The Mystic Seaport is a must-see attraction for seafaring enthusiasts. It’s a living history museum that offers visitors a look into the 19th-century maritime history of New England via its village, ships, educational programs and more (www.mysticseaport.org). If that’s not enough to fill your day, check out the Mystic Aquarium and its Titanic exhibit, the beluga whales or even the penguins. Several marinas such as Seaport Marine, Mystic Seaport and Mystic River Marina all have myriad amenities for visiting boaters.
Did you know that Maine features 68 lighthouses? About one-third of those boater-friendly beacons reside within about 40 miles of Camden. If that isn’t enough to make you point your vessel’s bow north, this area also sports an apparently endless array of nooks and crannies for gunkholing enthusiasts to explore. If you’re more of a traditionalist, then try taking a cruise around Penobscot Bay (NOAA Chart 13305). Once you arrive, there’s a cornucopia of dining choices, shops and galleries to occupy your shore time.
Cape May, NJ
Located at the bottom of The Garden State, Cape May offers a wide, easy-to-navigate inlet, with several marinas such as South Jersey Marina and the Canyon Club offering transient slips for cruisers and anglers alike just a stone’s throw from open water. A short walk from the Canyon Club is the Lobster House, which is a great local seafood eatery. This spot also hosts several big-game tournaments during the summer, including the Viking-Ocean Showdown and the Mid-Atlantic $500,000 marlin tournament, which draws about 140 teams per year. If you like fudge, saltwater taffy and white sand beaches, Cape May has all of that too. (And be sure to stop by Congress Hall for dinner at The Blue Pig Tavern and breakfast at Uncle Bills.)
This protected, deep-water area on Long Island’s north shore was once a major East Coast whaling port. It also served as a hub for the area’s oyster industry. You can learn all about this and more after you tie up by visiting Greenport’s Maritime Museum (3rd Street and the Shelter Island Ferry Dock). Several marinas, such as Brewer’s Stirling Harbor, Claudio’s, Townsend Manor and Mitchel Park can handle vessels up to 200 feet LOA. A plethora of shops, restaurants and marine-related services are within a short walk or bike ride from your vessel.
Point Peasant, NJ
September may be the month you want to drop into this Jersey-shore town. That’s when Point Pleasant holds its annual Festival of the Sea, which has been going strong since 1975. Crab cakes, paella, shrimp and more are available to satisfy your seafood itch. Located on the easily accessible Manasquan Inlet, there are numerous marinas (www.pointpleasantbeach.com) to tie up to for the day, week orseason. For anglers, there are lots of opportunities for both inshore and offshore species. An armada of bait-and-tackle shops is found nearby for gathering the latest reports and picking up the necessary gear. If you’re looking for some fun shore-side, there is an active boardwalk in Point Pleasant, which offers amusements, a dizzying selection of food choices, nightlife and even an aquarium.
Halfway between Gloucester and Portsmouth and two miles into the Merrimack River lies the stunningly beautiful city of Newburyport. Charcterized by an abundanceof New England charm, the town is full of quaint shops and local businesses. With over 30 restaurants all within walking distance of the harbor, Newburyport is the perfect stop for foodies. While there are an array of restaurants and options, sidewalk and waterfront dinning are popular choices during the summer. If a romantic dining experience is on your menu, just follow the light; the lighthouse that is. Atop of the Newburyport Rear Range Lighthouse is an impressive restaurant, which was designated the most romantic and exclusive restaurant in New England by Phantom Gourmet. A great way to get the most out of your visit to Newburyport is to traverse its flat roads by bicycle, with rentals available at two locations in town. Pedal to the outskirts of town and you will find yourself surrounded by local farms and farm stands. Their huge array of fresh fruits and vegetables, which you can pick yourself, offers cruisers a great stop to restock during a trip.
