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Virtual Cruise of the US East Coast: Newport, RI

After spending nearly a week in Newport enjoying the sights and attending the Boat Show we continue our cruise, heading south as the early fall season arrives.

July 18, 2013
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_Move cursor over image to locate downtown Newport attractions _

Almost every cruise has a turning point, and eventually most of us have to head back home. Whether it’s the farthest waypoint from our home port or the date that marks a vacation as half over, that U-turn signal can be a real letdown. Sitting in Tenants Harbor, Maine, during our East Coast virtual cruise, we instead feel exhilarated. While we’re turning around and heading south, we still have eight more months of exploring.

Discovering new towns, anchorages and passages is one of the main attractions of cruising, but so is revisiting past favorites. For us, Newport, Rhode Island, is one of them. Regardless of how many times we’ve made the approach to this iconic city by the sea, we still feel goose bumps as the first mansions on the cliffs come into view. As we approach Newport Harbor, we see the vast mooring field peppered with yachts from a bygone era, matching the visual splendor of the magnificent mansions.

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From Tenants Harbor, we retraced part of our earlier route, making overnight stops in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, before taking a detour through Woods Hole and running out to Martha‚Äôs Vineyard for a couple of days. Arriving just after Labor Day during the middle of the week, we are able to get a mooring in Edgartown, Massachusetts, for $40 a night. When we first discovered Edgartown 25 years ago, it was still legal to anchor in beautiful Katama Bay. A popular clamming area, its waters are now strictly protected against pollution. Far more tourists roam the streets today, but this quintessential New England town has not lost its wonderful charm. We’re glad we went out of our way and stopped here, our memories will definitely continue to be good ones.

Newport is less than 50 nautical miles from Edgartown, and we arrive in the early afternoon just days before the opening of the Newport International Boat Show. Knowing the downtown marinas (Newport Yachting Center, Bannister’s Wharf and Bowen’s Wharf) would be hosting the show, we had already reserved a slip at Goat Island Marina, located just across the harbor on its western side. From here, we can take a water shuttle to downtown, and the view of the harbor and city skyline is spectacular.

Downtown is bustling with pre-boat-show activities, and while many vacationing tourists have disappeared because of the time of year, the shops and restaurants are busy with visiting boatbuilders, dealers, industry sales reps and, like us, boating enthusiasts waiting to see the newest boats and gear. Indeed, the Newport show is known for getting the fall boating juices flowing on the East Coast, because it precedes the big shows in Annapolis, Maryland, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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We have a couple of days to explore Newport before the show opens, so we decide to take a tour of the mansions. A variety of tour packages are sold online, and we choose the “Newport Mansions Experience” that offers self-guided audio tours of four properties including the popular Breakers and Elms. We like the flexibility of this package because we can spend as much or as little time on each property as we want, and we can even split the tour into multiple days. As we walk through these extravagant homes, we feel as if we are visiting the Crawley family of Downton Abbey. Oh, the days before income tax!

After touring two mansions in four hours, we need a break from so much opulence, and we return to the waterfront for lunch at our old, familiar favorite, the Black Pearl. As always, a cup of chowder and a cold brew hit the spot, and we are soon ready for an afternoon of yachting history.

Our first stop is at the Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame in Bristol. The 30-minute taxi ride from downtown Newport costs $60 or more, but a one-day public bus pass costs just $6. The museum’s campus is located on the waterfront, and transient slips and moorings are available by calling 401-253-5000. We start our tour in the Sidney DeWolf Herreshoff room to get a historical perspective of the Herreshoff family and company. Next is the Hall of Boats exhibit with a dozen or so yachts of various sizes. There’s enough eye candy here to stir reckless thoughts about buying and restoring another wooden boat, but my wife, who has a much better memory than I do, gently brings me back down to earth. All in all, there are seven main exhibit areas, so we spend a good part of the afternoon here.

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It’s hard to find a really bad restaurant in Newport, and over the years we’ve come to rely on two of our favorites: the Clarke Cooke House and the Bouchard Inn & Restaurant. But tonight we feel like getting out of our comfort zone, and we try Tallulah on Thames, recommended by a local. While casual and unpretentious, this is a place for special occasions. We choose its three-course, prix-fixe menu, and we take advantage of the wine pairing service.

Our fascination with restored classic yachts has been tweaked at the Herreshoff museum, and the next day after breakfast at the Franklin Spa, a casual breakfast and lunch joint (try its eggs Benedict with lobster), we stop by the Newport campus of the International Yacht Restoration School (IYRS) on Thames Street. Founded in 1993, the school offers courses in wooden-boat building, yacht restoration, marine systems and composites technology. The programs run from six to 20 months. After seeing the complexity of the numerous projects being worked on and the skill levels of the student body, we are more optimistic than ever about the future of American boatbuilding.

As part of the IYRS, the Museum of Yachting offers lectures and exhibits that celebrate the sport’s history and tradition. It also maintains one of the most extensive marine libraries in the country, and it is open to the public. With more than 3,000 titles on yachting, sailing and boatbuilding, one could easily spend an entire day here, reigniting old dreams and vicariously living through the adventures of others.

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Inspired by an art exhibit at the Museum of Yachting funded by Hunt Yachts, we stop by Onne van der Wal’s photography gallery at Bannister’s Wharf. Having worked with Onne during my days in the advertising business, I’m always struck by his creative eye and technical skill. His digital prints truly capture the essence of sailing and the beauty of the sea.

The Newport International Boat Show is about to begin, and we are eager to see what’s new. The stagnant economy has not been kind to the boating industry, but the companies that have survived have done so by introducing innovative and exciting new designs. Best of all, we plan to roam the tents where we’ll surely discover a piece of gear or an accessory that we absolutely must have before we head south.

