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Boating in Jamestown, Rhode Island
A living history
The Rhode Islanders who settled here saw this parcel of quiet country as perfect land for their sheep to graze. Purchased in 1657 from Narragansett Indians, the island's name was simplified to Conanicut and the settlement became the village of Jamestown in 1678.
At the dawn of the 20th century, wealthy New Yorkers flocked to Newport and their opulent mansions remain as symbols of that era. Philadelphians sought a quieter reprieve and opted to spend their summers across East Passage in Jamestown. While their cottages were less ostentatious than their neighbors' in Newport, they remained impressive in their own right.
Today, Conanicut Island retains much of its rural character and Jamestown remains a viable traditional village. There are several active farms on the island, old neighborhoods are intact, and historic properties in and near the island-windmills, lighthouses, and the remains of old military fortifications-remain in place as reminders of the history of the island.
After almost 300 years of continuous service, ferry service on the west side of the island ended when Jamestown Bridge opened in 1940, but continued on the east side until the completion of the Newport Bridge in 1969. Service was re-established in 1995, making for easy shuttling between the two harbors. Even with two bridges leap-frogging the island, Jamestown is still an out-of-the-way place.
Things to See and Do
Conanicut Island is a quiet enclave where development has been kept in check and nature reigns with open expanses and camera-worthy views in every direction. Enjoy a scenic picnic at Beavertail Lighthouse and Park (401-423-9941). The layered shelves of rocks surrounding the lighthouse offer a great place to sit and enjoy lunch, fly a kite, or fish in the surf. The site of the current light tower holds the third lighthouse built on the Atlantic seacoast. The "new" tower was built in 1856 and displays much of its history in the lightkeeper's quarters.
Conanicut Island is ideal for pedaling. Traveling along the undulating roads to the north, you'll find farmland dotted by old houses, and the 1787 working Jamestown Windmill (401-423-1798). Nearby, Watson's Farm (401-423-0005) is a 280-acre working farm that offers a two-mile self-guided walking tour.
The trip south takes you to a pair of old forts built after the Spanish American War. Fort Wetherill, now the centerpiece of a state park of the same name (401-423-1771), was captured by the British at the outset of the Revolutionary War. Explore the remains of the old fort and enjoy a great view of Narragansett Bay. There are also several beautiful, clear coves in the area that are ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
The Sidney L. Wright Museum (401-423-7280) displays colonial and Native American artifacts. Check out the display of ferryboat memorabilia, including photos, artifacts, and hands-on exhibits in a 19th century schoolhouse at the Jamestown History Museum (401-423-0784). For children of all ages, the Fire Department Memorial Museum (401- 423-0062) has an 1894 horse-drawn steam fire engine and other early fire-fighting equipment.
The Fools Rules Regatta in August is a build it-and-sail competition sponsored by the Jamestown Yacht Club. Participants have two hours to creatively (no marine materials allowed) construct their sailboat on the beach before taking to the water.
If you seek the best of both worlds, serenity and bustle, tie up around Jamestown and take advantage of the Jamestown & Newport Ferry Service (401-423-9900). The boat runs throughout the summer, and makes stops in Newport Harbor.
Restaurants and Provisions
No matter where you've docked in the village of Jamestown, there is an inviting variety of eateries within a pleasant stretch of the legs.
Go for simple elegance al fresco in the form of pasta, seafood, and other creative dishes at Trattoria Simpatico (401-423-3731). Across the street and up a little, Jamestown Oyster Bar (401-423-3380) specializes in seafood and offers a nice wine list. The appealing nautical atmosphere at Chopmist Charlie's (401-423-1020) will surely draw you in for some great New England seafood, while Portuguese flavors rule nearby at the Portuguese American Restaurant (401-423-9909).
Grapes & Gourmet (401-423-0070 or www.grapesandgourmet.com), at Conanicut Marine, is the perfect place to pick up something to savor on that sunset sail: deli platters, cheeses, wines, and patés. They'll even deliver to your boat. Grab a great cup of coffee and tasty pastry at East Ferry Market & Deli (401-423-1592); at lunch, try salads, soups, and sandwiches on the terrace overlooking the boats. Similar offerings are among the wares at Slice of Heaven (401-423-9866), a few paces up the hill on Narragansett Avenue.
Back along the bight on Conanicus Avenue, Bay Voyage Inn & Restaurant (401-423-2100) delivers a memorable dining experience in a nineteenth century Victorian home that was relocated by barge to Jamestown in 1889. The Sunday brunch should not be missed!
Narragansett Avenue helps to satisfy your provisioning needs with an Xtra Mart convenience store (at the gas station), a pharmacy, and Conanicut Marine's immense marine store (401-423-7158). The chandlery carries everything from boots to boats. Closer to Dutch Harbor, you'll find McQuade Supermarket (401-423-0873) just off Southwest Avenue on Clarke Street. For a real old-fashioned hardware store, drop by Jamestown Hardware (401-423-2722) on Narragansett Avenue.
