End­less Sum­mer

The Power & Mo­to­ry­acht team cruises to Block Is­land where some­thing oc­curs that we didn’t ex­pect: The tiny is­land brings back a child­like won­der in us all. By Si­mon Mur­ray

Power & Motor Yacht - - CONTENTS -

Cruis­ing to Block Is­land and ex­plor­ing all it has to of­fer brings to mind a sim­pler time.

TThe Great Salt Pond dom­i­nates Block Is­land like a wa­tery crater, prac­ti­cally cleav­ing the pork-chop-shaped land­mass in two. To the north, the flat­tish lands and road to the light­house of­fer plenty of van­tage points from which you can catch a glimpse of “the Pond,” a roughly 700-acre har­bor and boater’s par­adise that is hard to miss. Jour­ney to the south­ern part of the isle, with its tow­er­ing sea­side bluffs and tan­gle of road­ways, crest the right hill and the Pond will re­mind you it’s there. A nar­row strip of beach join­ing north and south to­gether like a piece of con­nec­tive tis­sue. And ad­ja­cent to that … the At­lantic. Call me na•ve, but most of the is­lands I’ve vis­ited in my trav­els tend to take on the char­ac­ter­is­tics in­her­ent in a much larger land­mass. Head in­land, and the sur­round­ing ocean even­tu­ally re­cedes from view, only to be re­placed by the hus­tle and bus­tle of a com­pact me­trop­o­lis. Martha’s Vine­yard be­comes Cape Cod. Thanks to High­way 1, the Keys might as well be an ex­ten­sion of con­tigu­ous Florida. Does any­one even no­tice (or care) that Man­hat­tan is an is­land?

But to my mind, Block Is­land feels dif­fer­ent. For one, you never for­get you’re in the mid­dle of the ocean, even though it’s only an hour or so to the main­land by boat, be­cause ev­ery­where you look the sea is there to re­mind you. It’s over your shoul­der. It’s far off in the dis­tance. It stirs the wind that whis­tles at night while you sleep and takes on the same pink­ish hue that streaks the sky at dusk. On Block Is­land, the air­port feels like an af­ter­thought—boat­ing and the sea reign supreme.

I wouldn’t be sur­prised if that’s what reignited the child­like won­der and imag­i­na­tion in me and the rest of the Power & Mo­to­ry­acht crew on a re­cent trip to Block: the all-en­com­pass­ing na­ture of a world afloat.

Gear, of course, isn’t re­ally sexy. At least not by it­self. Taken out of its con­text, its el­e­ment, and placed in a pho­tog­ra­pher’s stu­dio, it looks bright, pol­ished, and ex­ceed­ingly dull. Which is why Edi­torin-Chief Dan Harding and I agreed that if we were go­ing to do a Gear Guide, 98 per­cent of the work would in­volve load­ing up a boat and haul­ing an as­sem­blage of ac­ces­sories and wa­ter toys into the field.

“And then we’ll test all of it,” says Dan. He has an am­bi­tious— some might call crazy—glint in his eyes.

We’re sit­ting in his of­fice in Es­sex, Con­necti­cut. His en­ergy is in­fec­tious, be­cause for the last few min­utes I’ve been pic­tur­ing all of the ex­otic lo­cales we can go to test this gear. Kayaks pad­dling across elec­tric­green seas. Dinghies trans­port­ing the team to im­pos­si­bly white-sand

beaches. Vol­ca­noes in the back­ground of ev­ery pic­ture. “And I know the per­fect place we can go,” adds Dan. “Block Is­land.”

In the clos­ing days of sum­mer, sev­eral mem­bers of the edi­to­rial staff meet in Es­sex to stock up on whiskey and pro­vi­sions. We make sure our boat, a 50-foot MC5 from Beneteau Yachts, is filled to ca­pac­ity with as much gear as pos­si­ble. Then it’s time to go, push­ing out from Pilots Point Ma­rina on the Con­necti­cut shore.

