Memorable weekends found close to home

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The pièce de résistance of any season is your two- or three-week (longer if you’re lucky) cruise, but some of boating’s deepest pleasures come on the weekends with their much more modest itineraries.

The pièce de résistance of any season is your two- or three-week (longer if you’re lucky) cruise, but some of boating’s deepest pleasures come on the weekends with their much more modest itineraries.

Our boat, Sea Story II, a Grand Banks 36-foot trawler, is usually launched in mid-April from Brewer Plymouth Marine in Plymouth, Mass., where she spends the winter. After about a month of work, we bring her the 20 miles north to our home port of Scituate.

Then we start our “shakedown” cruising — a series of weekend trips to other Massachusetts ports that continues through the season.

Cohasset

The first port we motor to is neighboring Cohasset, six or seven miles north. Cohasset is a gem, reached by threading your way through an entrance larded with ledges. On the way in (even though it’s programmed into our GPS), we look hard for an aid called the “Jack Rock” buoy. It’s a small green can that I have always contended should be a large luminous buoy, since it marks such a dangerous spot.

Entering CohassetHarbor over the years, we’ve become accustomed to seeing a large house on a huge clump of rocks, so we were surprised last year to see it was gone. The old brick mansion that had stood there forever had been razed, and a new mansion was being built (the progress of which we followed through the season on subsequent trips with guests).

What a lovely, tidy basin you find in Cohasset. To port, there is a mooring area for local boats, mostly sail; to starboard, a yacht club where the docks berth mainly small powerboats — Boston Whaler and Grady-White types. Just off the docks are other moorings, with a fleet of 210s and a few lobsterboats. Opposite, you see a splendid dwelling straight out of the pages of a Henry James or Edith Wharton novel — mellow, rosy brick with manicured lawns, statuary and a coach house, all shaded by great trees.

We like to bring guests to this port for its scenery, its quiet and its lighthouse just offshore (Minot’s). We tell them it’s more of a postcard port than a stopover for transients.

GreenHarbor

Our second trip often is to GreenHarbor, nine miles to the south. We plug in the Farnham Rock buoy as a waypoint, keeping an eye out for the lobster pots that dot the area. As always, we find the red buoy crowded with cormorants and surrounded by small-craft fishing activity. Turning to starboard after passing Farnham’s, we head toward shore. We pass a breakwater and a beach scattered with bathers, with a row of trim houses in the background. We call these cottages “happy houses,” because families have joyously returned to them for years. We cautiously negotiate the channel into a port that is saltiness itself.

The channel at GreenHarbor has to be dredged nearly every year. Not only is it shallow, but it’s narrow with barely room for two boats to pass in its gut. We are glad to see that large aids to navigation, on strong poles, have been placed to mark the entrance more conspicuously. Once inside, we find a large fleet of lobsterboats and a few marinas. We cruise slowly down the length of the harbor, enjoying these sights and the spread of lush marshes adjacent.

Like Cohasset, GreenHarbor is not known as a transient port. But for those like us, who appreciate a real New England seaside anchorage, it makes for a very pretty “put-in” indeed.

Marblehead

Next, we head 22 miles north to Marblehead. It’s one of our all-time favorite ports, and we couldn’t conceive a season without an overnight stay there.

It’s a sailing harbor mainly, but there are powerboats sprinkled among the moored fleet. Reddish rocks ring the basin along with greenswards spreading down to the sea from the great estates on its neck and condos and colonial abodes on its town side. There are no real dockages other than a public pier where fishing boats unload. Now and then, a large sailboat or motoryacht might be permitted to berth.

In Marblehead you get a mooring at one of its three outstanding yacht clubs. Each of them — the Boston, Corinthian and Eastern — exude class and cordiality. We most frequently stay on a Boston Yacht Club mooring because of the proximity to the “old town.”

Ashore, you ramble your way through a seafaring past, glimpsing house after house built in the 18th or 19th centuries. The historic dwellings line narrow streets, with flowers crammed into every inch of available soil. Crowning the high clumps of rocks at the waterline is CrockerPark, providing one of the best views in New England — a bustling, beautiful harbor with sailboats weaving their way through the moored fleet for races outside the harbor or in Salem Sound.

We’ve also berthed at the Corinthian and Eastern yacht clubs on Marblehead’s Neck. Walking through them is a bit like visiting the Ritz — they are that elegant! At night they are so well lit that from your mooring they resemble ocean liners, lacking only running lights.

