When I came to Martha’s Vineyard this summer, one of the things I was determined to do was finally get to Nantucket for the first time. That’s right—I had never been to Nantucket. Even some of my characters in my Martha’s Vineyard Mysteries had been! In the past, it hasn’t been that easy to get to our sister/rival island without a boat of your own. When I first started coming here with regularity as an adult, the only way to do it was to go back to the mainland on the Steamship Authority and then back out to Nantucket. The coordinating of the ferries out with the ferries back was complicated. The obvious choice would be to stay overnight but that is a pricey venture on Nantucket especially considering the two-night minimum stay policy of most of the hotels. Then the fast ferry started doing direct trips from Oak Bluffs to Nantucket but they only went out and back once a day and that left me with the same predicament of having to spend the night. Finally, a few years ago, the fast ferry out of Oak Bluffs expanded their schedule and they now go back and forth several times a day. I was ready to take full advantage!
I Booked My Flight To Nantucket
That’s right. I ended up flying to Nantucket on Cape Air. I had originally planned to book the ferry over in the morning. It leaves at approximately nine a.m. and gets you there just after ten. Then you have your option of when to come home. The last ferry is at quarter past five and gets you back to Oak Bluffs at approximately six-thirty. This is a great option and it would have given me plenty of time to walk around the main town of Nantucket, have lunch, check out the Whaling Museum which was on the top of my list of things to do, and then come home.
Things changed when I decided to bring a friend with me. I wouldn’t have minded going alone—not at all—but going with a friend who was excited about seeing the island too would be a lot of fun. I had asked a couple of friends and plans were made but they fell through. Then, I asked Lisa if she could go and she jumped at the chance. I don’t want it to sound like Lisa wouldn’t have been my first choice, it’s just that Lisa is probably the busiest person that I have ever met. I didn’t think it would be feasible. In fact, when I asked her, she responded, “When do you want to go?” I told her I was flexible and if she really wanted to come I would work around her schedule. We made it work. Then she said, “If I’m going to Nantucket, we’re flying.” We went to Nantucket. We flew.
MVY to ACK
Martha’s Vineyard Airport is exactly what you would imagine. It’s small, welcoming, and very New England. I had been there once before when my friend Sandra invited me to go flying with herself and her friend—now my friend—Dave. Dave owns a plane and he flew us around the Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Cape. It was a fantastic experience. Afterward, we all had lobster rolls and beer in the airport restaurant and from what I remember it was delicious!
Lisa and I got up early and headed out for our 7:30am flight. Mildly concerned about the business of the airport at peak season, we gave ourselves plenty of time. We needn’t have worried. We were the only ones there! It was pretty funny. We checked our bags and I said something to the airport attendant which sparked him to say, “I love checking in Canadians. You’re all so polite!” I don’t know what we’ve done to garner such praise but I’ll take it! While Lisa was content to read quietly on a bench in the middle of the airport, I went off in search of coffee and something, anything, to eat—keeping in mind that I was short on time. I found a coffee and a blueberry muffin in the restaurant and that was just enough to tide me over until breakfast on Nantucket. I got a couple of coffee refills into me before we boarded. Our flight left on time at 7:30am. We landed at 7:50am.
No really, we landed at ten to eight. It was a really cool flight. All I could think of was that show Wings! Remember that show? It wasn’t brilliant or anything but I watched every single episode on Netflix because periodically they would announce “Flight to Martha’s Vineyard” or they would just mention Martha’s Vineyard and it made me happy. Our plane held eight including the pilot and there was no separation between the pilot and the passengers. In fact, one of the passengers sat in the co-pilot seat! When we were boarding, Lisa leaned into me and said, “I always try to get that seat. It’s the coolest.” I’m sure she’s right. We took off and flew into a very foggy and cloudy morning. I was very excited about the trip. The limited—by limited I mean zero—visibility didn’t bother me at all. Sitting immediately behind the co-pilot, I had a perfect view of the pilot and his panel. Through the entire flight, I was focussed on what he was doing. I was trying to make sense of it all. It was absolutely fascinating. Literally, before I knew it, we were starting our decent. The runway lights came into view. It was a perfect landing.
Lisa’s friend Tammy met us at Nantucket Memorial Airport. Tammy is known up and down the eastern seaboard for her fishing prowess. In fact, that is how Lisa and Tammy met. If it weren’t for me, they would definitely have spent the entire day fishing. Instead, they planned to devote the day to showing me as much of the island as possible and I was eternally grateful. I was not really sure what to expect. I had heard a lot of different things. What I heard most commonly was, “It’s just like Martha’s Vineyard only a lot smaller.” I was about to find out just how apocryphal this statement was.
Let The Tour Begin!
