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Woods Hole at Max Ebb


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Chris and I have been trying to get down and test the current in Woods Hole for most of the summer, and last Sunday we were finally able to make it happen. After some research, I determined that the best place to put-in would be a beach next to the Woods Hole Yacht Club. With nothing more to go on than a mention in an MIT student orientation site and the WHYC address, we took off from Boston. As it happened the put-in was just about perfect, and there was free parking (tow zone from midnight-6 am) right there. Obviously, traffic and parking would be significantly more difficult during the summer season, but I suspect if you are willing to get up early enough to arrive at 6am, you could use the put-in and parking area even at peak season.

According to the Woods Hole current chart in Eldridge, the ebb current started through Woods Hole at 12:20, so we hit the water right around noon. We ferried across the 2+ knot current to Nonamesset Island where Chris pulled up on the beach for some last minute equipment adjustments, and I practiced rolling and bracing in the eddy. After a few minutes, we ferried back out into the current. Now, most of my experience with current has been at the mouth of Little Harbor north of Cohasset, and I had been expecting conditions somewhat more severe at Woods Hole. As max-ebb approached, it didn’t seem much different from Little Harbor. The current got up to about 4+ knots, and there were plenty of standing waves to play in, but nothing that extreme.

After playing around in the current and what waves we could find, we spied a couple of dories attempting to ferry the heaviest point in the channel so we paddled up to watch (crossing the channel in fast current appeared much harder in a dory than a kayak). At about this time a large motorboat came chugging through the channel against the current. We decided to ferry across once the boat had passed. As my friend Cuffy says, “at that point, stuff got weird.” Good weird. My plan was to cross behind the boat and surf its wake across the channel. This worked better than I had expected. Much better. I caught the wake just past the boat’s stern, and after surfing it for a while I noticed that it lingered far longer than usual. After dropping off the wake, I spun around and the channel was still churned up, well after the boat had passed. I crashed through the waves to get back into the turmoil, and then surfed back up through these new, and rather extreme, standing waves. After some crazy rides, and a few desperate braces, I had made it all the way through the standing waves again. I spun another quick 180, and low and behold, the waves still lingered. They had mellowed to the point of reasonable sanity, but were still very surfable.

After three runs through the waves, the waters had pretty much calmed back down, and our idiotic grins were giving way to exhaustion. We kept checking for another yacht that might be heading for the channel, but we felt pretty lucky that we had been in the perfect location when that one had passed. Eventually we gave up on another getting another big boat coming through, conceded that the best of the day was behind us, and fought the current back towards the beach. Final Score: Woods Hole at Max Ebb – good, with the potential for quality craziness; Beach next to WHYC – perfect during off-season or at 6am in season.

If anyone has any suggestions on things we might have missed at Woods Hole, or things to look for during the flood current, please drop me a line.

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I was at Penzance Point most recently at max flood, and it was excellent. That direction also keeps you from washing out into the channel should you wet exit. The good stuff then was actually slightly off the point, rather than in the channel with Devil's Foot (called the "Gate of Cans" on the NOAA chart). Ebb later was nice too, but a bit dicey because of that issue. The boat wakes are definitely the icing on the cake, so this is one place it's best to go in high powerboat season, when you will get non-stop wakes.

I believe that Middle Ledge is also good on the flood, but I haven't personally done that. The problem there again is washing into a channel.


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Woods Hole is just as much fun in a sailboat. We took our Macgregor 26M through in September,about 1.5 hrs after slack,with a 15-18kt wind. A huge motor cruiser went crashing by us(we were under sail)and set up a really big wake.I turned stern to,and got that Mac surfing at 7.8kts!

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