Dan points the bow south­east into Long Is­land Sound. Soon, the main­land be­gins to fade from view, as do thoughts of nu­clear Ar­maged­don be­ing trig­gered thou­sands of miles away by a guy with a hip­ster coif. Even if it’s not ex­actly true, Block Is­land feels un­touch­able by out­side forces.

We’re late to the party. The Great Salt Pond is dot­ted with boats as far as the eye can see. Lucky for us, we se­cured a moor­ing be­fore our ar­rival. Boaters typ­i­cally head to the Pond in the wee hours of the morn­ing to wran­gle one of 90 rentable town moor­ings. That’s be­cause, at any time, Block Is­land can be in­un­dated with more than 1,000 vis­it­ing boats, and as many as dou­ble that on hol­i­days; for the moor­ings at least, it’s a strict, first-come-first-serve pol­icy.

We lo­cate our moor­ing and take stock of our sur­round­ings on this warm day: bluffs, beaches, rolling hills, and small ponds, a to­pog­ra­phy jos­tled into ex­is­tence thou­sands of years ago by lum­ber­ing glaciers. Leg­end has it the pi­rate Capt. Kidd once found refuge on the is­land, and he’s said to have dis­persed his valu­ables by the arm­load to the good-na­tured peo­ple that of­fered him as­sis­tance—and that seems just about right. (He’s also thought to have buried trea­sure here.)

You don’t have to wait long on your moor­ing to get a feel for the is­land, or of the friendly peo­ple that call it home. In fact, you don’t have to even leave your boat—the is­land comes to you. Morn­ings be­gin with a mem­o­rable, melodic call: “An­di­amo, An­di­amooooo!” (Let’s go, let’s gooooo!) It comes from the Aldo’s Bak­ery de­liv­ery boat, which be­gins to pa­trol the Great Salt Pond at sun­rise—or way too early in my book— of­fer­ing pas­tries and some much-needed cof­fee.

Our nights are spent trad­ing sto­ries and there’s good-na­tured rib­bing, too, as Gary DeSanc­tis, gen­eral man­ager of the AIM Ma­rine Group, cooks steaks on the boat’s tran­som grill. Quar­ters are tight with six col­leagues aboard. Dig­i­tal Ed­i­tor John Turner bravely vol­un­teers to sleep on the fly­bridge set­tee. But this turns out to be a non­is­sue any­way; we of­ten stay up way too late singing the lost an­thems of our youth.

One lazy af­ter­noon, we take the dinghy into the Block Is­land Boat Basin, ar­riv­ing at The Oar. At this wa­ter­side restau­rant pa­trons are en­cour­aged to cus­tom­ize their very own oar and then hang it with the oth­ers, blot­ting out the walls, the ceil­ing, and vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing else in an an­cient form of text mes­sag­ing.

As for my phone, I barely reg­is­ter it’s in my pocket as we head in­land. Count­ing my­self, there’s four of us: Dan, John, and Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­i­tor Bill Pike. Ad­ven­ture awaits. Block Is­land is the is­land I’d al­ways wanted to ex­plore as a kid, when phones were still teth­ered to the wall and the world was any­where you could ex­plore by pedal or oar.

A smell of pan­cakes wafts on the morn­ing breeze. Dan comes back from a con­ve­nience store with a map.

“When I was younger, I al­ways wanted to live in a place where you could see ev­ery­thing on a map like this one,” he says wist­fully.

“The town I grew up in was so small, you didn’t even need a map,” says Bill.

There’s a pal­pa­ble gid­di­ness in the air. Have we trav­eled back in time? Is the MC5 a time ma­chine that’s taken us back to our re­spec­tive child­hoods? As if to delve deeper into the feel­ing, we de­cide to rent mopeds for the day, ra­tio­nal­iz­ing it by say­ing it’s the fastest way to ex­plore the is­land. But we’re full of it, re­ally; there’s an un­mis­tak­able twin­kle in ev­ery­one’s eyes. Soon we’re rac­ing around the is­land, do­ing our best Steve McQueen im­pres­sions.

