A Vineyard Feeling

Aboard Wyntje, Walter Cronkite charts a course off Cape Pogue. This essay by the late newsman opened the first issue of the magazine in 1985.
Peter Simon

The founding publisher and editor of Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, William E. Marks, invited Walter Cronkite to write a personal essay for the premier issue in summer 1985. Close to the deadline, Walter invited William to come over to his home, to review and pick up the story. They enjoyed cocktails in a screened room overlooking the harbor before the iconic media man went off to a nearby study and – while William waited, listening to the familiar clack of a typewriter’s keys – finished writing this essay that starts with him on his sailboat.

Now, today it is positively brilliant. Fifteen knots from the northwest, rippling the waters off East Chop when it blows against the strong current that flows there. A perfect day, cloudless and crisp and so bright that the Cape stands out from Oak Bluffs as if you could walk to it. A perfect Vineyard day.

But then yesterday was a perfect Vineyard day too. It was rainy. Rainy, not raining. One of those days without the sun, with a heavy overcast of gray clouds and a fog bank lying so close offshore that you can see it hanging there right beyond the barrier beach that barely separates Katama Bay from the direct route to Lisbon.

That probably wasn’t a perfect day to the Vineyard visitor, come for sunshine that blinds you when it bounces off the wide sand of South Beach. And it probably is true that those cloudy days aren’t classified as perfect by Vineyard residents themselves. I gather that because I hear them say (and hear myself saying) on days like today, “Isn’t this a magnificent day?”

Most of us, though, rejoice in every day on the Vineyard, sun or rain. For this is indeed a special place, and when the weather urges us off the beaches and out of the woods and maybe even discourages the most inveterate fisherman, there are few places that offer the tranquility of our Island. An easy chair, a good book, a fire on the hearth, and even the windows rattling under the buffeting northeast wind can sound a relaxing tattoo.

It is not a place for those who ride a pogo stick, bouncing from excitement to excitement. (And let us hope it never satisfies them.) Oh, I believe that again this year you can ride a sailplane or a tethered parachute, but the Island is more attuned to the mechanical tambourine that accompanies the Flying Horses, “the oldest carousel in America.”

This is a place for nature lovers, and for them it offers the real excitement of the forests and moors and cliffs and ponds. Thank goodness there are still some folks to whom flora and fauna are something more than subjects for syndicated television shows, and for them the Vineyard is a paradise.

And of course, for those of us to whom the water is a special attraction, this is heaven on earth. For me the thrill is in living on Edgartown harbor, in having Wyntje, our forty-two-foot yawl, anchored just off my dock, bouncing at her mooring, inviting me to get aboard for a spanking afternoon sail out on Nantucket Sound, where it is a rare day that the wind doesn’t rise by early afternoon with enough gusto to move along the most sluggish old tub.

When I’m not on Wyntje, I play unappointed and unofficial assistant to John Edwards, our harbor master. I make occasional sorties out in Pequod, the Whaler, to survey the new arrivals and frequently to greet old friends among the cruising fraternity.

From the water I can marvel again at the beauty of our town at one end of the harbor – dressed in her sparkling white and serviceable, no-nonsense Yankee grays – and the wide expanse of Katama Bay at the other.

A distant aunt of genealogical bent says I’m descended from the early Nortons who helped establish civilization on Martha’s Vineyard. I think there must be something to that. I know that’s the way it feels – that I was born to this wonderful place.

This article was edited from the original, which ran in Summer 1985. Published with permission of founding publisher, William E. Marks.