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Boating in Martha's Vineyard, MA

Boating, dockage and reservations in Martha's Vineyard, MA

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Boating in Martha's Vineyard, MA

A sail for all seasons

The first thing most cruisers see when they arrive in Vineyard Haven Harbor is a pair of handsome wooden schooners-one black, one white. If the timing is right, the boats will be under sail and headed out for an afternoon on Nantucket Sound; other times they'll be looking stately and serene as they lie at moorings near the entrance of the inner harbor. On shore, another local oddity intrigues visitors: scores of people of all ages walk through town clad in T-shirts with a big black dog on the front.

One man is responsible for both Vineyard Haven phenomena. In the early 1960s Captain Robert S. Douglas, a former fighter pilot who spent his youth sailing on the Vineyard, designed and commissioned a 108-foot schooner and had it built in Maine. In 1964, soon after she was launched, he sailed Shenandoah (the black boat) to Vineyard Haven and began taking passengers for sails. His steadfast companion, a lab-boxer mix named "Black Dog", was always at his side. In time he bought beachfront property and settled in, but he was disturbed there were no nearby year-round restaurants, and in 1971, he opened the now-famous Black Dog Tavern. The 90-foot gaff-rigged schooner Alabama (the white boat) eventually became part of his fleet, and Black Dog T-shirts, originally created for restaurant staff, became such a cult item, that the company (www.theblackdog.com) now has a mail-order catalog and 11 retail stores in the Northeast (including seven on the Vineyard) that sell Black Dog logo items.

But Douglas doesn't have the only eye-catching traditional boats in the harbor. Vineyard Haven is home to the second largest fleet of wooden boats on the East Coast-only Rockland, Maine, has more. At least some of the credit for that must go to Nat Benjamin and Ross Gannon, who, since 1980, have run a boatyard well-known for the fine repair, maintenance, and building of wooden boats. The yard, Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railroad, is the subject of an excellent nonfiction book, Wooden Boats by Michael Ruhlman-a great read for anyone seeking an insider's look at Vineyard Haven boatbuilders.

Unquestionably the most famous wooden boat to sail from Vineyard Haven was Spray, the 37-foot oyster sloop that belonged to Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail around the world alone. Slocum set off from Boston aboard Spray in 1895 and completed his voyage in Newport in 1898, sailing 46,000 miles in just over three years. Back in his adopted home of Martha's Vineyard, the native Nova Scotian sat down to write his account of the voyage, Sailing Alone Around the World, a classic that is still on any sailor's "must read" list. Slocum continued solo sailing, and in November of 1909, at the age of 65, he set off alone from Vineyard Haven for a voyage to South America. He was never heard from again.

No amount of spray, whether from the sea or a fire truck, could make a dent in the Great Fire of Vineyard Haven, which destroyed Main Street and then some (about 60 acres in total) in August 1883. Sea breezes fanned the inferno, eventually engulfing the heart of town, destroying all but one of the stores along Main Street and all but a few of the fine sea captain's homes that once graced the town. "The village will never recover from the blow."

Well, not only did the people rebuild quickly, a bit of tourism-which of course would become the island's bread and butter-resulted from the tragedy. Even while the ruins were still smoldering, the New Bedford Evening Standard ran ads for "Excursion to visit Vineyard Haven, Scene of the Fire," aboard the steamer Monohansett. For one dollar the passengers would receive round-trip transportation and "ample time at Vineyard Haven to visit the burnt district." Today the island lives for tourism, and Vineyard Haven (officially named Tisbury) is its epicenter. Visitors come for the day to eat lunch and shop, or they stay for a longer vacation of beaches, browsing, and books. Vineyard Haven is doing quite fine, thank you.

Things to See and Do
Despite the fire, Vineyard Haven retains some of its 19th century charm. The flames spared William Street, just a block up of Main Street. Now part of a National Historic District, it has several handsome Greek Revival homes. Nearby Association Hall, built as a church in 1844, houses both the town offices and the Katharine Cornell Memorial Theater (508-696-4200), which offers films and live entertainment in a room filled with fascinating murals depicting island life.

Souvenir shops abound, and nobody goes home without a selection. For the past few years there's been a new kid in town taking a bite of the touristy T-shirt territory: Menemsha Blues (508-693-9599), whose original store is, naturally, in Menemsha. And it is hard to resist Black Dog memorabilia. You'll find it all on the Black Dog campus (508-696-8182).

Main Street, which is only wide enough for one car, has a good selection of clothing, craft, jewelry and antiques stores. A favorite with locals and visitors alike is the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore (508-693-2291), which has excellent collections of island and maritime books and frequently hosts book-signings by some of the Vineyard's famous local authors. Happily, the historic Capawock movie theater (508-627-MOVY), which had been closed for a couple of years, reopened in 2006. The Vineyard Playhouse in the nineteenth century Methodist meeting house has excellent live theater.

