Nantucket is surrounded by water, but how often do you think about the ocean, its sea life, and how it shaped the island into what it is today? In the summer it is easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of traffic, dinner reservations, and obligations, and take for granted how beautiful of a place this island is, and how fortunate we are to experience it.
Early one morning I was able to escape the office and get out on the water with Shearwater Excursions, before the crowds and humidity arrived for the day. I walked down the Straight Wharf docks and met the Shearwater team at their slip. I was heading out on their Whaling History Tour, aboard the Minke. After I grabbed a coffee (included with the tour) I boarded the boat and we headed out into the sparkling harbor.
The Minke is a comfortable and quiet boat that seats 23 passengers. The red and white canopy keeps you sheltered from the hot sun, and the wraparound seating insures that everyone gets a good view. There are railings along all sides, so parents don’t have to worry about their little ones leaning too far over the edge.
Captain Blair Perkins was at the helm that day, and as he expertly guided us through the water on the Minke he told us about the history of the harbor and of whaling days gone by. The viewpoint from the boat lends a different perspective to the docks and town, and helps you imagine what things may have looked like during the great Whaling Era.
He points out the historical landmarks that still exist today, and where the whaleship Essex would have been docked back in its time. As we round Brant Point Lighthouse, we get a history of the lighthouse, a landmark that almost all of us encounter when coming to and from the island, but don’t know much about.
I have to say, I learned a lot during my hour-long tour, the Captain’s knowledge of Nantucket history and enthusiasm for the island is contagious. As we docked back at the slip, I disembarked feeling like I have a new appreciation for the island and its history. My husband and I went out on our boat a few days later, and as we left the harbor I found myself pointing out historical details to him that I had learned on the cruise.
The Whaling History Tour was introduced last year as new trip for Shearwater Excursions, inspired by the book and movie In the Heart of the Sea. Blair and Rachael Perkins noticed families with young children on the docks early in the morning, looking for something to do. The parents were often blearyeyed and tired, up before they want to be while on vacation, which brought about the coffee portion of the cruise. Getting out on the water in the calm quiet of morning with a cup of coffee in hand, and learning about the history of the island is a great way to start the day.
Shearwater Excursions is a family-run business, started by Blair and Rachael Perkins in 1999. Blair grew up on Nantucket, on a farm out in Polpis, and has always been interested in the natural world around him. The couple had traveled extensively through Mexico and Costa Rica, taking eco-tours at each place they went. Hosting their own eco-tours on Nantucket seemed like an ideal fit and filled a niche that was missing on the island, and so Shearwater Excursions was born.
Captain Blair has over 40 years of experience as a commercial fisherman, boat captain, and naturalist. He has helped researchers with their projects, and loves sharing the wildlife and beauty of Nantucket with others. Rachael is the hard-drive of the business, she handles all of the reservations and event planning, as well as the advertising and promotion of the company. While Blair is usually out on one of the boats, you can find Rachael under the blue umbrella at their slip on Straight Wharf.
At the time of its founding, Rachael and Blair’s children were ages 9, 6, and 2. Sons Max and Alex, and daughter Renee grew up in the business and today hold crucial roles within the company. Max and Alex both have their captain’s license and assist with hosting tours and driving the boats. Renee is the communications expert, handling all the social media accounts and she also assists on the docks and as a crew member on board. Max and Alex also own and operate Flyboard Nantucket.
Shearwater Excursions hosts numerous tours throughout the season. The Whaling History Tour, Harbor Tour/Ice Cream Cruise, Sunset Cruise, Kids Fishing Trips, and Clamming Excursions run on a daily basis. The Whale Watch runs on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Their Seal Cruise sets out on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. They also hold private events aboard both the Minke and the Shearwater, depending on your party size, and are happy to cater a tour to your needs. For more information, visit shearwaterexcursions.com or call 508-228- 7037. Or if you find yourself on the docks at Straight Wharf, stop by slip 1011 and say hi!