Destination Guide: New England Cruising

Tucked away in the Northeast corner of the USA is New England, a region comprised of six very unique states: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont...

Extending from the Northern tip of Maine and finishing at Montauk at the end of Long Island, New York, the New England coastline is steeped in maritime history, drawing a host of visitors to its cruising grounds each year.

SYOG spoke to Robin O’Brien, charter broker at Fraser Yachts about the reasons why she loves New England as a cruising destination, and the must-see things to consider while visiting the region.

New England lighthouse at dusk

Destination Overview

When clients ask what makes New England great as a cruising destination, I say that New England has everything: bustling towns filled with great music and restaurants, quiet anchorages, protected marinas, great bicycle paths, dramatic stone coastlines, museums, natural history and good access to airports.

No matter what your preference, the region provides a backdrop for whatever kind of trip you may fancy, catering to proletariat traveller and the jet set alike. Visit aboard a superyacht and you only increase your viewing pleasure.

Day 1 – Newport, Rhode Island

A popular starting point for any New England charter is Newport, Rhode Island - home to the Newport Charter Show and one of the busiest summer yachting centres on the East Coast. Most charters begin and end here for tax purposes. It’s also a great place to provision, dockage is plentiful and the town offers a wide variety of shore side support, plus restaurants, shopping and history. Anchor up at Newport Yacht Club, Bannisters Wharf or Goat Island Marina.

New England mansion house

A typical day in Newport starts with an exhilarating early morning stroll on the Cliff Walk, watching the ocean crash along the rocks below you, then a mansion tour to fill out the afternoon. At sunset, grab a cocktail at one of the many local bars, most of which have live music. In fact, the town has a large population of musicians, so the summer season is filled with music, the highlight of which is the annual Jazz Festival, typically held at the end of July.

Day 2 – Block Island, Rhode Island 

A short cruise from Newport (just under 20nm) will bring you to Block Island; a peaceful beach lovers’ paradise for many that can be transformed into a ‘party getaway’ for those who are interested. Ample superyacht berthing can be found on the west side of the island at Block Island Boat Basin.

An island of just 25 square miles in total, 17 miles are made up of pristine beaches, plus varied terrain, hundreds of freshwater ponds and a unique variety of flora and fauna beyond that. Rent a bicycle near the harbour and explore the scenery.

Superyacht in New England waters

Day 3 – Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

A destination that famously attracts the powerful and influential, Martha’s Vineyard is, contrary to popular understanding, intentionally ‘rustic’ with T-shirts and flips flops considered to be the norm.

Rather than being a tourist destination, this is more a place to escape from the daily hustle and bustle. Charming Edgartown has an elegant old town and vibrant waterfront that’s worth exploring. Anchor up at Vineyard Haven Marina to enjoy kayaking and waterskiing nearby, as well as bike rides, art galleries and shopping ashore, before taking in the sunset at Menemsha Beach.

Day 4 – Nantucket, Massachusetts

Seaside Nantucket has been a tourist destination for over 100 years, but this doesn’t make it any less special. It’s whaling culture has been preserved for centuries; the waters are pristine and the habitat unique. Visit the whaling museum, which is within walking distance of the Nantucket Boat Basin marina, to find out more before taking in the sand dune beaches, wildlife sanctuaries and inlet creeks beyond.

Seaside Nantucket

Days 5 & 6 – Elizabeth Islands & Mystic

If breathtaking views are your inclination, or even if they’re not, stop at Cuttyhunk at the bottom of the Elizabeth Island chain, part of the state of Massachusetts. It may look a far old walk, but I recommend going ashore to hike to the highest point of the island for what is a spectacular view of the eastward-running archipelago and its waters. Afterward, enjoy a clam and lobster bake on the beach. 

Next, cruise into Connecticut and up the Mystic River to Mystic itself. Home to the famous Mystic Seaport, anchor up and explore with an excursion ashore.

Day 7 – Newport, Rhode Island.

If you only have a week, it’s back to Newport to disembark. If there’s time before departure, explore Narragansett Bay, which, as New England’s largest estuary, functions as an expansive natural harbour, boasting all the associated attractions and amenities, historic villages and a small archipelago. 

Lawn Chairs at Castle Hill, Newport

Onward…

If you have more time, it’s worthwhile dropping in on New Hampshire with its varied and beautiful coastline. Enjoy tax-free shopping and seek out local birdlife.

