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Off the Path

For seven years, Off the Path has explored spots from New York to Boston and beyond — everything from quirky roadside attractions to eccentric oddities to places with deep historical significance. This season, Davis Dunavin is going to sea. We’re telling stories of submarines, lighthouses, white whales, sea monsters, and — of course — pirates. In fact, you’ll hear about quite a few pirates in this series, which is why we decided to call it Off the Plank.

Dunavin has always been fascinated by ships and the sea — maybe because he grew up in the landlocked parts of Middle America. From old sailing ships to lighthouses, there’s just something special about the places that tell the nautical history of New York and New England.

There are stories of famous pirates — Captain Kidd, Black Sam Bellamy, William Fly. There’s a female lighthouse keeper who performed heroic rescues and became a national celebrity. And there’s the story of Moby-Dick — with its deep ties to New Bedford, Massachusetts, once the whaling capital of the world.

As for the music, each podcast episode will end with a traditional song of the sea chosen and performed by the Ranzo Boys, a New York City-based folk trio. Some are shanties, some are ballads, but all of them tell sailors’ stories or celebrate aspects of life on the high seas.

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Herman Melville published one of the great American novels in 1851. Just in case you missed it in high school, a quick refresher: we follow Ishmael. He’s a crew member aboard the whaling ship the Pequod. Its captain, Ahab, is a menacing figure obsessed with catching a whale he calls Moby-Dick. This book is all about whaling, which used to be one of the most lucrative industries in the world — and it was partially inspired by the author’s time in the seaside whaling town of New Bedford, Massachusetts.
  • America's first submarine dates to the Revolutionary War. Built by a Connecticut inventor, it sailed into New York Harbor in 1776 with a mission to blow up a British warship. It was ahead of its time — maybe a little too ahead of its time. There are a few places you can see replicas of the Turtle — and one of them is at the Connecticut River Museum in Essex.
  • One of the most successful pirates of all time died at sea in a dramatic storm, leaving all his treasure buried under the ocean floor. Hundreds of years later, a Cape Cod man followed a real-life treasure map to find it — and now you can go to his museum to see real-life pirate booty. Featured song: “Jolly Sailor Bold,” performed by the Ranzo Boys.
  • Host Davis Dunavin previews his upcoming adventure at sea! Among other things, you’ll hear about quite a few pirates in this series, which is why we decided to call it Off the Plank.
  • In 1820, Washington Irving wrote a short story steeped in the ghostly folklore of New York’s Hudson Valley. Its simple premise and terrifying climax has spooked and entertained people for two centuries. It was set in North Tarrytown, but Irving called it Sleepy Hollow.
  • Barney and Betty Hill claimed they had an encounter with aliens more than 60 years ago. Their story became the launching point for alien abductions in popular culture. And it happened — supposedly — late one night on a lonely road in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
  • The state of Maine has deep forests and rocky shores. It also has one small stretch of sandy dunes in the town of Freeport — that looks more like the Sahara than northern New England.
  • Andrew Wyeth’s 1948 painting “Christina’s World” shows the reality of life for his longtime friend, a woman with a disability, on her farm in coastal Maine.
  • A small museum on an island in Maine boasts the world’s largest collection of a specific kind of artifact: umbrella covers. Not umbrellas — just the covers.
  • There are six words spray painted on a rock along a highway near Newbury, New Hampshire. How they got there is still a mystery. Davis Dunavin took a drive up Route 103 to see the mystery rock — and maybe get some answers.