Rhode Island Sound is in our wake and Vineyard Sound is ahead as the cliffs at Aquinnah on the west end of Martha’s Vineyard rise off the bow, the face bleached by the sun. A boulder-strewn beach and rolling, aqua-colored ocean at the base of the bluffs make the setting more than Instagram-worthy. The midsummer wind is hot, brisk and scented with salt, and a lively chop slaps harmlessly at the big, offshore-ready hull. Conditions are so prime they draw the whole crew up to the flybridge, where we take it all in from the best seats aboard.
“You been here before?” asks my colleague Simon Murray, who looks happy and relaxed in the lounge to my left.
I had traveled to the Vineyard years ago, but I was boatless at the time and had to schlep over on a ferry and get around the island by car. I saw the cliffs for the first time from a parking lot, with a grumpy friend who was irritated about the crowds.
This trip to the iconic summer cruising destination is different. My ride? The Prestige 460 Flybridge. Staten Island Yacht Sales in Staten Island, New York, has loaned it to our crew (staff from Soundings and its sister publication, Power & Motoryacht), for a real-world cruising experience. We had left our home port of Essex, Connecticut, a few hours earlier, but it didn’t take long for us to figure out why the 460 Flybridge has fans among serious cruisers: It’s a midsize boat with the features of a larger yacht.
There are two en suite staterooms (including a full-beam master), an open salon with galley aft, two driving stations with an option for a third in the cockpit, a huge hydraulic swim platform, good headroom on the accommodations level thanks to the high freeboard, a lazarette in the transom that doubles as crew quarters, and a big hardtop for protection on the bridge. Those spaces, along with three entertaining areas on deck, will be put to good use during our Vineyard cruise.
I’ve read that Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, portions of which were filmed here, helped make the Vineyard a household name and transform the laid-back island from a remote haven of artists and hippies to a high-profile haunt for celebrities. The tourists followed, which would explain why mooring and dinner reservations can be tough to nab in high season. But even so, the interest in the island doesn’t appear to have changed the things that have always made it special. There are still farms and fisheries that feed diehard foodies, a vibrant cultural scene and calm-inducing natural beauty. And then there are the boats.
Our run from Essex ends as we tie up to a mooring in Vineyard Haven on the north side of the island. A ferry unloads cars and people at the wharf, but the harbor itself belongs to a mix of beautiful recreational craft. A class of small gaffers is nestled inside the breakwaters, along with custom wooden cruising powerboats with American flags whipping off their sterns. The Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway is located in town and launches schooners in the harbor, which add to the warm ambience, as does the fleet of one-off sailboats. Locals say Vineyard Haven hosts more of these than any other New England port outside Maine.
Our 46 is the only Prestige in the protected harbor. The boat is built in France (the parent company is Groupe Beneteau), so the lines are European and the interiors (by Garroni Design) are open and contemporary. She has curve appeal and it draws interest in Vineyard Haven.
That night, we have a visit from John and Rosemary Williams, who live in White Plains, New York, and own a boat moored nearby. They come aboard to check out the 460’s layout and share their story. They’ve been summering in the Vineyard for 30 years and built a vacation house in West Tisbury. Only recently have they started to explore the island from the water; they bought their first boat just a few years ago. For so long, John says, all they knew of the island, they knew from land. “We enjoy nature now more than we ever did, because the island is even more beautiful from this side of the shore,” he says.
Having a boat has also changed the historical lens through which the couple view the Vineyard. “This was once home to whaling ships and their crews. Lobstermen and commercial vessels work the water today,” says John. “We’re proud to be part of that community of mariners because it takes something to be one of them. It took me a while to build up the skills and courage to run my boat here from New York, but the first time I did, I felt elated.”
The next day, our crew is hungry so a plan is hatched to head in for breakfast on the dinghy, which slips easily into the water from the hydraulic swim platform that descends about 32 inches. It takes two runs to get everyone ashore, and a bystander at the dock makes a crack about a clown car. But the truth is, the Prestige is sized right to accommodate our group of eight passengers, gear and provisions. Multiple deck levels and social spaces offer plenty of room for everyone to be comfortable, even after we inhale stacks of blueberry pancakes from the swiveling stools at the retro lunch counter of the Art Cliff Diner in Vineyard Haven.
Back at the boat, we spend a chunk of the day doing work (photography, videos and gear tests), but the time aboard reinforces our appreciation for the layout on deck. It’s easy and safe to move from place to place thanks to features like sturdy grabrails and steps on the flybridge ladder, stainless-steel handholds along the nonskid-covered sidedecks, and the tall bowrail. I was born with two left feet, but even I feel graceful walking from one cushioned settee to the next.
When it’s time for a break, I head for the foredeck, where I find Simon adjusting the headrests at the triple-wide chaise lounge. He has the same idea. On a perfect summer day, why not sit outside and feel as lazy as the gulls that glide by on the breeze, with eyes cast to the pretty beach off our bow? That seems to be what the Vineyard is all about.
The sun is out now, but this island gets its share of bad weather days. We’re prepared for those, since the Prestige has a lower helm. This driving station is the preferred place to be when coming and going from a dock or anchorage. It’s easier to communicate with crew from here, in large part because there’s a power window facing the starboard sidedeck. Visibility from the helm is pretty good, although a low brow over the windshield means you need to sit to drive. Once you’re settled in at the helm bench, the joystick control for the Volvo Penta IPS drives comes to hand easily. The Prestige is powered with a pair of 435-hp IPS600s that produce a cruising speed of 27 knots and a top-end in excess of 30 knots.
No one’s driving the Prestige anywhere today, though. Instead, we accept an offer from a new friend to hop aboard his outboard-powered dayboat for a run east to Cape Poge Bay near Chappaquiddick Island. It’s one of many shallow bays in the area where you can see the bottom through clear, clean water; that is, if you have a boat to get you there. We approach at high tide, but all eyes are on the sounder as depths can fall to 5 feet. That explains why the boats here are typically under 30 feet. We nudge the nose up close to a long, slim stretch of white sand, cut the motors and listen to the fishermen on the VHF talking about bluefish and stripers.
People keep telling us the Vineyard, in its 100 square miles, is really just an old fishing community. We haven’t met many commercial fishermen yet, but we’re still looking for them when we pull into Oak Bluffs to the east of Vineyard Haven. We’re lucky to get a slip because the place is packed with boats, and people. There’s a frenetic energy at the docks and in town.
A cruising guide describes Oak Bluffs as the Vineyard’s slightly disheveled member of the family, the one who has a hard time getting dressed for dinner. That might be because it’s one of the few towns on the island that’s not dry. Still, there’s something delightfully down to earth and casual about the place. The Vineyard is many things, including a playground for the well-to-do. And yet at every turn, we find the prevailing attitude to be shrugging off snobbery.
LOA: 46’11” / Beam: 13’11” / Disp.: 38,250 lbs. / Draft: 3’5” / Fuel: 328 gals. / Water: 106 gals. / Power: (2) 435-hp Volvo Penta IPS600s
I grab my seabag off the Prestige and say goodbye to the gang. They’ll stay on, but I have to head home, this time by ferry. As the ship departs, I watch the island’s coastline blur from my seat in a closed cabin. There’s no smell of salt or sound of the wind. The best way to see the Vineyard? From the flybridge of a Prestige 460.
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue.