Cuttyhunk

Visiting Cuttyhunk presents the classic paradox of travel to all remote and uncommercial places: how to appreciate them without undermining the very qualities you came to admire.

Introduction

Visiting Cuttyhunk presents the classic paradox of travel to all remote and uncommercial places: how to appreciate them without undermining the very qualities you came to admire. Gosnold (the municipal name) is a working island town whose residents, both year-round and summer, have chosen to live just outside the patterns of mainland life.

It’s a choice that’s familiar to any sailor who has spent hours beating upwind or drifting in calm rather than turn on the engine.

📷 Geoff Rand
Looking across Cuttyhunk Pond from the mooring area.

Navigation

Approaches

You can approach Cuttyhunk either from the east (Buzzards Bay) or from the west (Rhode Island Sound). In both cases you pass between Cuttyhunk Island and the smaller Penikese Island to the north. The ledges extend three quarters of a mile south and east from Penikese but they are clearly marked. There is a little more junk to avoid in the western approach, specifically Whale Rock and Pease Ledge.

If you’re arriving from the south (Vineyard Sound), Quicks Hole is the simplest route through the Elizabeth Islands. Canapitsit Channel – narrow, twisty and ambiguously marked – is right next to Cuttyhunk but used mostly by shoal draft boats with local knowledge.

Not for navigation

The entrance to Cuttyhunk Pond is a dredged channel between breakwaters. In 2010 and again in 2011 we found a controlling depth of 10 feet at an average low tide. A can marks the southern breakwater, which is frequently awash. The northern breakwater, with its prominent 29 foot tall light, is a more certain guide to the channel. Sand accumulates along the breakwaters unevenly between dredgings, so watch the sides of the channel carefully. If there are low sloping shoals visible above water, assume they extend underwater as well and give them a little extra room.

Once inside the Pond, remember that the mooring area is a dredged-out square prone to shoaling at the edges. There is a little channel marked with locally maintained buoys along the east side of the Pond; its depth is ambiguous on the chart but it’s frequently used. In general, straying much beyond the moorings and the main channel to the docks will land you in shallow water fast.

📷 Geoff Rand
The channel into the Pond is dredged, but its subject to shoaling along the edges. The north side especially projects into the channel more than the chart suggests.

Anchorages

In fair weather it is possible to anchor in the outer harbor between Cuttyhunk and Nashawena Island to the east, and boats often do so, but it is mostly exposed from northwest to northeast.

There is room for a handful of boats to anchor inside the Pond, at the northern edge of the mooring area. It’s tight and the holding is reported to be poor, but most summer nights you’ll reliably see a few boats anchored there, even when plenty of the moorings are still available.

Moorings

The town maintains 40 or 50 moorings for visitors inside the Pond. The moorings are first-come first-served, and generally fill up on summer weekends, although the Pond’s flat calm waters do make rafting practical.

The moorings represent an important source of revenue for the town, up to a quarter of the annual budget {BG 9.2.02}. Pick up an empty mooring when you arrive and the harbormasters will come around to collect the fee.

Two private companies, Frog Pond Marine and Jenkins, maintain transient moorings in the outer harbor during the high season. At least one member reports an uncharted rock or shoal in the mooring field south and east of the breakwaters. Avoid the spot where the moorings look like a mouth missing a tooth.

📷 Geoff Rand
The moorings in Cuttyhunk use an uncommon but effective system. The short pennant with an eyesplice is held erect at about deck level by a section of plastic tubing. Be ready with a dock line to slip through the thimble when you approach the ball.

Slips

The slips at the Town Wharf are primarily in shallow water, but it’s not as dire for keelboats as the chart suggests. We’ve seen good-sized sailboats tied up at the end of the fingers, and the outer slips have 8 or 7 or 6 feet. For the most part, though, boats with a keel stay on a mooring.

Contact the Harbormaster before tying up at the Wharf.

Charts

Not for navigation. Charts are not updated. 

