Destination One, Narragansett Bay

Published by Rob Lawnsby on Sunday, 4th January 2015 - 6:08PM

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The state of Rhode Island has more shoreline per capita than any state in the union. It is a state with a large bay in the center and land wrapped lovingly around her. There are 35 islands scattered around the bay, with Newport standing guard over an opening to the ocean.

10,000 years ago glaciers grinded south filling the hollows and leveling the hills. It stopped just short of Narragansett Bay, and deposited a heap of rubble that is today Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. So geologically Narragansett Bay is an ancient river valley that has filled in with mud and sand. So almost all the rocks are close to shore leaving large areas of sailing delight and protected coves and harbors with good holding ground. Sort of like the Virgin Islands but with comfortable summer breezes and steeped with amazing history.

Rhode Island has a plethora of picturesque New England villages where you can pick up a mooring (or anchor) and see historic boat building areas, mansions of the rich and famous from 100 years ago, Revolutionary War history, warehouses where slaves were once housed, and racing boats from the America’s Cup era sail by. It is an exciting area where you can eat some of the best seafood in the world until you burst, walk on trails in a nature preserve only accessible by boat, or catch some sun after a lazy swim. You will find light winds every morning, 15 to 20 knots every afternoon for a rousing romp, and then everything calms down for a good nights sleep!

Day 1: Arrive at Barrington, get checked out on the boat, and be ready for a morning departure. Leave Barrington in the morning and head out into one of the best cruising areas in the world!

Day 2: Sail around the bay and get your bearings, and end up in Bristol. To many this town is the highlight of their cruise. You can easily anchor 50 boats here, but if you rent a mooring from Bristol Marine you will have launch service, showers, and a very friendly staff. Cost is about $45 for a mooring. Go see the Herrishoff Maritime Museum, dine at the DeWolf Tavern which is in an old warehouse where slaves were once stored awaiting auction, or eat at Quito’s Seafood which is completely unpretentious. This is not a tourist town. No fudge or t-shirts. It is a wonderful town steeped in history, interesting New England architecture, and a large harbor populated almost entirely of sailboats. This harbor is clean and can be swimmed in. Folks often stay two days here. The only negative is that is exposed to the prevailing south west winds and is bouncy in the afternoon. Evenings are generally calm.

Day 3: Wake gently as you are on vacation. Not much wind for sailing in the morning anyway! After a nice breakfast pull out the white flappy things and tack out of the harbor, what a nice day to sail down the bay. If you feel like shopping, partying, and great restaurants Newport is an interesting (but very busy) harbor. Very much a tourist town with harbor tours, gaudy yachts, but also has some very interesting smaller boats around. You can rent a mooring for about $60, or try to anchor in the VERY crowded designated anchoring area surrounded by folks who need more anchoring practice. I personally prefer Jamestown just across from Newport. More of a typical New England village with a delightful main street and good restaurants.

Day 4: How about a short ocean piece? You can head out the passage to the ocean, passing some impressive houses. Once out there you can go right or left, or straight to Block Island. Let me explore those three options:

A. If you go right you will have a very short ocean piece as you will be simply going around the island which Jamestown is on and then back into the bay. That piece of island (called Beavertail) has a significant lighthouse at its point, and has had MANY shipwrecks back in the day of wooden ships. As you head back up into the bay you will pass the town of Wickford. Probably the calmest harbor in the bay with complete protection, and a village that exudes charm like Julie Andrews exudes grace. Understated but so obvious! There is NO place to anchor as it is filled with moorings. There are 4 moorings for rent from the harbormaster, but most people grab a slip from Brewers Wickford marina which is an easy walk into town. This is a lovely place. With a few nice restaurants and some interesting shops.

B. If you go straight for 15 miles (directly upwind) you will find a very protected harbor in the middle of Block Island. This Island is a delightful place to bicycle around, Has magnificent beaches, and you feel like you have really sailed somewhere; but there are some drawbacks. The harbor is very deep and has very poor holding ground, you will need to get a mooring. You cannot reserve a mooring, and I have had customers near the end of day that can’t get one and spend a very uncomfortable night at anchor very nervous about dragging and the other boats near them. If you do get a mooring it is a long walk to town. If you rent a slip you will have noisy fisherman on their boats partying into the night. I have had many customers say it was the low point of their week. I say go by ferry, rent a bicycle and then have a wonderful experience on that lovely island.

C. If you turn left you have about 8 miles of ocean with a broad reach to the Sakonnet River, and it is a wonderful sail up this river with vineyards on the right and rocky cliffs on your left. There is a pretty protected anchorage right inside the mouth of the river on the west side named ‘Third Beach’, and a tiny but protected harbor on the east side called Little Compton Harbor. No anchoring in Little Compton, but moorings and slips are available. Five miles up the river is an anchorage called ‘Fogland’ that is in the middle of nowhere and we love it! Continuing all the way up the river you pass Tiverton which is one of the few places in the bay with serious current, but the current only goes up or down the river, and is very short lived; maybe ¼ mile as the river opens up again. At this point you have gone around 20 miles from Newport. Two great options for the night. Brewers Sakonnet marina at the end of the river, or go a few more miles straight into the Kickemuit River, which is really an almost landlocked little bay. Don’t go in here without talking to me first. It is straightforward; bit a little weird going in with some good currents. Extremely calm inside with good holding.

Day 5: Well now you are either in Wickford, near the Sakonnet River, or Block Island. If you are in Wickford or near the river, I would say spend the day sailing across the bay to the other side. You will have a beam wind for much of it, and be passing Potter’s Cove and Bristol as you make that transit. If you ended up at Block Island you can spend two days hitting either Wickford or Sakonnet River.

Day 6: OK...Last full day of your cruise. By now you have poured over the cruising guide and have found some interesting places that have caught your fancy. Or you have fallen in love with some place and just want to go back. I personally LOVE Potters Cove on Prudence Island. That cove is in the middle of Narragansett Bay, and I have spent great quantities of time there just hanging out contemplating the vagaries of life. Dinghy into shore to hike the trails. No road noise, almost no houses, no services, and great swimming. This is only an hour motor to Barrington.

Bristol is a very common place to spend a last night as it is only a 90 minute trip back to Barrington in the morning…and my goodness Quito’s has SUCH good seafood!

Day 7: Damn, where did the week go?? But back to Barrington we must go as there is another family itching to use this lovely boat. Head back to Home base arriving at 10:00. We will greet you at the fuel dock and take care of servicing the boat. You just need to do your dishes, pay for the diesel, and drop your garbage in the dumpster on the way out. We will do the rest!


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