With the 8th Edition, the Atlantic Cruising Club’s Guide to New England Marinas has been completely revised and re-researched and is now ACC’s Guide to New England & Canadian Maritime Marinas. Recognizing that more and more of us are looking for new destinations, unique adventures, and less-touristed ports of call, ACC headed further Downeast to New Brunswick and the St. John River and threaded through the islands of Passamaquoddy Bay to Nova Scotia. We went further up rivers, explored more islands, added another seventy marinas, thousands more images, and went to full-color throughout. And, in keeping with the Atlantic Cruising Club’s digital heritage, the enclosed Guide on DVD makes all of this information fully searchable on a Windows PC — with more than 6,000 photos "that tell the real story." The digital Guide has also been integrated into some electronic charting programs. Following are a few favorite highlights of this 750-plus miles of fascinating coastline:
Along Nova Scotia’s south shore, it’s Maine fifty years ago. Small charming towns and villages with active yacht and boating clubs, some still community-run, are oriented to the sea. Spend a lay-day or two at an upscale resort, dock at a famous bakery café. Don’t miss Chester, the regional sailing center, or the sweet little village of Mahone Bay. Seafaring and shipbuilding history is alive in Lunenburg, a world heritage site, with a colorful skyline that is even more picturesque from the cockpit of a boat — especially when moored among some of the Fisheries Museum’s barques and schooners.
Dock in downtown Halifax, one of the world’s finest harbors, among celebrated ship museums, to take advantage of its impressive big city amenities: fine dining, performing arts, good provisioning, top hotels and 400 years of history. Or make camp at one of the more distant but venerable and welcoming yacht clubs — like the elegant Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron in Halifax Harbour’s Northwest Arm. Along Nova Scotia’s western shore, Yarmouth and Digby provide a base to explore the province’s Acadian culture, outstanding whale watching, Bay of Fundy tide swings and the Evangeline Trail.
By sheer happenstance, on one of several research trips along the St. John River, we followed the Points East Flotilla through the Reversing Falls — the ferocious tidal rip that has challenged mariners for centuries — and observed first-hand the sheer delight as crews on boat after boat saw how benign the Falls are when transited at the right moment. Within an easy walk of the downtown Saint John dock, where boats stage for the trip through the Falls, New Brunswick’s largest city promises sidewalk cafes, a provincial museum, indoor malls, walking tours and a fabulous year-round artisnal food market.
Once in the river, the world falls away; it could be a century earlier when steamboats plied the waterway stopping at the big granite wharfs — preserved today by the St. John River Society. It’s a 65-mile run upriver to burgeoning Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick, with several museums, good restaurants and a top-notch farmers’ market. Along the way, stop at popular Gagetown for galleries, provisions and socializing, and take a detour up one of the deep, unspoiled, beautiful glacial reaches — Grand Lakes or Grand Bay. Along the Bay of Fundy, St. Andrews, oozing genteel, 19th century charm, is a must stop as is Campobello where the dockage is on the Canadian side but the real attraction, FDR’s summer home, is on U.S. soil. For another stopped-in-time experience, rugged, remote Grand Manan Island, a mere six miles offshore, beckons with a promise of adventure, birding and quiet.
The untamed stretch of coast from Passamaquoddy Bay to Frenchman’s Bay is sparsely settled with little in the way of transient dockage or moorings; nevertheless, it entices cruisers. Artsy Eastport’s handsome brick downtown offers the region’s commercial center, shops, galleries, good food, good dockage and marine supplies. Down home Jonesport, more upscale Winterport and oldmoneyed Sorrento are each welcome ports along this long, often inhospitable shore.
Tourists have been flocking to Bar Harbor, on the Mount Desert side of Frenchman’s Bay, since the 1800’s — and the flocking hasn’t slowed. The most-touristed spot on the island, it maintains much of its original elegance amid the hucksterism of attraction kiosks and whale watch boats. It’s a main entry point into the spectacular, 73-square mile Acadia National Park. The other Mount Desert harbors are more low-key and all delightful — from the Brahmin stronghold of Northeast Harbor, to "quiet side" Southwest Harbor, the birthplace of Hinckley Yachts, to deep Somes Sound fjord and off-thebeaten- path working Bass Harbor. To get away from it all, don’t miss the Cranberry Islands — old Maine with just enough civilization.
When boaters talk about "cruising Maine," Penobscot Bay is usually what they mean — for good reason. Despite a blanket of lobster pots as far as the eye can see, this is still cruising at its best. The storybook islands along Eggemoggin Reach, Fox Island Thorofare, Merchants Row — mast-straight evergreens melting into pink granite shores — each demand a stop: Frenchboro on Long Island, Burnt Coat Harbor on Swan’s Island, family-centered North Haven, working Carver’s Harbor on Vinalhaven, Stonington on Deer Isle. Some of the mainland harbors, like blue-blood Blue Hill and Dark Harbor, or historic Castine, are little changed in a century. Others, like Rockland and Belfast, have transformed themselves from industrial fishing ports into compelling, cultural destinations. Still others like flourishing Camden and Rockport were as prosperous and affluent when Edith Wharton was a child as they are today.
