Cormorant & Vole at Cape Cod
By Garth Battista - Halcottsville, New York - USA

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 Cod Bay.

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 trip:

click to enlargeWe had to wait out thunderstorms for about three hours before we put the boat in, but the reward was this rainbow.

click images to enlarge


click to enlargeThe beach at Great Island on a Friday evening. We had it all to ourselves.


click to enlargeAfter 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.


click to enlargeThe 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.


click to enlargeWe 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 was extraordinary.


click to enlargeYou 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.


click to enlargeHere’s the same place, next morning.


click to enlargeThis 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.


click to enlargeAn 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.


click to enlargeLet 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.


click to enlargeAs 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.


click to enlargeWe 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 scale.


click to enlargeHere 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.


click to enlargeLeaping 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 never visit.


click to enlargeYou can see our boat way in the background. Miles of beach to ourselves. Don’t tell anyone!


click to enlargeThere 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!