Since 1785. 2022 was going to be their 236th straight year running, on the very same street where we were standing. Do you know what Bristol, RI’s biggest claim to fame is? The longest-running annual Fourth of July parade. And, for its 236th year, we were planning to sail from Newport to Bristol to see it. I was expecting big things. Elephants. Ladies juggling swords. Pyrotechnics. What we got was a completely different, mesmerizing experience. And, I wouldn’t have traded it for any sword-juggler in the world. Come with us, folks, from Newport to Bristol during our cruise in New England this past summer to experience a true Bristol tradition: the longest-running Fourth of July parade in the nation!
While it is very hard to say which port was our favorite in New England. Noank Village was quaint and genuine. Block Island has its own charm, and bluffs, and island pride. Martha’s Vineyard has hydrangeas in every color of the rainbow and exceptional dining and shopping. But, Newport. I think the sailing in Newport is what stole our hearts and put it #1 on our New England list. It is such a historic port where boats have been sailing to, often from across the Atlantic, for hundreds of years. The many varied sizes, colors, and crafts of boats in the harbor is dazzling. And, the quaint brick streets, salty taverns, and new additions—like the Sailing Museum, Cliff Walk, the Mansions, and Tennis Hall of Fame—made the place a real gem.
This doesn’t even mention the popular little beaches where the sight of surfers made my heart leap, and made Phillip jump at the idea of gifting me a lesson for my big Four-Oh! Story here.
And, the place was so cruiser-friendly, with a “water barge”—basically an easily accessible floating dock in the harbor—that you could dock up to at any time and fill the tanks, a free dinghy dock behind the Sailing Museum with a great work space there for cruisers as well as bathrooms, showers, laundry, and a book exchange – my favorite! But, I think our favorite part about Newport was just sitting in the cockpit on the hook watching the dozens of different sailboats go by, from big tall-ships, to pirate-esque sailboat charters, to Bristol fashion craft boats, to little racing dinghies, even mega yachts, and vagabonds. Everything in between. The harbor itself can easily be enough entertainment for happy hour.
Phillip and I love Newport. I think the only thing that could make it better is … Bridgett! We invited a good friend of ours up from Pensacola to stay aboard the boat with us for a few days to visit these cool New England ports (and I do say cool because Pensacola in July was in the 90s while Newport was in the 70s, so much more comfortable). Bridgett has been long-affiliated with HaveWind. She was the originator and facilitator of our Progressive Boozer Cruiser Back in 2015. We bonded then, and we’ve been inseparable friends ever since.
We enjoyed several days strolling around Newport, extending and accepting fun sailing challenges at the Sailing Museum, and enjoying some lovely rooftop “bevies and bites” (Bridgett’s words) with our amazing friend.
We then whisked Bridgett up the Narragansett Bay to Bristol, RI aboard the gallant (and fast!) UbiQ.
Why Bristol? We were not going to miss the nation’s longest-running Fourth of July parade from a lovely little perch that Phillip booked us (something we heard was a long-standing tradition in Bristol): viewing the parade from Linden’s Place.
As we settled in our chairs with a front-row view of the street, I was astounded at how many people began to line the streets. On this tiny little island in Narragansett Bay, folks really turned out for this parade. And, I now know why. It wasn’t the pyrotechnics, the acrobatics, or any flashy, razzle-dazzle. It was Mayberry. Straight-up back to the 1950’s good old wholesome USA Mayberry.
It was amazing to realize this same parade has been marching down this same street, Hope Street, for over 200 years!
In addition to the traditional “small-town” elements of parades I love: horses (I always hope to see Clydesdales); baton twirlers (I love when they throw them up and spin around), and marching bands (I am a sucker for the drum line), this is a list of just a few of the folks and little “floats” (often carts pulled behind bikes) that I remember marched in the Bristol Fourth of July parade:
- The oldest person in town (her banner boasted she was 102!);
- A guy named “Bob” whom we learned sat on the Board of Commissioners (everybody knew him, some even called out asking about his wife and girls);
- The local milkman (I’m not kidding, he still delivers bottles to folks’ doors, everybody knew him);
- The local postman (everybody knew him);
- We then joked we would see next the utility company and water authority (we squealed with delight when we did, everybody knew them);
- Bristol’s elementary school spelling bee winner that year; and
- This cute little 2nd grader who had won the art contest for Bristol’s 2021 “town button” (in Bristol they still wear buttons).
The whole thing felt so local. It was beyond charming. We had the great fortune to sit next to a long-time resident of Bristol who educated us on each person and float in the parade. It was fascinating to see this microcosm throwback to times when everyone in town knew everyone. Phillip, Bridgett, and I left the parade feeling uplifted and giddy. It’s tough for me to recall a Fourth of July parade I have ever enjoyed quite so much. I hope Phillip and I find ourselves back there in July of this year to experience it all again.
After the parade we strolled ourselves over to the Thames Waterside Bar & Grill (pro tip: live music always helps to steer us in your direction) and spent an absolute hilarious and entertaining few hours hanging out with a flock of Navy guys on leave at the bar as well as a handful of other colorful characters, Joey from Boston who invited us to his restaurant if we ever we sail through Boston, an English teacher named Dan who invited us to come hear his band play if we ever sailed into Greenwich (on the other side of the Narragansett Bay). It was just an incredibly memorable day. Bridgett always plays a heavy hand in an experience like that. She’s like the flame every moth in the room is attracted to. Bridgett, we had such an incredible time hosting you aboard UbiQ! We hope you’ll come visit us again soon!
And, of course, no Fourth of July should ever end without fireworks. Back aboard Ubi anchored near Bristol in the Narragansett Bay, Bridgett, Phillip and I were treated to fireworks from every direction. I finally got those pyrotechnics I’d been craving. 360 degrees! Wherever you looked, lights were bursting like popcorn on the horizon. It was a real treat!
And, folks, if you ever find yourselves in the Narragansett Bay around the Fourth of July, you now know where to go and what to do! Next up on our New England, we’ll continue our travels to the quirky little island of Cuttyhunk, and the regal, storied Martha’s Vineyard. Stay tuned!