Beyond that there's biking (with bikes for rent at Martha's Bikes 508-693-6593) on Lagoon Road; beaching, (by the harbor or Lake Tashmoo or at State Beach between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown); or touring. Cabs are found everywhere, but the first place you should look is the Steamship Authority terminal on Water Street. This is also the place to catch the Martha's Vineyard Sightseeing bus (508-627-TOUR) for a fun island tour full of colorful facts. Alternatively you could rent yourself a car or jeep for the afternoon or take the public bus.

Martha's Vineyard is full of natural wonders, including excellent nature programs and birding opportunities at the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary (508-627-4850) on the Vineyard Haven and Edgartown border. Those who appreciate the end result of the Vineyard's vineyards should make tracks for Chicama Vineyards (508-693-0309), just two miles outside of town on State Road, where you can choose among various homegrown wines and vinegars. If you can't get enough of the water, rent a sailboard, kayak or Sunfish at Wind's Up (508-693-4252); sailboats, kayaks and other small craft are available at Island Water Sports (508-693-7767), and Island Spirit Kayaks (508-693-1881) gives guided tours. Or you could take a sunset cruise aboard the schooners Shenandoah or Alabama (508-693-1699).

For nautical supplies, you can try the new West Marine Express (508-693-2906) store on Beach Road or the well-respected Martha's Vineyard Shipyard (508-693-0400), which celebrated its 150th birthday in 2006 and has two well-stocked marine supply stores and quick-turnaround repair services.

Restaurants and Provisions
Vineyard Haven was designed around its harbor, and you won't have far to walk for grub or supplies, but if it's grog you're craving you'll need to make your way to Oak Bluffs or Edgartown-Vineyard Haven is dry. Stop by Offshore Ale Co. (508-693-2626) for a fabulous array of local brews.

Close to the marinas on Beach Road, you can grab a quick coffee, sandwich, or pastry all day at the Mocha Mott's (508-693-3155). Nearby is the Art Cliff Diner (508-693-1224) where the locals go for incredible pancakes or sandwiches and salads. On Water Street, the M B Deli & Ttakeout (508-693-6200) and a couple of delis provide carry-out breakfast or lunch.

The Black Dog Tavern (508-693-9223) serves a legendary breakfast. Lunch and dinner are just as memorable, but expect to wait as the tavern accepts no reservations. The Black Dog Bakery (508-693-4786) on Water Street sells excellent pastries and good coffee, and the service is a lot faster.

For a special dinner, drop in at Le Grenier (508-693-4906), a French restaurant just a stone's throw down Main, or Cafe Moxie (508-693-1484), a tiny place that specializes in fine bistro food.

You're sure to need a snack-break from your Main Street shopping, so plant yourself at an outdoor table in front of Robin's Fudge & Candy (508-693-6188) or Bob's Pizza & Subs (508-693-8266) for lunch or a sweet treat- or both. To further indulge your sweet tooth try Mad Martha's (508-693-5883) ice cream or Murdick's Fudge on Union Street.

Within steps of the water, just opposite the Steamship Authority property, there's a Stop & Shop grocery store and a Chinese restaurant. On the other side of Five Corners you'll spy a convenience store and the post office. Farther out of town is another grocery store, Cronig's Market (508-693-4457) on State Road, and Up-Island Cronig's in West Tisbury. If you're up for a fish fry in the galley, pick up the fresh catch at John's Fish Market (508-693-1220). Back on Beach Road in the vicinity of the marine facilities, there's a hardware store and another convenience store, as well as the Net Result (508-693-6071) fish market, which also has a sushi bar and outside dining.


Use tide tables for Boston. High tide at Vineyard Haven Harbor is 25 minutes later; low tide is the same time. Mean tidal range is 1.7 feet.

Use ChartKit Region 2 page 38; ChartKit Region 3 pages 66 and 78; Maptech Waterproof Chartbook Block Island to Cape Cod; or Maptech Waterproof Charts 5, 19, and 85. Also, Maptech electronic and NOAA paper charts 13238 (1:20,000), 13233 (1:40,000), and 13237 (1:80,000).

Navigation and Anchorages
Located between East and West Chop, Vineyard Haven Harbor opens to the north with a mouth that is 1.5 nm wide. This is the largest and busiest of the island's harbors and it has many marine services-fuel, supplies, repair facilities, and free pumpout-for the cruising boater. The Vineyard Haven breakwater is 5 nm from Falmouth Harbor, 2 nm from Oak Bluffs Harbor, and 13.5 nm from Menemsha Bight. Speed limit in the inner harbor is 4 mph up past R N "6."

