For our 2007 family summer vacation,
we returned to our favorite place: Cape Cod. This
is our third year now, sailing between Wellfleet and
Provincetown with our 31’ Jim Michalak-designed
Cormorant (named “Sea Fever”)
and our brand new Michalak-designed 8’ Vole
sailing dinghy (named “Amazon”). We launched
in mid-July and spent a week gunkholing around Cape
The benefits of a shallow-draft sailboat with sleep-aboard
accommodations never cease to amaze me. We visit stretches
of National Seashore beach where we are the only people
for miles, and I wonder, “Why aren’t more
people doing what we’re doing?” I hesitate
to even mention it, out of fear that perhaps the masses
*will* figure it out. But . . . surely they would’ve
by now, if they wanted to do it. We see day-trippers
in power boats sometimes, but never another boat spending
the night in these beautiful places.
To all who love wild seashore, who love sailing in
protected waters, who love to wander lonely beaches,
who want to spend some time away from the crowds:
Go to Wellfleet. Go to Provincetown. Both of them
have preserved National Seashore, free from development,
free from the crowds just a mile or two away; wondrously
alive with birds and fish and crabs and clams and
oysters. You’re not allowed to pitch a tent
on shore, but you can sleep aboard your boat just
a few feet offshore . . . or, depending on the state
of the 10-foot tides, you may be high and dry. . .
. And, when the burdens of roughing it on board become
too great, well, ice cream is just a short voyage
across the harbor.
Here is a scrapbook of photos from this year’s
had to wait out thunderstorms for about three
hours before we put the boat in, but the reward
was this rainbow.
beach at Great Island on a Friday evening. We
had it all to ourselves.
a long walk on the beach, we returned to the
boat, ate dinner, and then the girls decided
to play a while in Amazon, in the dark. This
sort of thing makes me so happy – to see
them spontaneously creating boat adventures.
All the long hours of working on Cormorant (and
the Vole) are repaid in joy, tenfold, every
time we use them.
next day we sailed about twelve miles between
Wellfleet and Provincetown – a beat to
weather in 15-20 knot winds and 2-4 foot seas.
It was good to see Cormorant perform well to
windward, which is not the best point of sail
for a boat with relatively little immersed area
compared to its windage.
Once we were in Provincetown
Harbor, the girls wanted to play in Amazon (again).
I modified Jim’s design a bit so that
the mast partner is removable, so we can use
it as a pure rowing boat, or as a sailboat.
This trip they got their first real sailing
lessons, and they both did very well. Having
a sailing dinghy, instead of just a rowing dinghy,
was huge fun. Whenever we felt like a little
sailing outing, but didn’t want to move
the big boat around, we just hopped into Amazon
and skittered all around the harbor.
Amazon made me think of Phil
Bolger, who once wrote that at a certain point
it might make more sense to cruise in a large
motor yacht, and just bring along a small sailboat
to keep the sailing fun. When I first read that,
it seemed vaguely sacrilegious to a committed
rag-man – but now it makes a lot of sense.
poked up into a shallow marshy corner of the
harbor to get protection from a forecast strong
night wind. The water here was about a foot
deep, and the tide falling. We walked ashore
for a ramble over to the ocean side. Sunset
can’t really see much here, as it’s
probably 10 o’clock at night. After seeing
the crashing surf on the far side of the dunes,
we ended the walk by exploring the sandflats
and channels leading out of the marsh, almost
by feel, in the warm dark night. It was magic.
The tide had gone out while we were walking,
changing the landscape and shoreline completely.
We waded in three-inch deep water, exploring
outflows and rivulets, all our senses heightened,
as the stars started twinkling overhead. I felt
a bit like Davies and Carruthers in “The
Riddle of the Sands,” exploring the vast
exposed North Sea sands in the middle of the
night, navigating by compass and watch . . .
We were only a few hundred yards away from our
boat, but still, it was an exciting adventure.
the same place, next morning.
was one of the highlights of the trip: We moved
the boat a few hundred yards alongshore, so
as not to be grounded in the marsh all day.
We picked a spot where we could see the golden
sands of a sandbar below two feet of water on
the falling tide. We anchored and let the tide
run out from under us.
hour or two later, we were high and dry. Lilly
points out that this photo is the opposite of
most sailboat photos, which go boat>water>sand.
This one goes water>sand>boat. Welcome
to the bizarro world of shallow-draft sailing.
the fun begin! The girls used the boat as a
fort to return to periodically, as they ran
and played and swam. Lilly and I relaxed, swam,
snorkeled, or helped the girls build sandcastles.
the sandbar became fully exposed, various powerboats
and dinghies from larger craft started gravitating
to it. People came by to chat, and ask questions
about our boats. Amazing, what conversation-starters
homebuilt boats can be. Here we’re talking
with the Rivet family from Montreal, who had
just arrived in Provincetown on their 45-foot
Wauquiez. We made fast friends and spent much
of the day with them, their two sons, and their
daughter who was about the same age as our eldest.
got to go aboard their yacht, which precipitated
a certain amount of “Can we get one of
these, too??” This began a long conversation
about the benefits of shallow draft. Though
. . . it certainly is appealing to think of
standing headroom, and a full galley, and that
swim platform, and enough righting moment to
sail through the heaviest of weather. . . .
However, I developed a theory concerning fun-per-dollar
of boat. More research is required, but I think
we must place somewhere near the top of that
we left Sea Fever anchored out as we went into
town, and we brought the dinghy up on shore
so we could row back out to the mothership later,
after the tide rose. (We had to carry it farther
up than this – we just took a break halfway
in.) I love thinking about the tide all the
time, and the winds, and planning our days around
these natural forces.
ahead now, and skipping over more fun than I
could possibly recount -- we’ve sailed
back to Wellfleet on Day 6 of our vacation,
and have tucked up in a little cove on the north
side of Great Island, to escape a blustery 20-knot
wind on the other side. In here, under the lee
of big sandy cliffs, it was like a tropical
microclimate, warm and calm. We had to deploy
our sunshade awning over the mast. Again –
this is a spot that a deep-draft boat would
can see our boat way in the background. Miles
of beach to ourselves. Don’t tell anyone!
was a lot of playing cards or checkers. And
we read the entirety of Robb White’s “The
Lion’s Paw” aloud on foggy mornings
and late evenings. It was wonderful, unhurried,
uncluttered family time. Memories that will
last a lifetime. Pure bliss, all made possible
by a boat!