Our first attempt to book a ferry over to Nantucket Island was thwarted when the agent told us we couldn’t get back on Labor Day due to the mass exodus of the summer residents. So, we booked a trip for the day after. So far, we have been blessed with splendid weather on our trip up the East Coast and this day was no exception.
We booked a ride on the “Fast Ferry” for an 8:15am departure out of Hyannis, MA. This required that we drive the 45 minutes from Wings Inn, at the USCG Air Station, Buzzard’s Bay, MA, park our car, and check in 30 minutes in advance of the launch. So, we’re up at 5:00am, showered, made a little coffee and a light breakfast in the room, poured another cup of coffee for the road…and take off. We made it in time to look around a little and for me to make a return trip to the car for the IPhone I left on the back seat.
We boarded the Fast Ferry for a one hour ride to the Island. The price for the round trip was $50 per passenger which we considered very reasonable. We chose seats on the upper deck, outside. We chose well, because once we were underway, those sitting on the outside edge of the deck were hit with water from the wake created by the high speed ferry, but we were sitting in the center and protected. The sea was choppy, but we hardly noticed in this large vessel, and soon Nantucket Island came into view.
We rounded Brant Point, marked by its lighthouse, where a few fishermen were trying their luck. Brant Point lighthouse sits right on the shore and is just barely above the surf. I saw one comment in a brochure that said it was the second lowest lighthouse in the country in terms of elevation above sea level. Couldn’t verify this, but I believe it.
We arrived at port and began a short walk into the town itself. We had planned to spend more time there, but since our schedule had changed, and we were to move to Fourth Cliff Recreation Area the next day, we needed to do as much sightseeing as we could and catch the returning ferry at 3:15 that afternoon.
Helen (adorable wife) stopped in the Visitor Center for some suggestions. She was told to visit the Whaling Museum no matter what, and that we would enjoy the climb up the tower of the Congregational Church for the view of the entire island. We did both.
Main Street in Nantucket is populated with many Historic Buildings and is an authentic cobblestone street. There are many shops and eating establishments along both sides, but shopping here is not for the timid–things can be a little pricey. Nevertheless, it was fun to browse.
There are not many cars on the Island, but bicycles are everywhere. When we left the ferry, the first thing you come upon are bicycle and motor scooter rental stores. If we had the opportunity to spend more than the day there, I would have been first in line. The bikes we saw were in good condition, and most were available for $27 for a single day. Motor scooters went for $99. I’m not sure how biking is on a cobblestone street…and I did spot more than one biker walking the bike instead of riding. Still, it seemed like a great way to get around.
We made it to the Whaling Museum in time for a presentation on the industry that literally and figuratively fueled the economy of Nantucket Island for over one hundred years in the 18th and 19th Century.
The presenter was excellent. She described how the early settlers learned the craft of whaling from the Native Americans who had lived on the island for centuries after they learned that sheep farming wasn’t a viable means of earning a living. The presentation was accompanied with a video projected on a large screen above her, and made her lecture easily understandable. I learned several things. Whaling was hard, dangerous work, done by very brave individuals who made enormous amounts of money, providing they survived the arduous three and sometimes four years at sea. I also learned that it’s not something for everyone–including me.
After the presentation, we were given a guided tour of the museum which was extremely well done. There was a remarkable display of scrimshaw–art carvings in whale’s teeth, that was truly fascinating. Other displays included tools of the whaling industry, some well over 150 years old, and an impressive gallery of portrait art, including one by Gilbert Stuart.
Whales were hunted for their oil and we learned that once petroleum was discovered in Pennsylvania in the 1850’s, the industry declined as did the population of Nantucket Island, shrinking from over 10,000 residents at the peak of the whaling industry to less than three thousand at the turn of the twentieth century. Nantucket was close to resembling a ghost town until the entrepreneurs decided that tourism could save it, and make them rich in the process. That idea was a good one.
After leaving the museum, we walked to the Congregational Church on a hill above the town. We were greeted by a very nice volunteer who gave us a few of the details of the history of the church, and showed us where the steps to the Tower were located. We walked the 94 steps to the top and were again greeted by an extremely pleasant volunteer who pointed out the more notable things to see from the excellent viewing site. We chatted with her for a while and learned that she had lived on the island for many years and worked at the church two hours a week among her other activities. She was proud to tell us that at 84 years of age she walked three miles EVERY day and climbed those 94 steps in the tower with no problem. Helen and I agreed that there’s still hope for us. We took lots of pictures, said goodbye to our new friend, and walked down.
It was time for lunch.
I had been to Nantucket in the summer of 1970 in hopes of landing a job during summer break from college. Because the University of Tennessee was on a quarterly schedule, and the spring quarter extended until June, all of the students who attended semester schedule schools got there before me and grabbed what jobs were available. During that visit, I met a friend of mine in a bar now known as the Tavern on the afternoon before I left to try to find work in Ocean City, MD. My friend didn’t have a job either, but he did have money. He ordered a Bloody Mary at the bar…I couldn’t even afford a soda. I watched him enjoy that Bloody Mary with great envy.
Fast forward 45 years. It was time for lunch and I was going to the Tavern for a Bloody Mary–maybe two. I sat in the same seat as before (I think) and ordered proudly, savoring every drop. For lunch, I ordered a Cod Reuben sandwich with cole slaw and fries, and Helen ordered grilled swordfish, which was excellent. The Cod sandwich was prepared like a traditional Reuben to include thousand Island dressing. It was very good. The Bloody Mary was better.
After lunch (only one Bloody Mary), we went back to the Whaling Museum for a video presentation on the history of Nantucket Island. It was well done, but we had to leave it early in order to catch the afternoon ferry back to Hyannis.
The ferry was full. We sat inside this trip because I had enough sun for one day, and wanted some relief. There were three seats grouped on either side of a table with windows all around the interior of the deck were were on. We shared our seat grouping with a young couple from Oslo, Norway, a lady on a tour from New Mexico, and a gentleman from New York City and his Scottish Terrier, Sebastian. Sebastian was a young, excitable dog who barked at everything that moved, and impossible to ignore. The couple from Norway spoke English and were on a two week trip in New England.
On leaving Nantucket we noticed several people on the boat throwing pennies in the water as we rounded Brant Point. I later learned that according to tradition, the penny toss insured a return visit to the Island. I was a little late getting on board with this ritual, but Helen and I do hope to return with a lots more time to enjoy this little delightful, and historic, 50 square mile piece of land in the sea.
It was another great day for Easin’ Along the East Coast.