From the June 26, 1959 edition of the Vineyard Gazette by Joseph Chase Allen:

It was more than sixty years ago, exactly how much more could be calculated, but why go to the trouble? Once past sixty years, a few years more or less seem unimportant. It was mid-summer, and the weather was all that could be wished for. The up-Island stage which met all the boats had toiled over the sandy stretches between Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs and had entered what is now known as Circuit Avenue Extension. At that time the open square was better known as “Jim Pratt’s stable-yard.” That was the home port at this time of day, for the horses that drew the stage. They rested there, with harnesses removed, while awaiting the steamer, and thus there was some time to explore, just briefly.

Not so much across Lake avenue, where the Flying Horses were twirling merrily to the sound of the gay hurdy-gurdy music.

But in the other direction, where Lake Anthony, as it was still known, rippled blue beneath the summer breeze which lifted and filled the sails of the tall and stately catboats as they skimmed and foamed in and out, and rocked the fleet of party-boats, also cats, that laid at Church’s and Joy’s piers.

Memory recalls a large cat, with the name Storm King painted ornately upon her high bow, and the elderly man who skippered her. There was a smaller cat beside the pier, in which a still older man was gaffing squeteague out of her well.

Various other craft were at anchor, or laying to moorings in the harbor, and from time to time nattily dressed men strolled down to the piers or the shore to look, admire and to discuss the boats on display.

Prominent among them was one that was obviously a stranger. Her color, design and rig were distinctly foreign, and it was at this strange craft that the majority of looks were directed.

Larger than the majority of the catboats, she was canoe-shaped, sharp at both ends, with some sheer. The predominating color on and about her was brown, the brown of plug tobacco, or dried autumn leaves.

Her two short masts stood bare, with scarcely a suggestion of rigging, and no sails in sight, either spread or stowed. The masts, too, were brown, of a still lighter shade, perhaps scraped and “slushed,” as they said, which simply meant polished with pot-grease from cooking, after the weathered surface had been scraped away.

Some of the observers probably knew the name of this strange-appearing craft, for it was the Liberdade, Cap’n Josh Slocum, master, and she had recently come from South America, according to the story. Rigged with mat sails, she had brought the captain and his family home after being shipwrecked.

So the bystanders gazed, and so they talked, some regarding the feat as most remarkable, others expressing doubt that it ever happened. The probable merits of the boat were discussed, her size, which was relatively small, the accommodations offered in her living quarters, and her speed.

There was no sign of life aboard her; apparently all hands were ashore. Whether or not Cap’n Slocum had brought her to the Vineyard, or whether she had been sold by him to someone else, was not mentioned at the time and is not now known. But the memory of that outlandish-looking craft, and the discussion overheard, is vivid indeed. An incident to remember, to talk about in this day when the intrepid captain is receiving the honors which were largely denied him when he was alive.

Where the Liberdade went from Oak Bluffs, or what end she may have made, is not known to this writer, but on that summer day of long ago she attracted much attention and justifiably so.

That Vineyard yachtsmen and fishermen are well acquainted with the Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book goes without saying. Incidentally, the four daughters of George Eldridge the second, are closely associated with the Vineyard.

Captain Eldridge himself turned out to be a remarkable but obscure specialist whose research created a milestone in navigation. He was a one-man radar who never went off the beam.

His talents were inherited. His father, also named George, lived in Chatham, and was known the length of the Atlantic Coast as the maker of the fist charts of our coastal waters.

In the 1870s, the elder Eldridge was publishing a book called the “Compass Test,” which he sold to sailors; the son was commissioned to go to Vineyard Haven and take charge of the distribution there.

“As the ships came into harbor,” states The Tide Book, “George would go out in his sailboat with his books. While engaged in this work he was constantly being asked by mariners as to what time the tide turned to run east or west in the Sound. This set him to thinking whether or not some sort of a table might be prepared. So with this in mind he began making observations, and one day, while in the famous ship chandlery store of Charles Holmes, he picked up one of the Holmes business cards and made the first rough draft of a current table on the back of it.”

This was the inception of the indispensable guide.

Compiled by Hilary Wall