We caught our bus back north, found our dinghy and Cheshire right where we’d left them, and deemed Ponce Inlet Light well worth the pause.

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Mike at the bus stop

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… of Shelter Island that is.  It was a busy run.  Here are the highlights.

We based in Coecles Harbor for a few days, and even sprang for a mooring ball for a few of them.  This gave us dinghy dock access, a place to keep the bikes ashore for a couple of days, and an opportunity to do some much needed laundry and an even more needed haircut.  Shore side showers were also a welcome perk.

Mike and I spent an afternoon hiking about Mashomack Preserve.  We would return a week or so later when we rendezvoused with our cruising friends Dawn and Paul aboard s/v BuBu3. (Credit to Dawn for the rare-these-days photo of Mike and I together.)  After hiking our legs off, we pedaled into town to Shelter Island Craft Brewery (OK, but not our favorite craft brewery), accompanied by some not-so-great nachos from Maria’s Kitchen next door.

We’d decided that Greenport, a town over on the northern neck of Long Island, was worth at least a day of exploring, but the Captain wasn’t happy with any of the anchorage options nearby.  Solution: the cheap and frequent ferry that runs between the north end of Shelter Island and Greenport.  For a $5 each round trip fare, we could take our bikes along as well.  No brainer.

Buzz Lightyear kept us safe as we departed the ferry dock.  We locked the bikes up at the museum (not yet open at our arrival), and walked about town.   Greenport Fire was a great find, thanks to a tip from our friend Tina.  I’m certain I’ve never seen more bottles of hot sauce in one place in my life, a couple of which scored new homes aboard Cheshire.  We also found Greenport Brewing Co’s original location, which I believe was retrofit into an old fire station. I love their whale graphic representation of Long Island and their location in the north fork of the tail.  Alas, we were way early for tasting room hours.  After a quick lunch/snack from the local IGA, we wandered back to check out the small but nicely done East End Seaport Museum.  The nearby fireboat Fire Fighter is also managed by the museum, but alas not open for tours on the day of our visit.  Active from 1938-2010, she’s a tired looking vessel right now, but has an impressive service history, including a role in fighting fires resulting from the 9/11 terrorist attack.  A Wikipedia article here has more of her story and some good photos.

The North Fork area of Long Island a big wine growing region in recent years, so of course we’d do some exploring.  We pedaled to  Kontokosta Winery just on the outskirts of Greenport and enjoyed a lovely tasting and a walk about the grounds.  The wine was quite good as was the view of Long Island Sound from the property.  Back in Greenport, we grabbed a bite at Lucharito’s, very tasty duck nachos, and tacos.

A couple of days later, we moved around to an anchorage known as Hog Neck Bay, a nice spot with access to a few more wineries.  We beached the dinghy for walk to Croteaux Rosé Vineyards for a sampling of sparklings , Mattebella Vineyards for some tasty reds and bites, then on to Greenport Harbor Brewing Company‘s Peconic location, the latter on a tip from a sommelier at Kontokosta Winery a few days earlier.  Not only does Greenport offer tastings at this location, they also have a food truck on site.  We enjoyed GHBC’s beers much more than those of Shelter Island Craft Brewery.

 

The next day we moved around to Town Creek where we picked up a mooring courtesy of cruising friends we’d met on Block Island earlier this season, Rick & Lynne aboard s/v Acacia. We shuttled  bikes ashore, and enjoyed a late breakfast at Jeni’s Main Street Grill That’s about when the heavens opened up.  We waited out the worst of it, and had only occasional sprinkles over the rest of the day. We pedaled out  Horton’s Point Lighthouse thinking we’d only be able to see the grounds, but were pleased to learn that they’d just reopened after being closed for several weeks.

 

Our afternoon was spent checking out a couple more wineries.  One Woman Wines and Vineyards is a smallish operation, the owner/grower/winemaker an Italian woman from Calabria, Italy.  The Old Field Vineyards was a favorite… a comfortable, laid-back kind of place complete with ducks and chickens running around… and some tasty wines.

Back in town, we attempted  a visit to the Southold Historical Society’s Museum Complex… admission included with a multi-site ticket we’d purchased at the lighthouse earlier in the day…  however found all the buildings padlocked, except for the privy that is, despite a sign advertising hours indicating that they should be open.  A bit shy on volunteer help I guess.  We made a grocery run, pumped a few gallons of water from dinghy and headed back to the mothership.

