Nantucket is 30 miles out to sea, and you can get there one of two ways, by plane or by boat. The plane trip, in an 8-seat Cessna, takes about 15 minutes. Oftentimes it's a bumpy 15 minutes, but at least the trip is short. Two boat options are available. The slow boat is a car ferry which is a 2.5 hour slog out to the island. We weren't taking our car, so we opted for the Hy-Line, the faster, less bumpy one-hour trip. The Hy-line makes the trip an easy one. As soon as we pulled in, someone was there to help with our luggage (I'd thought we'd be doing some slogging ourselves, but all the luggage is loaded onto carts which are put into the hold. We didn't see our food and wine again until we disembarked!) After standing in line with a jolly crowd of people, kids and dogs (and passing some extra pills of Dramamine up and down the line), we hopped up the gangplank and were off. It's just about the most exciting start to a weekend I've ever had. It was a blustery, cool evening, but we (and another intrepid few) stayed outside the whole trip. We didn't want to miss a moment. The trip goes fast. It's only an hour after all. And soon enough you're pulling past the Brant Point Lighthouse into Nantucket Harbor.
I certainly can't pretend to know a lot about the island, this little crescent that takes up 80 square miles of real estate off the coast of Massachusetts. Originally settled by the Native American tribe the Wampanoags, Nantucket was first discovered by the English in the early 1600s and settled in 1659. The discovery of whales off the New England coast of the United States in the 1600 shaped much of Nantucket's history, and between 1750 and 1840 Nantucket was considered the whaling capital of the world.
With the demise of the whaling industry, Nantucket turned to tourism, an industry that it's held firmly in hand for over a century. The year-round community of 9-12,000 residents swells to nearly 60,000 in the summer. Town, the cobblestoned area that has grown up around the harbor, is a rabbit warren of winding, one-way streets. It's about as picturesque and as quaint as you could hope a place could get. The weathered gray clapboards of the houses (along with the fog that can sock residents in for months at a time) truly earns this "far away land" its nickname of the gray lady, and the cobbles of the streets are a bumpier ride than on the ferry coming across 30 miles of ocean.
Charming shops line the streets, including a real-life pharmacy with soda fountain, men's and women's clothing stores and all sorts of bits and bots. Candy stores, gourmet shops, you name it. There is just one grocery store (a second recently closed), and plans to put in a CVS Pharmacy were met with much disdain and subsequently tabled. Many shops close up for the winter but open up briefly for the Thanksgiving holiday and a period of time after called Christmas Stroll. So we got lucky. I could have wandered the streets forever. Megan and I should have. We needed a few more days.
The weather was perfect while we were there. Low 50s, sometimes sunny, sometimes gray. Appropriately gray. The island sits in the gulf stream, so winters are actually fairly mild. If you can call socked in with fog, heavy wind and sideways rain mild. I think it would take some getting used to, living the island life, especially knowing that sometimes the wind gets up and the seas get choppy and the ferries don't run.
Sadly, the ferries were running when it was time for us to say good-bye. We weren't ready to leave. We wandered around town for a bit before lining up for the 10:35, and Callum bought a toy boat. Neel took his Dramamine (choppier seas on the way home) and sat inside watching ESPN. Callum and I sat outside with a host of other people, watching as the boat slipped from shore. I overheard a woman noting the color of the ocean near the Brant Lighthouse, wondering about the copper in the water (it did look uncommonly green), and suddenly everyone was throwing pennies overboard. And then a dad says to his daughter, "It's a tradition. Throw a penny in the water as you pass the lighthouse to bring you back again to Nantucket someday."
Of course, we did.
Nathaniel Philbrick has written a history of Nantucket that I just downloaded onto my Kindle called Away Off Shore. Other authors who write novels based on Nantucket include Elin Hilderbrand and Nancy Thayer (some good beach reads there!). To Gillian on her 37th Birthday was set on Nantucket, and of course there's always Moby Dick!