Make port in this pre-revolutionary whaling community of Edgartown and you will realize that the community has’t lost touch with its heritage. A town best seen on foot, century-old captains’ houses line the streets. Built in 1692, the Vincent house, which is the town’s oldest home, stands as a monument to early American architecture. Walk down the historic roads at night after the street lamps come on, and look at the many homes with widow’s walks in a different light and you will feel as if you traveled back in time. The Old Whaling Church, which was built in 1843 with six massive pillars in front, is as much a landmark today as it was when it was built. The church has since been transformed into a performing arts theatre.
Close proximity to open water is as important to today’s yachtsman as it was to the first American settlers. Founded in 1649, this nautical town in eastern Connecticut is on the border of Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. Besides its location, it is also exceptionally beautiful, which has earned it the honorary title as the jewel of Connecticut’s coast. This real estate is so exceptional that Great Britain tried to take it, twice, once during the revolutionary war and again during the war of 1812. During the War of 1812, four British warships had the town surrounded and demanded full surrender. The town sent a famous note back to the British, which read, “We shall defend the place to the last extremity; should it be destroyed, we shall perish in its ruins.” This passion and pride for the community resonates today. Boasting more than 400 moorings in the harbor as well as Dodson’s Boat Yard and Stonington Harbor Yacht Club, the town’s priority is boating. While in town, be sure to take a walking tour to learn more about its famed history and visit the Stonington lighthouse, which was the first lighthouse established by the federal government.
Easily accessible via Penobscot Bay, Rockland epitomizes everything Maine has become known for; from cool, clear water and a rugged coastline set against a backdrop of mountains to a minefield of lobster traps. While there are many locations along Maine’s rugged coast that boast great lobster, Rockland truly goes crazy over the crustaceans. Its five-day Maine Lobster Festival in August features live jazz, reggae, blues and Celtic performances, kids events, cooking contests and, of course, lots of lobster. There is even a 10k road race to help you burn off all that extra butter.
Astoria claims to be the oldest settlement west of the Rocky Mountains and got its name from John Jacob Astor, the so-called fur baron who established the fur-trading Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia in 1810. His Pacific Fur Company failed in 1813, and he sold the trading business and fort to the British. At one point in the town’s history, it was home to about a dozen fish canneries, the birthplace of Bumblebee Seafood and the tuna sandwich. This town of about 10,000 souls also was an important deep-water port and continues to serve as a trading center for the lower Columbia River Valley. Astoria suffered when the fishing and lumber industries slowed in the 1980s and the mills and canneries closed. This left the waterfront desolate. Now, the town’s industrial buildings have been renovated to serve the growing number of tourists, and the refurbished piers play host to cruise ships. The town’s industrial history, burgeoning artist’s community and stunning location bode well for the future.
Located halfway between Seattle and Vancouver B.C., Anacortes is a must-visit on your way to or from the famously beautiful San Juan Islands. A quintessential yachting town, one of the more popular attractions in Anacortes is whale watching, as it is the home port to three pods of orcas.
Popular activities include fishing, crabbing and kayaking. If a long voyage at sea has you craving dry land, then perhaps one of the many hiking trails may be your adventure of choice. Just 10 miles from downtown Anacortes is Deception Pass State Park, which consists of 4,134 acres of rich wildlife and sprawling ancient trees. Make sure you bring your camera if you hike across the 77-year-old Deception Pass Bridge, which is one of the most photographed places in Washington State, and for good reason.
Bayfield’s official website asks, “How far away is Bayfield?” The answer is “Just far enough.” This tiny town — about a single square mile in physical size and populated with fewer than 600 fulltime residents, as of the 2010 census — dozes on a hillside overlooking Lake Superior and the lovely Apostle Islands. It feels a bit like a New England waterfront town, and being just far enough away means you won’t find any strip malls or drive-through meals. During the summer, residents and visitors stroll the streets to visit the shops and restaurants. Its location at the mouth of Chequamegon Bay gives its boating public quick access to the open lake and all of the Apostles, and anyone who doesn’t own a boat may book a cruise among the islands on one of the tour boats or join a guided tour of the sea caves by kayak. Fishing and sailing are popular among the permanent population and seasonal visitors. Early in October, the town celebrates apples. The annual Apple Festival attracts about 60,000 visitors.
