A Summer Sleighride to Nantucket Island

Nantucket Sound lay between us and Nantucket Island. Not a boring stretch of water in our experience.

Cape Cod sailors know their stuff. They deal with tricky, swift currents and incessant winds, five knots more powerful than their actual speed (I swear).

Sailing to an island like Nantucket is exciting, as it slowly rises out of the sea in the distance. The passage across the sound can be gripping when winds and currents get together. With Christmas surfing on some waves, the whaling term “Nantucket Sleighride” fit the sensation.

On this recent cruise, putting Tuckernuck Shoal to starboard was a relief as we roared through the inlet and into Nantucket harbor under the full power of the stiff southerly winds and following seas. The seas flattened in the inlet, but the winds, now on our beam, still blew hard.

Brant Point Light, the second oldest lighthouse in the nation, came up rapidly inside the harbor. We had to douse our sails in a hurry to slow down!

This island is a classic destination no matter how you get here. Meticulously coiffed today, Nantucket has a strong historical flavor steeped in New England history.

Nantucket Harbor alone is an adventure. A busy place in season, the inland harbor, large enough to be a bay, goes on for miles. Beautiful public beaches and interesting shorelines abound to be explored by dinghy. Over the years, we’ve spent time on the nearby beaches with our growing children, just off our boat.

One year, we navigated to the Head of the Harbor, miles above the main harbor. An amazing place at the end of a long, winding, shoal-ridden route, it’s a place to explore, but it’s not easy to get to….

The anchorage to the northeast of the mooring field is well marked on the charts. Be careful of nearby shoaling and the currents that can run through the entire harbor. Also, the holding is a little sketchy, which we proved on our last visit by dragging anchor when the southerly winds grew to 20+ knots. After our kids winched up a bale of seaweed and our anchor, we luckily found a vacant mooring with Nantucket Moorings.

Over several visits, we’ve anchored safely in the anchorage, but I wouldn’t leave a boat unattended if the winds are forecast to blow a bit. Be sure to set your hook diligently and pick your weather.

We get our exercise in Nantucket Harbor, as the dinghy dock is a good row from the anchorage or mooring field. Launch service is available. Everything you’ll need is on shore at the town-owned pier and dinghy dock or in town, a short walk away.

In town I can spend hours walking the streets of Nantucket. The architecture, history, and how this island ticks remarkably well today, even as it hosts so many visitors, is fascinating. There’s usually an empty bench nearby in the bustling town to just sit and watch the people go by.

In old storefront windows, you’ll see everything from cupcakes to flip-flops (sometimes together!). On the streets, there’s everything from very upscale art for sale to a full-sized grocery store to provision your boat.

Café tables flank many of the cobblestone streets and brick paved sidewalks. Such a picturesque village, it’s not surprising to come upon a painter or two, en plein air.

Anyone visiting the island should take advantage of the bus system, the Nantucket Regional Transit Authority. The first thing you’ll notice riding on the bus? Nantucket is a big island. About fourteen miles long and half again as wide, there are several destinations that are too far to walk to.

We took the bus to Siasconset (pronounced ‘Sconset) on our last visit and spent several hours touring the delightful historic village.

Much of Nantucket is in the conservation zoning and open to the public. Walking, hiking, and biking trails are plentiful, as are public beaches.

At the end of a long day on the island, there are too many restaurants and little bistro-type places to dine at to list. We’ve enjoyed several.

But if you’re lucky enough to be out in the harbor, on your own boat as the sunsets, that’s the best table in town.