Tarpaulin Cove in autumn is among the most serene of places. It is a distant harbor but also situated close by. The tiny cove off Naushon facing Vineyard Sound is rich in history going back centuries. Before there was a country, pirates hid there. Before modern weather forecasting, onboard electronic aids and auxiliary engines, sailing ships of all sizes tucked into the cove to hide from storms.

Today the cove has a bit of a different role. Sailors seek refuge from the rush and tumble of the day. It is a place of solace, a quiet retreat from all other waterfront destinations in southeastern New England.

Last Saturday, a small fleet of mostly local, old classic sailboats held their 14th annual sailboat rendezvous at the cove. The schooners came as big as the 42-foot Malabar II from Vineyard Haven, and the sloops came small, too. The event is called the Salami Cup. There is not another sailboat race like it. Most of the sailors were from Vineyard Haven, with a few from Woods Hole.

Malabar II participated in the annual Salami Cup off Tarpaulin Cove. — Mark Lovewell

Tarpaulin Cove is a private place, like the rest of Naushon. The lighthouse, standing as a sentinel overlooking the cove and seen by any boater traversing the Sound, is maintained by the Cuttyhunk Historical Society. Seventy-five feet above sea level, the lantern blinks a bright white light every six seconds. Though not original, the lighthouse history dates back to 1759, making its presence 17 years older than the nation.

Way before the age of trucks and asphalt roads, more than 100 ships a day passed up and down Vineyard Sound with regularity. They were en route to Boston to the north or New York to the south. At the time, the Sound was the second busiest channel in the world, second only to the English Channel.

Much has changed along the waterfront since, but at Tarpaulin Cove time has almost stopped. The evidence of another age of sail is reflected throughout the place. An old post office was established at the cove to help mariners stay in touch with the rest of the world. There is still evidence of the mailboxes in the big old house that overlooks the cove.

The landscape is lush with growth. Cows roam the property. On a still Saturday night, the sound of owls could be heard readily. The calm water at the cove would sometimes be broken by a splash, and a boiling if a fish found a school of bait. In the clearness of the night, without a street light or shopping center nearby, the stars shone at their brightest.

For mariners, the value of the cove is apparent with sonar. The cove has a depth that begins at 16 feet, perfect for anchoring. The water depth just outside of the cove drops to a deep 80 feet.

Photo gallery: An Autumn Visit to Tarpaulin Cove.