The island of Nantucket lies about 30 miles south of Cape Cod and has one of the richest whaling histories in all of New England. Its many beaches tempt folks to linger far longer than they’d planned. The Nantucket Historic District, comprising the entire island, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 13, 1966. The island features one of the highest concentrations of pre-Civil War structures in the United States and the oldest operating windmill (since 1746). It was the setting for the hit NBC sitcom “Wings.” The Wampanoag Native Americans who lived there called the island Canopache, which means “place of peace.” Could this be why Nantucket has attracted a large summer colony and thousand of tourists? In summer, the population soars from about 10,000 to 50,000. Regular and persistent fog earned hernthe moniker The Gray Lady. Nantucket also is known for its shoals, so yachtsmen of all stripes have to pay attention to their charts, plotters and sounders. As you’d expect of a tourist destination, the island has its share of great restaurants. Black-Eyed Susan’s on India Street is one of those. Its unique cuisine has captivated residents and visitors, and during the season, expect long lines almost every evening.
Port Charlotte, FL
Port Charlotte, at the northern end of the Charlotte Harbor Estuary on Florida’s “quiet” west coast, is a subtropical paradise for anyone who loves boating in its many varieties. The summers are long, hot and humid with frequent afternoon thunderstorms. The winters are mild to warm with a pronounced drop in precipitation. It’s near enough to Punta Gorda to be a rival for best boating town on the Gulf Coast.
Charlotte Harbor is the second largest open-water estuary in Florida and has about 830 miles of coastline. Residents and visitors could spend days exploring the peaceful coves and bays or fishing. Anglers may choose deep-sea fishing in the Gulf or back-bay and flats fishing. The area is home to tarpon, snook, redfish, barracuda, cobia and grouper. Paddlers have hundreds of miles of Blueway trails to experience, starting with the Peace and Myakka rives and out to the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Islands. What’s not to love?
Harbor Springs, MI
Perched on the shore of Little Traverse Bay in northern Michigan, Harbor Springs kind of hugs its residents — and visitors — with the warmth of a favorite aunt. No wonder; it’s only 1.3 square miles in area, has utterly charming 19th century architecture and the friendliest of residents. The town’s short coastal plain gives way to a bluff that rises maybe 300 feet above the harbor and the view from that height takes in the Little Traverse Lighthouse, Walstrom Marine, Petoskey State Park and Lake Michigan beyond. The water off Harbor Springs forms the deepest natural harbor in all the Great Lakes and it changes color to match the subtle hues of the sky.
The town of about 2,000 full-time residents harbors two vastly differing but equally attractive restaurants: Mary Ellen’s Place and New York. Mary Ellen Hughes bought the newsstand that occupied the building in 1988 and turned it into the breakfast and lunch restaurant it is today. She works the restaurant every day, and her bright smile and easy manner no doubt encourage year-round residents of Harbor Springs and summer folks to visit often. At the New York, on State Street, chef and owner Matt Bugera offers his traditional house-made soups, fresh whitefish and prime steaks in a setting that recalls the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His wine cellar contains about 300 varieties, and the food is as good as you’ll find anywhere. Ahh, good people, fine food and a great cruising ground keep the residents and visitors smiling.
Located on the Chesapeake Bay off Tangier Sound near the mouth of the Annemessex River, and bordered to the south by the Pocomoke River, Crisfield enjoys the reputation of being “The Crab Capital of the World.” More important, it’s the home of Chesapeake Boats Inc., likely the only shop building deadrise boats, stock designs and custom, of wood for work and play. This little city of about 2,700 folks exudes Revolutionary era ambience. It’s nearly 300 years old and has served as a haven for working watermen during its entire history. Although fishing for blue crab and dredging for oysters have declined, the fishery still supports a small commercial fleet. Any town that has drawn its livelihood from the water attracts tourists, and a significant portion of Crisfield’s economy comes from tourism and seasonal residents. Few towns are able to retain their cultural heritage under the pressure of 21st century technology and economy, but Crisfield has. It appears in the buildings, streetscapes, residential communities, churches, landscape and the faces of the people that live and work in the area.
