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Mystic, Montauk and More

A superb summer destination

Mystic Seaport is just one of several classic charter destinations in the historic Northeast, easily reached from a home base in Newport, Rhode Island.

Not long ago, a charter yacht I was aboard left Newport, Rhode Island, and pulled into Mystic Seaport, on the southeastern shore of Connecticut. It was just a few hours' cruise to the place, which is downright resplendent with nautical fascinations. During my visit, one of the museum exhibits was called "Sea Dogs," which I found especially fitting as we stepped off the boat for a look around. At our side was one of my fellow charter yacht guests: the captain's Yorkshire terrier, Desdemona.

 

Little Desie had been with the captain a few weeks earlier when he had pulled the yacht, a classic 81ft Burger called Lady Elizabeth, into the same harbor. His intent had been to scope the place out in advance of my arrival, so he'd be able to offer first-hand suggestions about where to go and what to see (as all good charter captains do). He'd hoped to experience the seaport's planetarium, check out a few museum exhibits, maybe even tour a few of the historic yachts docked a few hundred feet from his own ride. Time permitting, he might've taken Desie for a stroll in the nearby town of Mystic, which lures visitors with charming restaurants and shops of its own.

 

Instead, he and Desie spent the day fending off tourists who thought Lady Elizabeth was one of the floating exhibits docked amid the 1841 wooden whaleship Charles W. Morgan and the 1880 sandbagger sloop Annie. By mid-afternoon, the captain had resorted to pulling up the ladder and stringing a sign across it that read: "Private Yacht: No Boarding." Little Desie spent much of the day patrolling the decks and peeking through the hawseholes at passersby, many of whom had come aboard their own boats to enjoy all that Mystic Seaport offers.

 The morning I was aboard, there were no such lurking crowds; the harbor was as still as a sleeping baby, and the reflections from each ship's mast stretched across it like pulled strings of taffy. Lady Elizabeth was still a beauty among her fellow classic yachts, but there was no feeling of outsiders looking in. Instead, there was an ambience of awe. I had a sense that I was not just seeing a small piece of maritime history in Connecticut, but that my presence in that place, with those boats, in the solitude shared by the spectacular boat-lovers' homes lining the river, made me part of something much more important, something those passersby had probably been looking to find a piece of for themselves.

 Indeed, Lady Elizabeth, the sea dog Desie, and I had achieved what most people who charter yachts in New England hope to experience: our own tiny moment in the grand nautical tradition of America.

Mystic Seaport is just one of the many New England destinations that offers such wonderful encounters with history, all within cruising distance of the great summer charter hub: Newport, Rhode Island. Every May, dozens upon dozens of charter yachts pull into Newport and prepare for a busy season of carrying guests to places whose names have appeared in nautical logs for centuries. Some of the yachts are classics like Lady Elizabeth; others are sparkling newcomers that turn just as many heads.

 Selecting a weeklong itinerary can be challenging (you could spend a lifetime in New England and still not learn its every secret), but there are a few places that boaters long to cruise into year after year, places that are sure to please charter parties of all ages and backgrounds.

Whether you're chartering out of Newport for the first time or are returning for an annual cruise, consider these waypoints when setting your course: Montauk, New York, the fisherman's favorite stop; Block Island, Rhode Island, the quiet beachcomber's retreat; and Nantucket, Massachusetts, the culture-seeking traveler's paradise.

And of course, don't forget to leave a day or two to explore Newport itself.

Montauk, New York
I'm not sure which view impresses me more: the first one I get each season of the Montauk Point Lighthouse, or the long one I enjoy as often as I can from a table at Gosman's Dock.

The lighthouse has been guiding mariners into Montauk and the rest of New York's Long Island for what feels like forever. It was authorized under the watch of President George Washington and built in just five months during the year 1792. Just cruising toward it, watching it become clear in the mid-morning haze, is a reminder of how far back mankind's legacy on the sea stretches. When you see the lighthouse on the eastern edge of Long Island, especially after a cruise from farther up in New England, you realize you're entering the great outer reaches of Manhattan, a place that has welcomed people by boat for centuries.

 A different sense of wonder fills my heart when I visit Gosman's Dock, a cluster of shops and restaurants founded in 1943. There are several places to eat at Gosman's, but my favorite is the main restaurant. The food, of course, is as fresh as can be (any of the fish or seafood dishes will leave you more than satisfied), but the real pleasure of dining at the restaurant is the view of the seemingly endless parade of boats coming into the inlet from the Atlantic.

Boat watching is a real sport at this spot, especially if you're a sucker for hard-core sportfishing yachts. In the span of one meal, you'll see everything from classic old Hatteras launches to brand-new Vikings and custom one-offs, all gleaming in the sea spray as they bring home the morning's catch.

It's probably just the sort of beautiful boat traffic the founders envisioned when they built that lighthouse as a beacon hundreds of years ago.

