Passersby near the Oak Bluffs public beach were startled yesterday morning when, eerily, out of a thick morning fog, crept the bow of a large white steamer heading straight toward shore.

Moments later, the passengers aboard the boat must have been equally astonished. The Nobska, oldest of the Steamship Authority’s fleet, missed the wharf because of the fog, and ran aground about 50 feet offshore and 200 years south of the Authority wharf.
Thomas Cocroft of West Tisbury, one of several people to first notice the Nobska’s bow poking out of the solid gray curtain, said some passersby began honking car horns in an effort to warn the ship’s captain he was off course. Mr. Cocroft added that witnesses to the event yelled and frantically waved in a similar effort. But all attempts to stop the oncoming vessel were fruitless. The Nobska gently slid over the sandy bottom, and came to rest.
To compound the mishap, the tide was on the ebb, leaving the steamer higher and steadily dryer.
Within minutes, 300 to 400 people lined the walk and sat on the rocks along the shore with cameras in hand. Then the Whitefoot, a Vineyard Haven tug, arrived on the scene to lend a helping hand.
A line was attached to the sterns of both boats and the tug began to pull. Her engines raced and her stern fishtailed and dropped a few inches. Her propellers churned the water white. But neither boat moved an inch. After two or three minutes of labored tugging, the line snapped and lashed back halfway around the Nobska. The force of the backlash was so great that had anyone been in the way it would have been catastrophic.
Meanwhile, as passengers aboard the ferry snapped pictures of the people on shore and those on shore took pictures of the passengers, the Point Jackson, a Coast Guard vessel from Woods Hole, arrived to assist the Whitefoot in pulling the Nobska off.
With lines now attached to both smaller vessels, the Nobska slowly began to slide backward, and in moments she was free. A thunderous ovation from both the shore observers and passengers followed.
By 12:25, the show was over. The entire event had taken only a little more than an hour.
When asked if he could see anything during his approach to the wharf, George “Pat” Prudencio, the Nobska’s captain, pointed to the spot where he ran aground and said, “If I could have seen anything, I’d have been at the wharf in the first place instead of out there.”
The captain added that once his boat gets to within 200 yards of the dock, the radar can no longer be used. “There is a point,” he said, “where you are just too close for radar.”
The Nobska ran aground once before, but that was in November of 1931 when she was still called the Nantucket. That time, she was stuck off Edgartown on Sturgeon Flats for five days, she had gone off course because of a heavy fog.
She was only five minutes out of Edgartown that day when she went off course in the direction of Cape Pogue and Chappaquiddick and ran aground. She was shrouded in a thick wintry fog, and was hidden from view. But long repeated blasts from her whistle attracted the attention of Edgartown residents, and work to free her ensued.
It took tugs from as far away as New Bedford, and dredges all the way from Boston to finally free her, way back then.