Hidden Cruising Spots

Ten lesser-known cruising destinations you’ll want to visit.

Marlborough Sound

Do your float plans for the upcoming season list marinas where you get your "usual slip," restaurants where you get your "usual meal" and waters where you know the channel markers as well as the mailboxes on your street? Comfort is, well, comforting, and familiarity is something we all like — whether we're meandering about our home port or going to our favorite coffee shop around the block. Sure, we probably won't run aground and they know we take two sugars, but where is the adventure?

The experience of a new harbor, a secluded anchorage or an isolated beach can be the difference between a so-so season and the decision to start planning that extended cruise. Of course, with so many great locations out there, who knows? Maybe you have already found the best. But if you’re looking for something different, a place that your fellow yachtsmen will have to scrutinize their charts to find before they can visit for themselves (they’ll want to, believe us), then keep reading. The following 10 cruising destinations may not be the first to leap to mind, but they have all been selected as well worth a visit by our salt-stained editors and contributors.

If we've left out your favorite, lesser-known cruising grounds — and you're willing to share your secret spot with the public — head to forums.yachtingmagazine.com and let us know. Either way, happy cruising. — Christopher White

Murrells Inlet, South Carolina
33°31'N 79°01'W

I've been to Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, only once. I was bringing my trawler, Bossanova, up the East Coast and I'd had a couple of rough days in a row. My next stop would be Bald Island, North Carolina, as manicured and perfect a place as has ever been developed. Wedged in between these two is my lovely memory of serene and relaxed Murrells Inlet. (Cue the heavenly choir.) Tucked behind the Grand Strand, Murrells Inlet has the vast sweep of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and beautiful marshes on the other. Though Myrtle Beach is a mere 10 miles away, Murrells feels like a little piece of heaven when the sun sets over this saltwater estuary. The town bills itself as the "Seafood Capital of South Carolina," and you certainly won't go hungry here. The Marsh Walk is a boardwalk studded with popular Lowcountry and seafood restaurants — many with live music. Salt Creek Café and Russell's Seafood are a couple of favorites with locals.

Murells Inlet is also an angler's paradise, with deepwater and freshwater fishing to choose from. Rent a kayak and explore the beautiful marshes or spend a day at Huntington State Park beach. There are several great golf courses in the area, including Indian Wells and Wachesaw Plantation. The inlet entrance can be tricky, with shallow depths and shifting shoals, so radio ahead for local knowledge. — Mary South

******Marlborough Sound, New Zealand
41°08'S 174°05'E**
The only problem with cruising in Marlborough Sound is that it's almost impossible to arrive sober at the boat. After flying to Blenheim from New Zealand's international airport in Auckland, there's a 25-minute ride to Picton's marina. The road winds through row after row of sauvignon blanc grapes in the Kiwis' most prestigious wine region. Highfield. Wairau River. Cloudy Bay. You recognize the names from award-winning labels, and the signs all announce "Tastings Today."

You'll have 15 cases along with your luggage by the time you reach the boat. It's OK, though, because once you're on the water, you can access Queen Charlotte Track. Hike off your overindulgences (or "tramp," as they say) while enjoying stunning views of the wine country's mist-covered hillsides. — Kim Kavin

Cooper Island, BVI
18°23'N 64°30'W

While cruising the British Virgin Islands, I have discovered that Cooper Island is sure to leave my guests with fond memories. Once back in the cold and gray of a Northeast winter, I'm always sure to hear a wistful "Do you remember anchoring in Cooper Island?"

Lying on the southern side of the Sir Francis Drake Channel, and southeast of Tortola, this special island is home to some of the most beautiful sunsets I've seen. Moorings are plentiful in Machioneel Bay on the western side. After you're secure, be sure to take your tender over to Cistern Point for some amazing snorkeling. The palm-lined white beach will also keep kids and adults alike occupied for a full day. Then work your way into the recently renovated Cooper Island Beach Club (cooper-island.com) for some afternoon libation. Be sure to put your name down for dinner reservations. The island fare is superb, and the tables line the golden beach, where the sound of waves provides a serene soundtrack. Be careful. If you stop at Cooper Island at the end of your trip, you may just find yourself calling the office, delaying your return indefinitely. — George Sass Jr.

Socorro Island, Mexico
18°44'N 110°57'W

When I spotted Socorro Island's rocky scrub and palm-lined shore, my first reaction was there's nothing there! I later realized this is why it's such a great place to visit. We never saw a boat the whole time we were there, but the wildlife was incredible. Diving provided easy access to abundant lobsters, but you literally had to fight your way through the schools of brilliant orange and purple clarion angelfish.

We got so tired of eating lobsters we went fishing in the dinghy. We were caught off guard when we caught a wahoo — but a shot of cheap tequila thrown over its gills subdued it enough to wrestle it aboard without getting chomped by its razor-sharp teeth (not to mention keeping it from piercing our inflatable). We then high-tailed it back to the mothership, where we filleted it nearly alive, had some sashimi and then barbecued the rest. We also saw humpback whales, including a mother and calf, but couldn’t get close enough in the dinghy to jump in and snorkel with them.