Block Island, Rhode Island
The beauty of boating to Block Island is that not everyone can get a slip. Summertime is the high season, and crowds of yachts would tie up their lines if only there was enough space. Instead, the marinas keep enough slips free to welcome charter yacht captains they've seen for a few summers before, which in turn helps keep the island's exclusivity and untouched natural feeling intact.

There are 20 miles of beaches on Block Island, all of which are delightful to meander across barefoot in the warm summer sun. Visiting by charter yacht gives you the added pleasure of getting to see them from the water, whether you're tooling around in your yacht's dinghy or paddling by the sunbathing masses in one of your yacht's kayaks. The beaches are clean and, in many spots, well protected, so there's plenty of safe fun to be had no matter your level of boating or swimming experience.

While your charter yacht means you'll have no need for accommodations ashore, I highly recommend setting aside an hour or two to visit one of the many inns that dot the island. The 45-room National Hotel is a must-see: it has been in service for more than 100 years and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It positively oozes Victorian charm and makes you feel like you could easily be staying among foreign dignitaries from decades past.

It's a terrific feeling, one that reminds you of just how lucky you are to be on this exclusive island.

Nantucket, Massachusetts
Tourism has flourished in the old whaling port of Nantucket for a little more than 100 years, but it's not the sort you think of when you conjure memories of summertime resorts. Anyone who visits by charter yacht will immediately sense the preservation of centuries-old seaside cottages and feel the distinct whiff of culture in the air. Sure, if you want to sip rum punch on your charter yacht's aft deck and sing Jimmy Buffett songs into the wee hours, that's an option, but many people cruise to Nantucket for a vacation experience that's a bit more refined.

 Whether you're in Nantucket town proper or exploring the points and landings to its east and west, this historic island abounds with cultural experiences: film festivals, wine festivals, antiques shopping, and more. This past year even saw the debut of the Seaside Shakespeare Festival, which highlighted the points of view of some of The Bard's most charming and familiar heroines. It's a far cry from the cotton candy and noisy arcades in so many other summer spots, and it's not turning haute couture anytime soon.

Let's hope not, anyway, for at least the next 100 years.

Newport, Rhode Island
One of the most glorious things about chartering yachts based in Newport is the view you get of all the other boats based in Newport. During a simple walk from your car to your charter yacht, you can often catch glimpses of luxurious new mega-yachts in the marinas, of 12-Meters adjusting their sails in races across the water, and of historic old boats (sail and power alike) whose varnish has been flawlessly applied in restoration.

 

A few minutes' cruise will allow you to indulge even more. A good set of binoculars and a seat on your charter yacht's foredeck allows a view of stunning mansions built and used by America's wealthiest residents, including the Vanderbilt family. On occasion, boaters can sneak a peek at a high-society wedding in progress on one of the sprawling lawns. Of course, tours are available if you're willing to disembark and take a taxi from the dock.

A view not to be missed is that of the New York Yacht Club building just after dinnertime. You'll delight in sitting in your charter yacht's dinghy, looking up the grassy hill past the white Adirondack chairs, and watching men in blue blazers salute the sunset as the club's cannon blasts echo across the water.

It's a view you can only get if you're a member - or a charter yacht guest in historic New England.

 

A Suggested 10-Day New England Itinerary
Proposed by: Captain George Whitehouse, Captain of Anson Bell

Anson Bell will generally make her base in Newport for the summer season of 2004. For more off-the-beaten-track charters, we will also consider cruising farther north to the beautiful shores of Maine, which are a nature lover's paradise.

 

The following is a suggested cruising itinerary for New England that would work well due to accessibility to major airports in the vicinity. There are many diverse cruising opportunities in New England, but in my experience this area usually offers the best weather and most exciting points of interest.

Day 1-3:
Board from New York's Chelsea Piers in midtown Manhattan. Cruise overnight to Sag Harbor on the east end of Long Island, a great village with many things to do - wonderful restaurants and shops and just 15 minutes from the famous Hamptons. Spending two to three days here would be ideal.

Day 4:
Take a short trip to Block Island, which is known for its sweeping beaches and excellent fishing.

Day 5-7:
Cruise to Nantucket Island, which boasts everything that New England is famous for. Enjoy the picturesque town with its great shops and restaurants along with the best beach clam-bake in the world. It is very easy to while away three days in Nantucket.

Day 8-9:
Start the day with an early-morning cruise to the famous town of Newport, Rhode Island. Spend two days exploring the history of New England and American yachting.

Day 10:
Disembark in Newport, close to a major airport in Providence, only a 30-minute drive away.

More Stories By Kim Kavin

Kim Kavin is an award-winning writer, editor, and photographer whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Her more than ten years as a professional journalist include three as the executive editor of Yachting. She is currently the charter and cruising editor for Power and Motoryacht. Kim's work takes her around the globe to inspect boats and meet crew, all with an eye toward helping readers understand what they will get for their money when choosing a charter yacht or a cruising destination. Kim is an officer on the board of directors of Boating Writers International, a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the prestigious Dow Jones editing program, and an alumna of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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