I have a great life. I’m married to a wonderful woman (who is a top burlesque performer), I have two great children, and I spend my days writing, editing, and doing other facets of business related to the production/publishing company my wife and I run together. I love my life, but still I get jealous of others at times. When I met Autumn Birt, who writes a great travel blog called No Map Nomads, I felt that twinge as the green monster reared its ugly head. Then, earlier this week, she released her new book Danger Peligros and I assisted by posting an excerpt. Reading it, my thirst for adventure travel disappeared…I’m more of a hotels and room service kind of guy, it turns out.
Let’s join Weifarer and Raven for another adventure to keep me in my place.
What are Peligros? That is a tough one to explain. They are the best and the worst of your day, travel, life. They are what draws us out from safe and comfy homes – the little itches that make such abodes feel too confining, too much the same. They are the essence of that moment when everything has gone horribly wrong and you are left thankful to be alive with parts that still add up to a functional whole. They are that moment when someone you don’t know lends you an unexpected, warm hand. They are when your luck goes from nonexistent to good, because you wouldn’t need good luck if things hadn’t looked scary for a time, now would you?
You know what a Peligro is, only you just didn’t know what to call it.
Raven and I have been traveling since we met on Martha’s Vineyard oh-so-many years ago now. From those early days barely surviving learning to sail on Vineyard Sound to more recent motorcycle trips through the Canadian Maritimes, we’ve had our share of trouble and of luck. Danger Peligros! collects some of those stories of our misadventures so that when you follow a Peligro out the door, you might be a little better informed!
How NOT to Cross Vineyard Sound
Ignorance protects the foolish and the young. And boy, were we lucky it did! This nearly unsuccessful crossing of Vineyard Sound taught us to laugh at our mistakes – once we were sure we were going to live to tell about them.
We were both wrong. Raven was right: we should have left earlier. I was certainly right and we definitely should have stopped in Oak Bluffs for gas. Beyond that, there was so much we didn’t have a clue about it was only the powers that protect the foolish and young that got us safely back to the mainland. Ignorance is bliss, especially if what you are ignorant of is the knife’s edge of success or death.
The sailboat was a beat up and well used MacGreggor 25. Bought on Martha’s Vineyard, we had lived aboard it for two months while working on the island. We’d sailed it exactly twice. The second time we had broken a block due to improper rigging of a boat which we knew absolutely nothing about. We had a lot of theories though.
Anchored in Katama Bay, we were off the charts, away from marinas and anyone who would have given us practical advice. Like the charts were way wrong and the outgoing tide was far above the listed 4 knots. And maybe our “chart” should have been more than a fancy waterproof placemat anyway. Or that maybe we should have rigged the boat correctly before trying to motor across to Cape Cod, just in case we had to use the sail. But no, we were alone with just a few clammers fishing the muddy sand at low tide, the sea gulls, our haphazard sailboat, and ignorant bliss.
It was only mid-summer, but we needed to leave the Vineyard early. Time to raise anchor and head up to Maine, literally. Of course, we weren’t crazy enough to sail THAT far. We were going to just putt across Vineyard Sound, pull the boat in Woods Hole, and tow it up to Maine. The crossing is only 8 miles of open water. Heck, you can see the mainland from Martha’s Vineyard. This wasn’t the English Channel. How hard could it be?
I wonder if we even checked the tide chart the day before? I mean, we knew that much. If the tide was low enough, the boat actually ended up grounded. Surely we would have planned ahead to ensure we had sufficient water to begin our journey? Still, we woke up to a thump. A shift in the current had bumped the hull against the quickly approaching sand bottom. Today was the day we were supposed to leave. The Jeep was already waiting in Woods Hole with the trailer. A few hours delay could put us too late to cross and would mean parking tickets. We were out of bed and looking over the side at the disappearing water. Raven pulled the anchors and started the engine while I put in my contact lenses.
Is that when we realized the gas tank wasn’t full? You would have thought we’d check that before we left. Better, before we drove our only method of land transportation off island so that if we’d realized our gas oversight, we would not have had to hitch a ride to a gas station. But no, by the time we hefted the gas tank, realized it was half full, calculated the usage of the 9.9 outboard and figured . . . we could make it, just, we were already underway.
Now, as slightly more cognizant adults, we would have probably realized that two mistakes don’t make a right, the fates were against us, and let’s just try again tomorrow. But in your twenties, you figure you can wing it. Our guardian angels must have never thought they’d manage to get us through to our thirties!
