Boating In Narragansett BayBy Joyce Black
Photography by Billy Black
Published: April/May 2012
This summer, the America's Cup World Series exhibition is coming to Newport, making the bay a very happening place for boaters. One couple decided to explore hideaway destinations in and around Newport. Their discoveries will inspire those coming to visit by boat that there's something for everyone in the Ocean State.
I admit, it was the oysters that got us off the dock and mobilized. At the beginning of the summer, my husband Billy and I had big plans, to spend several weekends cruising around our home waters of Newport, Rhode Island, on Little Brother, our friend Carl Skarne's Minor Offshore 25 trailerable pilothouse cruiser. As tends to be the case with boating, we knew lots of places around us intimately well, and went to them all the time — to fish, hang out, swim, and waterski. But other places, several literally around the corner from us, we hardly knew at all, other than from different boating friends who came in on their boats from out of town, and left raving about all the nooks and crannies around Narragansett Bay they'd visited, all of which were in our own backyard. It was time to branch out.
Jerusalem And Galilee
The day of our departure was all dense wind-blown fog, and I was tempted to pick up a mooring and just stay put. After all, Newport is one of the most beautiful harbors in the world, and full of great restaurants. But our goal was to motor south past Pt. Judith to Snug Harbor between the fishing towns of Jerusalem and Galilee, and end up at the Matunuck Oyster Bar (Billy knows how to tempt me).
Jerusalem and Galilee? Really? You might wonder where these names came from. In 1900, as the story goes, a fisherman came ashore in the inlet near what is now Snug Harbor and decided this was a great place to tuck in and stay. He'd read the biblical descriptions of Galillee and decided this new land reminded him of it. Some time later another fisherman passed through the inlet and asked what it was. The fisherman told him "Galilee." The newcomer pointed to the other shore asking if that's the same place. The resident fisherman thought for a moment and said, "That must be Jerusalem." The names stuck.
We opted to fight against the inertia that occurs when the weather isn't perfect, and headed out. The 10 miles between Newport and Point Judith promised to be pretty uncomfortable as the wind blew against the tide, but I'd suffer it for oysters. I'd been reading about Perry Rasso's restaurant at the Matunuck Oyster farm for years, but the 45-minute drive from our house in Portsmouth had proved to be unachievable. Little Brother was well set up with electronics, and the colorful plotter made the fog seem less of an obstacle as we set our course from buoy to buoy and then to the Point Judith lighthouse. The ride was bouncy, but I held onto our dog Millie, and when we made the turn into the harbor I felt accomplished, and also embarrassed that I'd even thought about bailing. The docks in Galilee and Jerusalem were full of serious offshore commercial fishing boats that manage weeks at sea in challenging conditions, when all I'd had to do was snuggle up in a comfortable helm seat in a dry pilothouse.
We'd been invited to tie up in the most protected part of this very safe harbor, at Lockwood's marina, right across from my oyster destination. Tom Lockwood keeps a tidy but decidedly un-fancy marina, catering to recreational fishermen and small powerboats. They have two cottages for rent by the night or week, and are only a few steps from Matunuck State Beach, a destination for surfers and kite boarders from all over the East Coast. We took Millie on a long walk up the beach and the shore road, and saw lots of wildlife — the highlight, a fox walking down the road like he was on his way to an appointment. We also saw a car with license plate MA2NIK — so clearly I wasn't the only person who needed a pronunciation guide.
The oyster bar was everything I'd hoped. The fog had burned off and Millie sat with us on the deck while we watched the crew of the farm-harvest oysters in Potter's Pond. I ate them on the half shell with a cold glass of white wine and would not be disappointed if that's what's waiting for me in heaven.
You could easily spend a week tucking into the harbors on the west passage of Narragansett Bay, but one place I keep meaning to go but haven't yet is the charming village of Wickford, halfway between Narragansett and Providence. It's a classic New England town with old brick storefronts, several church spires and dozens of beautifully maintained colonial houses on quiet, shady streets. The town is wrapped around the lovely harbor, with 50 moorings and several full-service marinas. We were there early in the season so pulled right up to the town dock to walk around.
The town is a franchise-free zone and all the independent merchants offer attractive and inviting collections of things to buy. I was drawn straight in the doors of Green Ink clothing store, Shaggy Chic pet store, and Kitchen and Table of Wickford. One reason all these merchants thrive is the Wickford Arts Festival, which draws artists and shoppers to this little town for one weekend in July. This year will be the 50th exhibition, and certainly one of the top tourist attractions of the summer.
