Mindy Levin And Wes Van Cott To Set Sail From Nantucket

Chris Perry •

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You would be hard pressed to find anyone on Nantucket that has not been touched by Mindy’s magic fingers or stoked by Wes’ brew. Sadly, that may be coming to an end as the duo will be pulling up anchor and sailing south to Florida, the Bahamas and parts unknown.

Dr. Mindy Levin and roastmaster Wes Van Cott have shared their lives with the Nantucket community for over 40 years. It’s been a long, productive, romantic and fruitful life that started in a familiar way to so many who call Nantucket home. However, their adventurous nature, love of dancing and passion to sail have charted a new course that is three-plus years in the making.

For Wes, his initial ties to the island actually started back in 1945 when his dad came to Nantucket as a 14-year-old. Warren Van Cott worked at the old Sea Cliff Hotel on Cliff Road lighting coal fires in the ovens. He left the island but returned to Nantucket via Tucson, Arizona with Wes’ mom, Clara, in 1964.

“I was only 8 at the time and my dad worked as a chef at the Gordon Folder Hotel,” he said. “It rained the entire summer so my brother Steve and sister Cheryl and I would go to the Dreamland Theater and watch movies for 35 cents.”

Wes added that “unfortunately, we did not stay long; but as a family, we returned to Nantucket in 1973 when I was 18. I worked for Walter Beinecke and Sherburne Associates in the commissary baking for the Sweet Shop, Harbor House, etc. My parents left after a couple of years but I stayed on before heading to Maine where I worked on a lobster boat. However, the pull of Nantucket was too great and I returned in ’85 where I worked for Theo Hicken at the India House who’s father, Phillip Hicken, was a famous Nantucket painter.”

“With housing provided upstairs, I figured this was perfect” Van Cott said. “I worked breakfast and dinner and started painting houses and wallpapering with Jim Tyler in Sconset. One thing led to another; and eventually, I started Nantucket Coffee Roasters in ’93. But, my best move was actually in 2002 when I met Mindy at a Sleepy LaBeef concert at The Muse....”

Levin initially came to Nantucket in 1989 with her first husband.

“We came for our honeymoon for 10 days and rented a house on the beach in Madaket for $100 a night,” she said. “After the first day, I knew this is where I wanted to be. We ate at Tacos Tacos and the Atlantic Cafe every night because that’s all that we could afford. Almost immediately, I contacted the Chiropractic Board to work out the logistics”.

After her honeymoon, Mindy went back to the mainland but returned a few months later determined to make this “chiropractic thing” work.

She added, “I started working part time at The Harbor House to get some cash but I got fired so I concentrated on chiropractic work. I had a travelling table and made house calls. Soon thereafter, I borrowed $2,000 from a generous patient and rented space at 4 Bartlett Road. Eventually, John Dooley subdivided the lot and I decided to buy the back portion. I built the building - went into debt like most struggling entrepreneurs do to get started - and have loved that location for the past 32 years.”

But beyond her work as a chiropractor, there’s much more to Levin’s story.

“I love to dance, and in 2006 I decided to start Dance Nantucket where people could come together and dance,” she said. “It was open to the public - more like a community service - on Thursday nights. My first attempt was at the J.C. House and it attracted 35 people at $5 a head to help offset some of the costs of a dance instructor who came over from the Cape. It seemed like a good idea and I eventually moved over to the Gordon Folger and Bob Bowman who rented us a room for $25. It was still $5 a person but free if you brought food to share. We hosted ‘Tea Dances’ emphasizing ballroom dancing and swing.”

She added: “Wes was right.... one of his best moves was going to the Sleepy LaBeef concert. Unbeknownst to him, I had secured a ticket from a friend of mine and I rolled over to The Muse on my motorcycle and saw him there. I knew Wes having done some chiropractic work on his children so there was some familiarity there. The next thing you know, we are on a ‘date’ sailing out to Coatue a few days later. He was a perfect gentleman but word was out about us now.”

From a day sail in the harbor in a 17-foot Harpoon Whaler given to Wes by Mary Maury and Chuck Bruno to regular weekend excursions in a 22-foot Marshall Cat to a life changing expedition in a 37-foot Island Packet affectionately named “Clara” today, their dreams got bigger with each boat.

“Every year, it seemed we were getting more adventurous”, Mindy said. “We would set out just about every weekend to Cuttyhunk or somewhere on the Cape but we always wanted to go further. Eventually, we did some charter sailing in the Caribbean and that convinced us that we were on the right track. The next thing you know, we are watching YouTube videos and reading books about people expanding their cruising options”.

Wes added: “Yeah... about three or four years ago, we started hatching this idea. It wasn’t just sailing but we had to carve off a covenant lot to pay for a bigger boat - work out Coffee Roasters which had expanded and deal with Mindy’s practice. We really weren’t sure where to start”.

Start they did. It took two years to find and secure a boat via a yacht broker in Boothbay, Maine. Add to that the logistics of two businesses, the sale of the lot and the planning that is needed to pull up shop and head south, it has been an overwhelming task to say the least.

“We went on a Bare Boat Charter in the Bahamas with some friends in 2021”, Mindy said. “That’s when I knew I wanted to explore what they call a sail cruising lifestyle. All I asked from Wes was to make sure we could stand up and dance down below...”

With “Clara” outfitted and just about ready to go, Wes and Mindy are tying up a few loose ends with a departure date around mid-October. A lot depends on the weather, but their tentative itinerary has them departing Nantucket for Martha’s Vineyard to Block Island to Port Washington, NY and down the East River to Fort Lee.

With a few tears in her eyes, Mindy said, “Wes promised me that we would dock in New Jersey to see my 96 year old mother. I want to bring her onboard - after that, I am ready to go.”

From New York and New Jersey, they will travel down along the Jersey coast, Delaware to the Chesapeake Bay for a quick stop in Annapolis for a “crab sandwich at Cantler’s”. Then, it’s down the coast to Charleston and hopefully Thanksgiving in Savannah. After that, it is Florida and the Keys where they hope to meet some fellow sailors to make a united trip over to the Bahamas for Christmas.

Adventurous - crazy - romantic - stressful - all of the above; but obviously, the biggest question is: “Are you coming back?”

They both looked at each other as if they wanted to make sure they got their stories straight.

Wes chimed in first. “We will be back. We hope to come back in May; but after next summer, that’s the great unknown. That’s the cool thing... we just don’t know”.

Mindy added, “I have had my practice for so long and Wes has been so busy with his ventures that it’s hard to say. We have been looking forward to this for years and I can’t wait to not have a schedule”.

Clearly, this is a life style change. And at least for the next seven months, Nantucket will be losing another “local thread”. For everyone on Nantucket, their departure is bittersweet especially as Mindy’s voice started to break and she said, “Wes and I will be together in our ‘new home’. We are bringing our 24-pound Havanese, Bailor, with us. It’s much more than sailing. It’s like ballroom dancing. You have to do it together”.

In a comforting way, Mindy added: “We are not leaving Nantucket.... we’re going on a trip”.

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