Tammy, our tour guide, is a native islander—born and raised. I was excited about this fact because I knew it meant that when she collected Lisa and I at the airport in her Volkswagen Beetle convertible, we were going to get a tour full of inside information. I was right. Having said that, our first stop was breakfast! We were all hungry and Tammy took us to Island Kitchen on Pleasant Street across from the Stop & Shop. Tammy told us that it was a relatively new place but what it lacked in history, it more than made up for with great food and a terrific patio. I’m all over good food and a great patio. This is where I dropped the ball. I was so hungry and so taken with my surroundings and getting to know my hostess, that I completely forgot to take pictures! I didn’t take any of the restaurant or my breakfast! The shame of it all. I do remember that I loved my food—I ordered standard bacon and eggs—and that the service was great. I would definitely go back…and next time I’ll take photos.
After breakfast, we headed out to the town of Siasconset—’Sconset’ to those in the know. Something else I had been told about Nantucket that proved to be false was that there was only one town—Nantucket. Sconset is definitely on the small side but it is a town nonetheless and a pretty one at that! We drove around the Sconset Rotary while Tammy pointed out the book store, the post office, and Claudette’s Sandwich Shop. One thing that I immediately noticed was that not only were all of the buildings greyed cedar shingle but their trim and shutters were painted grey as well! Nantucket is known as the ‘Grey Lady’. She got her nickname from sailors who were commenting on the thick fogs that regularly rolled in from the sea, blanketing the small island; however, she could easily have acquired it from the aesthetic choices made by her inhabitants. One thing I will say about the choice to make everything grey, it makes the flowers really pop! The flowers of Nantucket are plentiful and gorgeous.
After the tour of Sconset, Tammy took us out to Sankaty Head Lighthouse. I’m not sure if I was told this or it was just an erroneous fact that I had in my head about Nantucket but I thought there were only two lighthouses. In fact, there are three: Brant Point Light, Sankaty Head Light, and Great Point Light. I only knew of Brant Point and Sankaty Head. They are definitely the most accessible and therefore the most photographed. We didn’t get out to Great Point but I always like it when there are things left for my next trip!
From Sankaty Head, we headed back toward Nantucket the town. We made a brief photographic stop outside the Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum but we didn’t go in. I will definitely make it a stop on my next trip. I’m a sucker for a museum. I love to go in and read every word. Nantucket has quite a few museums but I only made it to one on this trip.
The Town Of Nantucket
We parked the Volkswagen and Tammy and Lisa went off into a fishing/tackle store. This was of zero interest to me and left me to wander the streets a bit and take photos. The town is very beautiful and nothing like any of the towns on Martha’s Vineyard. There is a section of Upper Main Street that did remind me of the captain’s houses in Edgartown but other than that, there were really no similarities. The main intersection of town is made up of cobblestone roads that are stunningly beautiful.
The stones were all originally used as ballast on the whaling ships which is really cool! I love bits of history like that. When Tammy and Lisa were finished in their tackle shop, the three of us met up again and popped in and out of shops along the harbour. Naturally, I could not pass up the opportunity to go in Vineyard Vines on Nantucket! I do love my Vineyard Vines. I looked through the clothes—many of which I already own—and kept an eye out for a T-shirt that read Nantucket that I liked. I couldn’t do it. Is that ridiculous? Silly? I’m a Martha’s Vineyard boy through and through. I felt like it would be a betrayal. It would be like me, a Torontonian buying an Ottawa Senators hockey jersey or a Bostonian buying an Islanders jersey—you know what I mean?
The Nantucket Whaling Museum
I forget where Lisa and Tammy wanted to go but they wanted to do something that held very little interest for me. I opted to take my leave and head to the Whaling Museum. I had heard nothing but great things. It had been on the top of my list of things to do once I arrived. That worked out well because neither of them were interested. I hopped out of the car and Tammy said she would collect me in a little over an hour. I made my way up South Water Street.
The Museum holds a commanding presence on Broad Street at the north end of South Water. It is made up of at least three red brick buildings connected by white wood additions. One building is fronted by large white columns and the entire structure is trimmed with white paned windows that look like they could have been there for hundreds of years. In short, already from the outside Nantucket Whaling Museum was everything a New England museum should be.
I don’t remember what the entrance fee was but it was more than reasonable. If it wasn’t, I would remember! As soon as you enter, you are greeted by a Fresnel lamp taken from the Sankaty Lighthouse. The Sankaty Lighthouse was built in 1849 and not only was it the first lighthouse in Massachusetts to use a Fresnel lens, it was the first lighthouse in the United States to have a Fresnel lens as part of its original equipment. This isn’t the first time that I have seen a Fresnel up close and personal—the Fresnel lens from Gay Head Lighthouse is in the Martha’s Vineyard Museum—but they never cease to impress.
As I walked deeper into the briny depths of the museum, I felt more and more like I was going down into the hull of a ship. The museum got darker the farther I went. There is a purpose to all of this of course. This section of the museum is called Gosnold Hall and it is dedicated to every aspect of the life of an eighteenth century whaler and the whaling trade. In fact, one of the first things you notice is the forty-six foot skeleton of a male sperm whale diving dramatically toward you. The ceilings are three storeys high and the whale takes up a good portion of the room. You immediately get a feel for what these sailors were up against. It is a miracle that they ever landed one of these creatures at all. The rest of the cavernous room is filled with ship models, life-sized row boats, and cauldrons for rendering oil from blubber. It was impossible to take it all in but as I said before, I like that in a museum. I like feeling like I need to go back.
