Just about every boat traveling the East Coast seems to make a stop at Newport
While the rest of the East Coast is baking under 90-degree temperatures, here in NewportHarbor a southwesterly steadily refreshes the inhabitants. And what other harbor offers such an incredible collection of vessels from all over the world — all for any visitor to view and enjoy up close and personal?
Entering Narragansett Bay, even in fog, is a scenic feast. Well-protected, yet wide at the mouth, the bay is deep and easily entered. Serious attention, of course, should be paid to the many varied boats, but beauty and history abound.
Since just about every boat traveling the East Coast seems to make a stop at Newport, the two serious cruising guides — Maptech’s “New England Coast” (www.maptech.com ) and Waterway Guide’s “Northern 2008” (www.waterwayguide.com) — as well as Reed’s Nautical Almanac (www.reedsalmanac.com), cover almost every imaginable detail. Newport harbormaster Tim Mills strongly suggests planning well ahead. “And then relax and enjoy what we have to offer,” he says.
Whether berthing at a marina or picking up a mooring, help is immediate. Don’t be shy about being guided in. All marinas say this actually helps them as much as it does the skipper. Boats and staff are then on the same page, and flared tempers are unnecessary. If anchoring, it’s polite to contact the harbormaster’s office or Oldport Marine.
Harbor transportation, whether by dinghy or water taxi, is easy, with tie-ups and taxi stops at the Anne Street Pier, Goat Island, Bowen’s Wharf, Fort Adams, Sail Newport, and the pier next to Ida Lewis, to name a few.
Along with the mansions, shops, bars, music, golf, tennis and biking, quiet tree-lined streets flirt, beckoning you to explore historic buildings (gems that students of architecture the world over still come to marvel at and learn from). There are museums dedicated to preserving Newport’s shipbuilding past (The International Yacht Restoration School and the Museum of Yachting); distinctive art, marine photography and jewelry galleries; and a plethora of bistros and eateries, serving a variety of dishes, from the most sophisticated to finger-licking-good clams. This is Newport, and let’s not forget about the boats.
“This harbor is one continuous, spectacular boat parade,” says Ronn Ackman. “Big boats, small boats, world-class raceboats, home-built boats — all available for any boat lover’s eye.”
We are doing a harbor cruise on one of Ronn’s Oldport Marine launches (after he had overseen an engine replacement on a Swan 51). “You can walk into IYRS and watch a traditional Beetle Cat being built,” he says. “You can go for chartered sails on a number of finely maintained 12 [Meters]. You can see cream-of-the-crop racing boats at any one of the marinas. You can watch racers of all ages, in fleets from one design to VolvoOcean [Race], especially from FortAdamsPark, or the huge Newport-to-Bermuda fleet every other year from Castle Hill. It is a parade second to none.”
A boater’s paradise indeed. Forward and off to port, a Feadship gracefully exits the harbor. Abaft that powering beauty glides one of Olin Stephens’ most innovative and beautifully designed sailing yachts, Dorade. To starboard are both of the Puma entries in this year’s Volvo Ocean Race, challenging each other, going what looks to be 15 knots in no wind. Lone Ranger, an expedition boat, is being readied for a trip to Greenland. Out around Goat Island, colorful spinnakers mark the very determined Shields fleet. Forward toward Jamestown, two 12 Meters are engaged in a match race. Just clearing the PellBridge is a supertanker flying the colors of Argentina. And maneuvering in and around us are two adept boardsailors.
Later that night, Café Zelda owner/host Tom Callahan strolls among the skippers of these vessels, discussing the day’s results, celebrating victories with a cheer, sweetening defeats with a tall Dark ’n Stormy. “I love this Bay. I love all these boats. I love all these guys,” he says.
Zelda’s walls are covered with personalized photos of famous and infamous sailors and their boats. Tales, long and short, abound from owners and crew alike. It’s international camaraderie at its best.
One of the best places for viewing some of the world’s most beautiful yachts is at Belle’s, Newport Shipyard’s eatery. Here, I meet up with CB Smith — one of the best at boat care, varnishing in particular — who is working on Nirvana, a 50-year-old Hinckley (see accompanying story). West Indians have always come to work on boats during Newport’s summer season, and they are considered some of the best at what they do.
Next, a stop at the Seaman’s Church Institute to drop off books for its revolving nautical library and to pick up a 2008 copy of its Newport Harbor Guide, a handy, illustrated and informative publication covering all aspects of Newport and its harbor. SCI has been a true port in a storm for countless mariners, providing comfort for the mind (its free library), the body (Aloha Cafe, showers, lodging, laundry facilities, computer and Wi-Fi access), and the soul (MemorialGarden, an oasis of peace on a bustling waterfront).
Next is a quick dash down Thames Street to The Armchair Sailor to pick up the latest Eldridge’s and perhaps a latest daring-do tale to read. The Armchair Sailor is a chart and book store where you’ll likely encounter skippers preparing for ocean voyages to faraway ports
Across the street, I pick up a boat-lunch-to-go at Peaceable Market (free delivery on orders of more than $20) and then kayak over to FortAdams, pausing to admire the graceful lawn of The New York Yacht Club and scan the bustle at Sail Newport’s docks. I count 12 J/22s being prepped for an afternoon teaching session. Perhaps a future America’s Cup skipper is among them?
The ultimate place for viewing Newport’s parade of boats has to be FortAdams. While it is impossible to take the massive structure of FortAdams entirely for granted, it usually plays second fiddle to Narragansett Bay’s spectacular scenery (see accompanying story). So after a picnic lunch on the north lawn near the basin — where they would unload gunpowder in calm water — I arrive at the VisitorCenter for my tour with James Scott Bryce. From the moment I step onto the 6.5-acre parade field, James has me hooked on history. Not only the early history of Newport, but of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, World War I — stories that span nearly two centuries of American history.
The recently formed Fort Adams Trust has done an impressive job with initial restoration, especially in turning the Officer’s Quarters into the Youth Overnight Barracks (a unique experience for Scouts of any age or gender). These include a common room with a kitchen area, a 19th-century wood-burning stove, oak table and benches, and three sleeping rooms, including 38 bunks constructed as they would have been in the 1870s. Four modern bathrooms help wedding planners make this a near idyllic setting for a romantic ceremony and reception.
Climbing the steps to view the spectacular panorama of Narragansett Bay, I’m overwhelmed by the majesty of this place and its endless opportunities for exploring. Not able to spend hours taking it all in, James promises me a different kind of excitement in the listening tunnels. Deep beneath the walls of FortAdams are tunnels that stretch more than a half-mile, and many are only 4-1/2 feet in height. This is sure to bring out the pirate in anyone.
A tour of the new America’s Cup exhibit at the Museum of Yachting next door is a must. The Museum of Yachting and IYRS have recently converged. With similar goals of preserving and presenting yachting and maritime history, the museum now hopes to bring a wider audience to the school, and the school will be able to create more relevant exhibits. This will provide a richer experience for both students and visitors. Both are easily accessible by dinghy or water taxi.
Watching the sun set over Jamestown is a spectacular finish. The light display is unrivaled, especially from the hill below the Eisenhower House. Yes, Newport is sometimes crowded and noisy, but you always have a choice: partake in the celebration or move to a secluded anchorage. Both are great ways to spend your time here.