Yachting’s Best Towns 2013

Yachting readers have cast their votes to crown this year's top 10 destinations for cruising. Click through to see the winners!

October 8, 2013
10. New Orleans, LA
Located at the base of the Mississippi River, New Orleans has been a major port for distributing Midwest goods to the rest of the world since the French founded it in 1718. Don’t let New Orleans’ modern reputation for wild Mardi Gras nights keep you away — participating is optional (and might be more fun than you think). From historic -steam-powered, paddle-board riverboats to tours of mansions, plantations and nearby Civil War battlefields, there is plenty to see in this city. A great way to get a taste of New Orleans is by biting into freshly caught speckled trout, redfish, flounder or famous shrimp and oysters. Be warned, though: New Orleanians like to add some serious spice to their native dishes. Music in this region also benefits from a bit of a kick. Considered by many to be the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans boasts more than 30 official halls and watering holes that feature live jazz performances on a daily basis. If history or architecture pique your interest, the historic French- and Spanish-influenced mansions and plantations that line St. Charles Avenue and the French Quarter are places you won’t want to miss. The commercial traffic on the mighty Mississippi is entertaining, but travel north of the city to Lake Pontchartrain for marinas and some wide-open water. To read more about New Orleans, click here.
For photos of New Orleans, click here.
Courtesy Zach Stovall
9. San Francisco, CA
Despite its notoriety for strong winds, currents and frequent fog, San Francisco is the setting for the 34th America’s Cup. Sailing at speeds in excess of 40 knots, Cup contenders will only have their challenges amplified by the tough conditions. Speaking of tough, try exploring Alcatraz Island (aka “The Rock”). It’s the site of California’s first lighthouse and the first U.S. government-built West Coast fort. If you are seeking something more serene, hop a ride on the historic cable cars and enjoy some of the many dining and cultural venues. And keep your camera handy while touring this city to capture images of the handsome Victorian homes, known as the Painted Ladies, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. To read more about San Francisco Bay, click here.
To read about day trips around California, click here.
Courtesy San Francisco Travel
8. Montauk, NY
It could be argued that this is the original “quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem.” Montauk, which is on the tip of Long Island, has long been known as a boater’s and angler’s oasis. Visiting fishermen will want to check out the local waters, which teem with striped bass, fluke, blackfish, cod and porgies at varying times of year. And how could you not want to visit a place with a bar called Liars’ Saloon? (You know the best stories will be found here.) The first thing you’ll notice on your approach from the sea is Montauk Point Lighthouse. This National Historic Landmark was commissioned by George Washington during the Second Congress in 1792 and is the fourth-oldest lighthouse in the United States. It’s worth a cab or bike ride from one of the many nearby marinas for a tour. One of our favorite marinas here is Star Island Yacht Club, which provides transient dockage for yachts up to 125 feet, provisioning, a charter-boat fleet and a full-service repair department. Montauk Marine Basin has been a full-service marina since 1955 and also offers both seasonal and transient slips. Don’t forget to visit Gosman’s Dock for fresh local catch and that must-have T-shirt that carries Montauk’s famous nickname: “The End.” For more on this fisherman’s paradise, click here.
George Sass, Sr.


7. Ocracoke, NC
Ocracoke Island was a favorite stop for the infamous pirate Blackbeard (aka Edward Teach) until the British caught up with him here in 1718 and ended his plundering ways. From the shores of this idyllic Outer Banks beach community you can see Teach’s Hole, which is where the pirate’s final battle took place. Another historic spot along Ocracoke’s 16 miles of untouched beach is Ocracoke Light, which has been in operation since 1823. Ocracoke also offers abundant fishing options both shore-based and from your boat, as well as surfing, kiteboarding, kayaking and parasailing. Music lovers may want to stop by in early June for the three-day Ocrafolk Festival. The town is also famous for its Fourth of July celebration. Seafood is an easy go-to meal here, since local fishermen provide nearby eateries with daily fresh catch. And because the area is filled with fig trees (who knew?), the local delicacy is fig cake. Visiting boaters can arrange for a slip at the Anchorage Marina or Community Store Docks. Several Ocracoke village motels also provide transient slips, as does the National Historic Parks service on a first-come, first-served basis. So if fishing, crabbing, sailing or hunting the ghosts of pirates past floats your boat, you’ll find Ocracoke is deeply nautical. If you find yourself on the ICW instead of off the Outer Banks, check out Elizabeth City.
Carol Pohl
6. Portland, ME
The official town motto, “Authentic by Nature,” perfectly summarizes the pristine peninsula of Portland, Maine. Settled in 1632 by the English, this town is proud of its history. Forts Preble, Scammell and Gorges at one time or another protected the greater Portland area; now the town is returning the favor by maintaining these sites and keeping them open for visitors. The Maine Irish Heritage Center houses Maine’s Irish genealogical center and chronicles the story of the important role the Irish played in pioneering Maine. Portland is justly famous for its good eats. Named the Foodiest Small Town in America in 2009 by Bon Appétit magazine, Portland and its environs have more than 200 dining options — and naturally, they do some incredible things with lobster. A dozen microbreweries provide local flavor to wash down your buttery lobster bisque. When you can eat and drink no more, we recommend a long stroll (especially if you’re there for a First Friday Art Walk) to take in the city’s many charming shops and active art scene. There are almost two dozen art galleries here as well as the world-renowned Portland Museum of Art. For information on marine electronics helpful for cruising the Maine coast, click here.
George Sass, Sr.
5. Fernandina Beach, FL
The discovery — 400 years ago — of an abundance of free-swimming crustaceans helped put this town on our list. Fernandina Beach celebrates its delicious raison d’être every year in May with the Eight Flags Shrimp Festival. If you’d like to drop in for the shrimp, or to enjoy Amelia Island’s miles of Appalachian quartz beaches, some fishing or a carriage ride downtown, you can keep your yacht at Fernandina Harbor Marina. This facility is on the Intracoastal Waterway at mile 716 and offers 1,000 feet of linear dock space, 30- and 50-amp shore power, Wi-Fi, satellite TV and more. The best part? You are just walking distance to shops, eateries and attractions. And if you forget the cocktail sauce, we’re pretty sure you can find a spare bottle here. Click here to read about George Sass, Sr.’s trip through Fernandina Beach.
Courtesy Diane Rice