LS_20160821_080412 Long Beach Bar Light, aka %22Bug Light%22

Long Beach Bar Lighthouse, aka “Bug Light”

We completed our circumnavigation with a return to Coecles Harbor where we planned to meet up with cruising friends Dawn and Paul of BuBu3.  On our way, we passed Long Beach Bar Lighthouse, aka “Bug Light”.  The original structure, long since decommissioned,  was burned by arsonists in 1963.  So loved was this lighthouse that funds were raised and a replicate built in 60 days and installed in just one more.  The one day installation was apparently a bit confusing for a fisherman who apparently saw the empty foundation as he headed out one morning, and a working lighthouse in place at day’s end.

We spent a couple of days/nights catching up with the crew of Bubu3, including a great jazz night at nearby Ram’s Head Inn, exploring  Taylor’s Island and another walk about Mashomack Preserve.  Taylor’s Island is another spot with some history, currently undergoing a bit of restoration.  It wasn’t open at our visit… apparently rarely is, but I was captivated by the doors.

 

For our last night together, we’d planned for dinner aboard BuBu3.  There was a bit of wind and wave action, but Mike and I were undeterred.  We donned our rain gear and motored over.  We’d just finished drinks and snacks and were sitting down to dinner when we heard someone shouting nearby.  We headed up to the cockpit to see what the commotion was about.  I should mention that the previous night, during a heavy downpour, there was some drama with a couple of rafted boats dragging anchor, resulting in a near-miss collision with BuBu3, so someone in the anchorage shouting loudly not 24 hours later got our attention.  It turns out our dinghy decided to untie its painter and go for a drift by itself. Paul and Mike were in Paul/Dawn’s dinghy in the blink of an eye and off to rescue our poor Pudgy which was having quite a ride on the waves as it washed towards the rocks on the far shore.  I wasn’t quick enough to grab a shot of its solo adventure, but Dawn caught this one shortly after its rescue.  Mike was moving so fast, he even forgot to grab his hat and sunglasses.  Thankfully this was a daylight rescue and not a nighttime search and rescue.

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Oh, the adventures we have…

 

 

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aka The Hamptons, or most of the Hamptons anyway.  Forks, counties, towns, villages, hamlets… it’s all very confusing up here.  I like the image though of Long Island as a fish swimming towards the west, with a forked tail.

We decided to tuck into Three Mile Harbor (spacious, no anchoring restrictions and reasonable shore access) to rest, visit with a cruising friend who’s living/working here for the season, and to plan for our next stretch.  As it turns out, this spot kept us busy exploring as well.

One day we ferried the bikes ashore with a plan to pedal out to Cedar Point County Park.  It wasn’t a bad ride… nice scenery, decent roads, not a lot of traffic, but we found ourselves wishing for our old road bikes at one point, or at least something with a few gears.  Nevertheless, we made it.  We pedaled through the park until the road ended, then walked along the beach out to Cedar Point Light.  The first Cedar Point Light built in the 1830’s and the current structure dating from a few decades later were both built on what was then Cedar Island, but the 1938 hurricane apparently rearranged the shoreline and today a narrow spit of sand connects the lighthouse to what was the mainland. A few families enjoyed the beach, but we were alone in our venturing out to the light.

Unlike many of the lighthouses we’ve seen in recent months, the Cedar Point Light is still very much in need of some TLC.  The Cedar Island Restoration Project is apparently well underway, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the structure… except for the big banner hung from one side advertising the project.  A few years ago, the beacon was removed from the top and moved by barge to a boatyard in Sag Harbor where it’s reportedly been restored and will wait for further building restoration to be completed.  I’ve read that a roof replacement is in the works for next year.  The interior was badly burned in a fire in the mid 1970’s.  There’s a lot of work to be done.  Word is it’ll serve as a bed & breakfast when it’s finally complete.  Maybe one day I’ll be able to post “after” photos.

Much of the beach along this spit of land is closed seasonally for nesting birds.  On our walk back, I spent a bit of time taking photos of rocks at the shore line instead of the shorebirds who are fast little buggers.  I did managed a few with the bird in the frame.

As long as we had bikes ashore, we decided to pedal down to LongHouse Reserve.  LongHouse is a 16-acre reserve and sculpture garden, a project of famed textile designer/art collector/author Jack Lenor Larsen. He also built a Japanese-inspired home on the grounds that alas is not open to the public, but sounds like quite a place.  I would have loved a sneak peak.  Larsen is nearly 90 at this point, and still spends a lot of time on the grounds here. He generously  opens the grounds to the public though, for a small fee,  at least for a few hours a day, only a few days a week.  Our timing was fortunate.

