By Tim Stanton
Sailing my old Sunfish from Edgartown Harbor to Cape Poge Bay on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., with a childhood friend has been a long-held summer tradition, complete with its share of follies.
One year, before even leaving the harbor, we got up close and personal with the Chappaquiddick Ferry, as the captain waited for us to fish ourselves out of a precarious position. Another time we laughed our way from the Edgartown Lighthouse to the opening of Cape Poge Bay, not thinking about how long our upwind return would take with a just-broken tiller.
But we keep going back, and for good reason. We’re partial to shallow New England bays where you can see the bottom through clear, clean water. There are many of these places to choose from on Martha’s Vineyard. My favorite is Cape Poge, a paradise on Chappaquiddick Island that offers great fishing, clamming and unspoiled beaches.
On Saturday mornings during summer, I drop my mooring line in Katama Bay and steer my 18-foot Edge-Water center console through Edgartown Harbor and across the outer harbor to the entrance of Cape Poge Bay. By the time I reach my destination, my boat resembles something out of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” as I usually pick up a host of family members — including my wife, 16-month-old twins and dog — as well as a grill, cooler and kayak.
My favorite route is to pass the docks of the Chappaquiddick Beach Club and follow the shore, typically cruising past fleets of Shields, Herreshoff 12.5s and dinghies that are busy buoy racing. The narrow entrance, known as Cape Poge Gut, is marked by a couple good-size rocks, visible at both low and high tide. Cruising this area requires an eye on the sounder at low tide, when depths fall to 4 or 5 feet. But most boats that frequent this gunkhole are 30 feet or smaller and draw less than a couple of feet.
On a nice July day the Gut can be a busy place, with boats, swimmers and anglers casting for blues and striped bass. There’s always a flotilla anchored on the north side of the Gut, and if you’re heavy handed with the throttle, you can expect someone to pop up and give you the ol’ wave to slow down — you won’t mistake them for a welcome wagon.
Once you’ve made it into Cape Poge, it’s decision time. You can file in line with the group; explore the shallow bay, with depths ranging from 6 to 8 feet in the open water and channel areas to just a few inches deep in shoals; or find your own piece of beach and drop anchor.
The safest bet in finding a beach is to tuck in around the Gut beyond the anchored boats and look for fresh real estate. At low tide you can make it to within about 50 yards or so of shore. At high tide you can pull right to the sand. From this vantage point you can watch the parade of boats entering the bay, take a swim, dig a few clams (licenses available at Edgartown town hall), or paddle a kayak. Following this shoreline farther into the bay toward Cape Poge Lighthouse, anglers can find bluefish, stripers, bonito and albacore. In the fall Cape Poge is usually the Vineyard’s most productive bay-scallop fishing ground.
Some of the nicer beaches can be found on the inside section of Cape Poge Bay near the entrance of Poucha Pond, which leads to the infamous Dike Bridge that Ted Kennedy drove his car off in 1969. But getting there can be tricky even for those with local knowledge, due to a sandbar starting just beyond the Gut and extending to the middle of the bay. The best way to reach these areas is to take the Chappaquiddick Ferry, and bike or drive to the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, located at the Dike Bridge and managed by The Trustees of Reservations (www.thetrustees.org, (508) 627-7689). The Trustees offer natural history and Cape Poge Lighthouse tours via four-wheel-drive vehicle. Wildlife kayak and canoe tours are also offered.
Check out the other parts to our Gunkholing series:
Explore our picks for 10 great gunkhole getaways:
Learn The Art of Gunkholing
Or introduce yourself to "Mr. Gunkhole."