The leaves are ready to change, so our next stop will be Baltimore, Maryland.

Jamestown, RI 41° 29’ 44” N 71° 21’ 58” W

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To take a break from all the action in Newport, we make the short hop across East Passage and get a slip at the very accommodating Conanicut Marina, also the site of the Jamestown-Newport Ferry landing. Although the building of the Pell Bridge in 1969 connected Conanicut Island to Newport and the western highway approach was upgraded to a four-lane bridge in 1992, Jamestown has enjoyed relatively light development. Even today there is a balanced proportion of modern architecture, historic buildings, farms, parks and marine facilities. Although we just left the Newport Boat Show with more new gear and gadgets, we found shopping at the marina’s chandlery, a 7,000 square foot store on Narragansett Avenue, irresistible. Whether its engine parts, hardware, nautical apparel or gifts, this store has it all – including a knowledgeable staff. After an excellent seafood dinner at Jamestown Fish on Narragansett Avenue, we begin planning the next leg of our cruise.

Watch Hill, RI 41° 19’ 10” N 71° 51’ 53” W

During our two month “Down East” cruise along the Maine coast, we rarely found sandy beaches, so we looked forward to visiting Watch Hill, where there is a large protected anchorage to the south of beautiful Naptree Beach. Getting into the anchorage, Little Narragansett Bay, is tricky. First we cleared the breakwaters of Stonington Harbor and then carefully followed the marked channel around Sandy Point. On weekends, this can be a maddeningly crowded spot, as locals like to hang out here for a swim and a walk along the beach. But this was a weekday, and we were able to stay in the channel without fear of running over an anchor line or hitting a swimmer. We find a perfect spot off Naptree Beach in 9-feet of water and drop our hook. A dinghy ride into Watch Hill Cove brings us to a public dinghy dock where we begin our exploration of this charming seaside town. Since it’s after Labor Day, the wonderful Flying Horse Carousel is not operating, but we find our favorite ice cream parlor, St. Clair Annex, still serving. Grand hotels and inns overlooking the ocean, surf and tackle shops, beach apparel boutiques, nautical gift shops, fishing charters, pizza parlors and fine seafood restaurants all add up to a friendly, old-fashioned seaside village.

**Mattituck, NY 41° 00’ 07” N 72° 29’ 47” W **

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Having grown up near here, we love to return precisely because things have not changed very much. The North Fork of Long Island is still relatively undeveloped, and most of the old potato farms have been converted into thriving vineyards. Mattituck is a small village mostly ignored by the cruising crowd, as the inlet is a bit hard to spot from Long Island Sound, and the canal meanders for more than a mile before reaching a public landing area. We have sometimes sought refuge here in a real blow, as the small anchorage is well protected, and there is a marina for those preferring the security of a slip. We drop the hook, take our dinghy to the public dock next to a boat ramp and walk less than a mile into town. The tiny “Main Street” is actually named Love Lane, and it’s here where we find an old-fashioned hardware store, pharmacy, a wine and cheese shop as well as the very cool Love Lane Kitchen. Dinner here is a treat. I have the steamed sea bass, and my wife has the penne-arugula pasta. The Eastern Long Island breeze is refreshing, the pace of the place is relaxing, and the people, mostly locals who live here year round, are friendly. The Long Island Railroad has a station here, making Mattituck a convenient place to change crew. Contrary to popular opinion, you really can go home.

Thimble Islands 41° 15’ 48” N 72° 45’ 17” W

Before heading west on our way to New York City from Mattituck, we decide to take a short detour to Connecticut’s Thimble Islands, 16-miles across Long Island Sound. As we approach the chain of over 300 islands (the actual number depends on what your definition of “island” is), we think we’re seeing a mirage of Maine, as the pink granite formations closely resemble the rocky “Down East” coast. We drop our hook between High and Pot Island in 15-feet of water. Although the islands are all private, a volunteer group, “Friends of Outer Island” provides a tour guide of this island during the summer up until September 25th or so. (Check www.friendsofouterisland.org) The group works in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There is a small beach on which to land a dinghy or kayak. Picnics are permitted, but pets are not. For a late afternoon stroll and a dog walk, we take our dinghy to Stony Creek, the small hamlet on the mainland. Our cruising guide recommends stopping at the Stony Creek Market, where we decide to try their famous Medlyn white pizza – a real treat. Eating out on their front porch is an even bigger treat. Returning to our boat, we enter our waypoints for our route to the Big City as we enjoy the peace and quiet of our anchorage. Tomorrow will be a different story.

**New York Harbor 40° 42’ 49” N 74° 01’ 53” W **

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Less than 80-miles west of the peaceful Thimbles is bustling New York Harbor. We time our approach to Hell Gate on the East River to ride the ebb tide as the current here can reach 5-knots or more. Traveling down the East River past the skyscrapers of Manhattan is always a thrill, in more ways than one. Having had a New York office here for many years, the sights, sounds and smell of the City bring back a multitude of memories. I only wish I could tie up temporarily to find a Sabrett’s hot dog stand. As we round the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan, we spot the Statue of Liberty off to our port and then cross the Hudson River. We head for the large clock bringing us to the entrance to Liberty Landing Marina on the New Jersey side. We like this spot because of its view of Manhattan and protection from the wakes created by all the harbor traffic. This full service marina has two on site restaurants, fuel, pump out service and a ship’s store. After tying up, we take the ferry to downtown Manhattan ($14 each, round trip) where we get a taxi to our friend’s home on the upper West Side. It’s wonderful for us, as ex-New Yorkers, to be back here, and it’s even more fun to have arrived by boat. We’ll spend a couple of nights at Liberty Landing as we take advantage of the City’s great food, music, theater, museums and galleries. In between all these activities, we’ll start planning the next leg of our cruise of the East Coast.

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