The Gateway Bell sets the tone for a peaceful walk through the garden.  Here’s a sampling of what I found most intriguing.

I couldn’t help but notice several pieces that used materials familiar to those of us who live on boats… Sunbrella fabric and stainless steel rigging bits to name a few…

This piece offered some interesting photo ops…

Mike was drawn to the vast array of art upon which one could rest…

 

LS_20160813_184048 dinghy parking, Three Mile Harbor

dinghy parking, Three Mile Harbor

Damarks Deli was today’s food highlight.  We had a bite of breakfast here in the morning, and stopped again to pick up some carry-out things for a light dinner back aboard.  We were lucky to make it back aboard however.  We arrived back at the dinghy dock to find it chained and padlocked, the dinghy equivalent of having one’s tire booted.  Turns out we’d inadvertently tied up to a marina dock instead of the in-retrospect-very-obvious public dinghy dock… not that there are signs or anything.  Thankfully we arrived while there were still marina/boatyard staff around;  $10 later (Mike talked them down from $30), we were free and on our way.  (Photo from a later day, tied to the correct dock, the illegal/$10 dock in the background).

The next day we were up and out early to meet Tina, who we’d first met in the Bahamas a couple of years ago.  She’s now RVing, and is working up here for the summer.  We had a lovely wander through the Elizabeth Morton National Wildlife Refuge (alas, no camera), though it was pretty quiet this morning anyway.  We did see dozens of signs though, not forbidding feeding the birds (they’ve apparently given up on that), but rather discouraging folks from leaving piles of seed behind as it attracts rats.  Even the signs/pictures of rats eating shorebird eggs were ineffective though, as we saw at least one pile of seeds someone had left behind on a railing, though a squirrel was making quick work of it.

Lunch at LTBurger in Sag Harbor was most delicious (Smoke Gouda Waffle Fries, jus sayin’), was followed by stops at a farm market and a grocery.  Bless her heart, a provisioning run was the first thing Tina offered when we arrived… she still gets it.  The following morning she introduced us to the Saturday  Sag Harbor Farmers Market; we could have gotten into some serious food geeking trouble here were we not planning to be out for the day with no access to refrigeration.  As it was, we did some power sampling and held purchases to a breakfast pastry and a bottle of hot sauce.  After a visit to the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum, we said our good-byes.  Mike and I did a bit more exploring around Sag Harbor,  an old whaling village with a number of historic homes.  We also visited an honest-to-goodness 5-&-dime, and a good old fashioned hardware store… gotta love tourist towns that have something besides t-shirt shops.

We’d planned to take the bus back to save Tina yet another drive, particularly on a Saturday and especially since she’s working evenings.   What a bust!  We found a bus system that pales in comparison to the one we experienced on Martha’s Vineyard a few weeks back.  The bus stops aren’t marked, and they run no where close to on schedule.  We managed to catch one from Sag Harbor to East Hampton.  We planned to walk around there a bit,  but found it mostly a place full of high end clothing shops we weren’t remotely interested in.  We did find a place to eat that wasn’t stupid expensive (Rowdy Hall) and had a bite to eat… good food and a few decent beers on tap.  Later, we decided to walk the 3 miles back to Three Mile Harbor. Amazingly, there was a sidewalk the whole way.

A couple of days of rest and hiding out from the heat, and we’re ready to explore some more.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Captain’s summary:

Thursday we motored to a mooring in Cuttyhunk.  Wind was on the port bow the whole way; we maybe could have sailed if we’d tacked to Rhode Island and back.  There was a sleek J-100 with tiller stealing and Kevlar sails paralleling us most of the way, having no trouble making 5.5 knots into 20-25° of apparent wind.
Interesting place, Cuttyhunk.  The island is quiet, scenic, mostly private, and dry; a couple of inns, beaches, a ‘yacht club’ for the dinghy racing set, a tiny grocery, a tiny gift shop, the one BYOB outdoor pizza restaurant, and the raw bar / lobster shack / ice cream / hot dog vendors at the dock.  The harbor is party central, though, at least on the Saturday we were there – about 70 very closely-spaced moorings with folks swimming, fishing, drinking, buying from the Raw Bar boat, grilling, visiting boat-to-boat, and seemingly never venturing ashore, all while boats up to 50′ squeeze through looking for an open mooring.