With whaling comes scrimshaw and there were some incredibly impressive pieces in Nantucket Whaling Museum. I have a friend who is crazy for scrimshaw so I have seen quite a bit of it and talked to some very talented scrimshaw artists over the years. What these artists are able to do is nothing short of miraculous. I tend to prefer the scrimshaw that stands out. The ones where the artist clearly wanted to try something new.
Lunch On A Nantucket Beach
Gaging the amount of time we had left before our flight home, the three of us placed an order for sandwiches from Something Natural. Tammy assured us that they had the best sandwiches on-island. They didn’t disappoint. Something Natural is a really pretty spot on Coffin Park. When we walked up to collect our order, there were people spread out on the surrounding greenery and picnic tables enjoying their lunches. We took ours to the beach and sat in the sand just feet from the surf. It was the perfect way to end our day.
Thanks to Tammy, we had seen a side of Nantucket that few off-islanders get to see. We got to hear about histories and local dramas that are usually kept hidden from the day trippers and summer DINKs. It was a very special day that I will not forget. The next time I head to Nantucket, I will take the ferry and spend the bulk of my time strolling the streets of Nantucket township and get a feel for her streets. I will go back to the Whaling Museum and I will hit the other museums that I missed—the African American Museum and the Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum just to name two.
When we boarded the plane, I was directed to sit in the co-pilot seat! I was so excited! We had the same pilot as we did that morning and some of the other passengers were the same too. I felt like I was in the movies. In fact, I put in my noise-cancelling headphones because I remembered how loud the flight had been that morning and at the last minute, I started playing the soundtrack to Raiders Of The Lost Ark. As we took off, John Williams’ dynamic score, that Indiana Jones theme, blasted in my ears and I couldn’t have been happier. As we flew home, I found it difficult to draw comparisons between the two islands. I didn’t see them as similar at all. That was good. I like the idea of them both thriving as two completely separate entities connected by nothing other than geographic location. Two teammates taking on the wilds of the Atlantic together rather than competitors. I know that I will always be a Martha’s Vineyard boy. No matter where life takes me, I know that my heart will always be here, swimming on Quansoo Beach, wandering the Gingerbread Cottages, and eating breakfast at The Black Dog. Hey, it’s the Vineyard!
Great post as always. I do, however, take exception to any assertion that “Wings” wasn’t brilliant. The one and only time I went to Nantucket, I sped around the island on a scooter like a Hells Angel and my sole goal of that day was to see the outside of the airport because of “Wings.” Mission accomplished.
The Whaling Museum is amazing and is second only to the New Bedford one! Next time you come for an extended period, that should be crossed off your list!
I’m a fan of both islands. Have been lucky enough to get off the beaten tourist paths of both! My favorite shopping on Nantucket is the Madaket Mall! Best prices around! Did the author really ever watch Wing’s? Martha’s Vineyard’s own Tony Shaloub is hilarious, as are other fine actors Tim Daly, Steven Weber, and Thomas Haden Church.
Absolutely I watched Wings! Every single episode! There is a cast photo in the Nantucket Airport restaurant. I thought that was a great touch.
Nice tour, Crispin; as I sit here in Mashpee, waiting for the “day after a small storm sun” to come out, it was great for you to take me over there for some enjoyable hours. On our catboat, we sailed there for 45 years, and always anchored in the south part of the harbor at the edge of the creeks. There is nothing better than doing Ack for pretty much FREE. We got to now all the catboat people there, especially Bill and Judy Sayle. They hosted rendezvous for 15 years; many cats would make the trip (anywhere from 5 to 12 hours for us). A few extras here for you: stay over next time; go back to Siasconset and do the Bluff Walk, one of the most amazing easements ever… right through the east facing yards of all the ancient / rebuilt cottages along the bluff. And plan to spend hours in the Whaling Museum; there are plenty of old logs to read… amazing men on those ships. There is a fun tour / food / music of Cisco Brewery… very local… you would love it. There are a zillion stories I can tell you. Take that train. Eventually when it had served its purpose, what are you going to do with it??? They pulled up the tracks, and dumped it into a bog, where it sank in the mud. There is talk of sucking it out and displaying it somewhere. One of its cars is a small restaurant on the main drag. Ohhh. the plane. Once, that was the only option for us to get home – in the winter. The winds must be below (I think 40) to take off. We were stuck in the airport for 5 hours; then we got clearance for Hyannis. A girl (looked like a high school kid) hopped in, started her up and sat me in the co-pilot’s seat as I was the heaviest passenger. 15 minutes of flying in snow and wind, she started her descent; she watched her instruments and never looked out the window until we were about 10 seconds from the ground. Of course, I was ready to take over and kill all of us!!!! Anyway, some day we’ll have a chance to talk abut our 40 years of Ack stories. Thank you for yours.
So great to hear from you Bill! You always have the best stories. I received a note from Moe as well. I will respond to her now that I am home. I am so sorry that we didn’t connect this season. Next year, I will be on-island again for the entire summer—at least that’s the plan—and we will connect for sure!