Crisfield has a protected harbor, and many crabbers and oystermen bring in their catches to seafood packing plants in the area. The downtown rests directly on the waterfront, where a large city pier offers visitors a chance to experience the true flavor of the Crisfield. The municipal wharf and much of the town that rests on the shoreline is built on a foundation of oyster shells. Somers Cove Marina is the largest state-owned marina in Maryland and has 485 slips, a large pavilion, a hotel, swimming pool, comfort stations, laundry facilities, three launching ramps and a shuttle service. Crisfield may be the quintessential Chesapeake town.
Amelia Island, FL
Nestled like the period at the bottom of an exclamation point Amelia Island is the southernmost of the Sea Islands chain, which stretches from South Carolina to Florida. It’s only 13 miles long and 4 miles wide at its broadest, but it packs all the charm of old Florida in its small area. Amelia Island’s appeal as a tourist destination and retreat for folks who spend the winter hiding from cruel northern climes doesn’t detract from its small-town ambience. Everyone gets to enjoy the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival; the jazz, chamber music and blues festivals; and the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, one of premier charitable automotive events in North America. The Isle of Eight Flags refers to the variety of flags that have flown over the island since 1562: France, Spain (twice), Great Britain, Patriots of Amelia Island, Green Cross of Florida, Mexico, Confederate States of America, and the United States. Fernandina Beach is the largest municipality on the island and is the home of a newly renovated city marina. The area has new docks, a new welcome center with all the amenities a cruising yachtsman needs, and the city dredged the marina’s basin to a depth that leaves six feet of water at mean low tide. This new facility combined with the cultural variety makes Amelia Island a must-stop and a wonderful place to live.
Anyone who has even a spark of romance in his soul, can’t help but fall in love with Darien. It is one of the jewels of the low country between Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida, and has earned the credit for coining the term “Golden Isles.” Located near the mouth of the Altamaha River, Darien offers an unexcelled view of one of the most important tidal estuarine environments anywhere. This quiet little town isn’t very far from the open Atlantic Ocean, but you have to know where you’re going or trust your GPS, because at high tide the variety of tortuous meanders off the river are like a maze. In many places, you have to get out before low tide sets your boat on the bottom. Darien’s economy depends mostly on shrimping, and in the spring, the town stages a blessing of the fleet, which draws residents and visitors to Waterfront Park. The area is great for birding in the Altamaha State Waterfowl Management area or Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge, both of which require a boat to reach. You may visit Fort King George (Revolutionary War period) and the Butler Plantation rice fields. Darien is a paradise for naturalists who also love boating.
San Francisco, CA
From San Francisco, a yachtsman may cruise for weeks without exhausting the area’s variety of stopovers — Sausalito, Alameda, Oakland and Redwood City — and interesting backwaters. A total of fifteen rivers — the two largest of which are the Sacramento and San Joaquin, which form the delta of the same name — and creeks drain into the Bay, and many of these are navigable for a substantial distance inland. This city earned its fame from many things — the Gold Rush in 1848, devastating earthquake of 1906, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Pier 39, “Summer of Love” countercultural movement of the 1960s, great music and seafood — but yachtsmen love it for the challenge of boating on the Bay. The hills, mountains and large bodies of water in the Bay area create a significant variety of microclimates. Near the Pacific Ocean, variations in temperature are slight during throughoutthe year, so foggy and cool summers followed by mild and rainy winters are the norm. Inland, the temperatures in summer can be as much as 40 degrees warmer than on the coast. This causes strong pressure gradients and brisk winds, and when the wind blows through gaps in the coastal mountain ranges, it picks up speed — a boon tot stalwart sailors on the Bay. Currents, too, run swiftly, especially as the tide ebbs and floods through the narrow Golden Gate. The unusual climate, varied waters and Mediterranean ambience of San Francisco touch a yachtsman’s soul.
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