Muskaget Island isn’t much of an island, it’s more of a sandbar that has a groady little airstrip on it. I’m not sure what it’s like there now, but in my youth no one could build on it for its ever shifting sands and occasional flooding high tides. It stands off the western point of Nantucket, just east of Wapua Point in Nantucket Bay. The isolation of the island made it a great destination for a 14 year old sailor with a Boston Whaler capable of open ocean operation. It was a 12 hour trip in gentle seas to come up from Long Island Sound, hugging the coast all the way to Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, and then across the Sound to the island. Newport provided a great place to fill up the tanks along the way, what with multiple marinas there. This put it just in reach during the long days of summer. As a result, I made the trip four times in two years, enjoying the freedom from supervision and the opportunity to show my dubious father that I was a responsible operator.
As such, in the Middle of August I made one of those trips, my mother packing me up with three coolers of food while my father saw to it that I had four 5 gallon gas tanks for my outboards as well as all of the appropriate safety equipment. I saw to it that I had all of the fishing gear I would need. Talk about your division of labor.
I arrived at the island and put in on the north side where a crescent bay and a soft sand beach made a great and protected landing spot, being in the lee of the prevailing trade winds that blew mostly on shore. I cut off my motors and hopped into about 2 and a half feet of water, letting th boat bob freely as I humped the contents to the beach. I left the twin gas tanks that were attached to my twin Mercury outboards, but one at a time, took the two spares to the beach. At least, I meant to. As I was yanking the second one out of the boat, I laid it on its side on the gunwale and the large mouth cap came off, dumping about two gallons of regular into the water. Grousing that I would have to spend money from my meager pockets, I carried the half empty tank to the beach and went back to get the boat. I planned to anchor it in the ever shallow water, with an iron anchor on the bow and a sea anchor astern. That would keep it nosed into the wind and safe, and prevent the need to beach the boat. At low tide, a beached boat might end up on the sand tens of feet from the water. Too much a task for a kid to drag it to the water.
I climbed into the boat and used an oar to pole myself to the position I wanted and set the anchors. I was abut to hop out and go ashore when I noticed the multicolored sheen of oil and gas from my earlier accident. I looked a 360 degree circle, and seeing no one about in the dimming dusk, I pulled out the emergency flare gun my father packet for me and figured I’d just go ahead and get rid of the gas spill. The gun went off with a whoosh …and then the floating fuel went off with a WHOOM! and a fireball shot at least a hundred feet into the air. I looked in horror at what I’d done, and feared the fire would take my boat. But it stayed away, and soon I was more relaxed and saw my flaming ocean as a bit funny.
I took less than fifteen minutes before a Coast Guard vessel and four small craft from coastal Power Squadrons came on the run to see what happened. It took them no time to come ashore, the Squadrons in their craft and the Coast Guard in a launch. Under their stern grilling, I admitted to the spill, but swore on the saints that it ignited when I started one of my motors. They looked over my Whaler closely, giving me the suspicious eye because the boat showed no signs of soot. They left me to make my camp and feed and bed myself down, but they said they’d be keeping an eye out for me until I went home. Ha ha! I got away with it.
When I got back home two days later, I was queried about my trip as my family sat at the dinner table. “So, son. How did the trip go?” asked my father.
“Okay.” I answered, shrugging.
“No excitement? Didn’t catch any fish?”
“No fires that could be seen twelve miles away and causing the Coast Guard to believe a ship exploded?” Uh, oh. Busted.
“Well what?” I explained the accident, telling my family the same lie I told the Coast Guard. “Well, I guess it would be best if the next time you take a trip, you have an adult with you to handle the heavy stuff, eh?”
My heart sank. Those words took all of the fun out of the idea of running around unattended. How much fun would it be to have a chaperon? Not much. Fortunately, the incident was forgotten and I continued on as the Master and Commander of the Kirk Maru (Japanese for Kirk Boat, what can I say, my parents went to Japan just before they bought the boat for me.) I managed to only have two other mishaps with the boat, one after watching Moby Dick with its Nantucket Sleigh Rides, and after I saw the movie Frogman where underwater demolition team members were retrieved from the water at high speed into a rubber raft tied aside the power boat. I think I’ll leave those stories for later.