Going Ashore

Given Cuttyhunk’s sparse year round population (numbered only in the dozens), its highly seasonal visitation and its assertively uncommercial attitudes, it’s difficult to anticipate from year to year exactly what you’ll find in the way of man-made attractions. There may be a couple of artist’s studios and a couple of small stores. There’s a guy who cooks a prix fixe dinner in his kitchen and serves it at tables in his back yard, except when he doesn’t. The Cuttyhunk Fishing Club B&B has a public breakfast in the restored facilities of the exclusive (ie Teddy Roosevelt) 19th century Cuttyhunk Island Striped Bass Club — in season. You’ll see a few remains of WWII era coastal defenses scattered across the island.

And that’s the point. Residents and visitors love Cuttyhunk for what it isn’t – Nantucket, Edgartown. There are no bars, no restaurants in the typical sense. There’s no traffic; golf carts are more common than cars. There are no crowds of well-dressed couples, no college kids.

What Cuttyhunk has in abundance is quiet. Outside of town, the island is mostly undeveloped private land, surrounded by a nearly unbroken horizon.

📷 Geoff Rand
The stone tower on the west end of the island was built in 1902 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Gosnold’s landing here. Gosnold and his men built a small fort on an island in the lake for the summer, but abandoned it in the fall.
📷 Geoff Rand
Walk across the island from the harbor to a west-facing rock beach.

One Hour Ashore

Summer evenings the Cuttyhunk Shellfish Farms offers an informal dockside raw bar featuring their local shellfish (They also deliver to moorings). But save time for the short walk through town to the hilltop observation deck.

Off the Beaten Path

A series of dirt paths and cart tracks lead to the nearly uninhabited moors and stone beaches of the West End.

Maritime History

Cuttyhunk’s closest brush with history was Bartholomew Gosnold’s stopover during his exploratory voyage to New England in 1602.

In 1924 the whaleship Wanderer wrecked on Cuttyhunk in an August gale. She was one day out of New Bedford in what proved to be the last voyage of an American square-rigged whaler.

Rainy Day

The Cuttyhunk Historical Society has a small museum open July and August.

Services

Facilities

The dinghy dock is behind the marina. Go in leaving the slips to starboard.

There are restrooms on the wharf, new in 2002. There were no showers.

As with any island, trash is an obstacle. Cuttyhunk charges (modestly) by the bag for disposal; better to unload it on the mainland.

Cuttyhunk Boat Lines runs ferry service to the island from New Bedford.

Fitting Out

Water is available at the Fish Dock, beyond the Town Wharf.

Gosport Fuel Service has diesel on the Town Pier/Ferry Dock at the southeast corner of the Pond, next to the old Coast Guard Station. The pier was rebuilt in 2009, but hours for fuel can be constrained or unpredictable, especially out of high season.

There is a small General Store in town where we’ve nicely reprovisioned for a couple of days. Their hours are also erratic, at least out of season.

There are no pumpout facilities.

Contacts

Gosnold Harbormaster
1-508-990-7578
VHF: 09

Cuttyhunk Marina
1-508-990-7578
VHF: 09
Book with Dockwa

Frog Pond Marine*
1-508-992-7530
VHF: 72

Jenkins Moorings*
1-508-996-9294
VHF: 09

*Unverified – should anyone confirm these facilities are still in operation, please comment below.

Photos & More

from Charlie Schock,

If you head straight from the Canal to Cuttyhunk, you will see the Elizabeth Islands come up on the left. They always seem to be way too far to the left; trust your compass, eventually Cuttyhunk will appear dead ahead. More often than not you have to beat down the Bay against a hazy southwester. . . The last five miles of the beat into Cuttyhunk always seems to take forever, so plan ahead and leave time for a relaxed happy hour.
2002

from Bartholomew Gosnold,

. . .albeit it be so much to the southward, yet it is more cold than those parts of Europe, which are situated under the same parallel: but one thing is worth the noting, that notwithstanding the place is not so much subject to cold as England is, yet did we find the spring to be later there, than it is with us here, by almost a month: this whether it happened accidentally this last spring to be so, or whether it be so of course, I am not very certain; the latter seems most likely, whereof also there may be given some sufficient reason, which now I omit; as for the acorns we saw gathered on heaps, they were of the last year, but doubtless their summer continues longer than ours.
1602

from John Brereton,

Read John Brereton’s first-hand account of Gosnold’s 1602 exploration of Buzzard’s Bay and the Islands here.

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Cuttyhunk

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