Woods Hole (passage)

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Woods Hole is a strait in Massachusetts separating the Elizabeth Islands from the town of Woods Hole on the mainland of Cape Cod. It is one of four straits allowing maritime passage between Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound. The others are Canapitsit Channel, Robinson's Hole and Quick's Hole. Woods Hole is often referred to as Woods Hole Passage to distinguish it from the village of Woods Hole, which is itself named after the passage.

Woods Hole is a naturally occurring, rocky, and treacherous passage, with shallow rocky areas scattered along both sides of the channel. The current is often strong running between Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound, mostly flowing at around 4 knots and occasionally as fast as 7 knots. The eastern (Vineyard Sound) side of the channel also splits into a southern branch, known as Broadway, which flows closer to Nonamesset Island.[1]


The origin of the strait's name is unknown. Several similar straits in the area are also referred to as "holes", but this term is not used in the U.S. outside of the Cape and islands. The source of "Woods" is also hazy, but is believed to have been derived from the possessive form of the name of a Wampanoag living in the area during English colonization of Cape Cod in the 17th century. There is a possibility that Woods Hole was named after a colonist, but it is unlikely to have been a reference to woods, in the sense of a forest.[2]

Mariners interpretation of the name "hole". As a mariner I offer the theory that e.g. Woods Hole passage from most angles while at sea off the islands would look like a wall. Hence the term as in "hole in the wall". While at sea there would not appear to be a passage through the wall and it would be dangerous to approach in a sailing vessel as the vessel could become embayed (meaning trapped in the bay by pressure of wind and-or tidal flow, then unable to sail out of the bay against the wind and possibly tide). Another interpretation is harbour. e.g. Mousehole in Cornwal, England. This interpretation does not fit as well as not all of the holes have harbours and it is often impractical to anchor in a strait with strong tidal currents.

Selective quotations from: Why Woods Hole? by James Watt Mavor, Jr. A mariner named William Quick who sailed frequently through Quick's Hole on voyages between Newport, R.I. and Boston from 1638-1644 may have been the source of the name.

More certain is the observation that the single feature common to all six of the holes is an unusually strong tidal current caused by the land and underwater topography of Cape Cod.

Nash Chawan, the traditional Wampanoag name, mentioned in the beginning of this article. It meant all of the Elizabeth Islands and the straits between, including Woods Hole. It described a natural place without reference to persons or ownership.

Selective quotations from: Why Woods Hole? by James Watt Mavor, Jr.


  1. ^ "BSC Cruising Guide Woods Hole Navigation". Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  2. ^ "Why Woods Hole?" (PDF). Retrieved 15 March 2016.

Coordinates: 41°31′12″N 70°41′06″W / 41.52000°N 70.68500°W / 41.52000; -70.68500