2013-07-11 / News

Two men plan to visit every island in Narragansett Bay

By Ken Shane


As part of their 50-island trip, David Gracer and Trip Wolfskehl pick up trash from each isle they visit. Above, Gracer bags trash on Sakonnet River’s Gould Island. 
Photo by trip wolfskehl As part of their 50-island trip, David Gracer and Trip Wolfskehl pick up trash from each isle they visit. Above, Gracer bags trash on Sakonnet River’s Gould Island. Photo by trip wolfskehl When the country was shocked by the Newtown school shootings last December, two Rhode Islanders were motivated to do something in response.

With children in mind, Dave Gracer and Trip Wolfskehl began planning a month-long voyage that would take them to every officially recognized island in Narragansett Bay. Along the way the pair plans to raise money for Save the Bay youth programs.

The two adventurers began their journey on July 1 and will continue through the end of the month. Wolfskehl has a history as a fulltime sailor, and currently owns a small business called Screencraft. His company prints nautical charts on a variety of gift products. Gracer, who is not an experienced sailor, is well acquainted with subjects like biology and zoology. He teaches English at the Community College of Rhode Island.

According to Gracer and Wolfskehl, they intend to explore the hidden glories of Narragansett Bay and inspire fascination and activism for Rhode Island’s most precious natural resource.

The island odyssey is being sailed aboard Dawn Treader, a borrowed 19-foot Corinthian sloop that was built around 1980.

When Gracer moved to Rhode Island in 1996, he began to wonder about the possibilities of visiting all of the bay’s islands, without even knowing how many there are. The idea stayed with him.

After he met Wolfskehl, he passed the idea along. The pair started giving it serious thought six years ago. It was the elementary school shootings in Connecticut that spurred them to action.

“It was that tragedy on Dec. 17 in Newtown that got me thinking about what I could do to help kids get more in touch with nature, away from Xboxes and more into God’s creation,” Wolfskehl said. “It was something very tangible that we could do. We could raise money with this cool idea and affect real change.”

Wolfskehl and Gracer determined there are 50 islands (one isn’t actually part of the bay), and they are asking that people donate money on a per-island basis. They have set a fundraising goal of $10,000 and so far have raised about 25 percent of their objective. Early this week they were visiting their 10th island. They plan to visit Jamestown’s Conanicut, Dutch and Gould islands this week.

There will also be a stop at Clingstone, even though its not officially recognized as a bay island.

The trip began with a visit to West Island on the Little Compton side of the Sakonnet River. The first week took them to Shell, Spar and Seal islands, and the duo also touched down on Prudence Island during the first seven days.

Although some islands are not open to the public, Wolfskehl and Gracer plan to visit them anyway.

“We’re visiting all of the islands,” Wolfskehl said. “For example, West Island is a bird sanctuary. So we just step ashore, don’t go much above the high-tide line, and push off.”

Typically, once Wolfskehl and Gracer have landed on an island, they record their landing with a photograph as proof of their visit. They also do some island cleanup by collecting trash on the beach. Wolfskehl said while some islands require little tidying, others have them filling entire trash bags. On average, the team spends about 45 minutes on each island.

Another activity is foraging for food such as Asian shore crabs that they found on Walker Island in Bristol Harbor. They have also found periwinkles and various seaweeds.

Said Wolfskehl, “Next week we’re going to go on the Narragansett Bay diet where we eat only food that comes from Narragansett Bay.”

Wolfskehl hopes the project will demonstrate to people that there is a lot of adventure in Rhode Island. He said many people go off to distant locales to sail, but there are beautiful cruising grounds right here in the bay.

According to Wolfskehl, the two men chose Save the Bay as their charity because the organization is a statewide leader in education, preservation and awareness. He also said there is a lot of momentum around its children’s programs. He pointed out that Save the Bay is not only a leading organization in Rhode Island, but is one of the nation’s top groups when it comes to marine biology accreditation for teachers.

“We’ve really infected by the Rhode Island spirit,” Wolfskehl said. “People have been incredibly generous with us on this project. It’s really been phenomenal. We have a great state and we need to celebrate the beauty of it. Narragansett Bay is the gem in our crown here, and we need to spend more time appreciating and exploring it.”

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