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Gunkhole getaways: Quissett Harbor, Mass.

By Mary Jane Hayes

One of the dictionary definitions of the word “charm” is “to delight or please greatly by beauty, attractiveness, etc.” My word for nautical charm is Quissett Harbor on Buzzards Bay, part of the town of Falmouth, Mass., on Cape Cod.

The harbor is surrounded by magnificent homes and stately oaks and elms, stands of them studding golf-green lawns. In the western corner of the inner harbor lies the small and historic Quissett Yacht Club, which sports a fleet of classic Herreshoff 12.5s and Beetle cats that members of all ages have raced since the 1930s. The club has no facilities for visiting yachties. Neither the yacht club nor the boatyard provide launch service, so Quissett is a dinghy-transport harbor.


 Hurry, you’ll find, is expunged here. Relax in total enjoyment of the moment and watch the day unfold. Quissett is a port that calls no attention to itself and thus holds yours because of its integrity and daily dose of simple pleasures. An older gentleman rows by with a big, patient golden retriever in his dinghy, and reaching his modest daysailer he gets in, the dog leaping aboard on the heels of his master. Once the dinghy is affixed to the mooring, the pair sails out the channel and disappears around a bend. Feel the infectious energy of a group of youngsters who materialize at docks so crammed with Optimist dinghies they look like moths. In a wink this colorful crew (all in life jackets, of course) whiz about their marks, somehow managing to avoid hitting each other. Or watch their elders muster for a Herreshoff race and take off for Buzzards Bay.

You might note a curiously “busy” vessel with three masts that looks like a Chinese junk, or a group of people who have made their way out to The Knob and stand gazing at the bay. A skipper motors in with his trawler and picks his spot, his first mate easily spearing the pennant. Three young boys in life jackets jump from a sailboat, their mother standing watch in the cockpit, hand on her hip, sharing in their joy.

Quissett Harbor affords excellent protection, and only when a smoky southwester churns up the bay might some roll and surge disturb its tranquility. An easy entrance starts at flashing-red buoy 2 at 41 32.6N, 070 40.00W, and follows a well-marked but narrow, curving channel into the harbor. Just south of N4 is Gansett Cove, the only area where anchoring is permitted. However, scattered throughout the outer harbor are the rental moorings of the Quissett Harbor Boatyard, identified by their floating yellow polypropylene pennants. Pick up an empty one, and in the evening the boat from QHB will collect your fee.

The boatyard doesn’t monitor VHF radio, but a cell phone call to (508) 548-0506 can summon its pumpout boat in-season. QHB’s pier is at the end of the channel at the head of the harbor, and has a dinghy dock and ice but no fuel. The seasonal shuttle bus stops here for transport to nearby Woods Hole or Falmouth, and their many restaurants and shops. This inner harbor has many year-round moorings but no transient ones or slips.

Quissett is a great stop-off to wait for the current to change in either Woods Hole Passage or the Cape Cod Canal. The west entrance to the canal is 12.5 nautical miles from Quissett, and the Buzzards Bay entrance to Woods Hole Passage is but 1.5 miles away. Quissett is 13.2 miles east-southeast of the hurricane barrier at New Bedford/Fairhaven. If you stay for a night or two you can dinghy ashore to the beaches on Chappaquoit Point and follow a trail in the Cornelia L. Carey Bird Sanctuary to The Knob. A spectacular sunset can be observed across Buzzards Bay as old Sol dips behind the land mass of Padanaram Point, New Bedford and West Island. The channel has 8 feet at mean low water, and much of the inner and outer harbors have some 16 feet.

Quissett is a quiet retreat from the challenges of cruising, a gunkhole that refreshes and replenishes, and once discovered is cherished and returned to time and again.


Check out the other parts to our Gunkholing series:

Explore our picks for 10 great gunkhole getaways:

Learn The Art of Gunkholing

Or introduce yourself to "Mr. Gunkhole."