Another Look At A Mill Town
Several years ago we took our boat all the way to downtown Providence, which was easy and lots of fun, but this time we decided on our next weekend to turn the corner and take Little Brother to Fall River and see a different side of a place I've been driving past for 20 years. The Fall River waterfront is effectively barricaded from downtown by a network of ramps and overpasses to the elevated interstate, and the last time I tried to get there by car was a challenge. Arriving by boat, though, is completely easy, and Michael Lund's Borden Light Marina is a perfect refuge. At first, the marina looks odd from the outside because Lund has created his own breakwater with a dozen barges and specially positioned "islands" made of spare tires that eliminate wakes. But once inside, you find a calm, immaculate 250-slip marina, complete with a fully rigged tiki bar, palm trees, staff in Hawaiian shirts, and a guy playing guitar — a real local draw, and lots of fun.
We set off to discover the waterfront. Today, modern Fall River has several great attractions, including the largest collection of historic naval ships in the world at the Battleship Cove Museum under the Braga Bridge, and a nice waterfront park, and community sailing center. The best reason I know to get yourself to that part of town has got to be The Narrows Center for the Arts on the top floor of one of the nearby refurbished mill buildings. You can bring your own food and drink to performances by national acts like Roseanne Cash and Little Feat, hosted in an art gallery atmosphere that's hard to beat. This place has one of the region's best music venues.
To really enjoy Fall River it's best to embrace its dark side and not expect quaint. It's historically famous as the home of Lizzie Borden, the O.J. Simpson of her day, who was famously acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother. The family house, within walking distance of the marina, has been turned into a bed & breakfast where you can stay in the victims' bedroom and then, for breakfast, have what was their final meal in 1892. Another dark treat a couple of blocks from the Borden house is Portuguese Fado music at Sagres restaurant. The beautiful, mournful songs (fado means fate) are often about seafaring and go perfectly with the peppery Portuguese stews and grilled seafood. If it's full, look for another one of my favorite Azorean restaurants, Cinderella, with its authentic, delicious food.
And Of Course, Newport
It's easy when you live in around beautiful Narragansett Bay to take its countless fine anchorages and destinations for granted. One look at all the different kinds of boats — gargantuan yachts to modest family cruisers — that come to Newport every summer, and you realize it's a destination of choice of people from all over the world, people who could go anywhere they want, but who chose to come to the "City By The Sea" because of its nautical traditions, protected harbor, colonial architecture, all its diversity, it's hopping social scene, and it's proximity to so many other great destinations. After all, from Newport, it's only a day trip to Block Island, Cuttyhunk, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and to all the famous places and islands along the coast. Those destinations are the stuff of great boating stories, but they're for another day. Today, Billy and I are very content with ourselves and our summer of local weekend cruises around Newport to places we hadn't known before. That's the beauty of boating, it slows us down, gives us quiet time to think and play, and a fresh look at the home waters we thought we knew.
Joyce manages the photography business of her husband Billy Black, one of the top marine photographers in the country.
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- About 25 miles long, 10 miles wide, with 256 miles of shoreline, the average depth is 26 feet; the deepest part is the East Passage with 184 feet.
- More than 30 islands are found in the bay, including Aquidneck (where Newport is located), Conanicut (where Jamestown is located, separating the East and West Passage entrances to Narragansett and Prudence, located in the center of the bay).
- Rhode Island's nickname is "The Ocean State" because every resident is within 30 minutes of the water by car.
We've Got You Covered On Narragansett Bay
In Case You Need Help:
TowBoatUS Narragansett Bay has ports in Wickford, Pt. Judith, and Block Island. 401-295-8711 and www.safesea.com
BoatUS Cooperating Marinas
Silver Spring Marine, Wakefield (25 percent off transient slips and 10 percent off ship's store items). 401-783-0783 or www.silverspringmarine.com
Snug Harbor Marina Marina, Wakefield (5-cent/gallon discount on gas and 10 cent/gallon discount of diesel, 25-percent discount on slips, 10-percent off ship's store items). 401-783-7766 or www.snugharbormarina.com
Warwick Cove Marina, Warwick (5-cent/gallon discount on fuel, 25-percent discount on slips). 401-737-2446
Newport Yachting Center, Newport (10-cent/gallon discount fuel, 10-percent discount on slips Sun-Thurs only). 401-846-1600 or www.newportyachtingcenter.com
Brewer Street Boatworks, Newport 15-percent discount on repairs). 401-847-0321 or www.bsbw.com
UK Sailmakers, Jamestown (15-percent discount on sail repairs). 401-423-3286
Hinckley Yacht Services, Portsmouth (10-cent/gallon discount on fuel, 25-percent discount slips, 15-percent discount on pump out). 401-683-7100 or www.hinckleyyachts.com
Quantum Thurston East Bay, Bristol (15-percent discount on sail repairs). 401-885-3667 or www.thurstonsails.com
An Insiders' Guide
Narragansett Bay's Top Attractions For Boaters
BEST QUIET ANCHORAGE where you're likely to be alone? Potter Cove on the northeast coast of Prudence Island. You can hike around the island and there's a little store near the ferry dock, but the main attraction of this very protected little harbor is quiet solitude.
