Newport, RI And Her Outer Islands
In July, friends and family of Cecilia and mine descended upon Newport, RI with the thousands of visitors from all over the world that Newport usually attracts in July.
The diversity of language, skin color, and nationality was indicative of Newport’s position as one of the most interesting places in the North East to visit and explore. While we enjoyed the bustle and energy of Newport in full flower of tourism, we were in search of bigger adventures.
Twenty-five of us were within a day of boarding our charter boats in Newport Harbor to start a 7-day charter to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, so we only spent a brief time in Newport proper. However, we had several Newport experiences, from a tour of Ft. Adams and The Sailing Museum to meals at the famous Clark Cooke House along with the dependable Thames restaurant, The Red Parrot.
On the starting day of the charter, we spent our morning provisioning and our afternoon attending briefings on each of the five boats in our flotilla.
After loading gear and provisions we settled down for a reasonably early night, although on Night One of a charter the excitement factor always prevents us from really getting the right amount of sleep!
Our first full day of charter included a long passage of several hours to Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard so we were underway early, with some boats out of the harbor at daybreak and our boat following about 7am. We were greeted with a southerly of 15-18 knots and 4-5’ wind-driven seas so it was fun and sporty from the jump. We motored into the southerly as we departed Narraganset Bay into Long Island Sound. As we rounded the buoy marking the southern tip of Newport, we were able to bear off to the East and run our sails out. A strong ebb, the good breeze, and some gratuitous motor sailing allowed us to make the passage in two hours less time than forecast. We suffered a few showers, had a couple of close calls with lobster pots, but otherwise had a fine day of sailing.
When we arrived in Vineyard Haven, our eyes were wide with the beauty of the harbor, and the myriad beautiful yachts sprinkled among the weekend cruisers from Cape Cod. While we had a dinghy with a small OB and insisted on travelling ashore with it, getting five of us in a 12’ dink in a busy harbor was a bit wet. On subsequent trips ashore we used the very dependable launch with the super-friendly and helpful launch driver helping us with everything from purchasing ice to giving directions. At $4/each, it was a deal.
We spent the afternoon walking around in town, admiring the things that make Martha’s Vineyard special. Colonial architecture, incredible array of restaurants, and the ubiquity of beautiful people. Yes, there’s a bit of money on this island.
One thing I noticed about Vineyard Haven Marina was that the busy-ness of the harbor and its large mouth created a bit of chop and rolling/pitching at our mooring. Everyone slept, but not as well as one might expect. If I go to MV again, I might try Edgartown, instead, and Uber to Vineyard Haven to explore and enjoy.
Our next day was a lay day and we hit the streets relatively early, renting bikes to tour the eastern part of the island. We made it as far as Oak Bluffs, a wonderful, eccentric beach town with another cohort of beautiful yachts, touristy things like ‘guided jet ski tours,’ and a selection of ‘head’ boats (boats doing tours on a ‘per head’ basis). We visited the Oak Bluffs lighthouse, worked hard up and down some small hills and rewarded ourselves with a wonderful lunch, getting seated just in time to avoid the worst of a short but robust shower. After we finished lunch and the rain stopped, we hopped back aboard our bikes and took a bike rental vendor advised route that was described by my lovely first mate as the ‘Bataan Death March’ by bike. Six miles later we’d all had enough. However, once we’d returned our bikes and had a ‘cold one’ in front of us in Vineyard Haven, the incessant climbs of the past afternoon’s bike ride faded from memory.
During our lay day, we had a couple of observations. Firstly, the service industry was loaded with Eastern Europeans and we discovered that there’s a pipeline using summer work visas to populate restaurants, bars, and other establishments serving the tourist and yachting communities. This was fun for Cecilia and me as we got to practice our rusty Russian language skills. Secondly, in contrast to how California has protected public access to the coast in many, many areas, it seemed quite difficult to find a beach as it seemed that 90% of the beachfront property was private. We felt very lucky that our abode was on the water.
On Day 3, we had another early departure as it was another 5+ hour sail to Nantucket Town. I was a bit amped up for this as Nantucket was the ‘destination of my summer’ as a tween and teen on our family boat, a Bristol 27’ weekender. Three kids and two adults took up all living space on that small boat, but our trips from Hull, MA, through the Cape Cod Canal and straight to Nantucket were the stuff of dreams for me and likely helped cement my lifelong love affair with sailing.
We weren’t blessed with much breeze for most of the day, so we soon settled into the drum of the diesel and the ‘lobster pot’ lookout routine.
