True Colors

To a 6-year-old boy, a 28-foot catboat must seem like the RMS Queen Elizabeth II, a vast ocean liner brimming with possibility and adventure. A child could wander all about the vessel, climb around the foredeck, lie down beside the boom using the sail as a hammock, explore the cavernous cabin down below, dangle legs from the stern, or nap in the spacious cockpit. Even with his parents and two brothers aboard, the vessel would feel homey and expansive. And for 6-year-old Kurt Peterson, his family’s catboat, Molly Rose, loomed in Cotuit Harbor as one of the largest boats of any kind in his little world. With her full sail pulled all the way up to its peak, she could practically eclipse the other boats sailing between Bluff Point and the Audubon sanctuary of Sampson’s Island. Anchored on the sandbars, she appeared almost as an island unto herself, or at least the tender to an island. Cotuit Bay, with its inlets and anchorages, is idyllic for day sailing, but from such a large, wide boat, it would appear small. A child on the decks of Molly Rose might imagine that he could reach out and touch the beaches on any side at any time. Sailing here could feel magnificent, but it could also feel constrained, enclosed.

Imagine, then, what it felt like for this 6-year-old boy to sail forth beyond the point of Sampson’s Island, out into the unknown waters of Nantucket Sound. One propitious morning, Kurt’s family set sail from their mooring in Cotuit, bound for the distant shores of Martha’s Vineyard, a voyage of some 25 nautical miles. Under sail, Molly Rose followed the channel out around the point of Sampson’s and soon left the last of the moored boats and Loop Beach behind. Perhaps a flock of terns attacked the water’s surface over the flats off Oregon Beach and Popponesset—the fins of bluefish in a feeding frenzy slicing the waves like miniature sharks. Likely, the wind held until somewhere out in the middle of the Sound, out beyond the chop of Succonesset Shoal. Here, with the land only a distant mirage to the West, with the Vineyard drawing into closer focus to the South, Molly Rose would roll against the current, and it would feel to the children aboard like the doldrums feel to sailors in the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone—dead. The suspense and the stillness would grow unbearable after the ease of sailing to this point, until finally, up ahead, the water would darken in the telltale ripples of a fresh seabreeze, and the big catboat would again make steady headway.