I also recommend making your way up to Winter Harbour in Maine, which, while not for the novice sailor with its three-storey tides twice a day and traditional Maine fog, is spectacular. Enjoy beachside bonfires on the rocky coast, watch waves of lobstermen, visit the Acadia National Park and realise the absolute silence amongst the evergreen trees - you’ll be left with a lasting appreciation of just how beautiful New England really is.

Morning fog at Bass Hill lighthouse

Cruising regulations and clearances

The standard cruising regulations of the States also apply here in New England. 

If coming straight from international waters, foreign-flagged recreational vessels exceeding 300 gross tons must file a Notice of Arrival with the National Vessel Movement Centre (NVMC) prior to arrival. This is a separate step than obtaining a Cruising License from Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

If in doubt, visiting vessels can contact the Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance, Foreign and Offshore Division, or enlist the services of a local yacht agent. 

When navigating U.S waters, non-U.S crew must have B1/B2 visas. Non-American guests on-board must have the B1 visa for business, and the B2 visa for pleasure.

The New England coastline

Superyacht berthing

As a popular cruising destination, New England offers a wealth of unspoiled anchorages and modern marinas for visiting superyachts, so it really is difficult to narrow the perfect anchorage down to just one choice. 

If I had to choose, it would be Penobscot Bay, in Camden, Maine. Widely considered to be one of the best cruising bays anywhere, it offers an anchorage that is ‘quintessentially New England’, near to a picturesque town that is filled with small museums and shops.

Bannisters Wharf – Newport, RI

Bannisters Wharf offers coveted, deep-water superyacht berthing in the centre of Newport Harbor, within walking distance to Newport’s sights and sounds. With 30 wet-slips, a 280-foot (85.3-metre) fixed pier and ample guest and crew facilities, Bannisters Wharf is ideal for sail and motor yachts alike.

Goat Island Marina – Newport, RI

Also in Newport Harbor, and host to the Tall Ships Festival and world-class sailing regattas, Goat Island deep-water marina offer a quieter setting for visiting superyachts. There are 175 wet slips for yachts up to 250-feet (76.2-metres) LOA, on-site fueling and on-site crew and guest amenities. 

Newport Yacht Club – Newport, RI

Offering one of the most historic berthing experiences in the state, Newport Yacht Club provides ample guest and crew facilities and unrivalled access to downtown Newport.

Newport Yacht Club

Block Island Boat Basin – Block Island, RI

Found on the western-side side of Block Island in Great Salt Pond, Block Island Boat Basin offers 100 wet-slip berths for superyachts up to 110-feet (33.5-metres). Basic amenities are in place to cater to superyachts and their crews.

Vineyard Haven Marina – Martha’s Vineyard, MA

A deep-water beach-front marina accommodating vessels up to 200ft (60.9m) LOA, complete with private boaters lounge, restaurant and crew bar and facilities. Visit the nearby Mansion House Health Club and Net Result Fish Market.

Nantucket Boat Basin – Nantucket, MA

A full-service marina, Nantucket Boat Basin is fully-equipped and excellently located to cater to visiting superyachts.

Wentworth by the Sea Marina – New Castle, NH

Just a few minutes from open-ocean sailing, this marina accommodates superyachts up to 200ft (60.9m) LOA and offers excellent guest and crew facilities, plus marine amenities and fueling.

Climate and cruising conditions

As a destination that experiences four very distinct seasons, weather conditions can be very favourable for cruising in New England. Cruising is generally great throughout the year; you may experience the odd foggy morning, but typically temperatures are perfect for cruising and chartering – mid to upper 80’s (27C) during the day and cooler in the evenings.

Lobster pots

While summertime is ideal for your visit aboard a superyacht, the ‘Indian Summer’ hits in September and October with its magical mix of warm, blue-sky days which end with dramatic sunsets, sudden chill and rising fog.

The fall is my favourite time to cruise New England – the evenings are crisp, but the weather is generally stable. The leaves are changing and the kids are back in school so the marinas, restaurants and shops are less crowded.

Although they perform us a great service bringing us delicious lobster tails, beware of lobster pots while cruising the waters. There are also many options if the weather gets ‘lumpy’ – an experienced captain will know where to hide during a nor’easter. 

Originally written for MegaYacht News.

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