Sport Paradise A
lmost everything that makes Nantucket so appealing to both its year-round residents and the tourists who visit the island in the summer is rooted in the surrounding Atlantic Ocean. The whaleboat captains of yesteryear who made their fortunes in the open sea, building fabulous mansions that are now part of the Island’s cultural heritage, have long since given way to tourism as the Island’s breadwinning activity, but the ocean – and the many water sports associated with it remains the focus. Perhaps first and foremost among the Island’s many aquatic attractions are its impressive 80 miles of beaches which vary in size and surf. To name but three - Jetties Beach, located on Nantucket Sound, features mild surf that is perfect for families. Lifeguards are on duty, and a playground and volleyball net are also located there. Meantime, one can take in impressive sunset views at Madaket Beach, at the southwestern tip of the Island, which is also a popular spot for swimmers and sunbathers. For your stay on Island in the high season, you may think it impossible to find a quiet, secluded beach. But you would be surprised. If you rent or bring a trusty 4x4, you can still find obscure beaches to share alone with your sweetheart or family and friends, even in the heart
of the high season. At least that is what one 15-year Island resident told me – and he promised to take me out there, provided I wear a blindfold. But Nantucket’s aquatic attractions don’t end with its beautiful beaches: charter fishing, surfing, water skiing, sailing, kayaking, scuba diving, pleasure cruises and other activities promise a fun-filled stay for one and all, so read on…
Surfing Nantucket For those who enjoy surfing, the aptly named Surfside Beach on the south side of the Island offers not only windswept dunes but also waves for surfers. Surfers on Nantucket represent a tight-knit if open community. In the cold months of January, you can still see them, wearing six millimeter-thick wetsuits that cover their entire bodies, leaving only part of their face open, riding the waves off Nobadeer Beach, not far from Surfside and just near the airport. Because the wind comes from the west in the wintertime, Nobadeer is a great choice in the cold months of January and February. During the summer, you won’t need any wet suits, but it is harder to find quiet beaches. For those of you who have never gone surfing, Nantucket may be the perfect place for you. The waves are not as big as in California, and the Island includes several businesses that offer surfing lessons.
Gone Fishing Normally the main recreational fishing season on Nantucket
Surfers call each other about weather conditions and the best
is roughly from early May, with prized striped bass and
beach to go to. Part of the fun, according to one surfer, is seeing
bluefish, until late October, when the recreational scalloping
bluefish jumping out of the water as you try to catch a wave.
season gives way to the commercial scalloping season. But
He even saw a whale feeding on minnows in the distance. In
residents may also enjoy ice fishing in the winter in one of the
the winter, it is common to see seals popping out of the water.
Island’s many fresh water ponds. Into ice that can be at least five inches thick, enjoying the novelty of being able to walk to
Certain more isolated beaches, only accessible with a 4x4,
their favorite fishing locations. Some of the most popular spots
are a surfer’s dream in the summer. One such beach is
include Miacomet, Washing Pond and the north head of
Madaquecham located between The Airport and Tom Nevers.
But the summer months are also perfect for a surfer’s visit to Madaket Beach. You can spot them riding waves there, as well as off Cisco Beach on the southwest shore.
Fishing Charters The Island hosts a large number of charter fishing boats, including businesses that provide you with all the equipment
If you do not have a surfboard (which can also be rented), or
you need for rent, from rod and reel to bait and tackle. The
do not want to risk wiping out, you can also try body surfing.
seasoned fishermen have secret spots – not the popular ones,
It is not that difficult, but will likely require several attempts
such as Great Point and Eel Point, which are always crowded
before getting it right. The trick is to catch the wave just before
in the summer. Many charter fishing businesses propose trips
it breaks, when you feel a certain amount of undertow – at
of anywhere from two hours to an entire day, with a
that moment, flatten yourself out and extend your arms
guaranteed catch on a five hour trip.
straightforward, aiming for the shore. The wave will take you
in what can be a really fun experience – and no equipment
Two of the Island’s most prized fish, striped bass and bluefish,
come early in the season around May. Later, closer to July and
August, you can fish bonito (a member of the inshore tuna family). Bonito [pronounced bonita] is not top of the line tuna – you need to bleed the fish as soon as you catch it and put it on ice for it to be good – but it is better than false albacore. As a sport fish, however, many anglers agree that none is
better, because bonito can swim at extreme speeds, and put up a fight, so you always wonder if you have a long enough line. Bluefish also put up a fight but are not as obstinate as the bonito, while striped bass is a great catch because it can be very large. For striped bass in the summer, it would be wise to get out at first light. Some of the more exotic fish to be caught include Spanish mackerel, which comes in August and is great eating. Again, you should bleed it and put it on ice immediately, preventing any poisons from tainting your catch. Essentially, it is wise to bleed all the fish that you want to keep. Other fish worthy of attention include scup, a bottom feeder, which feeds on debris at the ocean bottom. Scup have teeth and tend to be very small: a two-pound fish is considered extraordinary, but it also gives you a great fight. Black sea bass and fluke are also two fantastic food fish.
