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At Sea – at Last – on Nantucket



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Lynx Program. Courtesy Egan Maritime.

By Sandy MacDonald

To be a landlubber on this storied isle is to miss out on 71 percent of its glory: its watery surround. Alas, the skills drilled into me at Point O’Woods decades ago have dissolved amid the mists of time, so I won’t be skippering any time soon. Still, I wanted to give my young grand twins a taste of the sea.

How to go about it? The prospect of joining the Nantucket Yacht Club is an ongoing no-go: though friends have offered an entrée, I’ve always been too embarrassed to inquire as to the membership fee (astronomical, presumably). Lacking means – not to mention a vessel – we favor the free-for-all Children’s Beach right next door, which has a great (if pricy) new café concession, the regrettably named Gyp-Sea. We disport democratically on that modest strip of sand, to a soundtrack of thwocking tennis racquets and attendant curses.

Boning up on nautical skills with the nonprofit Nantucket Community Sailing would take too long – for me at this stage in life, or for the seven-year-olds during their all-too-brief annual visit. It’s when NCS offered “old tars” (AKA seniors) a free sail aboard Lynx, a replica 1812 schooner, that I could finally envision a path to the sea.


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The Lynx. Courtesy Egan Maritime.

The Tall Ship Lynx – a 22-year-old square topsail vessel modeled after an American privateer launched during the War of 1812 – is essentially a mobile learning lab. Its evolving crews learn the ropes on the go: summering on Nantucket, wintering on St. Simons Island in Georgia, and popping into various ports along the coast. On Nantucket the organization teams up with the Egan Maritime Institute to introduce young islanders to the ways of the sea. No-frills options for mere tourists – it’s a pack-your-own drinks and snacks proposition – are a bonus.

Passing up the prospect of a sail accompanied by shipwreck tales (no need to amp up the anxiety), I booked us a sunset harbor cruise. Given its size, the Lynx sits far out at anchor: it’s accessed via water-taxi past a scrum of fishing boats and trophy vessels. In port at the time of our sail was Robert Penske’s Darth Vader-ish 239-foot, $120-mill super-yacht Podium, which the girls, to my delight, pronounced “gross.”


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Kids at sea. Photo Sandy MacDonald.

Its antithesis awaited us. The Lynx is beautifully battered for having been at sea a mere two decades. A half-dozen mates – one sporting a purple-and-pink shag haircut, another a piratical nose ring – hauled us aboard and soon set volunteers of all ages to hoisting sails. The sound of the massive sheets luffing, filling, and snapping to as they caught the wind is one I hope the girls will never forget. Memorable as well was the chance to help set up, load, and actually fire a carronade – a 19th-century mini-cannon designed to mess with but not sink enemy ships, the better to board and seize them. The original Lynx itself met such a fate as a yearling.

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The Lynx Program. Courtesy Egan Maritime Institute.

During a relatively calm part of the journey past the jetties (the 2 1/2-hour sail was just long enough to get a bit boring, in itself an educational experience), the crew regaled us with sea chanteys – a musical genre that in any other context can tend to grate. The quartet assaying “Strike the Bell!” was game and engaging. The young woman with pink-and-purple hair played the flute. Maybe someday the girls will follow her example and head out to sea.


Sandy MacDonald writes about travel and the performing arts.



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