Starting south of Rockland, the coastline changes dramatically; the St. George, Medomak, and Damariscotta Rivers create long tendrils of land with isolated, remote harbors, like archetypal Port Clyde, sprinkled along the ocean tip — a marked contrast to the bustling towns at the navigable river heads along Route One. Boothbay Harbor is the exception — one of Maine’s biggest tourist magnets, it’s neither isolated nor remote. Wall-to-wall, mostly recreational, docks edge the pretty, protected basin. Working wharfs, that berth a productive fishing fleet, balance the ubiquitous gift shops with a dose of reality. Onshore B&Bs occupy impeccably restored homes, restaurants of every stripe keep the populace well-fed, and, cheek by jowl along the lovely, leafy lanes, shops sell kitsch alongside galleries showing serious artists.
South of Boothbay, the Sheepscot, Kennebec, Royal and Harraseeket Rivers carve more deep rivulets into the increasingly populated mainland. Pristine harbors, first-class resort marinas, and compelling inland destinations like Wiscasset, Bath and Freeport, provide boaters another good reason to make the scenic slog upriver. About seven NM north of Portland Harbor, Chebeague Island promises an entertaining, and more convenient, stop.
Lively Portland, Maine’s largest city, is delightfully manageable with a grown-up, post 60’s vibe — check out the Eastern Prom, cobblestone Old Port, the museums, the Sea Dogs and, perhaps most important, a world-class culinary scene. In Portland Harbor, a spectrum of marinas provides a choice of downtown Old Port or out-of-the-fray, across-the-harbor slips and moorings. Its nearest islands, Peaks and Diamond, are a short ferry or private yacht ride away and offer a calm, remote ambiance within shouting distance of the city attractions. Heading south, the Kennebunk and York River marinas give easy access to their affluent, appealing, up-the-river villages with a lay-day worth of activities including their wellknown ocean-front beaches, Dock Square, tolley tours, house museums and presidential summer digs.
The Piscataqua is flanked on the north by Kittery, ME with protected coves and stretches of brandname outlet stores and on the south by emerging, energetic Portsmouth, NH — with the Strawbery Banke outdoor museum, a vital restaurant community, and no-sales-tax shopping. Pull up to docks right downtown along the swift river or in placid Little Harbor at Wentworth by the Sea for some spa pampering at an historic landmark hotel – with shuttle access to this big little city.
A little further south, the Merrimack River leads to engaging Newburyport. Once home to wealthy sea captains, today it’s an historic, likable village with good services, restaurants and wonderful verdant strolls past antique mansions and restored commercial buildings — and there are eight marinas in town, upriver, across the river — everywhere. Closer to Boston, the North Shore towns vacillate between hard-working gritty ports and wealthy bedroom communities. Tourism has spiffed up Gloucester, which gets less commercial and more picturesque with each passing year. Rockport, Marblehead and Manchester ooze graciousness and well-spent money. Beverly and Salem share a harbor but are totally different species. Look past the witch kitsch to really appreciate Salem’s rich maritime heritage and outstanding museum. The Boston Harbor Islands, remarkable in their existence as a National Park, are required stops if only to be amazed at what committed citizens and a serious harbor clean-up has wrought amidst one of the most populated areas on the East Coast. Welcoming, working-class Winthrop lies on the outskirts of Boston Harbor across from Logan Int’l while the inner harbor is served by superb marinas in downtown Boston’s Wharf District or Charlestown. The city is an open air history museum; the docks along Harborwalk are just steps from Faneuil Hall, the Freedom Trail, Aquarium, Old Ironsides and so much more.
Cohasset, Scituate, and Duxbury harbors are buzzing in the "summah" with the usual influx of third generation seasonal residents — most of whom are passionate boaters. Proximity to the Stellwagen Bank makes Green Harbor a draw for anglers, as is Plymouth — but there the similarity ends. Plymouth is a nonstop paean to the pilgrims; tourists flock to the historic sites and living history museums —– and all slips and moorings have a view of Mayflower II.
The Cape begins or ends with Provincetown — a place totally unto itself that you either love or leave. It’s fun, crowded, hyper — with wonderful restaurants, lots of eco activities and cultural venues plus miles of one of the planet’s most spectacular beaches. It’s the perfect companion to unspoiled, highly literate Wellfleet. For a quick overnight, Sesuit Harbor’s just off the Bay with a river full of slips — or wait until the Cape Cod Canal’s northeast entrance. Sandwich Marina used to be just a staging stop until we discovered that less than a mile inland, the oldest village on the Cape (C.1639) is well worth the walk.
On the south shore, long, narrow Falmouth Harbor was a luxury seaside destination in the 19th century; now crowded with yachts and ferries, it’s lost some luxe but it’s still very popular — four marinas welcome transients. Pretty, wealthy Oyster Harbor, in one of the Cape’s most secluded, private villages, counterpoints bustling, Kennedy-centric Hyannis — the peninsula’s main megayachtfriendly transportation hub. A bit off the boating path, active year-round fishing communities add more salt to the summer influx in Bass Harbor, Saugatuck and Chatham.
