WHOI Sea Grant's Low Power
Radio Project: Sound Waves 1620 AM
Transcript for Part III -- Woods Hole: The
JAY ALLISON: Welcome back. I'm Jay Allison and I hope you are enjoying
your time here in our Woods Hole parking lot. We think it's safe
to assume you're about to take the ferry, maybe for the first time
or maybe you do it every day. In any case, we've put together a
little preview of your journey to amuse you while you wait.
DAVE MASCH: Well, we're right off the Steamship Authority dock
where the bulk of the people who go to Martha's Vineyard embark
JAY: We'll start out with local fisherman and naturalist, Dave
Masch, as he heads out from the ferry docks into Woods Hole Passage
in his wooden skiff.
DAVE: To our left is Juniper Point, occupied by summer homes, and
to our right is Penzance Point, also full of summer homes of very
wealthy people who have summered here since the 1890's.
JAY: And straight ahead are the islands of Naushon and Nashawena
currently owned by the Forbes Family Trust and preserved pretty
much in the condition they were in 100 years ago. Very soon after
you leave the ferry docks, you enter Woods Hole, for which our town
is named. It's the channel between Buzzard's Bay and Vineyard Sound.
A "hole," by the way, is a nautical term and technically…
DAVE: It's an opening that is navigable, that boats can go through
between the mainland and the Elizabeth Islands, which are a chain
of islands that extend 14 miles to the southwest from Woods Hole.
It's a nasty channel because there's a great deal of water flow
and the tide gets up to six knots in there. You get treacherous
standing waves, there are lots of reefs. And it's an easy place
to get crossed up in and to run your boat on the rocks. Many boats
go up every summer probably ten or 12.
JAY: As you move, carefully, out of the Woods Hole Passage toward
the Vineyard, you'll see on your left a rather unusual house at
the tip of Juniper Point.
DAVE: That house is called The Airplane House. It was built early
in the century by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. It's considered
by many as one of the finer examples of what they call Prairie Architecture.
It is quite a remarkable house. When I look at that point, I think
of the bass fishing off the point more than the house on the point
because it's a very good spot for bass fishing at certain times
of the year.
JAY: Just off Juniper Point by a buoy on your left, you may notice
the broken fragments of a mast sticking up above the surface.
DAVE: You can still see some of the wreckage, the rigging from
the fishing boat. It was outward bound from Woods Hole and they
got out of the channel and ran into some big rocks and she sank.
You can still see her there now.
JAY: From this point on, the next landfall straight ahead is Martha's
Vineyard. After that, it's open water. Or "wilderness"
as Dave Masch likes to think of it.
DAVE: All you're seeing here is the top. There's a lot going on
under there that's still wilderness. You can get on your boat and
in 10 minutes be in a place that hasn't essentially changed since
Europeans came to North America. It's a wilderness that's at your
doorstep . And the idea that you could go from where we are right
now to almost any coastal point on earth, just seems very attractive
to me. There's a kind of potential freedom that I don't experience
JAY: Dave Masch's skiff is about 18 feet long , holds him, a friend
or two, and bunch of fishing gear. The ferry you're about to take,
the biggest of them, holds 14,74 people, 60 vehicles, is 223 feet
long and weighs as much as 1,500 tons fully loaded.
Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket have had regularly scheduled ferry
service since 1817, when the first steamship, the Eagle, made the
trip carrying 60 passengers. Now, at the height of the summer season,
there are 32 crossings per day to Martha's Vineyard alone, carrying
roughly 1,100 passengers per trip. That's 35,000 people back and
forth per day.
MIKE JAMES: It's a good job. I work with a good group of guys.
JAY: That's Mike James. He works for the Steamship Authority as
an AB, or Able Bodied Seaman on his crew
MIKE: I like being on the ocean. There's always a sense of excitement
out here. I like it when it gets rough out, just the uncertainty.
You never know what's going to transpire out here.
JAY: Rest assured, the Steamship Authority has a fine record. In
the last 40 years no boat has gone down. Crew members believe it's
the safest form of modern transportation. Sometimes boats don't
leave port because of high winds, fog, occasionally ice. The decision
rests with the pilot, the job that Mike James aspires to... someday.
