On My Way: Voyage to the pond

A voyage on Tisbury Great Pond on a beautiful but chilly day.


In May 1869, John Wesley Powell and nine men pushed off from the banks of the Green River in four specially designed and constructed wood boats on a voyage of exploration. On August 29, 1869, Powell and those men who had remained with him emerged from the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in the two surviving boats.

A few Saturdays ago, Sherwood and I pushed off in our no-less-specially designed vessels, though constructed of lesser material, from the kayak launch of the Sepiessa Point Reservation in West Tisbury on an exploration of our own.

A light breeze ran up Tiah’s Cove of the pond on the early spring day. The temps were in the upper 40s, with the sun in a blue sky cleared of the day’s low-lying clouds. We had an easy pull up the cove, into the breeze favoring the west shore.

A few homes, some with docks and boats in storage on lawns, sat within the woods of short oak and other trees. Grass often grew on and off the shore. The color that stood out to me of this landscape was a winter brown. Spring had yet to burst through in earnest.

I had on long johns and jeans, and wore a splash skirt to fend off the water and stay warm. A cold chill permeated the air on this gorgeous day. On top, I had layers: long underwear, turtleneck, and a river jacket. I wore a life jacket, a wool hat, and insulated gloves.

We chatted as we paddled up the pond into the wind. Sherwood is a recent transplant, and at 23 years, I feel I have been here for a while now. We met through work and discovered a shared interest in kayaking. The cove widened as we ambled along. We drifted toward the center and then over to the east side.

The main body of the approximately 800-acre pond appeared before us as we came out of the cove. The beach and meadow of Sepiessa Point was off to our left. We stood off the shore a short distance.

The weather had freshened. We sat in our kayaks and looked across the pond. The beach and sand dunes of Long Point were on the far shore. We set a course for the southeastern corner.

The pond was empty before us, save the roiled cover of grayish seas and wind. I set to the task at hand. The waves splashed over the hull. I was happy for my splash skirt. The wind sought to turn the boat. I pushed through with vigorous paddles.

We made our diagonal passage without difficulty. The beach on the southern shore closed off the ocean. We turned before reaching the shore, into a small cove. We were in good spirits.

We paddled over the chop of the shallow entrance. The bright tan of a sandspit colored the waters. My paddle hit the bottom. We pulled into the cove. Soon we were in its interior.

The Long Point Wildlife Refuge was off to our right, and undeveloped woodland was on our left. Mostly bare, wind-bleached trees, along with some pine, closed in around us as we ventured forward. There was one sign of humans. A picnic table was at the foot of a path through the woods.

The setting was gorgeous and undisturbed. We went at an easy pace and drifted in places. I felt great peacefulness. Some oak-style trees were knee-deep in the water. The quiet nearly could be heard.

The end of the cove was sublime. The wind left far behind. The shallow pool calm and serene. Branches of trees reaching out. Grass and reeds in the water. A dirt path of some sort on the land.

We enjoyed the end of the cove for a few minutes. We then turned our bows back to the pond. We came out of the cove shortly after, into a wind and sea which had filled.

We passed into the pond beyond a small point. We were not ready yet to head for home. We instead turned back inland to another set of coves. The brunt of the weather drove our port beams. A big summer home looked over the pond from a low bluff. An unshingled structure was swept by the wind. We worked our way around.

Tisbury Great Pond is the rough shape of a left hand (not in proportion), with finger-coves extending inland and the palm situated along the South Shore. We were now in the area of the index finger — specifically the wide entrance to the Deep Bottom Cove and an adjacent smaller cove.

The weather had moved to our stern. We pulled over and through the following seas. We crested the small waves, riding their tops. I put my paddle in the water with excitement.

The wooded headlands between the two coves jutted out before us. We bore to the right into the smaller cove. We had a nice ride in, with the wind and seas to our backs. We found ourselves in no time at the cove’s end.

We floated off the east shore. A home was built into the woods. Two Adirondack chairs were set on a bank above the shore. An osprey stand was not nested upon. The water again seemed mostly empty. The migratory birds, perhaps, had not yet returned.

I looked across to the other side of the cove. I was struck by the simple beauty of the woods of short, wind-bleached trees. One tree next to another and another one next to it. Each with bare limbs reaching out and upward. There was a connection there to the past.

We turned our kayaks around.

We had a real pull across the entrance of Deep Bottom Cove. The seas and wind were on the nose or on the port forward quarter in this exposed water. I focused on form, and found a rhythm in my paddles. The wind lessened as we left Deep Bottom and came off Sepiessa Point on the north side of the pond. We had some protection from the west shore.

We paddled back around into Tiah’s Cove for an easy sail home. The way was longer than I remembered. We went past the boat launch and the beach of Sepiessa Point. I made firm strokes in an effort to run with the wind.

Water and wind calmed as we made our way. I stayed near the shore of the reservation. The shore dipped in places, and the woods and grass and wetlands came right to the water. The cove narrowed.

I wanted to rest my arms and shoulders. Both were sore and aching. But the exertion was fulfilling. I kept on. I looked for something to recognize along the shore. All of sudden the launch site slid past. I had overshot by about a boat-length. I made a hard stop and turn. I maneuvered in. The voyage for the day was done.

We did not come out of a grand canyon. We encountered no falls, as did Powell and his fellow explorers, which required lowering their boats over by rope. We ran into no rapids with rocks that would smash our boats to smithereens.

Nonetheless, we emerged from a great pond. We enjoyed the thrill and beauty of this pond. I felt some exhilaration as I bumped the shore. We had navigated the open waters and explored some of the pond’s inner reaches. And the best part?

We only scratched the surface of Tisbury Great Pond. Much was left to be discovered. Four or five coves and branch coves remained to be paddled. We had seen none of the western shore, and little of the south shore. We pulled our kayaks and gear to the parking area. I had in mind returning on another day.