I smoothly motored us out of Katama Bay and by Edgartown. Our thoughts were on the summer, wondering when we’d see the Vineyard again and be able to spend time on our favorite beaches. The fact that we were heading out into the Sound on an outgoing tide racing to meet the Atlantic Ocean with a half tank of gas and broken rigging never entered our heads.
As Oak Bluffs came into view, the white gazebo painted vividly in the sunny field of grass, I did suggest that we could swing into the marina there for gas. But as we’d traveled up the western side of the Vineyard, we hadn’t encountered any problems. We just needed to round the tip, jump across the Sound, dive through the hole in the Elizabethan Islands between Buzzard’s Bay and Vineyard Sound and we could call it good. Why get even more off schedule for a pit stop in Oak Bluffs?
We knew the hole could be tricky. The current funneling between the islands created a wave as the water backed up against the rocky barrier before whipping past and out to sea. Still, things had been going well and we continued past the northern tip of Martha’s Vineyard and pointed the bow directly northeast and into the outgoing tide.
The island had protected us until that moment. But her embrace was now behind us. Our 25-foot boat took the full force of the current directly into her bow. We opened up the 9.9 half way, then three-quarters. The engine strained. The gas gurgled.
The island had also protected us from the wind. Now there was a slight breeze. Boats far ahead of us, almost to the mainland along the ferry route, were heeled over in the wind. We thought we could try the same thing. Raise the sail and motor forward. It would save gas and should work.
Except for that darn busted rigging. Well, the term “jury rigging” was obviously developed on a sailboat. Raven played a rope rerouting dance and we eased back on the throttle. Two things happened. We slipped next to and then a little behind the bell buoy we’d managed to force our way beyond ten minutes before. We weren’t even holding ground. We were losing. And the other thing is the ferry came.
Did I mention that Vineyard Sound can seem as busy as a water expressway? Fishing boats, pleasure boats, Coast Guard, research vessels, commuters, and really big ferry boats all ply the channel. And we were in the middle of the ferry route losing a battle with the tide.
A 25-foot boat feels about the size of a golf ball orbiting the moon next to a car ferry. Plankton had a better chance of fighting the whale about to swallow it than we did of making the ferry move. We just were not going to win that competition even if “vessels under sail” have the right of way. We hauled ass, kicked the motor to full 9.9 horse power and got the heck out of the way.
Which left us on fumes in the middle of the channel. But hey, the sail was raised! We called a boat tow company who offered to come to our aid with a can of gas for a mere $300. We were broke college student twenty-somethings. The offer didn’t feel like a rescue, but more like extortion for idiocy.
We declined and looked at each other as the engine gave a shuddering sputter and the bow threatened to turn to run with the tide. Well, why not? We had the whole arm of the Cape to make landfall. Woods Hole wasn’t the only game in town even if the Jeep was there. And let’s face it, we were never going to make it through the rocks and into Buzzard’s Bay if we couldn’t even beat the tide mid-channel.
We cut the engine and pivoted the boat into the waves. Who needs gas? This was a sailboat after all. Raven took over and angled the boat along the coast, dancing her with the swells. A small group of yacht club kids doing regatta runs made it all look so easy. But by then, we were near the sweep of the cape and protected from the worse of the tide.
Sans engine, Raven sailed up Falmouth Harbor and docked us in front of the gas tank. I was never so happy to be tied to something in my life. We filled the tank, dropped the jury-rigged sail, and motored further east to the Green Pond boat ramp. It was nearly deserted, had a gently angled ramp unlike Woods Hole, and we could take all the time we needed to get situated and pull the boat. Which was good, because Raven had to take a taxi back to Woods Hole to get the trailer and Jeep!
We survived but it was important lesson in how alone you really are, even when surrounded by a sea full of people. No one stopped to help us. Our first reliance was on each other. It took both of us to cross Vineyard Sound. That and an absolute ton of luck!
Explore the best moments, mischief, and mayhem from the adventure travel website No Map Nomads. Whether by boot, by (motor)bike, by boat, or by whatever it takes, Raven and Weifarer will take you along to experience trips from sublime to nearly disastrous. With serendipity tucked into the saddlebags along with some capricious Peligros, every turn leads to the unexpected.
This book includes the complete story arc to Cruise Ship Mutiny, the Cabot Trail on motorcycle, memories of the first motorbike trip to Canada (in October no less), hikes on tropical islands and much more.
Find it on Amazon