It was one of those overnight kayak trips you throw together on a whim: clean the campstove, stuff the drybags into the car and pick up some canned goods at the local store after ducking down into the basement to retrieve the headlamps and the VHF radio. It was that time of year when Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts is prone to fog, and we wanted the VHF in case we needed to make, among other calls, a securite call on channel 16. Our route included a lengthy open water crossing, and we wanted the radio for both general communications and in case we needed to make a general hail that would help prevent us from getting run down by a power boat.
Our compass course, 170 degrees magnetic from Horseneck Point, Westport to Cuttyhunk Island, the southernmost island of the Elizabeth Island archipelago that lies off Woods Hole, Ma. [black sea bass LINK], would bring us take us across the shipping lanes which slides on down past the Elizabeth Islands before vectoring straight for the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal and Cape Cod Bay [Billingsgate LINK].
Sure, my cousin, who was kayaking with me, had spent time in the merchant marine, but that was no reason for us to get run down by one of his former shipmates should we cross the shipping lane in visibility reduced by haze, fog, or rain. Thus the vhf radio, and our possible securite call.
Here’s how we’d make the securite call if conditions called for it.
We’d switch the radio power to low, to limit our broadcast range to vessels in the immediate vicinity only. We’d use channel 16, repeat “securite” a couple of times (say-cure-ee-tay), make up a call sign (such as Yellow Kayak), then broadcast our location, destination, and compass course in addition to our estimated transit time.
Then we’d repeat the broadcast in another 30 seconds or so. Then we’d standby in case a nearby vessel had concerns with our route, at which time we’d agree to switch to channel 68, 69, 71 or 72 in order to work out the details and leave channel 16 open for its general emergency purposes. Our securite call would be the best way for us to let other boaters know of our presence in lowered visibility – but only if those vessels and boaters were monitoring their radios.
Our course ran easterly, from Horseneck Beach to the Sow and Pigs reef off Cuttyhunk, taking across six miles of open water that, on most days, are benign and calm so long as the wind isn’t blowing hard or a storm is afoot. We would fish for striped bass [LINK] first, then camp out on a friend’s land on the island.
One advantage of the time of year was that tiny Cuttyhunk, ordinarily busy with summer visitors between June and September, would be nearly deserted and very quiet. Also the fishing was likely to be good: the striped bass would be feeding hungrily in anticipation of the arduous migration back to the southerly waters of the mid-Atlantic coast.
Cuttyhunk is a lovely offshore Massachusetts island many seakayakers use as waypoint during the 30-plus mile trip down side of the Elizabeth Islands and up the other. Most use the islands’ heavy tidal flow to provide extra speed for the trip [LINK AND ILLUSTRATION: ELDRIDGE.]
For many decades a mostly private angling resort, the island is now a summer cottage outpost, a place so minuscule, barely a mile long and half as wide, that visitors summit its solitary hill, scan the horizon for Marthas Vineyard and Nantucket, then content themselves with walking the island’s dirt roads and sunning along the waterfront. Walking the sandspit at the island’s northeasterly corner, which nearly connects the island to is much larger cousin, Nashawena, once gets a sense of the ancient: that these rocky, hilly islands where simply plowed in to the ocean by an ice sheet several thousand years ago
The crossing took us about three hours, including a layover at the Wildcat hulk on Old Cock Ledge off Westport. The Wildcat hulk is the remnants of a cement barge that ran aground on the ledge during a storm. As the barge broke up on the ledge its cargo of unbagged cement dunnage oozed onto the ledge like sand from a smashed box. The barge cemented itself to the ledge, and has sat there since.
We landed at the Cuttyhunk town dock and kicked a while. Just a mile off, to the northwest, stood Penikese Island, its eastern shores a preserved wildlife refuge, its center a boys school. The Elizabeth Islands are the largest, last-remaining group of privately-owned islands in Massachusetts. Dotted with a few large houses, owned by the Forbes family, the islands are rugged and mostly untrammeled. They are worth a trip by kayak by paddlers with advanced skills. Just be sure to bring along a VHF radio, a compass, a chart and a chart table. And watch forecast: winds from the northwest help on the way out, from the southwest on the way back. And if the fog comes in, consider whether you need to make a securite call on your radio.