Nantucket is an island that should be on all boaters’ lists of top destinations. It is located 30 miles off shore from Cape Cod and east of the Martha’s Vineyard. This pretty island offers something for everyone in the way of beaches, shopping, dining, history, bicycling and more. It can be said that the town is one of the most picture perfect “New England-ish” looking seafaring places one can dock a boat at. While the island was settled by the Europeans in the 1600’s it came into its prime during 1800’s making its money on whaling. In fact in the book “Moby-Dick”, Ishmael sets sail from Nantucket.
The trick for any good cruise is proper planning. With safety being a priority the first thing we did was purchase “Richardsons Maptech: New York to Nantucket” as well as the latest “Waterway Guide Northern: Long Island Sound to New England Waters.” Any good boater should have these because electronics can and does fail. It was also good to have the books to look at in advance at home. This way you can study the waters and know where to duck for cover in the event of a storm, or where you could get fuel if you run low. As I tend to be cautious I purchased an ACR EPIRB (an emergency tracking transmitter) and a battery operated marine GPS. Being off-shore and potentially out of radio range the EPIRB would give us piece of mind in the ultimate emergency. The last thing we did was familiarize ourselves with our radar better because it was the one item on board we use least. I was told by seasoned skippers that one can come upon the islands in this area and have them totally disappear in front of them so knowing how your radar works is important.
When cruising to Nantucket check your wind and sea conditions. You are in open water once you pass the northern tip of Martha’s Vineyard and things can get rough. Once past here follow the markers carefully. There are plenty of shoals to be aware of and if you go buoy to buoy you will be fine. Once you turn south look for the long jetties coming from the harbor. Look out for sailboats that we have seen tack between the jetty and lighthouse. Ferries come and go regularly and have the right of way. Once past the jetty look for the short Brant Point Lighthouse at the entrance of the harbor and turn to starboard for the full service Nantucket Boat Basin. Reservations should be made advance at www.nantucketboatbasin.com. Slips can be $7.95 a foot in season. There are also over 100 mooring balls in the harbor maintained by Nantucket Moorings at www.nantucketmoorings.com There is a two night minimum at $65 a night. Launch service is available at $5 per person. Anchoring out is possible but it will be a long ride into town past the mooring balls. It can also be windy far into the harbor. We had a slip reserved in advance and were a little less than pleased to find we were placed in one that was 10 inches wider than the boat. Docking was quite a chore here with opposing winds making the deck hands and myself work hard to not bonk the boat (too hard) as we slid it in.
After settling in at the dock we wanted to get familiar with Nantucket by knowing its layout and some history. To do this we met Gail of Gail’s Tours (https://nantucket.net/tours/gails) where we arranged to take her 1 3/4 hour afternoon island tour. Gail has been giving tours for many years and is 6th generation Nantucket. She introduced us to the island with a narrative tour. We drove by historic homes and streets, a restored windmill from 1746, the old “gaol” (jail) and lighthouse with beautiful views. We stopped along the way to have things explained, take photos and to get some insight to the island’s history. We also saw some of the 82 miles of beaches that are all opened to the public. We recommend Gail’s Tours as great way to start your visit here.
The town of Nantucket is very quaint and pretty. Herman Melville walking around today would still recognize the same streets and buildings. While the streets may be the same as when “Moby-Dick” was written, Mr. Melville would find them lined with upscale boutiques, tourist and coffee shops, pubs and restaurants. This town has 800 pre- Civil War era buildings making it the largest collection in one area in the United States. The streets here are still cobblestone and a little uneven in places prompting my wife to leave the heels on board when going out to dinner.
Our first day here was planned all within walking distance of the marina. It started with a visit to the Whaling Museum (www.nha.org).There all access ticket for $20 gets you into the museum as well as The “Oldest House”, Old Mill, Old Gaol, Hadwen House, Greater Light and Fire Hose-Cart House. We also purchased for $10 a historic walking tour for another afternoon. After a film introduction we wondered about the several exhibits on display. These exhibits explained how whaling made Nantucket an important and wealthy island. After going through the museum we walked to the roof for a panoramic view of Nantucket Harbor.