From the north in Vineyard Sound, you'll face strong currents, particularly on a flood tide when they often reach 4 knots. Otherwise, the waters are clear until you get within 1,300 yards of the island where the Middle Ground shoals in spots to 4 feet mlw.

From the west, stay well south of the Middle Ground before rounding West Chop. Head to the north and east of R "2" Fl R 4s GONG, which will keep you clear of the shoals and the point. From here, you can begin to enter Vineyard Haven Harbor to the south.

CAUTION: Give West Chop at least 700 yards of clearance in order to avoid Allegheny Rock, marked by G C "25." Upon rounding West Chop, watch out for the shallows extending from shore; they will be marked by breakers or periodic islands of grass at low tide. The rock marked by the 11-foot spot within the red sector is shallower than 11 feet.

From the east via Nantucket Sound, you face mild currents and relatively clear waters. The area around East Chop, close to shore, has some shoals, so stay about 1,000 yards offshore. Round East Chop by staying north of G "23" Fl G 4s BELL, and then swing south into Vineyard Haven Harbor.

Vineyard Haven is actually four different harbors: one outside the breakwater, another inside it, a third in Lagoon Pond, and a fourth in Lake Tashmoo, just west of West Chop. Each spot has its own character. Outside the breakwater, you'll feel the weather and the seas, but you'll have less company. Inside the breakwater, protection is better and you're right in town, but the harbor will be crowded. Lagoon Pond offers excellent protection and good access to the town. Lake Tashmoo, a favorite anchorage for many sailors, is quiet salt pond surrounded by wooded hills and rolling lawns and many pretty moored boats. Downtown Vineyard Haven is about a half-hour walk.

The Outer Harbor offers protection from all weather except what blows out of the northeast. The closer in to the breakwater you come, the more you'll find calm water and crowds. The holding ground is fine right up to the shore. We suggest you use a Danforth as the bottom is somewhat hard. Anchor anywhere outside the main channel.

The best protection can be found in behind the jetty, the end of which is marked by Fl R 4s 25ft 4M "10." This area is at least 6 feet deep, with a mostly muddy bottom. Shallow-draft boats can pull right up to the jetty or the shore. Finding room to drop a hook may be difficult, so you can try Tisbury Wharf, Vineyard Haven Marina, or the harbormaster for a mooring. You row ashore to the town landing on the west side of the harbor.

CAUTION: The central ferry wharf extends eastward from the southwestern shore and has both a fog signal and light. Be sure to stay out of the ferry channel. In the southeast corner of the harbor, a 15-foot bascule bridge spans the entrance to Lagoon Pond. This bridge will be opened on request during the following times: 8:15 to 8:45 a.m., 10:15 to 10:45 a.m., 3:15 to 4:00 p.m., 5:00 to 5:45 p.m., and 7:30 to 8:00 p.m. A 4-knot current runs under the bridge, so if you need assistance or a tow, call the Lagoon Pond Bridge Tender at Maciel Marine (508-693-4174).

Line up your boat with the town-maintained R N "2" and the bridge to enter the channel. There is at least 8 feet of water under the bridge and in the pond as you follow the buoys. Follow the channel all the way to the head of the lagoon or anchor anywhere in between. A slight current tends to push boats eastward. There is a rocky ledge about three-quarters of the way in, marked by a buoy with "ROCK" inscribed on its frame-stay to the east. No discharge is allowed in the pond; you must have a closed head to enter. The little western arm is for dinghies only.

Many boaters who frequent these waters adore the seclude anchorage found in Lake Tashmoo. The entrance is in Vineyard Sound just west of West Chop. Stay south of Middle Ground, and note the entrance is marked by a lighted private marker. For up-to-the minute navigation advice, contact the Tashmoo Boatyard (508-693-9311).

Shoreside and Emergency Services

Martha's Vineyard 508-693-7022
Island Transport 508-693-0058
Coast Guard:
Woods Hole 508-548-5151 or VHF 16
Menemsha 508-645-2661 or VHF 16
Steamship Authority from Woods Hole 508-477-8600
Hy-Line from Hyannis 508-778-2600
Fast Ferry from New Bedford 866-683-3779
Fast Ferry from Quonset Point, RI 401-295-4040
508-696-4249 or VHF 9
Police, Fire, Ambulance:
Mario's Taxi 508-693-8399
Harbor Taxi 508-693-9611
Tow Service:
Sea Tow 800-4SEATOW or VHF 16
owBoatU.S 800-391-4869 or VHF 16

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