The Questions: Rob McMullen -July 2018
Capt. Rob McMullen might have the best job on Nantucket. He spends his summers at the helm of the Wauwinet Lady, shuttling diners across Nantucket Harbor for lunch or dinner at TOPPER’S at the Wauwinet, and at night, he sleeps aboard his sailboat Snowy Egret.
How did you end up on Nantucket? Tell us your story.
I’m local. I was born at Cape Cod Hospital, 20 nautical miles north of Brant Point and just up the hill from the Steamship Authority terminal in Hyannis. I was brought here first as a baby by my parents. I was educated at Groton School and Tulane University. But I'm not on Nantucket that much. I only spend about an hour a day ashore. I work aboard the Wauwinet Lady every day, and at night I sleep aboard my sailboat.
Did you always know you’d have a life on the water? How did it come to be?
When I was a baby, my father would keep one fish box on his boat clean for my cradle. I grew up on the water. I sat for my captain’s license exam as soon as I was legally able, at age 18.
Describe, in brief, your typical workday, if there is such a thing.
I work from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. I make round-trips piloting the Wauwinet Lady between town and Wauwinet. This is my 25th year on the job. I have rounded Pocomo about 18,000 times at the helm of the Wauwinet Lady.
What do you do on foul-weather days?
We’re fortunate here, because our weather is usually fair in the summer due to the influence of the Bermuda high-pressure system. I don’t like to cancel the boat. If passengers are willing to put up with a little salt spray, I’m up for it.
Most days, it must be hard to complain about your job. That being said, what are the biggest challenges?
We have a liquor license for the Wauwinet Lady, and we serve drinks aboard during the dinner trip. Occasionally, due to similar drink preferences among the passengers, we get dangerously low on champagne.
What is the most memorable experience you can recall on a Wauwinet Lady cruise?
I was the officiant at a wedding aboard last year for close friends of mine. Michael Molinar of Flowers On Chestnut decorated the boat, and the weather was perfect. It was a beautiful ceremony.
Describe your own boat.
I have a Cape Dory 30 sailboat, named Snowy Egret, which I live aboard. I bought her in St. Petersburg, Fla. 10 years ago, and sailed her around Florida and the Bahamas that winter before sailing her north to Nantucket.
What has been your most memorable voyage?
In 1997 I sailed a 25-foot boat from Nantucket to the British Virgin Islands and back. I went down the East Coast and through the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and then back. My friend Mike Schwed often sails with me on longer passages. He is an excellent shipmate.
Where do you go and what do you do in the off-season?
I’m on the local waters most of the time during the winter, but occasionally I sail Snowy Egret south. I usually visit Florida and the Bahamas in the off-season.
What piece of equipment/apparel can’t you do without in your job?
I always wear a Wauwinet hat and sunglasses, because there is no shade at the helm of the Wauwinet Lady. I have a crazy raccoon face in the summer.
What is your favorite boat jam, playlist or cruising music?
I listen to 97.7 ACK FM. I like Chris Morris' show in the morning, the “Boombox with Rocky Fox” when it plays on Friday nights, and “Island Blue Notes” with Charley Walters on Sunday nights.
Best boat drink?
The cellar master at TOPPER’S will probably be horrified to read this, but I usually have an ice-cold Coors Light after work. I need to hydrate and refresh. I can’t drink much water or other liquids while I'm aboard the Wauwinet Lady because there are sometimes several hours in a row when I'm not near a bathroom. Also, the Coors family used to spend the summer at Brant Point, and I pass by their former house all the time.
Any secret – or not so secret – seasickness remedies? What works best?
I have never been seasick, so I’m not the best person to ask. I have been told by people who do get seasick, however, that the only cure for seasickness is land.
What is your favorite destination in the world?
I never leave Nantucket from April through November. In March, when the weather is a little rough here, I visit my brother and his wife and kids in Delray Beach, Fla. At night my brother and I can sometimes be found at a little dive bar called the Sail Inn.
What single thing can’t you live without?
I spend a lot of time looking at a chart-plotter. It's a big help at night and in the fog.
What book did you most recently read? How was it?
“Vacationland,” by John Hodgman. It was hilarious. I'm also a big fan of Nat Philbrick’s books. He and his wife Melissa sail their yawl Phebe up to the Head of the Harbor regularly.
What is your favorite thing to do in your spare time?
I like to walk to the post office and check my mail. Sometimes it takes a long time because I stop and talk to a lot of people along the way. A friend once told me that if I were a dog I would be a golden retriever.
Any nautical – or not-so-nautical – role models?
My role models are local. I have enormous respect for (Nantucket Harbormaster) Sheila Lucey and (retired Nantucket Boat Basin dockmaster) George Bassett. They are both incredibly skilled at the helm of any vessel, and they are always calm and collected. Also, I work with great people. Christina Martin has been extremely generous and helpful to me, and I couldn't do my job without her help. I also get great support from Eric and Bettina Landt, Jen Hudson and Sarah Sharpe.
What do you drive when you're not driving boats? What's your dream boat?
I drive The Wauwinet’s 1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster, which Billy Trott restored last winter. It’s beautiful. My personal car is a 1966 Volvo Amazon wagon, which I love. I prefer standard transmissions. Like a lot of sailors, I will probably eventually own a trawler, but I'm not there yet.
Favorite boat food for a long cruise?
Twenty years ago I sailed my boat south, and (at the time) TOPPER’S chef Chris Freeman came along. In addition to sailing, he cooked beef tenderloin, duck breast and foie gras along the way, which was amazing. That was an exception, however. Usually I eat Dinty Moore beef stew and other canned food because it's easy to prepare at sea.
What's the worst part of living on a boat during a lengthy blue-water sail?
It takes a few days to get used to the sleep pattern. I usually use a watch system of four hours on watch and four hours off watch around the clock, sometimes for up to a week. You have to get used to sleeping for three hours at a time. At the beginning of a delivery you are looking forward to getting to your destination, but as you get closer you often wish it would last longer.
If you could captain a sunset cruise aboard the Wauwinet Lady for any four or five people, living or dead, who would they be and why?
I know that a lot of people would choose great men and women who have had historical and cultural significance, but I would want the sunset cruise to be fun. Therefore I'm going to have to go with Bill Murray, John Hodgman, Chris Elliott, Amy Schumer and Ellie Kemper.