Use tide tables for Newport. At Dutch Island Harbor, add 5 minutes. Mean tidal range is 3.5 feet.
Use ChartKit Region 2, pages 6 and 26; ChartKit Region 3, pages 64 and 68; Maptech Waterproof Chartbook Block Island to Cape Cod; or Maptech Waterproof Charts 18 & 19. Also, Maptech electronic and NOAA paper charts 13223 (1:20,000) and 13221 (1:40,000).
Navigation and Anchorages
In the middle of Narragansett Bay, Conanicut Island offers two ports of call for the visiting boater: Jamestown on East Passage and Dutch Island Harbor on West Passage. Jamestown is 5 nm from R "2" Q R WHIS south of Brenton Reef; 2.5 nm from Commercial Wharf in Newport; 4.5 nm from the Beavertail Point Lighthouse (Fl 9s 64ft 15M HORN) at the south end of Beaver Neck; and 11.25 nm from Point Judith.
Narragansett Bay is 3.75 nm wide at its mouth and divides into West and East passages around Conanicut Island, which runs north-south for about 8 nm.
About midway along the eastern shore of Conanicut Island, you'll find Jamestown Harbor, which is actually no more than a wide bight in the island's side. The harbor does offer some protection, and as local sailors will tell you, this makes for a beautiful fair-weather anchorage during the summer. You'll be sheltered from weather out of the south, west, and north, but exposed to the winds coming from the east.
From the south, enter East Passage west of R "2" Q R WHIS south of Brenton Reef. From there, head north into East Passage, keeping R "4" GONG at Brenton Reef and R "6" BELL at Butter Ball Rock to the east. The passage is wide with plenty of water. West of G "9" Fl G 2.5s GONG you'll find a few nooks and crannies that are fun to explore in a small boat.
A mooring field extends from Bull Point north to Jamestown. Most of these moorings, until you get closer to town, are privately owned. Rounding Bull Point, keep G "11" Q G BELL to the west to stay clear of The Dumplings, which are not friendly to wandering hulls.
Continue north along the edge of the mooring field until you are abeam of the tower of the large, whitetrimmed hotel on the shore. Two red nuns and two green cans mark the channel into shore. Conanicut Marine (VHF 71 or 401-423-7157) maintains a launch service in the area. This state-of-the-art marina offers moorings, dockage, WiFi, extensive boatyard services, a chandlery, fuel, and pump-out.
From the north, your journey is straightforward. Near Conanicut Point, keep your eyes peeled for commercial vessels. Continuing south, before you reach the Newport Fixed Bridge (vertical clearance: 194 feet mhw), Potter Cove to the west serves as a fine leeward anchorage. Within 500 feet of shore is a conservation zone where boats are restricted. Once you're under the center span of the Newport Bridge, Jamestown lies to your west.
Dutch Island Harbor
If you're looking to get away from it all, Dutch Island Harbor is the place, although it can get crowded on a weekend summer day. This small, protected cove is on the western shore of Conanicut Island, 8.5 nm from Newport; 20.5 nm from Providence; 5 nm from Wickford; and 11 nm from Point Judith.
From the south, enter West Passage between G "3" Fl G 4s GONG at Whale Rock (once a lighthouse foundation) and GR "NR" BELL off Beavertail Point. West of G C "5," you'll pass Bonnet Shores Cove, which has southeast/ easterly exposure (a place you don't want to be during a storm). It's shallow and rocky and the anchorage is poor, but it'll serve well enough for a picnic lunch. The trip up West Passage is a straight northern run past C G "5" to RG Fl (2+1) R 6s GONG at the southern tip of Dutch Island. From RG Fl (2+1) R 6s GONG, turn northeast into the harbor and stay about 300 yards offshore of Beaverhead, keeping R N "2" to the southeast.
From the north, pass under the Jamestown-North Kingstown Fixed Bridges (vertical clearance: 134 feet mhw). Once under the bridges, head to the northern tip of Dutch Island and R "8" BELL, then swing east above the island into Dutch Harbor. Demolition of the old bridge was nearly complete by early 2007; a portion remained for use as a fishing pier.
The entrance to the harbor is straightforward. Because Dutch Island sits just outside the harbor, you'll be protected by land on almost all sides, making this a good place to hide from bad weather. The area surrounding Round Swamp is a bird estuary and conservation zone, so take heed of posted restrictions. You'll be within easy walking distance of town from either the town landing or Dutch Harbor Boat Yard.
Shoreside and Emergency Services
T.F. Green, Warwick 401-737-4000
Rhode Island Public Transit Authority 800-244-0444
Coast Guard: 401-846-3676 or VHF 16
Jamestown & Newport Ferry Service 401-423-9900
VHF 16 or 11 or 401-423-7262
Police, Fire, Ambulance:
SAFE/SEA 401-295-8711 or VHF 16
Sea Tow 800-4SEATOW or VHF 16
TowBoatU.S 800-391-4869 or VHF 16