Idyllic is a tough word to apply to New England. This is not to imply that this area of the country is not beautiful, or conducive to the type of cruising days we all dream of, because it certainly is. Especially for those brave enough to cruise in fall, New England offers some truly fine destinations, if your timing is good. With winter just over the horizon, the region can pull a wicked (to use a New England word) Jekyll and Hyde impression.
LOCATION: 41° 57’ 30” N 70°40” 04” W
After the summer yahoo season cools down, cruisers can find themselves amongst the breathtaking beauty of the famously colorful autumn foliage. But the weather is fickle, and the trick is landing a whole day before it does, or at least getting to a dock before the worst of it—cold, hard rain and wind—arrives. One often overlooked New England destination happens to be its first permanent European settlement, Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Pardon the word choice, but it was an “idyllic” fall day in mid-September 2014 when I made the trek from Boston to Plymouth. Sunny, and just warm enough with a light breeze and calm waters in the anchorage, it was the time of year New Englanders brag about, the reds and oranges just beginning to pepper the tops of the trees as if it were snowing in Seuss-land.
A few days earlier, Forward, the home-built trawler featured on page 62 of the January/February 2015 issue of PassageMaker, had made landing at the Brewer Plymouth Marina (www.byy.com/MAMarinas/Plymouth, (508) 746-4500)) after the Olsons had run her down the Hudson River and back up Long Island Sound to explore New England, and it was my job to photograph the girl before she moved on.
“We have never seen New England before,” said Olson as we sat atop his red-hulled home away from home. “My wife and I have really come to love it; there is a lot of charm here.”
17th CENTURY ROOTS
Plymouth is a super-condensed slice of New England. Shops and cafés line the town’s main street, while the churches, with ringing bells and clock towers, testify to its pilgrim roots. The architecture, with small white and colored-trim houses emptying right onto the street, gives the town a very old nautical, old-world feel as you walk around.
Lying along the southwestern shore of Cape Cod Bay, Plymouth is sheltered by a massive breakwater. Brewer Plymouth Marina, the Olson’s marina of choice here, lies near the replica ship, Mayflower II, in the shadow of the Plymouth Yacht Club. Brewer’s facility is home to more than 100 seasonal slips and can accommodate transient vessels up to 120 feet LOA on its floating concrete docks.
For cruisers in need of maintenance or refitting, Brewer’s is also the only full-service marina within the Cape Cod Bay. Along with a full-service shop, the boatyard is equipped with two 60-ton Travelifts, enabling them to conduct haul outs and offer winter storage “on the hard” for up to 200 boats. Brewer operates yards and marinas from Maine to New York.
Within walking distance of Forward’s slip, were numerous attractions and amenities. Walking straight through the boatyard, visitors can either continue straight up the hill to the main street where they are first met with a small grocery store and several restaurants. Continuing down the main drag will bring you past coffee and antique shops, more street-side eateries, the library and the Plymouth Orchestra. Plymouth is very dog friendly during the warm months. There are greens and parks all over the place and many of the eateries offer outdoor seating.
Back at the marina, a hard left from the entrance will take walkers through several waterfront parks that overlook the Cape Cod Bay and the outlying breakwater. Keep walking and you’ll notice one of Plymouth’s biggest claims to fame, Plymouth Rock. Housed in what looks like a hollowed out Greek structure, the infamous Plymouth Rock looks a bit like a garden stone that has been separated from the flock. Many dispute that this rock is the actual landing object, or even that there was a Plymouth Rock to begin with, but it is by far the most crowded place in town as people come by land, air and sea to have a peek.
Opposite the Rock and up the hill is the Pilgrim Hall Museum, which features more offerings for pilgrim history buffs to peruse. To be sure, this area of town is a bit touristy with all the landmarks for backgrounds to your “selfies” so nicely clustered together.
For those looking for a bit more adventure, hop on your bike and head just outside of town and visit Plimouth (Plimouth with an “i” is the old-world spelling) Plantation.
About three miles from the Mayflower II, the plantation is a hike, but is a great family experience. The people I spoke to in town all raved about it. The plantation is billed as a 100-acre campus with a Wampanoag Native-American homesite, the 17th Century English Village, and a crafts center. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
From a cruising standpoint, Plymouth also has strategic value. Leaving the bay, cruisers can head south, as the Olsons were planning to do, and make the short jaunt to the Cape Cod Canal and transit the sheltered waters toward Rhode Island and points south. North from Plymouth is Boston, an excellent metropolitan destination, as well as the rest of Massachusetts’s North Shore, the self-proclaimed gem of which is Marblehead.
“It is a totally different experience from cruising the Midwest, but we’re very much fans of it here,” Olson said.
Whatever you choose to do, the New England cruising experience is one well worth braving the fall elements and Mr. Hyde for, and what better place for your experience than the home of the Pilgrims.
Port Profile is an occasional series looking at recreational boating harbors here in the U.S. and abroad.