MIKE: I've been here for about five years. I started right at the
bottom. Messman in the galley. We assisted the chief cooks -- washing
pots and pans, helping prepare food. It wasn't a very nice job,
but I'm working my way up so I can become a first class pilot like
JAY: For each trip, there are at least a dozen people working on
board, and another four of five at each dock.
MIKE: When we come to work we come to work for a 24 hour shift.
But we tie the boat up at night over on Martha's Vineyard. And for
those of us who don't live on the Island we have to sleep on board.
So we have a crews quarters down below with bunks and showers and
a chief cook down there that makes us three meals a day.
JAY: For those of you who like to know how big and fast, here are
the stats: Physical Plant: 2 diesel engines with between 800-1,200
Horsepower, twin screws, 7 feet in diameter, capable of a top speed
of 15 miles per hour.
The trip over will take you about 45 minutes. As you travel, think
of those who've gone before.
MUSIC: Sea Shanty
JAY: The sea, of course, is historically featureless, bearing no
evidence of human passage, but you should know that you'll be traveling
over a part of one of America's most important shipping and trading
routes of the 19th Century. Perhaps the only visible legacy of the
whaling ships and traders and smuggling vessels that came this way
are the lighthouses.
PETER COLLOM: You can actually see six lighthouses from the one,
if you count Nobska as one.
JAY: That's retired Coast Guard Captain, Peter Collom. The Nobska
lighthouse he's referring to is on your left on the mainland as
you head over to the Vineyard. Standing at that lighthouse, you
can see five others.
PETER: Over on Naushon you'll see Tauplin Cove and then over just
to the left of that, if you're going from the west toward the east,
is Gay Head Light and then up by Vineyard Haven or West Chop and
East Chop and then way up on Chapaquidick is Cape Poug.
JAY: Lighthouses mark the hazardous points and shoals all the way
up to Boston. In fact, this trade route had lighthouses established
as early as 1789. They were critical to the survival of the growing
communities here, so much so that one of the first Constitutional
acts ceded the colonial lighthouses to the new American Government.
PETER: There's a whole history and lore about lighthouses that
prevail. The first lights that we had were probably bonfires that
people built so that ships could stay off of the point. Then there
were the steady lights where people would put a whale oil or kerosene
lamp in a structure and you'd see it but you couldn't tell the difference
from one light and another.
JAY: Now each lighthouse has its own distinctive flashing patterns
and their own foghorns too. While people sometimes live in the lighthouses,
they are no longer manned. Automated systems have proved more cost
PETER: It's kind of fun to be a lighthouse keeper. The tradition
goes back a long way.
JAY: I suppose I should mention that Peter Collom was not only
the Coast Guard Captain; he was also the keeper of the Nobska Light.
EDNA COLLOM: I would be introduced with the phrase "she's
the lady who lives in the lighthouse." So when we moved out
of the light house nobody knew how to introduce me anymore because
I didn't live in the lighthouse.
JAY: Allow me to introduce Edna Collom, Peter's wife and the former
resident of the Nobska Lighthouse.
EDNA: It becomes just the place you live and you forget sometimes
how beautiful it is but I would try to make myself remember on a
routine basis that there are very few people who get that privilege
and is was wonderful. Any window, any window you looked out of was
absolutely gorgeous, any time of day, any time of year, any time
PETER: And if you look out there on a very clear night into the
Woods Hole passage and the channel around Nobska point you'll see
just a Christmas tree of lights of buoys and lighthouses flashing
away and you listen to the bells on the buoys and it's a very romantic
and sonorous sound.
JAY: There you go. Have a wonderful journey.
This radio broadcast is brought to you by the Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution Sea Grant Program and produced by Atlantic Public Media
for the new NPR stations in our region, WCAI, 90.1 for the Cape
and Martha's Vineyard and WNAN, 91.1 for Nantucket, a service of
If you'd like more information on anything you've heard, please
check our website, at http://www.whoi.edu/seagrant.
Thanks to George Brendel, Ben Verdery, and Rie Schmidt, regular
Woods Hole visitors, for the use of their music, and to Rachel Day
and Kim Clum for their hard work in making these pieces. Stay tuned
to hear them all again, I'm Jay Allison.
Be sure to read all of the transcripts for
the "Sound Waves" low power radio program:
I -- Woods Hole: Science Town
II -- Woods Hole: Then and Now