And my more verbose version…

Long before we arrived in Cuttyhunk, we’d been warned of its reputation as a popular spot for boaters during the summer months.  Consequently we’d planned our arrival for a Thursday, hoping to snag a mooring ball ahead of the week-end crowds.  Still, the tightly packed mooring field was a bit startling.  Over the course of the days that followed, we learned that one only had to dinghy ashore and walk a short distance to be clear of the hordes.  Honestly, I think that some come/party/go and never set foot on dry land.  Perhaps they’re frequent visitors and they’ve been there/done that.  We found the island to be a delightful place to explore.

LS_20160804_172444Cuttyhunk is the farthest flung of the Elizabeth Islands, a chain of 16 (most of which are uninhabited, 14 of which are owned by the Forbes family) that stretch southwestward from Cape Cod, sandwiched by Buzzards Bay to the north and Vineyard Sound to the south.  It’s less than a square mile of land mass, much of it protected from development, and we walked every bit of it… except of course for the areas well marked as “private”, of which there were more than a few.  Some were more creative than others in posting regarding their privacy.  (Moments after taking this photo, we were swarmed by mosquitos, more effective than any sign at keeping potential trespassers away I think!  We retreated quickly.)

There are only a few year-round residents and almost no cars.  Most get around on foot, via golf carts, or in the far reaches of the island, 4x4s.  There is one small church shared by a number of denominations, a one room school house that has one teacher and less than a handful of students.  Medical services are available via a rotation of physicians who come from the mainland with their families, accommodations provided in exchange for services rendered.  It’s a charming place.  We started our exploration at the Cuttyhunk Museum of the Elizabeth Islands, a place of limited open hours but extremely enthusiastic volunteer docents.

From the museum, it was only a short hike up to Lookout Hill, a whopping 154 ft above sea level, the highest point on the island.  Fortunately it was a clear day and the views were amazing.  Apparently this was not lost on our Coast Guard, who during WWII built six defensive bunkers used to watch the surrounding waters in search of Nazi U-boats. Most of the surrounding fence has been dismantled,   but one still has a feel for the scale.

 

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Soprano’s, Cuttyhunk

There aren’t a lot of dining options on the island either, but pizza sounded good, so we decided to check out Soprano’s.  After a quick dinghy run back to Cheshire to grab some wine (Cuttyhunk is dry, but byob is encouraged), we arrived just ahead of the crowd… like I said, not much for options.  The description in an online review as picnic tables in someone’s driveways accurate, but we loved it, as do many of the locals it seems. (Note: the photo at right was taken earlier in the day before they’d opened, hence the lack of customers.)

The following day we’d get a bit more far flung, but not before breakfast.  The Captain does love his breakfast.  First stop: the Cuttyhunk Fishing Club, circa 1860’s.  Originally built as an elite fishing club for a group of wealthy New York businessmen, it now operates as a bed and breakfast, but offers breakfast to non-guests as well.  Breakfast was good, the views even better.

Fortified, we hiked to Westend Pond, complete with views across the inlet to the Bartholomew Gosnold Monument and oil house ruins from the former lighthouse.  Gosnold arrived from England in 1602 with plans to establish a colony and harvest sassafras, though neither lasted very long.  One story goes that without sufficient provisions to last the winter, the settlers decided to return to England. An alternate explanation is that they feared the native Indians who had become hostile, possibly because the settlers had allegedly stolen one of their canoes.  Either way, they didn’t stick around for long.  Side note: Gosnold is also said to have named Martha’s Vineyard for his deceased daughter.  The monument was erected in 1902 for the 300-year anniversary.

Cuttyhunk Light also has quite a story (details in the link).  A succession of lights served the island from 1823, the most recent having sustained terminal damage in the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944;  it was dismantled a few years later, replaced by a skeleton tower which has also since been dismantled.  All that remains now are the ruins of the old oil house.

We also watched a boat bravely approach what looked to us like a shallow and quick-moving inlet into Westend Pond. Turns out that the boat was the Raw Bar boat that delivers to the mooring field, and Westend Pond is in part a shellfish farm.  Go figure.

The afternoon found us back on the east end of the island, exploring the beaches that reach out on the south side of Cuttyhunk Harbor; it turned out to be a great birding spot.  I’m still trying to id some of these feathered friends; id help welcomed.

We opted for dinner aboard Cheshire that night, but with help from the folks at the Fish Dock who supplied the clams for our boil and a steamed lobster.  Yum.

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feast

For a bit more on this gem of an island, check out this New York Times article from a few years back.

Although we’d hoped to hold our visit to Cuttyhunk to a couple of nights (pricy at $45/night mooring fee), we stayed an extra night waiting out some weather before continuing on west for a bit more time in the Long Island vicinity before the summer’s out.

 

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