Entering Nantucket’s main harbor, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of Déjà vu. Not because it looked the same—50 years of growth and increase in popularity made it almost unrecognizable from my childhood memories—rather, because I’d finally come to the Camelot of my childhood. It was a bit overwhelming and I needed to be shaken out of my reverie by my first mate, Cecilia, as it was time to contact the harbormaster and locate our assigned mooring.
As bumpy Vineyard Haven had been, Nantucket Town Harbor was tranquil. There were still plenty of beautiful boats and traffic, but due to a strict no wake policy and more protected natural harbor, our boat was still for the two nights we stayed. As in MV, the Harbor’s launch system and personnel were top notch and polite/helpful to an incredible degree.
We used our dinghy sparingly while in the harbor as it had developed a leak, likely from a defective drain plug. We stayed two nights in Nantucket, which allowed us to tour the island, this time choosing gas-powered scooters over bikes, which better served us, especially my sister and her husband who cruise motorcycles all over the US when they aren’t sailing with us.
We got our scooters just in time to race to a beach front restaurant and a reservation for lunch that Cecilia had secured for us. We had a marvelous lunch, looking out at Nantucket Sound and a huge, white sandy beach. We spent the afternoon searching for a way to rub our toes in more beach sand, which proved as problematic as it had in MV. But the scooters were fun, the scenery entrancing and we enjoyed the adventure immensely. After returning the scooters we spent the rest of the day exploring Nantucket Town and doing some supplemental provisioning at the local market. We returned to the boat to get ready for an evening dinner ashore, took the launch ashore and had one of the best meals, out of a spectacular lot, so far.
Our next sailing morning, after a few nights of scattered evening showers, greeted us with pea soup fog, persuading me to remain on the ball longer than I wanted.
After a good briefing of the crew on what we were going to do and protocols for how we would do it, we were ready to head out, relying on the forecast that the sun would help lift the fog a bit after sunrise and burn it all off within a few hours. While the second part ended up being accurate, the fog remained stubbornly on the water and very thick for three hours. We decided we would proceed, blowing our fog horn every two minutes (thanks to I-Phone timer!) operating at a speed that would allow us to stop in half the distance of visibility and keeping our eyes plastered to the chart plotter and all the AIS targets. We had one call on Channel 16 with a large power yacht as its AIS target was showing constant bearing, decreasing range on the plotter but negotiated course alterations to pass each other safely. Otherwise, other than the eeriness of being unable to rely much on our eyes, the passage was uneventful and the sun and breeze took the fog away around noon.
Our harbor, Chilmark Marina in Menemsha, on the SW tip of MV, was tiny, with only two moorings in the inner harbor. Luckily, they had been designed to manage several yachts under 50’ rafted together on them. All of our flotilla boats were spread between the two moorings, leading to some great socializing between crews. When we got ashore, eager to replenish our stores of beer and wine, we learned that Menemsha, other than in fancy restaurants, did not allow the sale of alcohol. Horror of horrors! We debated whether we should Uber to Vineyard Haven, but settled on a pivot. What Menemsha lacked in package stores, it made up for in fish markets. Markets that would cook for you whatever you bought. While we were out of beer, there was still plenty of wine and liquor aboard! An hour later we were gorging on lobster and coleslaw and downing cocktails aboard our charter boat! Actually, it was one of the best evening meal experiences we had!
Now, on our last full day, we had to hot foot it to back to Newport to spend the night on our home mooring and spend the following morning re-fueling, re-watering, removing trash and emptying the holding tanks at Newport Marine. Even these pedestrian chores adopted outsized charm and romance in the early morning as we navigated across Newport Harbor, with the New York Yacht Club to starboard, Harbour Court, the Newport Station, perched magnificently on a steep hill with a commanding view of the harbor, and Goat Island on our port, steeped in history. We winded through a huge mooring field with vessels from 20’ sportfishing boats to 80’ racing yachts and everything in between.
The staff at the fuel dock were, again, immensely patient and polite with us, making this task almost fun. Our crew, having been on numbers of charters, sprung into coordinated action as we finished two hours-worth of work in under an hour.
Back to our mooring, I built our discrepancy list for the operator while the rest of the crew packed and hoisted bags up on deck. A quick call to the launch and we were soon dropped off at the dock adjacent the parking lot where my sister had stored their truck during our charter.
We said our goodbyes to the other crews and loaded our gear into the back of the truck. Ah, another spectacular charter was now in our rearview mirror. Pangs of ennui competed with a deep satisfaction that a plan three years in the making had come to fruition and would mean more lovely memories for the future.