Menemsha is a village in the town of Chilmark in Aquinnah (formerly called Gay Head) which is the southwestern section of Martha’s Vineyard. Aquinnah celebrates the Wampanoag who gained federal recognition in 1987 and control nearly 500 acres of tribal lands in the area. The Wampanoag people have live here for 10,000 years; no wonder the wampum shell pieces are the best I’ve found anywhere!
The fishing industry has sustained the village since the 17th century. Even today with the devastating decline in fish supply, lobster boats and draggers line the docks in front of weathered fishing shacks. Once the village’s mainstay, sword fishing has all but disappeared. Thirty years ago boats would bring in about 200 swordfish a week, mostly using harpoons from extended bow pulpits. Then along came longlining and decimated the near-shore swordfish population so that if a fisherman lands one or two a week he’s doing well.
Menemsha was one of several island locations featured in the 1975 movie Jaws; the scenes with Quint and Orca leaving to hunt the great white were shot in Menemsha. Today, with all the seals gathering around Chatham and the Cape in general, the sharks are returning to feast. This, in turn leads to renewed interest in the movie (only the original will do thank you) and the movie is being shown weekly in Edgartown and Cuttyhunk. T-shirts sporting “I jumped off the Jaws bridge” hang in store windows and we caught a jumping event on the bus ride from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown. The sign reads “No jumping from the bridge” but hey this is Jaws after all.
Menemsha is still the best place on the island to buy off-the-boat fresh fish and lobster and even with the requisite handful of shops and eateries, the village retains an old-fashioned, salty atmosphere. Vacationers flock to the beaches, bicyclists ride through, hopping on the bicycle ferry toward the famous Aquinnah cliffs, boaters call in early to obtain dockage or get one of two inner basin moorings where rafting of up to three sailboats (under 40ft) is mandatory. But the sunsets, oh the sunsets that make Menemsha a special delight, are what the crowds stay for.
Once again we got lucky with the winds and were able to anchor off the beach without being rocked silly. The beach on the west side of the breakwater gave up a baggie full of wampum and sea glass. The topper was the splendid, ever-changing sunset that I tried to capture, but believe me the real event was even better than these photos.