The is­land flies by in a blur. We pass sum­mer cot­tages, se­cluded drives, sandy beaches, fam­ily re­unions and bar­be­cues—some eas­ily rec­og­niz­able by smell—that I would’ve paid good money to be in­vited to. I put my head down and pre­tend my two-speed moped is a crotch rocket. Ahead of me, Bill, the old­est in the group, is do­ing S-curves on a per­fectly fine road, avoid­ing imag­i­nary ob­sta­cles.

There are no traf­fic lights on the is­land. For a mo­ment, it feels like I’m a kid again in the New Jersey sub­urb where I grew up. A town dot­ted with lakes, a town so small you didn’t even need a map.

We fol­low the signs to­ward the south­east light­house, park­ing the mopeds on a dusty el­bow along­side the road. There, on an ex­posed point atop the bluffs, sits the im­pos­ing red brick tower and keeper’s dwelling. In­stinc­tu­ally, we all per­form the tourist’s rai­son d’être: We look up.

“Beau­ti­ful, isn’t it?” says a woman stand­ing next to us. She’s wear­ing large glasses and a bracelet that looks al­to­gether too big for her arm.

We nod in agree­ment. She tells us that the light­house was al­most lost to coastal ero­sion. In re­sponse, a ded­i­cated con­tin­gent of lo­cals was spurred into ac­tion, rais­ing $1 mil­lion to move the struc­ture more than 200 feet far­ther in­land. Their slo­gan: Noth­ing moves the imag­i­na­tion like a light­house, and noth­ing moves a light­house like imag­i­na­tion.

“There are a lot of old fam­i­lies on this is­land, they won’t give it up,” she says.

Right off the coast to the south­east is another spec­ta­cle wor­thy of our gawk­ing: the coun­try’s first off­shore wind farm. Out there in the haze, five tur­bines spin lazily above the rolling waves. On this hot, wind­less day, their out­put is de­cep­tive: Ca­pa­ble of gen­er­at­ing 30 megawatts, they power ev­ery home and busi­ness on the is­land.

It’s a good van­tage point, but not the best. We tear off down the road, com­ing to a look­out at the top of some 150-foot clay cliffs. By now, the is­land’s laid-back at­ti­tude has in­fected me com­pletely. I kick my shoes off and scam­per along the cliff edge, reach­ing a rocky out­crop only ac­ces­si­ble through wind­ing brush. Cer­tain doom is only a slipped foot away, but the view here is in­cred­i­ble. I turn around in sur­prise. Dan and Bill are be­hind me, grin­ning. “Wowee!” says Bill. “Some view, eh?” In that mo­ment, I don’t see a 70-some­thing guy be­side me. Age seem­ingly has no do­min­ion here. For the first time all day, I reach for my phone and snap a pic­ture of our shad­ows ar­rayed to­gether on a rocky promon­tory be­low. We as­sume dif­fer­ent po­si­tions: an out­streched arm, two raised hands, a wave. Each of us salut­ing the end of sum­mer in his own way.

Like Peter Pan, we’ve found our shad­ows. But there’s some­thing a lit­tle less ob­vi­ous go­ing on as well. It’s a feel­ing, a cer­tainty, that here on Block Is­land—at least for the briefest of mo­ments—we’ve found our Nev­er­land.

You could spend an en­tire day try­ing to count the col­or­fully dec­o­rated oars that line al­most ev­ery wall and ceil­ing at The Oar.

Clock­wise from left: the au­thor on a rocky promon­tory; ed­i­tors on their “hogs”; Gen­eral Man­ager Gary DeSanc­tis cook­ing steaks on the tran­som grill; a house over­look­ing one of the is­land’s gor­geous views.

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