Nantucket means “faraway place” and it is way out there in the ocean. In fact, Nantucket is the closest piece of the United States to Bermuda because it is so far east. Besides the noise restrictions, pilots should beware of the legendary fog that often drapes the island. It often persists well past the forecast “burn-off” time. Approaching from the south and west, you’ll contend with lots of airspace in the form of offshore warning areas and the Class B airspace of New York. On our flight, we cut through inactive warning areas thanks to status reports from Boston Center. Numerous instrument approaches are available including ILSs to runways 6 and 24. If you’re IFR, expect a published arrival procedure.
Interested in more East Coast fly-in destinations? Check out the forums at AOPA’s Aviation Summit hosted by Pilot Getaways Editor John Kounis on Thursday and Friday, November 5 and 6.
Few places truly show off the capability of general aviation airplanes as well as the islands off of the Massachusetts and Rhode Island coasts. Specifically, Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. While mobs of people spend hours in traffic plying the streets from New York, Boston, and Providence to later cram on ferries getting to and from the islands, it seems unfair that I can leave my house near Washington, D.C., and enjoy a bowl of chowder in Nantucket three hours later. But that is one of the beautiful things about being a general aviation pilot in the Northeast.
Last September, my wife and I had a chance (in the form of a babysitter) to blast off somewhere for a weekend together. We considered all sorts of destinations, but the weather forecast for the Northeast looked so good we elected to narrow our search to that area. After Labor Day, the crowds retreat somewhat from these popular summer destinations, allowing them to regain their charm without the crowds.
While the tourists thin out after Labor Day, Nantucket prices remain quite expensive. Calls to numerous hotels were met with jaw-dropping quotes ranging from $239 to $600 per night. We booked the last room at the Harbor House Village with a rate of $290. At that price, it was going to be a one-night vacation, but with an airplane, that’s certainly doable. On the island accommodations range from quaint, historic bed-and-breakfasts to luxury resorts.
As promised, the skies were clear, and we cruised VFR at 9,500 feet direct from our fuel stop on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to Nantucket. An hour and a half on the Hobbs later, we arrived in the busy pattern at Nantucket Memorial Airport (ACK) and were sequenced between a long line of Cessna 402s operated by either Cape Air or Island Airways. The island is very noise sensitive, so please keep the power/rpm low and the altitude high in the pattern. The airport’s Web site has published noise-abatement procedures that you can print out to study before you go.
We parked among a number of airplanes ranging from light singles to massive Gulfstreams and checked in with the operations folks. In true Nantucket form, even the parking and landing fees were high. For our light twin, it was $20 to land and $30 to park for one night. The parking fee could be waived if you purchased at least 200 gallons of Jet-A. In other words, if you fly a piston-engine airplane, pay up.
Cabs are typically waiting outside the airport, and a ride into town will cost you $12—tip not included. If you’re day-tripping and don’t have much luggage, Easy Riders Bike Rentals has a location at the airport. The company’s Web site allows you to reserve bikes online. After a quick check-in at Harbor House Village, we set off for lunch at the Brant Point Grill, which is co-located with the White Elephant Hotel. Food here was excellent, yet pricey—not a surprise when considering it’s Nantucket. The setting was idyllic, and the exquisite weather on the open-air patio made for one of our most memorable meals. Hotel workers were setting up for a wedding that evening on the lawn overlooking the harbor.
The Nantucket Whaling Museum is a must-see destination that provides plenty of insight into the island’s origins as a whaling town. A skeleton of a sperm whale dominates the main gallery. On the top of the museum is an observation deck for a bird’s-eye view of town. However, a better view can be had atop the First Congregational Church on the top of the hill.
For home hawkers, Nantucket is a gem. Lots of celebrities and politicians have homes here, and they range from modest to palatial. Regardless of size, homes must adhere to strict building codes in order to not disturb the atmosphere of the island. Among the more modern mansions are a number of historic homes dating back to 1686. The oldest functioning mill in the United States is also located here. It dates back to 1746.
We unwound in Schooner’s, a local bar/restaurant, and met some locals playing “Shut the Box,” a dice game that is apparently pretty popular here. Besides providing plenty of conversation, the locals were friendly and accommodating to us, offering tips on what to see and where to eat.
The next day we ate breakfast at the Fog Island Café where the food was excellent as promised by our local friends. After breakfast, we plied a few shops on the way back to the hotel. Shopping in the town is quite plentiful, but bargains are hard to come by.
We then hopped on a rented moped to tour the island. We crawled through downtown’s cobblestone streets, which are very charming but painful on your rear. On the way to the east end of the island we passed the only public golf course, the nine-hole Siasconset Golf Course where a round can be played for $30.
Having enough expensive hobbies, we passed by the golf course to the town of Siasconset or “Sconset” as the locals know it. The entrance to the town is along a beautiful tree-lined road that ends in a roundabout. It was recommended by our local friends that we eat at Claudette’s, a sandwich shop located in the heart of the tiny town. Unfortunately, it’s a cash-only establishment, and we needed to save our greenbacks for our cab ride back to the airport.
We then visited the credit-card-friendly Summer House, which is a large beachfront establishment ideally located for a lunch by the sea. Unfortunately, it was setting up for yet another wedding and was shuttered to the public 15 minutes before our arrival. Back on the moped, we toured the area around “Sconset” and its beautiful yet quiet beaches.
With bellies really growling now, we set off in search of another credit-card friendly establishment on the way back to town. We set our sights on The Wauwinet, a swanky resort overlooking Nantucket Bay. We had considered staying there when we researched the trip, but couldn’t justify the price. So we stopped in to grab a bite at Topper’s restaurant located at The Wauwinet. We arrived on moped, but the hotel offers a water taxi from downtown Nantucket to bring guests to the hotel and restaurant. Topper’s boasts a gorgeous setting to take in the scenery and the weather. We lunched on the patio with a view of the huge lawn overlooking the bay. The portions were small and the food was OK, but the picturesque setting helped make up for the meal’s shortcomings.
We returned to town to retrieve our bags at the Harbor House Inn. A taxi back to the airport was swift, and we were back in the operations building again. This time I was armed with a printout from the Web site that showed we were overcharged the ramp fee based on our airplane’s gross weight being less than 6,000 pounds. Instead of a refund or even an apology, we were told that the Web site was wrong and the $30 ramp fee stands.
We didn’t let the sour airport experience dampen our wonderful overnight trip. We took off into a beautiful setting sun and chased it most of the way home.
Pete Bedell is a first officer for a major airline and former technical editor of AOPA Pilot.