This is a winter playground, because the island frequently is ravaged by hurricanes in the summer. There are a few decent anchorages around the island depending on the size of your boat, the wind and waves. But watch the weather — the island is 372 nautical miles due west of Manzanillo and about 260 miles south of Cabo, so there is nowhere to run to if you hit trouble. — Capt. Ron Parker

Golfito, Costa Rica
8°37'N 83°09'W

It's hard to think of a better cruising destination than Golfito, Costa Rica. A former United Fruit banana town in Puntarenas province, it is sheltered in a double bay in the Golfo Dolce and separated from the Pacific by the gorgeous Oso Peninsula. There's a famous wildlife refuge — the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre — as well as Corcovado National Park, for those who want to explore the astounding wildlife. There's also plenty of deep-sea angling, swimming and world-class surfing at Pavones to keep water lovers busy. But what I love best about Golfito is the town itself. The former United Fruit portion of the village is full of lovely old company houses that have been restored, and it gives me hope that this area — which is considered one of Costa Rica's last frontiers — will retain its old f lavor. This region is being developed slowly and carefully, with an understanding that its ecosystem is one of the world's great marvels and must be protected at all costs. In the meantime, Golfito has all the amenities that a big town in an isolated place needs, and tons of funky charm. — Mary South

Valcour Island, Lake Champlain
44°38'N 73°25'W

Less than 15 miles northwest of Burlington, Vermont, this 1,000-acre uninhabited island offers protected anchorages from any wind direction. Sloop Cove and Spoon Bay are two of the most scenic. To keep your bow into the occasional swell, drop your hook and tie a stern line to an onshore boulder. (The forest service asks that you don't tie to a tree.) Be careful navigating around the island, because there are rocks and ledges that jut out far from shore. Seven miles of trails, sandy beaches and dense forests are ideal for those who love getting away from it all and enjoying nature. — George Sass Sr.

Dent Island Lodge, British Columbia, Canada
50°40'N 125°12'W

Looking for somewhere off the beaten path that's still loaded with amenities? Dent Island Lodge might fit the bill. Rocky shorelines and tall evergreens surround the rustic log-cabin buildings. Tranquil green pools of vibrant water shimmer near shore in contrast to the swirling rapids and whirlpools that cover the approaches to this idyllic spot. This beautiful oasis has been under the ownership of a prominent Seattle family for more than 20 years, but new caretakers and a lot of improvements have brought modern comforts to the charming getaway. New concrete floating docks can accommodate vessels in excess of 150 feet. On shore there is an excellent fine-dining restaurant in the main lodge and the more casual Rapids Grill with its scenic vistas on the water's edge. Activities include adventure tours in a jet boat through the nearby rapids, salmon fishing, a sauna and hot tub, hiking and even a trampoline for the kids. — Capt. Ron Parker

Ios, Greece
36°44'N 25°17'E

Ios has all of the attributes of a holidaymaking Greek isle, but it's the seekers of other pleasures that have the last laugh. Part of the Cyclades archipelago in the Aegean, Ios has beautiful beaches that draw their share of party-crazed summer vacationers, but there's much more to it than that. The island is just hard enough to get to that it will never become a volcanic hot spot like cliff-top Santorini (which boasts an airport), and it retains a do-asyou- like hippie vibe that makes it easy to drop out. Tie up in the port and while away an afternoon enjoying the people-watching: Grab a shady seat in a taverna with a frappé, a delicious cold coffee drink, and a pastry made with local honey — a sublime treat. Make your way up the hill from the port to the town and get lost in the winding streets as darkness falls. If you hike into the scrubby, sandstone hills, listen for bells — you may glimpse the goats that have been raised here for eons — and think ahead to the farmer's fresh feta atop your tomato-and-cucumber salad at dinner. — Jason Y. Wood

Meyers Chuck, Alaska
55°44'N 132°15'W

No cruise through Alaska's Inside Passage is complete without a layover in the scenic harbor of Meyers Chuck. Cruising north from Ketchikan up the Clarence Strait, we pulled around the rocks and evergreens of Meyer's Island to discover this hidden little gem. It was as if Jack London himself had scripted the scene before us. A seaplane sputtered into the harbor, unloading the weekly mailbag, while smoke climbed out of chimneys, filling the air with the fragrance of burning cedar. Once the post lady finished distributing the mail, she baked 16 pies for a seafood feast our group had planned. About 15 cabins are gently scattered along the rocky shore. I instantly spotted mine on Meyer's Island, deciding it would be the perfect perch from which to write while I fed the potbellied stove, and occasionally walked down to my dock to pull my traps for fresh prawns.

Anchoring is easy and a public float dock is also available. Most residents are involved in fishing, and I promise you that you'll never eat farm-raised salmon again after learning about their locally caught and sustainable seafood. Be sure to visit Rebecca Welti and Greg Rice on Lemesurier Point; their handcrafted bowls are works of art. If you cruise the Inside Passage and don't stop at Meyers Chuck, your trip will be far from complete. — George Sass Jr.

Chincoteague Island, Virginia
37°51'N 74°24'W

When most people think of Chincoteague (which the Indians named, meaning "Beautiful Land Across the Water"), they think of the wild ponies of nearby Assateague Island. But I remember a sleepy beach town, with a slow hour of motoring up to the town docks near the bridge. It was worth it. Though it was midsummer, the streets were quiet. There were plenty of the usual T-shirt shops selling souvenirs of the famous Chincoteague pony swim, which draws an estimated 40,000 visitors each year. But I loved the unpretentious nature of the place, the amazing natural beauty, the small-town Americana ambience. Ice cream parlors and oyster shacks are your best dining options, and you can avoid the annual tourist surge by seeing the ponies (and plenty of other wildlife) in their native environment on the Assateague Island National Seashore. Rent a bike and explore this spectacularly quiet find. — Mary South