At Large : Close to home
Out sailing in Buzzards Bay one afternoon, we circumnavigated the Weepecket Islands. It's not much of a feat. Slipping downwind as you generally can when heading east along the Naushon shore, the sailor's attention is drawn admiringly to the unmolested shoreline of the seven-mile long Naushon Island and in spring to the bright yellow broom abloom in the meadows along its ridge. The Weepeckets just to the north struggle to attract a glance.
Known by some of the weaker minds in our family as Weepecket, Wee Weepecket, and Wee Wee Weepecket (giggle), the three low, rocky islets belong in a vague way to us. That is, they are part of Gosnold, which, along with the six Vineyard communities, owes political allegiance to the County of Dukes County.
The Weepeckets don't ask for anything. Indeed, Gosnold in general maintains a cautious, even standoffish posture with regard to county government. Once a year, the Dukes County commissioners visit Cuttyhunk, Gosnold's seat of municipal government and the westernmost of the Elizabeth Islands chain, and that's just about enough for the Gosnoldians. Last spring, the Gosnold officials, whom our commissioners had crossed the waters to meet, didn't show up for the occasion.
By statute, the Martha's Vineyard Commission's regulatory muscle on steroids does not extend to Gosnold. Limited and distant government is all the government Gosnold, cherishing the protections afforded by embracing shoals and currents, wants or needs. But, that may change.
Two windfarm sites in Buzzards Bay are under review. There were three, but the third, at the north side of the bay, near Fairhaven, has been dropped from the list. The two other sites include one off the shore of Dartmouth to the west and one off the north shore of Naushon Island, just west of the Weepeckets. Naushon Island, part of Gosnold, is part of Dukes County.
Jay Cashman Inc., a construction firm that has participated in the Big Dig, in dredging New York Harbor, and in construction of the Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant in Boston Harbor, wants to build as many as 120 wind turbines, each taller than the turbines planned for Nantucket Sound. Cashman planned 30 to 40 turbines at each of the three locations on which the firm first cast its eye.
Buzzards Bay is 28 miles long and eight miles wide on average, a tiny sort of inland sea. Fourteen thousand recreational boats traipsed back and forth over it last year, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Then there were all the tugs with barges in tow, hauling jet fuel to Logan, and the tankers carrying oil through the Cape Cod Canal to Boston, and gypsum carriers, and assorted other commercial traffic. It's busy.
The development of the Cape Wind turbine complex at Horseshoe Shoal has occasioned passionate debate and worry among Vineyarders. Edgartown and the Martha's Vineyard Commission have moved to intervene in the decision-making on Cape Wind. Similar attention will need to be paid to the Buzzards Bay site that is much closer to the shores of Dukes County than the Cape Wind project is.
Today, especially along the Naushon Shore, mankind's presence over 1,000 years or so has not made much of a mark. The Weepeckets remain three inhospitable, gravelly clumps, just a few hundred yards from the northern shore of Naushon. They extend in diminishing size from west to east. The largest, westernmost island lies beneath the World War II spotter's bunker atop the highest hill on Naushon, and it offers a small anchorage on the east side, framed in rocky shallows. Protection is limited. Passing north or south between the Weepeckets is mildly dangerous.
Just as Nomans Land, southwest of Squibnocket, another Dukes County island, was for decades a bombing practice target, the Weepeckets served during the war as a target for Helldiver dive bombers. One of them ditched in the bay nearby, about five miles from nearby Woods Hole, though in what direction no one will tell. Since 1957, the Weepeckets have been a privately owned nature preserve.
As Cape Cod Times staff writer Jack Perry reported in the June 1, 2001, edition, "On July 7, 1947, [Navy reservist John L.] Hagerman was making practice bombing runs on islands off Woods Hole when the aircraft lost oil pressure, and the engines stalled. Hagerman was rescued by the Coast Guard, but apparently the plane has been unmolested in 60 feet of water, until its discovery 18 months ago by an underwater cable surveying team."
Unlike Nomans, whose history includes a variety of inhabitants and visitors who applied themselves to a surprisingly diverse list of spiritual, sporting, agricultural, and commercial pursuits, as well as decades of practice pounding by military aviators, the Weepecket Islands have never amounted to much. There isn't much to them.
As has been true at Nomans, humans, their antics, and their abuse have left behind very little of themselves at the Weepeckets, or at Naushon for that matter. The years have eroded much of what the hand of man inscribed. Today, sailors visit the Weepeckets occasionally, or pass carefully by as we did one day. The gulls that burst into flight as the Helldivers descended have no memory of what has gone before. They remain securely established and utterly unimpressed by visiting yachtsmen. But, as I say, that may change.