All three yacht clubs have terrific launch services, and when we’re moored off the Neck, we always go ashore and walk out to ChandlerHoveyPark, spiked with Marblehead Light, to sit on the benches and gaze over to the CrockerPark shore or out to sea.

The last time we stayed at the Corinthian, the club had been hosting a reception for the ’round-the-world-racers, and as we sat on one of the HoveyPark benches we followed the progress of the yacht Scandia, flying a pink-and-white spinnaker, one of those notable boats. Later we would learn Scandia had sunk in the Sydney/Hobart Race off Australia. She hit a whale, lost her keel and rolled over.

Salem

On another weekend we might head for Salem, just a few miles beyond Marblehead in Salem Sound.

There is a treacherous little patch between the two ports and you have to be mindful of the rocks and ledges. En route you get a close-up of the Salem power plant, its stacks on a clear day visible from miles out at sea.

This body of water has many moorings serving several marinas, but we always berth at the Hawthorne Cove Marina. I like the fact that just up the street is the brooding House of Seven Gables, built in 1668, and nearby the 1750 house in which Nathaniel Hawthorne was born. We also love the brief walk uptown, passing the imposing Custom House where Hawthorne sometimes worked; the historic Derby and Hawkes houses; the old wharves and, of course, witches everywhere. They’re on signs, flags, t-shirts and sweatshirts, and there are straw-stuffed figures and other incarnations.

Boston

When we only have one day to steam somewhere, it’s often the 18 to 20 miles to Boston. As you might expect, it’s one of the busiest harbors we’ve experienced. Everything is going on all at once, and to cruise it is to enter the realm of adventure.

On our most recent jaunt, as we wended our way from Massachusetts Bay to the inner harbor, we encountered catamarans streaking in and out, a host of harbor excursion vessels, a huge Greek tanker being shepherded by two large tugs down Nantasket Roads and sailboats racing around the outer islands as well as in the inner harbor. There were pilot and police boats, lobstermen hauling, big draggers heading out, a parade of Winthrop Yacht Club powerboats heading in the direction of Hull Gut and the roar of planes taking off from or landing at LoganInternationalAirport.

On the better half of a mixed-weather weekend, we headed again toward Boston, motoring once more down its Nantasket Roads channel. But this time our 14-mile destination was Hull Gut. We wanted to satisfy our curiosity about this locale. For years we’ve been hearing about the gut and we knew that tucked just inside it was the Point Allerton Coast Guard Station, which has been responsible for many a rescue.

We knew the gut had a strong current, and that boats berthed in the five ports beyond — Hull, Hingham, Quincy, Weymouth and Braintree — had to navigate it to get out onto the Atlantic. In Nantasket Roads we didn’t turn to starboard, which would have led us into BostonHarbor, but to port. Through the gut we went, at slack current, with the tip of the town of Hull to port and a part of PeddocksIsland to starboard.

The old and the new stand out on this passage. On Peddocks, used to defend BostonHarbor during the Revolutionary War right up through World War II, you see the red brick remnants of FortAndrews, its buildings now running to ruin. On Hull’s Point, there rises a huge propeller-type windmill, built to harness wind power in the era of energy conservation.

Manchester

Another port we try not to miss each season is Manchester, crown jewel of the NorthShore. We had a bright, beautiful and calm 25-mile passage to this haven at the eastern end of Salem Sound.

As you approach Manchester, you are somewhat awed by the size of the manors that greet you. They are huge, almost castle-like edifices, set amid great stands of trees and landscaped to perfection.

“Money possesses the shores,” is one of my frequent observations, and nowhere is that better illustrated than in this stretch of coast. But you’d never know it by the graciousness of the greeting you receive in Manchester (its yacht club is the only one we know of that doesn’t charge guests for the use of a mooring). And this is true for the harbor as a whole, which is genteel and welcoming.

In the most beautiful of surroundings — high rocks with old oaks and elms seemingly growing right out of them — you motor down a channel with the yacht club to port (neat and white, with a gazebo as a finishing touch) and moorings to both sides. You enter the inner part of the harbor where there are more moorings, with Manchester Marine on its port shore. Still more elegant dwellings line both sides of the anchorage, while yachts come and go; some to moorings, others in and out on sightseeing trips.