The Canal spills into Buzzards Bay, one of the most diverse cruising grounds in New England. Onset Bay offers an easy stop for recouping and a stroll through the quirky, gentrifying Victorian town. Beautiful Sippican Harbor and tiny Marion, the quintessential New England village on its shore, is a must stop for sailors and those with a passion for vintage houses and gorgeous yachts. Red Brook berths a high-octane, active marina balanced by an adjacent low-key, classic boatyard, while Fiddlers Cove is about perfect amenities and beautiful Quisset Harbor boasts natural surroundings and lovely Downeast sailboats. For those with a passion for the sea, Woods Hole is a must. Four international oceanographic institutes make their home here; summer-furloughed scientists and Vineyard-focused tourists make an interesting mash-up. Across the bay, New Bedford mixes heavy duty shipyards and the 34-acre New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park — both fascinating to most mariners.
At the foot of Buzzard’s Bay, Cuttyhunk, the largest of the Elizabeth Islands, offers 580 acres of unspoiled quiet, with very little to do to tax visitors — bring a good book, food, wine and hiking shoes. Across Vineyard Sound, the westernmost of Martha’s Vineyard’s four harbors, Menemsha, a working fishing village that doesn’t kowtow to tourism, acts a bit like an airlock between Cuttyhunk and the down-island villages. Vineyard Haven has emerged as a major center of wooden boat building — with schooners raising their sails on a regular basis, the harborscape is often dazzling. For two months every summer, Oak Bluffs sheds its Methodist Camp "Victorian gingerbread cottage" heritage and explodes into a lively party lure for young people. Conservative, wellto- do Edgartown, the island’s most eastern harbor, reincarnated a once prosperous whaling town into a recreational sailing capital — preserving a remarkable collection of neoclassical sea captains’ houses and protecting Chappaquiddick Island’s wildlife reserves.
Twenty NM to the east, The Gray Lady, Nantucket Town, is a registered historic district. The whole 54-square mile island is a National Historic Landmark — in some ways that says it all. Once the whaling capital of the world, today, it is a perfectly maintained, stopped-in-time, mid- 19th century village; it is quaint, maybe achingly so, and charismatic — catering to a wealthy summer populace and every prosperous yacht on the East coast.
The Sakonnet River’s wild and craggy shoreline slowly gives way to the tranquility of the Tiverton basin — home to well-protected marinas within pond-like water. Much of the land in between is devoted to gentrified estates, farms and open spaces — which encourages very little commercial river traffic. In the middle of Narragansett Bay, Jamestown’s slogan "a bridge apart, a world away" couldn’t be more spot on. Quiet and casual, with none of the crowds and bustle of its neighbor across the East Passage, it nonetheless has a plethora of places to eat and shop plus nine square miles of lovely rural byways and maritime attractions. If it’s not quiet enough, there’s a water taxi to Rose Island Light — where you can be the Keeper for a day, a night or a week. Had enough quiet? The water taxi continues on to Newport!
A world-class harbor and once a major shipping center, Newport lost out to New York in the early 19th century. Fortunately, the Gilded Age brought new life to the City by the Sea when super-wealthy industrialists built their cottages along Bellevue Avenue and became enamored of racing yachts. Today, that legacy remains the heart of the tourist trade. Marinas catering to megayachts and well-heeled boats of all stripes line the harbor front. The Museum of Yachting tells the story, and restaurants, nightlife, shops and crowds abound. Reserve a front-row, Center Harbor mooring and watch the colorful show.
Sailing north from Newport, two major boatyard-marinas cater to refits or new construction of the high-tech racing yachts of tomorrow. Quietly elegant, all-American Bristol is awash in exquisitely restored buildings, galleries, shops and houses, living history museums and the Holy Grail of classic yachting — the Herreshoff Marine Museum. Further north, prosperous Barrington sports old waterfront houses and some Gilded Age mansions. Its funky neighbor Warren provides a commercial balance. As the Bay gives way to the Providence River, the prize is the proximity to the renaissance city at its head. Providence has emerged as an exciting, vibrant, culinary and arts mecca with an enormous historic district, the famous Waterfires on the river — and even gondolas.
The quieter West Passage begins in Dutch Harbor — the western shore of Conanicut Island with easy access to Jamestown — and continues north to delightful, relatively quiet Wickford, with a plethora of unique shops, the largest historic district in the country and dockage in Wickford Cove and Mill Basin. Further north, Greenwich Bay, abuzz with boating activity, harbors eight transient-friendly marinas, a state park, beaches and all manner of water-borne recreation.
Arguably New England and the Canadian Maritimes offer the best cruising experiences in the world. And it would be even better if the season were a little longer. So the challenge we all face each season is to pick and choose among this plethora of riches. Hopefully, this Guide will help meet that challenge.
Beth Adams-Smith, Rye, N.Y.