4. Mackinac Island, MI
Over the centuries, this Midwest island with unusually high bluffs has been a fur-trading hub, a fishing industry hotbed, a strategic military position for both British and American troops, and a summer home for the rich and famous. Today, there are about 500 permanent residents and many more seasonal ones. No cars are allowed on Mackinac Island, but you can travel by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. If that isn’t enough H.G. Wells-type time travel for you, cruise here during the summer to take in an 1860s-style baseball game. Two supersize sailboat races take place each July: the Chicago to Mackinac Race, and the Bayview Yacht Club’s Port Huron to Mackinac Race. For more on Mackinac, click here.
To learn more about cruising in Lake Michigan, click here.
Courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism
3. Seattle, WA
Natural beauty and year-round boating: If those were the only two things Seattle had going for it, they would be reason enough to visit. The temperate coastal climate of this isthmus between Puget Sound and Lake Washington is appealing to all types of boaters. Sailors benefit from strong winter winds, cruising couples find pleasure in exploring Seattle’s quiet waterways and hidden harbors, and everyone can appreciate the views of snow-capped Mount Baker, Mount Rainer, the Olympic Mountains and the Cascades. The nearby San Juan Islands are an alluring bonus, but if you run out of nautical steam sometime during the 365-day boating season, there is also a thriving music and art scene on land. Click here to read about a delivery from Canada to Seattle.
Tim Thompson
2. Jamestown, RI
The small island community of Jamestown, Rhode Island, is just a few minutes across the bay (or over the bridge) from its flashier and more famous Newport neighbor. Despite the proximity, these two destinations run at totally different decibels. With 5,400 permanent residents, Jamestown is a bit slower and a whole lot quieter, which is how the locals like it. It’s the type of town where everyone still gets morning coffee from a quaint bakery instead of a drive-through window and picks up supplies for a weekend project from the local hardware store. There are no supercenters. Dining options are limited to a half-dozen restaurants on Narragansett Avenue, but there’s enough variety to last all summer. Transient slip space can be scarce in the high season, so plan ahead. If you want your mooring with a serene view and launch service and near one of the world’s best lobster rolls, we recommend Dutch Harbor Boat Yard on the island’s west side. Protected moorings at Clark Boat Yard or Jamestown Boat Yard (on the east side) are also excellent options. With a location that is close to destinations like Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Cuttyhunk and Nantucket, this is a smart jumping-off point — assuming you ever decide to leave. To read about a refit done at the Jamestown Boatyard, click here.
Jessie Dutra


1. Petersburg, AK
Native fishermen first visited the area of Petersburg about 2,000 years ago. In the late 1800s, explorers from Norway reached the area’s clear-ice glaciers, abundant fish stocks and wildlife. By 1910, this Inside Passage spot on the northern tip of Mitkof Island had become the fishing-industry hub of Petersburg. Today, this hamlet has about 3,100 year-round residents who still turn to the sea for their livings, plus around 50,000 annual tourists. Some come for the fishing, which includes targeting giant halibut and tasty salmon, while others commune with nature. There are about 240 species of birds here, including countless bald eagles. Cruise out to see the 500 humpback whales that make Petersburg their summer home, or go bear watching, hiking or berry picking. In May, there is the weeklong Little Norway Festival — including, of course, the requisite herring toss. Other reasons to visit include everything from a chili cook-off to a salmon derby and even a go-cart race. Visiting boaters can choose among three protected harbors (south, middle, north), all of which are within walking distance of downtown Petersburg’s shops, bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants. Call ahead for a berth. To read more about exploring Petersburg, click here.

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