Provincetown

Another “season-wouldn’t-be-complete” destination is Provincetown, at the very tip of Cape Cod. We enjoy its live-and-let-live attitude; its blend of Portuguese fishing families and artistic free spirits; its jammed, yet amiable streets; and its towering monument (visible from 20 miles at sea).

Provincetown also gives you a feeling of having accomplished something just getting there. Though we have cruised the entire East Coast by ourselves, we always consider reaching P-Town an achievement, although it’s only 32 miles across Cape CodBay from Scituate. We’re fascinated watching the water depths increase as we cross the bay to well below 150 feet in the middle. It’s always a thrill to pass Wood End and then Wood End Light, then Long Point Light and Long Point Bell, finally veering to port to run the channel into the anchorage. Going in last summer, we were headed directly into the sun, with the wind behind us the whole way, so it was hot. Coming home the next day, it was the reverse — the sun behind us and the wind in our faces, cooler and much more comfortable.

What wasn’t comfortable (and a learning experience for us) was the mooring we were assigned to. For more than three decades we have always used the closer-to-town mooring service, but this season the policy had changed and you had to commit to a two-night stay. You paid for the second night even if you didn’t use the mooring. At $45 a night, that would have been $90, half of which would have been wasted. So we chose another mooring service. Although we arrived at noon, all of its more-inshore moorings had already been filled, so we were relegated to a mooring which lay outside the line of the breakwater. It was the first time we’ve been so moored.

What a mistake. From noon until after 5 p.m., we rolled deeply and continuously from the wakes kicked up by the Saturday boating traffic — whale-watchers, ferries, excursion vessels, powerboats large and small, jet bikes, you name it. All would have had to have slowed down at the breakwater. The first mate fled to her bunk so as not to get seasick (always a first time). And to top things off, there was an invasion of vicious black flies, not after your food but your flesh. Finally, about suppertime, things quieted down, and franks and beans were produced.

The next morning Provincetown redeemed itself with two impressive sights. We always take an early morning tour of the dock areas, going as close to shore as possible before departing. Tied up at one of the long piers was the Friendship, a replica of a 171-foot, three-masted Salem East Indiaman, the original of which had been built in 1797. The replica Friendship now travels to various ports out of Salem as an ambassador ship for the Essex National Heritage Area. The other pleasant surprise was an arrangement of large photographs of elderly women posted on the sides of the fish-packing plant. It was a collection of wise faces that had seen and endured much over the course of a lifetime — a stunning and imaginative tribute.

Plymouth

On one weekend during the summer, we return to Plymouth, the port from which we’d issued in early spring, just for the joy of it. Like Provincetown, Plymouth is very alive and very popular.

Sometimes we dock at Sea Story II’s winter home, Brewer Plymouth Marine, but we also like to swing on one of the Plymouth Yacht Club’s moorings, with launch service to shore.

Like Boston, the entry to this harbor is long, but it’s much simpler. After passing the Gurnet cliff with its lighthouse, there is a straight stretch that leads you to “Bug Light,” where the cross currents bubble and swirl (you have to watch for submerged lobsterpot buoys because of the pull). Just beyond the beacon, you turn to port and pass along a lovely length of sandy beach with terns and gulls aplenty and a few houses at its end. This channel is well-marked because shallow water abuts it and it is full of boats coming and going, seemingly at full speed. These are the whale watchers, party boats, sports fishermen, private craft of all kinds — an engaging and exhilarating parade. Ashore, you step right into Pilgrim history as you tour what is truly a living museum.

There’s the Mayflower, the Rock and the plantation. By night, anchor lights on spars make for a pretty scene, and the lively beat of the music ashore is reminiscent of nights in Provincetown.

The North River

Another destination we choose for pleasure lies but two miles south of Scituate Harbor: the North River. Talk about sumptuous marshes and sand spits.

Nothing surpasses this view, an opinion shared by the masses of boaters who arrive here on any good weekend day, especially at low tide. They swim, play ball and run with their dogs, fish, go kayaking, pitch tents and dig in the sand.

And all this voyaging from mid-May through mid-October, when Sea Story II is hauled, lies within 32 miles of Scituate. No port is more than three hours away at an average speed of 11 knots.

This year we intend to add to the list, visiting the Harbor of Refuge (Sandwich Basin) 28 miles away at the east end of the Cape Cod Canal.

Wonderful indeed are these weekend wanderings — in the planning, the actual cruising and, of course, the memories.

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