Local surfer Tavio Gonçalves at Cisco beach, Spring 2012
Flats Fishing Another popular type of fishing on Nantucket is called flats fishing or shallow water fishing, which gives you the chance to see how a fish reacts to different flies and the manner of your fly presentation. A critical factor in flats fishing is the need for light. A typical flats trip tends to go from approximately 8 am to 4 pm, but the best time to fish the flats is from 10am to 2pm, when the sun is at its brightest. Polarized glasses are a necessity for spotting fish on the flats, and a hat with a dark under-brim will also help reduce glare. If you feel more adventurous, you can take a boat some 100 miles to the underwater canyons northeast of Nantucket, where the continental shelf drops off a few thousand feet underwater. Here the Gulf Stream surges its warm body of water, where plenty of tuna and marlin species can be caught, including the tasty mahi mahi, also called dolphin fish. Come September, the prized giant bluefin tuna, which is very tasty, can be caught about 30-60 miles offshore, but one needs the proper equipment to do so, as these fish can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. But there are plenty of boats getting them, and while out there, you can spot whales and porpoises â€“ which is a good sign, because if the whales are out there feeding on something, that means that the tuna are likely out there too. The bluefin tuna season lasts for about a month and is more of a commercial venture. Each year, a quota is set, and the season ends once that quota is met.
Scalloping The month of October is best known for the much-hallowed scalloping season for private recreational permit holders. Scalloping requires a permit that can be obtained from the Town for a modest fee. You are allowed to gather one bushel per week. Nothing beats walking into the water on a crisp fall day with waders, clutching a push rake to scoop up the scallops and throw them into the floating basket tied to your wader. While some scallopers eat their catch raw out of the water, most take it home, shuck the shellfish, and prepare it seared or with linguini in a cream sauce, among other delicious recipes. Nantucket bay scallops are prized nationwide and can be ordered at some of the finest restaurants across the country. If you are scalloping for the first time, it is essential to go out with someone who is experienced to show you how to properly rake and pick out the right scallops (some are not mature enough and it is illegal to collect baby scallops, which are critical for the promulgation of the population).
From Setting Sail to Snorkeling With the salty ocean air gliding past you, nothing beats
Water sports on Island range from the accessible to the equipment-ridden. Counting among the most accessible are
mastering the art of balancing a sailboat. Subject to many
kayaking and canoeing – which require a boat, oars and a
forces, from wind to waves, the sailboat needs a skilled sailor
life vest that you can rent at most calm water beaches like
to harness the energy of the wind and combat all the opposing
Jetties. Taking a kayak trip not only proves to be a workout for
forces to create a controllable forward motion for the boat.
your arms and shoulders, but also gives you a chance to
The task of sailing would be easy if the pressure or velocity of
investigate the Island’s outlying geology, as well as to enjoy a
the wind were constant, but because the relationship between
view of Nantucket. For more adventurous spirits, there is no
thrust and hull resistance do not remain the same, equal and
shortage of parasailing opportunities, if you feel like attaching
opposite force is required to maintain a controlled heading –
yourself to a parachute that rises rapidly (with you in tow) as
at least this is what I heard when I took a sailing lesson on
a motorboat takes off from the shore. All you have to do is
Nantucket a few years back.
take three or four quick steps and then you are in the air, soaring as much as hundreds of feet above water.
Nantucket offers many opportunities for you to learn how to steer and maneuver a sailboat, using rudder and sail on a
But the water sports adventure also takes place below water,
clear sunny summer day. Inspiration can be drawn from two
with several businesses renting snorkeling and diving
major Nantucket sailing regattas which take place in August:
equipment. Snorkeling is far more accessible, as one needs
the Opera House Regatta, which features classic wooden
less equipment (a mask and a snorkel and you’re good to go),
sailboat races and the Nantucket Community Regatta featuring
but to dive, you will need first of all a license that proves your
both fiberglass and wooden sailboats. If you want to try sailing
ability to withstand underwater pressure, to go back up to the
yourself, several boat owners provide both lessons and excur-
surface properly, and to breath properly underwater with
sions, varying from a few hours to an entire day. You can also
oxygen tanks. You can also hire a scuba diving boat.
try the more scaled down, but equally challenging windsailing
Nantucket’s rich underwater life provides plenty of opportunities
on most beaches where boards are for rent by the hour.
to enjoy the ocean from down below.
Founded in 1995, Nantucket Community Sailing, a non-profit sailing school, also provides recreational access to sailing and
Finally, less a water sport than unadulterated pleasure: cruises.
various water sports to the public. With three separate locations
What better way to end your stay on Nantucket with yet
on-Island, NCS also provides a wide array of youth sailing
another water option: the pleasure cruise. Seeing the Island
programs. Sailing can foster confidence, independence, teamwork and an appreciation of the marine environment.
from aboard a boat can be as breathtaking as it is relaxing.
Enjoy the waters that surround Nantucket!