Nantucket in Springtime: A Day Trip to Remember

Steamship Authority Fast Ferry

This week, being birthday week and all, Rich and I decided to go to Nantucket for the day with our bikes. We took the first fast ferry of the day offered by the Steamship Authority, which departs from the terminal on South Street in Hyannis. It was a beautiful spring morning, with bright sun and light winds, and the seas were relatively calm. We left the dock at the stroke of 8:00 AM and cruised slowly out of Hyannis harbor, past the Hyannis Yacht Club, Veteran’s and Kalmus beaches, and the gabled peaks of the Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport. An hour later were at Steamboat Wharf on Nantucket.

Nantucket Harbor

Nantucket means faraway island, and so it is, yet still readily accessible, so that even a daytrip is worthwhile. At approximately 3.5 miles wide and 14 miles long, the island is smaller than Martha’s Vineyard and just a bit larger than Manhattan. More than 12,000 acres (almost 40 percent of the island) are protected from development, which is a fact that is much appreciated by the nearly 7,000 year-round inhabitants. When the “summer folk” arrive after Memorial Day the population swells to more than 50,000.

Nantucket is the only place in the United States that is a town, a county, and an island, and in its entirety, both a State Historic District and a National Historic Landmark. It is a place where there are no stoplights, shopping malls, or fast-food franchises. Instead, there are cobblestone streets and brick walkways where locals stop to chat and everyone seems to know your name. It doesn’t take long to feel at home there.

To some, Nantucket is a state of mind, and having lived there briefly between college graduation and my first teaching position many years ago, I must concur. The light is decidedly different on the island and its remote location 30 miles out to sea lends an air of romance and mystery. It can be intoxicating to the uninitiated.

We peddled out of town along the harbor, past cottages clad in ubiquitous weathered grey shingles, and neatly tended gardens bound by split-rail fences. It was daffodil season and masses of yellow blossoms greeted us along the way. From early-April to mid-May every year, over three million daffodils bloom on Nantucket. This blossoming, and the advent of spring itself, is the focal point of the island’s Annual Daffodil Festival.

Daffodil Parade

Our route via the Polpis Road bike path took us through rolling moors and cranberry bogs to Sankaty Head lighthouse and Sconset, a village at the far eastern extreme of the island. Noted for its rose-covered fishing shanties, Siasconset, as ‘Sconset is properly but rarely called, derives its name from an Indian word meaning “near the great whale bone”. The village was first settled nearly three centuries ago as a whaling outpost. Many of the cottages date from the 17th and 18th centuries, and although they have been altered and added on to over the years, in scale and style they remain true to their origins.

Our return ride into the wind was a bit less bucolic than the trip out, though still enjoyable. But after a nearly 25-mile bike ride, we were ready for lunch. We chose the Brotherhood of Thieves, a restaurant located on Broad Street just up from the Nantucket Whaling Museum. The downstairs tavern has a rustic feel with low ceilings, hand-hewn beams, and brick walls–the perfect setting for a burger and a beer. After being fully sated and quaffed, we strolled the cobbled streets of Nantucket Town before boarding the 3:15 PM fast ferry.

It was smooth sailing back across Nantucket Sound. The day had been well-spent, and sad though we were to leave the island, we were happy to be returning to “America” and our lives as innkeepers. But just to make certain that there would be a return trip to the “Gray Lady” in the not-too-distant future, we tossed a penny into the ocean as the ferry rounded the lighthouse at  Brant Point.