A hellish trip to Woods Hole


“Satan’s Peril” by Tom Hale, self-published. 22 pp., $20. Available at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven and at Edgartown Books.

Taking the ferry to Woods Hole is a familiar 45-minute commuter ride for most of us. Have a little coffee, read the paper, chat up the neighbors, maybe stay in the car for a nap.

Thanks to Island resident Tom Hale, we have a zesty account of what was probably the first trip from the Island to Woods Hole, straight from the pen, we believe, of one Timothy Reston, an English sea captain who had sailed his ship in 1603 from Dorsetshire to fish for cod in Vineyard Sound.

Captain Reston kept a personal journal with detailed information on his trip, and parts of it survived in the library of the University of London. The journal came to the Vineyard years ago, thanks to English scholar George Haddam, a friend of Mr. Hale’s. Mr. Haddam stumbled across the journal while researching other maritime history and made the nine-page fragment available to his Vineyard friend.

Mr. Hale first wrote the first draft of his book “eight or ten years ago, I suppose. I passed it on to friends,” Mr. Hale said. “But it’s a good yarn and I thought I’d give it a go again,” he said.

“Satan’s Peril” is more a monograph than a book, 22 pages, including the nine surviving pages of the captain’s journal. The journal entries give terrific detail on the events that occurred in September of 1603 just off the Island.

Put simply, six or seven Englishmen crossed the Atlantic in an 80- to 100-foot boat, filled their hold with cod, then took a day trip to explore Vineyard Sound while their salted catch lay drying on “Martha’s Isle” or “Nomansland,” across from what we call Aquinnah and they called the “red cliffs.”

They hit weather immediately after navigating between our Island and Noman’s, their two-master’s sails ripped to tatters while passing between Pasque and Naushon islands. They sought safe harbor, probably in what’s now called Kettle Cove.

After four days of sail repair, they set sail back to Martha’s Isle, but left on a falling tide through the harbor entrance near Woods Hole. Currents described by Captain Reston as an “awful sluiceway” immediately whipsawed the Nancy. He later dubbed the harbor entrance as “Satan’s Peril.” The Nancy pinballed off hidden rocks and shoals, then with a stove-in port side and a hold full of water, just made it to what is now Hadley Harbor on Uncatena Island.

History aside, “Satan’s Peril” is appealing because I can almost put myself in their buckled shoes since I see that water all the time from the ferry.

But I don’t see it as a stranger without maps, buoys, sonar, GPS, or 142 Steamship Authority crewmembers on board.

In the shoes of Reston’s crew, I am 3,000 miles from home on a strange beach with a crippled 15-ton boat that I have to tip over so I can repair it with new parts that I must cut from trees. With hand tools. Then I can retrieve my fish and sail those 3,000 miles back to Dorsetshire, trusting the repairs will hold.

They did it. All of it. And they came back to fish the Sound again. I’ll remember that, next time I’m chafing in the standby line.

Mr. Hale has spent 50 years on the Island, running a shipyard and writing, painting, and researching all things nautical. He does his homework and has done a lot of research to authenticate the document, the event, and the Reston family tree as completely as possible.

“Satan’s Peril” is the second recent example (see Nick Bunker’s “Making Haste From Babylon” reviewed in The Times of May 20) of the treasure trove of information resting in English archives about our early days. Like “Babylon,” it’s a reminder of the hardy stock from which we’re sprung.