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Melville Coast

Melville Coast
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It is, after all, Nantucket. Sailing here is a way of life. You can't look anywhere and not see a saiing craft coming in, going out or at anchor. Even if you're only here for four days, you have to get out on the water at least once. The easiest way to do this is book passage on the beautiful sloop Endeavor, pictured above right and here. Captain James Genthner built this craft himself and for 25 years has run his sailing cruises full time. 90 minute cruises cost $25 and depart at 10, 1 and 4. There is also a two hour sunset cruise for $35. While you glide silently along, with only the sails riffling in the wind, Captain Genthner will fill you in on how the ship is built, what you're seeing along the coastline, and how sailing has always been a vital part of Nantucket's history. You can either help set the sails and steer the vessel or just sit and enjoy the cruise. The Endeavor is built from blueprints that were actually used for 1800s fishing boats. The ship ties up down the dock from The Tavern, at the foot of Main Street. You need to buy tickets ahead of time, because this is a popular attraction and cruises fill up. If you have a group, you might consider a charter. Genthner could then take you precisely where you want to go. His standard route takes you out of the harbor and up and down the coast. Long sleeves are usually needed. 508-228-5585.
The next item on your required list is a Seal Cruise. These are run by Nantucket Adventures. Their boats are moored at Town Pier, a dock three blocks East of Main Street. A seal cruise takes half a day. You head out into Nantucket Sound, turn left (West) and cruise along the beaches past Eel Point and Madaket Harbor. There you slow down and ease along Tuckernuk Island and several other outlying shoals, reefs and smaller islands. Whether or not you'll see any seals is not really a question. As the photo at left shows, you'll see plenty. Some of them will be swimming out to your boat, diving underneath, and playing in your wake.

One of the more fascinating cruises you can take, also through Nantucket Adventures, is a half day trip eastward to the Head Of The Harbor. You take a flat bottom boat and travel through shallow water to the internal reaches of the island. This was the Upper Harbor of Melville's day, where he describes hundreds of whaling ships sitting at anchor between trips. They would move down to the docks when the time came to actually load for departure since the docks could hold a limited number of the big ships. Since then, the Upper Harbor has shallowed and can no longer hold large ships, but it's protected by the several miles of scalloped coast you see here, so is a great place to kayak or learn to sail. Beaches around the Upper Harbor are ideal for young children since the water is warm and there is no surf. In this picture, Great Point is shown upper left, with the lighthouse just out of sight, and Siasconset Lighthouse would be just off the picture to upper right.

If you have a group, you can also charter a custom trip, which would include stopping at one or more of the beaches for a quick dip, and stopping at Coskata Creek to allow for a hike out to Great Point Light. Unless you have time for the three day backpacking trip, this is the only way you're likely to see Great Point Light, since there are no roads or bike trails going to it. A custom trip like this would probably be an all day excursion.

Surfing lessons are offered at Cisco Beach by Nantucket Surfing. Their "office" is in a van in the Cisco Beach Parking Lot. (They only operate here during Summer, relocating to Costa Rica from Labor Day to Memorial Day, so a year round building would not be cost effective.) Private or group lessons are available in two hour slots. You can also sign up for a weeklong session if you're going to be here that long. If, for example, you were bringing a group to the Surfside Beach Youth Hostel, you are only a short walk down the beach to Cisco, so your group might find this a very appealing opportunity. NantucketSurfing.com.
Nantucket Community Sailing offers kayaking, windsurfing and sailing lessons at Jetties, Polpis and Cisco Beaches, so no matter where you're staying you should be close to one of their locations. The sailing lessons start students on small one person "tubs" which are very stable. The staff uses patrol boats so if a sailer or windsurfer gets too far downwind they can easily be brought back. These lessons are available for both children and adults. We've sailed small craft and windsurfed on various inland lakes and up and down the coast, and we think Nantucket is second only to Hatteras Island as the best place to learn and practice these great sports. We also think the Upper Harbor, launching from Polpis Beach, is one of the great flat water kayaking locales in the country.
Certainly the most exotic experience you can enroll in while on Nantucket is rowing a vintage whaleboat. This whaleboat was made from authentic blueprints and the same captain James Gunthner who operates sailing cruises on the Endeavor also offers rowing instruction and trips out on Nantucket Harbor. If you've ever maneuvered a basic rowboat or johnboat, you will appreciate the difference. This is a much bigger boat, made to chase after the huge sperm whales out on the open ocean in sometimes heavy swell. It requires a crew to operate, and involves special techniques evolved just for the whaling trade. Not only will you learn a lot of history and appreciate Moby Dick more, but you'll get quite a physical workout. 508-228-5585.
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