POWER IN THE POND

A THRILL-SEEK­ING SUN­FISH CAP­TAIN BRAVES THE RAPIDS OF A BREACHED NAN­TUCKET POND

Sailing World - - Pond - BY NATHANIEL PHILBRICK

OOn Fri­day, April 23, Bruce Perry, a friend who was the ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Con­ser­va­tion Com­mis­sion on Nan­tucket, called to tell me the town was open­ing Se­sachacha Pond that day. All win­ter he’d heard me talk­ing about my dream of one day sail­ing “through the cut.” As it turned out, we were sched­uled to have din­ner with Bruce and his fam­ily that night, and since he planned to watch the cut’s com­ple­tion that af­ter­noon, he said he’d tell me about it in the evening.

Bruce and fam­ily lived in what’s called an up­side-down house (bed­rooms down­stairs, liv­ing room and din­ing room up­stairs) over­look­ing Long Pond in Madaket on the western end of the is­land. It was the per­fect place to hear about a pond open­ing. Ap­par­ently, Se­sachacha had been at a record high, so when the cut was fi­nally com­pleted, it had come roar­ing out in a way that dwarfed the rel­a­tive trickle I had seen in Oc­to­ber. Bruce re­counted how fish and even eels were caught up in the rush of wa­ter that had quickly carved out an open­ing the size of a small river. If any­thing, it should be even big­ger by the next af­ter­noon when I planned to go sail­ing.

“But, Nat,” Bruce cau­tioned, “it’s noth­ing to fool around with. There’s an aw­ful lot of power in that pond. And once you’re out there in the ocean, you’re gone.”

That evening, during the drive back into town, I promised Melissa that I was more cu­ri­ous than I was de­ter­mined to sail through the cut. I just wanted to take a look. And, to be truth­ful, Bruce’s words had a sober­ing ef­fect. I wasn’t go­ing to go dash­ing out there like the Lone Ranger. I didn’t want to wreck my boat or drown my­self. I re­ally didn’t.

I spent Satur­day morn­ing in the Nan­tucket Atheneum, the town library. The build­ing, par­tic­u­larly in the wing where the ar­chives were stored, had a Miss Hav­isham feel to it, as though it were still sus­pended in a time that the world had long since passed by. Although a spec­tac­u­lar and much-needed ren­o­va­tion project has given the build­ing a whole new am­biance, that morn­ing in the spring of 1993, as I read my way through a stack of an­cient let­ters, I felt as if I too were a kind of ar­ti­fact blan­keted with dust.

By the time I set out for Se­sachacha around 1 in the af­ter­noon, I was anx­ious to wash off the past and re­join the present. Melissa, the kids and Molly were in the car with me. The plan was this: They’d help me with the boat on the south­ern end of the pond, then drive over to the other side, where they’d walk the quar­ter mile or so to the cut. The sub­ject of my sail­ing through the cut was stu­diously avoided.

When we pulled up to the launch ramp, the pond seemed higher than ever. In the dis­tance, we could see the back­hoe over on the bar­rier beach, but from our per­spec­tive it looked as though the cut might have closed in overnight — at least that was the claim of an el­derly gentle­man who’d brought his two dogs for a walk along the pond’s edge. “I tell ya,” he said, “they should let the old-timers do this kind of thing. Th­ese sci­en­tific guys don’t know what the hell they’re doin’ when it comes to pond open­ings.”

I was re­serv­ing judg­ment. Ap­pear­ances, par­tic­u­larly when you’re look­ing at a dis­tant beach, can be de­ceiv­ing.

The breeze was mod­er­ate out of the south­west with plenty of peppy puffs. Soon I was sail­ing on a beam reach to­ward where the cut, if there was one, should be. I passed a fa­ther and his son fish­ing in a mo­tor­boat. As I en­tered the mid­sec­tion of the pond, I saw that Melissa, the kids and Molly had parked and were now walk­ing along the pond’s edge to­ward the ocean. I waved, but they were too

far away to no­tice.

It was then I re­al­ized that there was a cut. It was wider than I would ever have imag­ined — maybe 30 to 50 feet. A vir­tual tor­rent of wa­ter was rush­ing through the open­ing, a white-wa­ter river that must have been close to an eighth of a mile long as it curved out to­ward the sea and col­lided with the ocean’s surf in a dis­tant in­ter­min­gling of brown and blue wa­ters. I now knew what Bruce had meant when he had spo­ken of the pond’s power, a power that showed no signs of wan­ing more than 24 hours af­ter it had first been tapped.

Some­one was stand­ing on the north­ern edge of the pond cut. Af­ter watch­ing me for a while, he waved and called out to me. It was Bruce. The ques­tion was how to get close enough to speak to him with­out be­ing im­me­di­ately sucked out to sea.

I ap­proached cau­tiously from the north, where a sand­bar had been formed by the tur­bu­lence at the cut’s open­ing.

“Bruce!” I shouted. “What do you think?” “Don’t do it! The cur­rent is re­ally rip­ping!”

I de­cided to sail past the pond open­ing just to give it a look. Although I could feel the cur­rent grab my boat, torquing it sea­ward with a trem­bling, atavis­tic lurch, the cut wasn’t the all-con­sum­ing por­tal to de­struc­tion that I had first as­sumed it would be. There was enough of a breeze to let me flirt along the open­ing’s edge with­out los­ing my­self to the cur­rent.

The cut was wide. There was plenty of space for me to sail through it, even with my sail all the way out. It also looked fairly deep. I did no­tice, how­ever, quite a bit of wave ac­tion at the end of the cut. In fact, it looked like a sand­bar had formed out there. Even if I did make it through the cut alive, how in God’s name was I ever go­ing to sail back to the pond? But still, the open­ing beck­oned.

Sud­denly I was fi lled with a de­sire to just close my eyes and sur­ren­der my­self to the flow. Mean­while, Melissa and com­pany were grad­u­ally mak­ing their way along the beach. Should I wait for them? If I did, I might lose my nerve.

I tacked and be­gan to bear away to­ward the cut.

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