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Cruising Tales: How Do You Find an Island in the Fog? Run Into It

Most of us who have sailed to islands are drawn to them because each is magical in its own way. Usually, island people are happy and very friendly to visitors. Because their islands are generally small, island people pull together in rough times and do not hesitate to help each other. They are mostly easygoing and like to have plenty of fun. If they have a choice between working or dancing, they’ll choose dancing!

You seem to feel the difference the minute you arrive on an island. The pace of life is less hurried, in fact, down right slow. The islanders are proud to show you their island and its beauty. But underneath their lightheartedness there is a lot of grit because living on an island is often harder.

Almost everything has to be carried there in only two ways – by boat or by plane if the island is big enough to have even a dirt landing strip. So while you wait, you might as well have fun! Islanders can also be strongly independent and downright obstinate if their way of life is threatened in some way by off-islanders. For instance, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, the two largest islands off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, attempted to secede from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1977 because a proposed change to the Massachusetts Constitution would have reduced the islands’ representation in the Massachusetts General Court.

We sailed from St. Thomas on Avenir II in the summer of 1970 to Newport, Rhode Island and then explored the coast to Nantucket. Accompanying us were old sailing buddies Cecil and Betty Brooks, their son Larry and Bruce Craddock, an old friend. The Brooks were the ones who got us started in sailing in 1965 by helping us build a Thistle, a 17-foot racing sloop in Austin, Texas.

We arrived at Nantucket by running into it in heavy fog. Our navigation equipment on Avenir II was sparse. Mike and I had just our eyes, our ears, the sextant and the depth sounder. We knew we were very near the island because of the loud fog horn at the end of the breakwater, so we were motoring very slowly. But the depth changed quickly and we kissed a beach and came to an abrupt stop.

Minutes later the fog lifted and we saw that we had missed the harbor entrance by less than a mile. The tide was rising so we had only to wait. Boats came by and a few offered to call the Coast Guard for us. None wanted to pull us off. Those boats which were local cheerfully waved as they passed by, knowing we would be off as soon as the tide rose enough. But had the tide been receding, we knew those island boats would have helped us, had we needed it.

These two attitudes exemplified the difference in outlook on life between mainlanders and islanders. On the mainland things had to be done NOW! You couldn’t spend the time helping someone else because you had to get somewhere else. An islander would almost always attempt to help you but if he couldn’t, you just accepted it and just enjoyed the waiting until things changed.

Once we entered the attractive harbor of Nantucket which is also nicknamed “The Grey Lady,” we were immediately charmed. Besides the wonderful cobblestone streets in the main town there are other attractive settlements, long strung out beaches, sandy hills and fresh water ponds. All are fun to explore by bike.

Life is downright beautiful on an island.

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