December 9, 2018
All’s Quiet in Quisset
This small, peaceful and protected harbor on Buzzards Bay possesses an outsized charm appreciated by boaters seeking a taste of old Cape Cod. Written by Joe Myerson; Photography by Tom Richardson & Eric Brust-Akdemir
Quissett Harbor is no secret among veteran cruisers, most of whom know it as a good spot to wait out the current change in nearby Woods Hole Passage. However, Quissett beguiles many mariners into lingering longer with its beautiful scenery, historic Cape Cod ambience and spectacular sunsets. This quiet, almost landlocked harbor at the extreme southern end of Buzzards Bay enjoys a reputation as one of the most idyllic and protected spots to grab a mooring or drop the hook on Cape Cod.
Shown on early 19th-century charts as “Quamquissett,” the first syllable of the original name disappeared in the 1870s, just as the newly completed railroad began bringing wealthy summer visitors from Boston and New York. According to the nonprofit Quissett Harbor Preservation Trust, the original Wampanoag name might have meant “Star of the Sea,” since the harbor comprises five small coves.
Guilded Age vacationers fell in love with the place. Some stayed in seasonal hotels like the now-defunct Quissett Harbor House, while others replaced local farmsteads with the stately “cottages” that crown the uplands surrounding the water on three sides. Today these private homes, with their well-tended lawns, lush gardens and impressive trees, make Quissett one of the most relaxing and scenic places to spend the night.
To the west, protecting the anchorage from the turbulence of Buzzards Bay, stands a relatively steep, rocky spit of land that ends at the harbor’s mouth in a dramatic granite outcropping called “The Knob.” Officially named the “Cornelia L. Carey Sanctuary,” in honor of the last member of the family that ran the Quissett Harbor House for nearly a century, the Knob and the trail leading to it are open to the public from dawn to dusk.
While its shoreline is somewhat rocky (and reinforced with riprap), the property is open for hiking, swimming and, from the top of the Knob itself, taking in the view. From this vantage point, visitors can see all of Buzzards Bay, the Elizabeth Islands and, on clear days, nearly to Rhode Island. The Knob also provides a front-row seat to some of the most beautiful sunsets on the East Coast.
Carey left the property, along with the remaining buildings from her family’s hotel, to land trusts that have kept development at a standstill. Another protected property, just to the south as you enter the harbor, is the magnificent former Howard-Ames estate—now the C. Erik Jonsson Conference Center of the National Academies of Engineering, Sciences and Medicine.
At the base of the spit and the Carey Sanctuary sits the Quissett Yacht Club, an old-line institution steeped in small-boat sailing tradition. The club is home base to an active fleet of graceful 14-foot Herreshoff-designed H-Boats, also called “12 ½’s” because of their waterline length, as well as a smaller fleet of the amazing Herreshoff S-Boats, which are roughly 28 feet long. The club’s junior program passes sailing traditions to the next generation with a fleet of Optimist dinghies.
Providing service and often storage for many of the classic boats that grace the harbor is the Quissett Harbor Boat Yard. The small and venerable yard has a small dinghy dock, limited temporary tie-up space, ice and water, but no fuel dock. Its vintage working marine railway remains one of the last on the coast.
The yard also maintains temporary moorings on a first-come, first-served basis in the outer harbor, just past RN “6.” Rental moorings are white with a blue stripe and bear the letters “QBY.” Simply tie up to an available mooring and somebody from the yard will come by to collect a fee, either at sunset or in the morning. Outer harbor moorings run $35 per night. Scarcer moorings in the inner harbor cost $50. Note that transactions are cash-only, and that the yard does not run launch service. A pump-out boat is available on request.
Although Quissett offers no restaurants or shops, the village is not far from either Falmouth or Woods Hole. During the summer season, visitors can catch a ride on the Whoosh Trolley for $2. The trolley stops at the intersection of Quissett Harbor Road and Woods Hole Road, about a quarter-mile from the harbor. Service ends after Labor Day. Speaking of Labor Day, fall is one of the best times of year to visit Quissett. Your odds of getting a mooring closer to the head of the harbor are greater at this time, plus the weather can be spectacular and the waters less crowded. That said, there’s really no bad time to visit Quissett, especially if you’re looking for a good spot to unwind and soak up some of the Cape’s classic ambience.