For many reasons, Block Island, RI, is the hailing port on our boat, Tapestry. Since the 1960s when my parents took the ferry over and stayed at Ballard’s and later at The Surf … to 1970 when my boyfriend and I, newly in love and still in high school, biked from the ferry to the North Lighthouse with wine and cheese for a little romance … to 2013 when our younger daughter received her wedding proposal at sunset at the same lighthouse, Block Island has provided the backdrop for our family’s milestones, fun and togetherness with each other and friends.
In the early days, we always arrived on Block Island by ferry in Old Harbor, either from New London or Point Judith. The view that greets you presents several old and large wooden buildings — fine hotels in their glory days but still grand in an island sort of way. Block Island’s center of commerce is here, bustling with boutiques, lots of little shops, restaurants and bars. Some people don’t venture out of this area and have a great time, but in my opinion, they miss all the rest and the best of the island.
In 1993, we bought our first sailboat, Akvavit, so Block Ho! Now we arrive on Block Island via Great Salt Pond in New
Harbor. After sailing through the man-made channel at Coast Guard Beach, the pond opens up into a gigantic anchorage. To the right of the channel are private and yacht club moorings, and then town moorings are available on a first-come basis. To the left is open anchorage, followed by additional private moorings.
You can also find three marinas:
Payne’s Dock, the oldest, has a loyal following of many longer-term slip holders that enthusiastically enjoy the big wooden pier for playing corn hole, sipping coffee or drinks, and watching fishing tournament boats weigh in their catch. At Block Island Boat Basin, in the middle of the three marinas, is a small version of B.I.G. (Block Island Grocery), the Oldport launch service and The Oar Restaurant with a dinghy dock out front. Every season at Block Island requires at least one Mudslide cocktail at The Oar! The third marina, Champlain’s, is the most resort-like, with hotels, slips, a pool, restaurants, theater, bumper boats and a festive atmosphere. On July 4th, we’ve counted boats rafted more than seven deep at the side-tying slips!
For us, anchoring in the Pond is the best. Out by the entrance is an area reserved for recreation including sailing, water-skiing and clamming. The northern part of the anchorage borders this area where we always hope to find room to anchor. The water here is deep and clean enough to make fresh water with our onboard water-maker. The depth is 30 to 50 feet, so lots of chain and a good anchor are essential.
If you anchor in the Pond for enough years, you’ll have a collection of stories to tell. When the wind changes direction and picks up, some boats drag anchor, most often at night to add to the drama. The Sea Tow and harbor master boats are experts at averting disaster and damage.
Block Island is the town of New Shoreham, RI, which does what most municipalities do, such as tending to schools and roads, and it also runs a fabulous waterfront. The harbormaster’s office oversees moorings including the ground tackle and placement, rental of the town moorings, and management of the waiting list. Our names and one of our daughters have been on that list since 1994. Local landowners get moorings first, so we won’t see a mooring in our lifetime, but our daughter probably will.
The harbormaster’s office also manages clam licensing, seeding of clam beds and enforcing rules of licensure and daily catch limit. Clamming is one of our favorite activities. We live all year on our boat and try to have clams in the freezer well into the New Year. Clam pizza, clams over linguine, clam chowder and stuffed clams are much more delicious after digging the clams ourselves. In 2018, the town built a long-awaited public dinghy dock in the Pond, up past Payne’s and next to Dead Eye Dick’s Restaurant. This makes going to shore much easier, as we no longer have to fight for space at Boat Basin’s dock or anchor the dinghy off a beach.
“If you anchor in
the Pond for enough years,
you’ll have a collection
of stories to tell.”
Block Island has great beaches, all with their own personalities. At the entrance to the Pond is Coast Guard Beach that offers excellent fishing and a superb place to watch boats come and go. On the west side of the Pond is Cruisers Beach, which is popular with dog walkers and ideal for organized cocktail parties and picnics. On the southeast side, up near the Sullivan House wedding tent at the top of the hill, lies Mosquito Beach. People use it as a dinghy landing spot to access the road and cross to the Atlantic beaches on the east of the island. The entire expanse is called Crescent Beach, with sections having individual names and purposes. Fred Benson Town Beach has bathrooms and showers, as well as a snack bar and lifeguards in the summer. To its north is Scotch Beach and Mansion Beach, and to the south is Baby Beach, right before the beach at the Surf Hotel. (The 150-year-old Surf Hotel underwent huge renovations in 2019 and is now the Block Island Beach House, run by Lark Hotels. The old porch, rocking chairs and the bar overlooking Crescent Beach retain an old island feel.) Waves at Scotch Beach are good for surfing, while Baby Beach waters are calm and shallow. Other beaches and bluffs surround Block Island, but these are accessible from Great Salt Pond.
Block Island is made for kayaking, biking, walking and hiking, and you’ll find loads of taxis, cars, mopeds and bikes to rent. The scenery is breathtaking as are the vistas overlooking the ocean and sounds. The Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center in Old Harbor provides maps for the Greenway Walking Trails, which wind around many parts of the islands. And don’t miss the Glass Float Project, where 550 glass orbs are hidden along the beaches and trails for people to find. Every year I say, “This will be my year,” but I haven’t found one yet.
Restaurants to meet every taste and wallet are on Block Island. Some of our favorites include The Oar, Dead Eye Dick’s, Manisses, the Spring House Hotel, The Atlantic Inn (tapas on the lawn at sunset), and The Ice Cream Place. A fabulous food truck parks near Corn Neck Road at the dinghy access beach on the Pond. A much-awaited daily treat, Aldo’s Bakery Boat comes around the anchorage every morning with pastries and again in the afternoon with shrimp cocktail and other appetizers. Its Portuguese Sweet Bread makes delicious French toast.
Great Salt Pond has all the creature comforts and necessities that boaters need. Pump-out service comes to your boat, ice and water are delivered, and trash can be taken off your hands. A long time ago, an enterprising kid on the island made a summer job going around in his dinghy collecting trash. He became known as “Johnnie Trash.” I hope the moniker hasn’t stuck with him for life! Others have taken over, albeit not regularly, but dumpsters are located near the dinghy docks.
When you visit Block Island, check out the festivals, farmers markets, concerts on the beach and other events.