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Navigating Nantucket tests your seamanship

As they say on Nantucket, “fog happens.”

Thousands of pleasure boats come to Nantucket every year, not to mention the commercial vessels. The jetties protecting the harbor entrance are approximately 140 miles from Boston; 80 miles from Newport, R.I.; and 26 miles from Hyannis, Mass. There are numerous shoals between the island and the mainland, as well as strong cross currents.

As they say on Nantucket, “fog happens.” It can roll in quite unexpectedly, or you may see its banks hovering surreally over the ocean in the distance. And high winds obviously can cause high waves and breaking seas, particularly in areas with shallows and strong currents.

Careful navigation and seamanship, as always, are very important. Take up-to-date charts and guidebooks — for example, the Waterway Guide, Northern Edition — and study them before you head out. There is a TowBoatU.S. operator on Nantucket, an island native named Tim Russell, (508) 257-9625. We happened to see him on a call, when a large trawler lost an engine and steering inside the jetties. We were impressed by his work.

The jetties are marked, but can be partially or completely underwater at high tide. There’s a range on Brant Point to help get you inside the jetties, but many don’t seem to realize it’s there. In short, this is a trip that you can do, and the trip sure beats heading across to Bermuda. But, as always, exercise prudent seamanship.