BEST PLACE TO DECIDE WHERE TO SPEND YOUR POWERBALL WINNINGS is Newport Shipyard. The docks are filled with some of the most spectacularly beautiful and expensive yachts in the world. Do you prefer the classic lines of the 300-foot Athena, or the black-on-black Euro-sleek style of the 121-foot Moonbird? It's all here for some up-close ogling.
BEST PROTECTED WATERSKIING COVE is the pond at the end of the Kickemuit River on the east side of Bristol. There's a no-wake zone at the pond entrance through Bristol Narrows, but then it opens into a completely protected cove where you'll find glassy water most of the time.
BEST PARTY FOR YOUR PET is the dog romp at Rose Island, hosted by the Lighthouse Foundation and Wag Nation. It's a fundraiser for the Foundation and a chance for your dog to swim and run around the car-free island with dozens of other dogs. A ticket inludes round-trip transportation on the Rose Island launch from two locations in Newport.
BEST TOURIST ATTRACTION is the Wickford Arts Festival, July 7-8, 2012. This year is the 50th anniversary of the exhibition that typically attracts between 50,000 and 75,000 artists and shoppers to this charming town. To come by boat, plan ahead and make a reservation at one of the five full-service marinas within walking distance. The town dock is first-come with a two-hour limit, and there are five transient moorings you can rent from the North Kingstown Harbor Master. (Wickford Village is part of North Kingstown.)
BEST RAFT-UP is in front of Fort Adams State Park in Newport on the weekends of the major music festivals. People come from all over the country for the world-famous Newport folk and jazz festivals, and there's a race to get a good anchoring spot to hear the music for free. The mood is as much water park as music festival but it's a great excuse to get out the fenders and have a party with your friends. The folk festival will be held July 27-29, 2012, and the Jazz Festival dates are August 3-5, 2012. Newport is renowned for music in the summer; also check the Newport events calendar for the world-renowned classical music festival, which takes place in the ballrooms of the city's glittering mansions.
BEST NATIONAL HOLIDAY EVENT is the Fourth of July parade in Bristol, Rhode Island, where they paint the streets red, white, and blue. The parade is nationally famous and part of one of the oldest Independence Day celebrations in America. There's a generous anchorage in Bristol Harbor (Oscar on the NOAA charts) and a new town dock as well as 15 moorings available to those who come first. The Herreshoff Marine Museum offers a package every year that includes a mooring, a reserved spot on shore to watch the parade, and a couple of meals. The Herreshoff museum is a must-stop for boaters.
BEST FISHING tips from Tom Meade, writer for the Providence Journal: "Narragansett Bay is blessed with lots of hot spots including the waters off Pine Hill Point on Prudence Island, Sally Rock in Greenwich Bay, Rose Island off Newport, and many more. One of the most consistent spots over the last several years has been the Providence River. From late April through September, the river (which becomes the Seekonk River upstream) has been holding a variety of baitfish that attracts large schools of striped bass. There are several launching areas on both sides of the river, but the most trailer-friendly are two ramps in East Providence –– at Bold Point and Haines Memorial State Park.
BEST KAYAKING AND ROWING tips from Elaine Lembo, Deputy Editor of Cruising World Magazine: "Dutch Harbor and Dutch Island, as well as Wickford harbor and the islands within — Rabbit, and Cornelius, as well as Mill Creek, which we affectionately call 'The Amazon.' The Kayak Center on Phillips Street in Wickford offers rentals and tours."
BEST WINDSURFING tips from our friend Mike Lee, service manager for Harken Northeast: "Fogland on the Tiverton side of the Sakonnet is the place. There are tons of options for whatever wind direction is happening. There's the 'ocean side' for long rides and bump-and-jump chop, and on the cove side it's a good beginner area with shallow water. Also the flat water on the cove side is great for speed runs. The guys are usually out there with their GPS strapped to their arms trying to see who's faster."
BEST NEWPORT ATTRACTIONS FOR BOATERS, from BoatUS Magazine's Bernadette Bernon, who lives in Newport: "Stop by the International Yacht Restoration School on Thames Street to see the cool projects underway. Walk up to St. Mary's Parish at 12 William Street, where Jacqueline Bouvier married John F. Kennedy in 1963. Continue to Bellevue Avenue to visit The National Museum Of American Illustration, which is inside one of Newport's gilded-age mansions. Visit Redwood Library, the oldest library in the country. Take a guided tour of Touro Synagogue, also the oldest in the country, with its underground tunnels. Stroll the spectacular Cliff Walk. Catch the waterfront music series at the Newport Yachting Center. Everything is within walking distance of the harbor. One of my favorite places in town is the miniscule painted chapel on the second floor of the Seaman's Church Institute – which has been harboring merchant seaman and fishermen for the last century. Wrap it up with a cold beer and oysters at Celtica Pub's $1 raw bar, at the foot of Long Wharf, the location of Newport's brand-new dinghy dock, right in the heart of town."