It’s a big boat. Feels like a big boat. Twenty-eight feet and I’m still testing its limits.
A couple weeks back, the weather being ideal and the tides right, I was able to take the Chris-Craft out with some friends for the afternoon. After making it over the hump, where low water can be as low as two feet (for a vessel that draws two and a half feet of water) at the bend of the Oyster River, the world opened up considerably.
Normally a breezy day on Nantucket Sound wouldn’t be terribly fun for anyone below decks. But the wind was from the northeast that Sunday, which meant that the eastern half of Chatham would block most of the force. We headed out to the harbor entrance buoy, made the typical jokes about the opening of “Jaws,” broke out the pot luck buffet and enjoyed the sunshine.
Not too much later, I was taking it back into Stage Harbor. The idea was to either anchor in the half moon inside Morris Island or possibly take a tour up Mitchell River, under the bridge and up to the dock in Little Mill Pond. The suddenness of the bar opposite Harding's Beach and the Stage Harbor Lighthouse still surprises me, though. So much sand pushed out of Fool’s Channel and off South Beach had spread itself like a blanket. What two years ago was a little ridge of a sandbar exposed only at low tide was now almost a wall of light green water, nudging into the channel.
At the helm, I looked longingly to the right, east to the passage to what was the Southway and the passage that curves around to Chatham Lighthouse and the harbor. Tide was coming in and still had plenty of hours until it would ebb. Geoff Bassett thought we could do it. I was unsure, not wanting to get stuck with so many people aboard. But with two lookouts up front, Stefanie Coronella and Geoff, maybe that would be enough weight to keep the bow down. And four eyes are better than two.
The bright sun, clear sky and clean water made discerning the deepest water easy. There are three tricky spots here, where the bottom rises up right before it dips down again: the first at the entrance from the Stage Harbor Channel, the other at the southernmost spot of Morris Island, and again near the northwest corner of Monomoy Island. Following a few small boats, we had no problem. Before we knew it, we were abreast the weather station on Morris Island, approaching the fishhook at the top of South Beach Island.
This was the “old” Fool’s Channel that just a couple years ago I walked across in waders with Randy Saul and Jimmy Fallon as it broke through. It’s just ocean now, with a hopscotch of churning blue-purple deep water and aquamarine shallows. Rather than turn out into the Atlantic and meet that northeast wind face on, we turned to the protected waters of Chatham Harbor.
Lighthouse Beach, from this big boat, felt perilously close to our left, as did the outer beach to our right. Things have narrowed considerably. We felt that all the way to the 5 mph No Wake buoy at the entrance to Aunt Lydia’s Cove. Which is where we turned. Someone passed me a red cup of various samples of the snack trays—pretzels, cheese chunks, grapes—and I tipped it back into my mouth while trying to keep one eye on the buoys marking the deep water off Holway and Water streets.
For posterity, if nothing else, I had been tracking our course on a navigation app. Having trailed a couple other boats into the former Fool’s Cut, I noticed a marker I had set down years before. Where I had stood in the middle of the break during that April Fool’s storm was now dry land again—on the barrier beach across from the Lighthouse. In the matter of two years it had gone from beach to 30 foot channel to beach again, and from the mainland on the west to the island on the east.
If anyone wants to get a sense of how dynamic our waterways and coastline are, this was the best example. One spot on earth going from walkable to navigable to walkable again within the lifespan of a hamster.
As we turned to the southwest to make our way around Morris Island to Stage Harbor and home, the sun was starting to lower a little. Glare obscured the surface of the water, but still we managed to find the passage. Much to my surprise, what I thought should be almost closed felt deeper. So much of the shore had filled out. But this was a gratifying test.
Having dropped everyone at Barn Hill Landing, I came up the river and up to the mooring in the Oyster Pond. But I didn’t leave immediately. It can be tough when there are bunks, snacks and drinks on board and the weather is still mild.
Last year, about the end of September, I went to check on the Catalina sailboat on this same mooring, run the engine, examine the mooring line. A cool breeze came up as the sky began to cloud over. Hunched in the cockpit, I thought I might slip below to warm up. But another thought danced across my brain.
The tank was full of diesel. The wind was blowing down the river to Nantucket Sound. Plenty of provisions on board. I could just go. South, someplace warmer, sunnier, where it still felt like August.
And then I heard Bash bark in our yard back on shore. It was suppertime for him, and for Sofie, too, I guess. Another time, I had thought. The possibilities of boats are far too alluring, especially with summer coming to a close.