It’s hard for me to find words that capture the feel of New England. Mossy stone fences? Steep grassy hillsides? Squiggly boat reflections in the water? Fleeces in July? Raw oysters and rosé? It’s tough to say, exactly, but it was this cool feeling in our lungs that told us “We’re not in Florida anymore.” In May/June of this year, Phillip and I sailed back up through the Chesapeake and into the Long Island Sound to spend our first summer in New England. We had heard of many cruisers who do this every year—sail north to Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, etc. to get out of the hot temps and hurricane box during hurricane season and then sail back down the east coast in the fall to enjoy the tropical temps and Bahamian/Caribbean islands in the winter. Like snowbirds, in a way. Call them sailbirds.
Since work obligations and travel restrictions kept us in (or close to) the States last winter, Phillip and I decided to find out what these sailbirds knew that it seemed we didn’t. In April, Phillip and I decided to point Ubi north to the Long Island Sound to sail around New England for the summer. What did we find? The ports were cool, accommodating, most only an easy (and fun) day sail away. The experience was vastly different than all the cruising we had done before in the States. Phillip and I soon became staunch fans of summering in New England. Have you ever done it? Wonder what it’s like? Come with us, and experience what we felt was our first true taste of New England: Block Island, RI.
Our sail back up the east coast found us stopping in many of the same ports we did on the way down in the fall of 2021: South Beach, Miami, St. Augustine, Charleston, SC, Hampton, VA. We then sailed back up the Chesapeake to Annapolis, MD and took the C&D (Connecticut and Delaware) Canal headed to New York.
Some fun highlights along the way:
- Having Chris and Megan, our adventurous Pensacola friends who purchased our 1985 Niagara 35, fly in and join us for a sporty passage (their first overnight) from Miami to St. Aug in April. Megan and Chris did great on passage and—very cool—found it so inspiring they set off on their first overnight in the Niagara this past October. We’re really proud of these two!
- Hosting our equally amazing Pensacola friends, Stephen and Beth, on UbiQ for a few days in St. Augustine (the second oldest city in the United States after Pensacola … Pensacola people know what I’m talking about), but a very fun “ancient city” to pilfer.
- Celebrating my big FOUR-OH on May 28th with a “passage feet” selfie in Solomon’s Island making our way back up the Chesapeake toward Ubi’s home port of Annapolis.
- Catching up in Hampton, VA with these two incredible cruisers, Spandana and Dev, whom we cruised around the Abacos with in December of 2021. Spandana and Dev had quite a rollercoaster of a year, but they are back in the swing of cruising and sharing their eclectic stories at For Sun and Stars on Youtube. Check them out!
- Enjoying a visit with Ubi’s former owner, Jim, and his partner, Ann, in Annapolis and enlisting his invaluable help putting a new set of lithium batteries (540 Ah) in the boat.
- Traversing the C&D (Connecticut and Delaware) canal for the first time on our way toward New York City with a thick shelf cloud threatening to drench and toss us that, thankfully, just ended with a little drizzle and a glorious rainbow. Whew!
- Sailing around in the New York Harbor by the Statue of Liberty for the first time with the grand skyline of NYC in the background. We anchored behind Ellis Island to enjoy the view of the Big Apple from Ubi at night before making our way with the tide through Hell’s Gate the following day headed toward Port Washington, NY for our first foray into the Long Island Sound and New England for the summer.
Port Washington, NY
It would be difficult to put the feeling of the Long Island Sound into words, to explain why it felt so different than the hot salty waters of Florida and the Bahamas. Phillip and I have cruised plenty of islands, strolled crystal white beaches, baked in the sun and salt, but Port Washington felt new. The reflections on the water were clearer. The morning fog thicker. The short cruising season (before the ice of winter sets in) making the “summer window” seem more savored. The ancient lighthouses and stone fences. The quaint little village feel of the city. Everything about the place told us this summer was going to be a new experience. And, what we found we really loved about Port Washington was not only the beauty but the convenience. A mooring ball that was only $45/night and came with a free water taxi most business hours of every day. Great shopping downtown and a diverse range of excellent restaurants (La P’Tite Framboise (the “little raspberry”) for French, Nikkei for Peruvian, Diwan for Indian). The dinghy dock located right across from the Stop ‘n Shop for groceries and just a short walk from the laundromat, the wine/liquor store, UPS, Walgreens, Ace Hardware, Target, etc. Not to mention (I mean … holy cow) Port Washington is just a short, $10, 40-minute train ride on the LIRR then you’re in Penn Station, with a full day in NYC to explore (while only paying $45/night for NY lodging)?! We rode the wheels off the LIRR. Why wouldn’t you? NYC, right there!
