Falmouth to the Vineyard

Hello all, I’m very interested in attempting the journey from Falmouth, MA to Martha’s Vineyard. The trip is just under 4 miles which is a distance I’ve easily covered before, my only concern which brings me here is the myriad of boat traffic I assume goes on between there.

Has anyone ever done this before? Is this not possible due to such heavy boat traffic? Any advice or suggestions?

Boat traffic isn’t a huge problem…
…but you do need to stay away from the ferry routes. The bigger issue is that there are strong currents in the area that can cause a lot of drift if you don’t time your trip well. They can also cause considerable chop in some areas.

It’s been a while since I’ve done the crossing and I don’t remember the particulars, so you’ll need to do more research. I suggest posting your questions on the board at NSPN.org, the website for the North Shore Paddler’s Network. It’s a Boston-area club with a lot of people who know the Cape area well.

Eldridge Tide & Pilot Book
I agree that boat traffic isn’t a problem. It’s open water. It’s not congested. If you belong in open water, avoiding a large ferry isn’t really an issue.

The Eldridge book will give you estimated currents at time intervals based upon tides. A friend and I did this trip probably 8 years ago. I didn’t have luck getting information from the local paddling groups at the time, but this book and going over weather patterns worked well. I scheduled it to paddle over surrounding slack tidal flow in the morning, and paddle back surrounding slack tidal flow 6 hours later. Between good timing with the tides, and good weather, I think we went for it the 3rd different day that we scheduled it.

It turned out a beautiful day, and a lot of fun. Even given the cooperative weather, we still must have had 3’+ waves on the return, as I remember we were completely hidden from one another if we were both in a trough. So don’t plan on flat water.

You will want to know your own and everyone else’s speed in such conditions for navigation purposes. Not just flatwater speed, speed in conditions. You’ll understand what I mean when you study the Eldridge tidal flow estimations. Every delay has the potential to exponentially increase the difficulty of finishing the crossing.

We both had our rolls down, were paddling regularly, and were running marathons at the time. So there was no tired or quit in either of us. I think we paddled a Current Designs Extreme and Solstice GTS, so 2 nice, efficient open water sea kayaks.

So I figured conditioning, skills, equipment, navigation, tidal currents, and weather into the equation, and we didn’t go for it until the 3rd planned day. I just don’t want to encourage anyone to go for it willy-nilly.

But it was a very fun day. If I still lived up there, I would probably want to do it somewhat regularly. I would definitely want to go for Nantucket as well.

Do it now…
before you have to dodge that windmill traffic!

Jack L

boat traffic not a problem
I have done it many times, 3-4 times a year. Boat traffic has never been a problem. As bnystrom and capfear have said it is open water. The ferries are the least concerning of all. Easy to see and avoid and the ferry captains are very observant. The high speed ferry from New Bedford moves fast but I am very sure the captains are highly professional and completely aware of what else is on the water. Once or twice there are have been cigarette boats around that plane up high and go very fast - the speed and high plane make me a little nervous whether the captains can see well (and at 4 or 5 PM whether they are completely sober) but it is a big area and they have never been near enough to really be a problem. Most other usual traffic is a combination of commercial and pleasure fishing boats which typically do not travel fast and are piloted well.

But you can definitely expect chop. There are several ledges in the sound no matter where you cross it and with even moderate tidal currents and breezes, there is always chop and often it is pretty big. East Chop and West Chop on the Vineyard got their names for a reason, and are almost always choppy. There is also a ledge for quite a distance west of West Chop so when you are within 1/2 mile of so of the Vineyard, sizeable chop is very likely. The chop is biggest during the late afternoon when the usual SW wind in the summer picks up, especially if the tidal current is running against it. My wife is a strong paddler but does not roll and does not feel comfortable in chop of more than a few feet. Three or four times, I have planned to go together with her but we have always ended up scrubbing the trip because I knew the combination of breeze and currents were likely going to result in too much chop coming back in the afternoon for her to feel comfortable.

As capefear said, you need to plot out how the currents will be running during your trip, because they are strong. It is very easy to underestimate them and get swept past your target, and then paddling back against them is tough work when they are strongest.