With map in hand we hiked up and down the old streets of Nantucket visiting some of the other sites on that our ticket allowed. “Old House” was just was it said. It is the oldest standing home in Nantucket dating back to 1686. It is a simple two level design complete with open hearth fire place used for cooking and a restored garden circa 1700’s off the kitchen. Meandering on the old streets we visited the Hadwen House that was owned by a wealthy whaling and silver merchant. This home and its twin next door are in the Greek Revival style built in 1845 with the interior restored to period time. We also visited or walked by the homes of the Macy’s family that were built in the late 1700’s. Macy’s department stores was founded by this family. (During our walking tour later in the week went by many of these older buildings and learned more about their history and that of other homes near by.) After a long and interesting day consider doing a sunset cocktail in town at Galley Beach on Jefferson for the best views in town. Dinner that night was at Black Eyed Susan’s,(www.black-eyedsusans.com a funky BYO gourmet restaurant we highly recommend. Due to our late reservation request we were told they can sit at the counter. At first we were not happy about the seating arrangements, but that changed once we entered the restaurant. Sitting at the counter allowed us to watch action because all the cooking was done in front of us. It was also nice to chat with the Chef’s and ask about the food before we ordered it. Maureen’s tuna tartare was plated beautifully and tasted very fresh. My linguine and clam sauce could not have been any better as a first course. Our main dishes only complimented the first ones. (We gave this place equal praise when we came back for breakfast two days later). After dinner we strolled some of the smaller side streets. Between the cobblestones, old homes and low light, you really feel Nantucket is unique place.
Beach of a Day
There are several different beaches to visit during your stay on the island. They are all listed at www.nantucket.net. You can reach the beaches via bike path or with the NRTA buses. For our first beach day we decided to leave town on board folding bicycles stored on board. Bike rentals are available at three places on the island for $30 per day. Before heading to the beach we went slightly north a few minutes to the head of the harbor to see the small Brant Point Lighthouse that welcomes all incoming boats. We liked this “petite” size structure, the views and the different boats coming and going. From there we peddled through town heading south on the well-marked Surfside bike path that starts just out of town to Surfside Beach. Surfside Bike Path is ideal for non-bikers like us because it is very flat and the distance is only a few miles to the beach. Surfside Beach had couples, groups of young people and families with children playing in the surf. From the beach consider a 20 minute detour to the Cisco Brewery (www.ciscobrewers.com). Here for $20 you get a 45 minute tour and a tasting of two beers, wines and spirits that they produce. It is another 20 minute bike ride back to the dock afterwards.
Extra Things to Know and Consider
We spent four days on this pretty island but one can easily be here a week here. Below are some extra tips and things worth considering.
On Nantucket you can sit back and sun yourself on any of several good beaches. Getting around is easy via the 30 miles of bike paths or the NRTA which is the local bus service that has several routes and goes anywhere for a dollar or two. http://www.nrtawave.com.
Sunset dinner and cocktails: Milles (www.milliesnantucket.com) on the west side of the island offers casual food with an emphasis on seafood and food with a Mexican flare. It is 6.7 miles from the Boat Basin and can be reached by the NRTA or taxi.
Mitchells Book Corner www.mitchellsbookcorner.com has been on Main Street for over 40 years. This is an old fashion book store you don’t see often these days. While it has the latest books, it specializes on all things Nantucket. This includes novels, history, guide books and great souvenir coffee table books. The people here are all about customer service.
Topper’s is a restaurant located at the very east end of Nantucket in the Wauwinet Hotel (www.wauwinet.com). Getting here is half the fun taking the Wauwinet Lady about an hour to cross Nantucket Harbor. After your excellent brunch stay the day and enjoy this east end beach before taking their ferry back to town.
While there is a Stop and Shop supermarket near the docks, consider provisioning up at the weekly farmers market. Here you will find island produce and goods. This organization also throws special events including dinners. Go to www.sustainablenantucket.com.
Nantucket Shipwreck Museum
This museum preserves the memory of those Islanders who risked their lives to save shipwrecked mariners. The museum offers daily tours of its artifacts, paintings and life savings tools that helped rescue people from the hundreds of wrecks in the area. Docents here are known to tell up past stories on some of the spectacular shipwrecks. This is a good half way rest stop when biking out to the east side beaches. (www.nantucketshipwreck.org).
The following web sites offer entertainment that includes live local theater, music and art.
http://theatreworkshop.com, www.nantucketdreamland.org and www.nantucketartscouncil.org
We enjoyed watching comedy one evening and then a show another.
Observing the Stars:
The Maria Mitchel Loines Observatory is in a pretty dark location away from town. Here on certain nights you can learn about the skies and then see them through their large telescope. Go to www.mariamitchell.com to see about nature events during the day and star viewing at night.
All Things Nantucket
The web site https://nantucket.net is all about Nantucket. This includes dining, events, beaches as well as the various walking bicycling tours, 4 X 4 nature tours and even a spirits (alcohol) tour.