We stayed 4-5 days in Port Washington getting some office hours in, provisioning up, and enjoying the big city before bumping back and forth across the Long Island Sound to our next extended stop in Noank Village, CT.
Noank Village and Mystic, CT
Noank had the same New England charm that Port Washington did, but it was like the amplifier was turned up. It is a small village so there aren’t near as many shops and restaurants, but that’s what made it feel that much more intimate—the cladded houses, steep drives, rolling lawns. The kaleidoscope of boats in the harbor. We grabbed a ball from the Noank Village Boatyard that, too, came with a launch. We started to notice many New England cruisers don’t carry or commission their dinghy when they come into a harbor. They just grab a ball and call the launch. There is an elegance and ease to that. A great opportunity to dawn your best boat dress and wedges for a fancy dinner ashore. In Noank, I also got to know this incredible life-long sail maker, Katie Bradford with Custom Marine Canvas, while we were there. Katie launched her marine canvas business in Noank in 1985 in an unheated warehouse ( … in Connecticut?!) with only one employee, her cousin, and she’s been killing it ever since. Katie was a hoot. Just a real Noank character. I love when you get to know a place like that. We also enjoyed eating at Ford’s Lobsters looking out over the harbor. And, Mystic, CT, was just a short and very cool dinghy ride away (through an old swing bridge). The incredible marine history at the Seaport Museum was a real treat. If you do, do not (do not!) miss a dinner at Bravo Bravo.
Block Island, RI
Phillip and I have been struggling all fall to decide which of the New England islands and ports were our favorite (a very tough problem to endure). Newport is exceptional, and likely our top choice. But, there’s Martha’s Vineyard. Cuttyhunk. Bristol. It’s really a tough call. And, for me—at least until we got to Newport—Block Island was my favorite. And it may still be. It was our first island, and maybe that’s what did it. And, it is an island in the Atlantic Ocean. That offered its own extra element of magic. The hilly terrain, sprawling lawns, and charming lighthouse captivated us as well. The monochromatic bluffs and river-stoned beach took your mind to another place. We biked the entire island and loved the challenge of the rising hills and thrills of the drops. Drinks and snacks at The Inn at Spring House was a real treat. Made me feel kind of like someone who could say “We summer in the Hamptons.” It was surreal. But, that’s just the fun and elegance. Block Island is also just a short day-sail away from Montauk and Sag Harbor to the west, Naragansett Bay to the north, and Martha’s Vineyard to the east. It also offers an easy inlet and nice large harbor for cruisers, convenient access to the dinghy dock, the entire island is walkable with a great fish market (Dick’s) and lots of quirky shops (home décor, books, trinkets, toys).
Mostly, what Block Island taught us, is that these New England villages bloom in the summer when cruisers and travelers flock to their refreshing temps and warm waters, because they hibernate in the winter when the population dwindles to a few dozen hearty locals and the place undergoes a complete transformation from fluffy hydrangeas and bicycles and ice cream cones to an uninviting frigid, snow-covered terrain. The bounty of summer on Block Island can really only be experienced over the course of a few months, so the Islanders really open their arms to it. For this reason, in New England, we found, cruisers are not simply tolerated like it can sometimes feel in Florida—pushed into shrinking anchorages and asked to tie their dinghy to a rusty pole and crawl up to the dingy back door. In New England, they’re welcome. They have “water barges” that offer free water for cruisers, numerous well-maintained (free!) dinghy docks, launches and water taxis, and (to mine and Phillip’s immense delight), designated dumpsters for our trash. I’m not kidding. Come to Block Island in June and you’ll experience the open-arm feel of a summer in New England. “Boat Trash Here” the sign read. And here we are, Phillip and I thought. Thanks for the hospitality Block Island. We’ll be back. And, we’re excited to keep sharing here the many other wonderful ports of New England that stole our hearts this summer. Stay tuned!