With growing evidence the Norton Point breach is appearing to close — lessening the current running through the harbor—there is buzz on the waterfront that the summer ahead will be easier for a lot of visiting boaters, particularly the local fleet of day sailboats.
Harbor master Charlie Blair said he is cautiously optimistic. If there are no severe storms on the horizon, a reduction in the size of the channel at Wasque that makes Chappaquiddick an island, will mean less water going through, and that will continue to be beneficial to small sailboat enthusiasts.
“If there is a reduction in current, it will be a plus for the small sailboat captains, especially those who do not have auxiliary power,” Mr. Blair said.
Norton Point is a narrow three mile beach that reaches from Katama towards Chappaquiddick. When the Norton Point breach opened in April of 2007, the current running through the harbor changed significantly, from a gentle tidal flow that coincided to the rising and falling tides, into a strong current resembling a moving river. The current in the channel between Memorial Wharf and Chappaquiddick Ferry Point sometimes approached five knots. Ferries running across the channel had a tough passage. Trips were stretched out as the current consistently tried to pull the ferries off course. Ferry owner Peter Wells repowered the vessels to make them faster against the stronger currents.
Edgartown harbor has a handsome fleet of Herreshoff 12 1/2 sailboats and the 30-foot Shields class sailboats, along with others. Since the breach opened, sailors have had a tough time when the opposing current was too strong for some to sail against. Some boats in the channel were actually moving backwards, and to make the passage, had to be towed by a power boat. On any given summer racing day, one or two boats might have a tough time. Mr. Blair said safety concerns arose.
“The strong current was a deterrent to boaters coming to visit us overnight, especially if they wanted to sleep in their boats. With the water rushing under their boats it was like anchoring in the Woods Hole Passage,” Mr. Blair said.
Boats residing in the mooring fields were moved to avoid accidental touching. Mr. Blair credits his staff for configuring the boat arrangements so that no two large boats were near each other. “There was a giant eddy that ran through the private and transient mooring field. It was a juggling act for us. Boats ended up pointing in different directions most of the time. Those that happily were together at their moorings for 30 years started colliding,” Mr. Blair said.
News of the adverse changes to the harbor got around the boating community not long after the breach in 2007. “The yachting public knew. They have their gams [conversations]. People were informed,” Mr. Blair said. Fewer boats came to Edgartown in the summer.
Talk of the apparent current change is also helping Mr. Blair now. Positive word of a reduced current is now passing through the distant boating community. “We’ve now got yacht clubs coming back. A couple waited a year or two to see. Now we have them signed up again,” Mr. Blair said.
Reservations for the harbor on Fourth of July night opened on March 1 at 8 a.m. By 8:04 a.m., Mr. Blair said all 84 rental moorings were taken for that night.
While the signs point to the breach narrowing, Mr. Blair said he is fully aware that one big ocean storm could make another opening in the barrier beach. “We could have a big blow. The breach almost healed a year ago, when it ruptured behind itself, to the west. We are not out of the woods yet,” Mr. Blair said.
Mr. Blair estimates that in just the last two months, millions of cubic yards of sand were moved at Wasque, proving that the area is hugely dynamic and still changing. “More than a million yards of sand moved in three days. That is more sand than the Edgartown dredge will pump in its lifetime,” Mr. Blair said.