July 12, 2018
Calling on Cuttyhunk
This isolated outpost at the southern end of the Elizabeth Islands chain beckons boaters like a modern-day Shangri La. Indeed, its very name evokes romance and intrigue.
Long used by Wampanoags as a seasonal fishing and hunting grounds, Cuttyhunk was visited by English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602. In 1693, after changing hands several times, the 580-acre island was purchased by Peleg Slocum, a Quaker preacher and merchant from Dartmouth, on the western shore of Buzzards Bay.
Many members of the Slocum family lived on the island, which they owned for the next 200 years, leasing much of the land to tenant sheep farmers. Some early residents of Cuttyhunk were also known as “wreckers” who would salvage ships and their cargo after the vessels foundered on the rocky reefs near the island. Still others were hired as pilots to guide merchant vessels into Buzzards Bay ports.
Prior to 1864, Cuttyhunk belonged to the Martha’s Vineyard town of Chilmark, until John Murray Forbes, a wealthy Bostonian whose descendants still own the remainder of the Elizabeth Islands, helped transfer ownership to the newly established town of Gosnold, allowing Cuttyhunk to become independent.
In 1870, an elite fishing club for wealthy urbanites was built on the island’s southeast shore. These anglers, equipped with thumb-stall reels and perched upon spindly stands extending seaward, would haul in huge stripers and bluefish from the foaming waters of Vineyard Sound. The Cuttyhunk Fishing Club closed in 1921 due to a decline in the striper population, but the clubhouse still exists as a bed-and-breakfast. Oh, and the fishing is again fantastic.
Today, Cuttyhunk serves an idyllic retreat for recreational boaters, who can grab a mooring or slip inside the protected harbor and go ashore to explore the small village or the lovely beaches. The island is within reach of many southern Cape Cod and Buzzards Bay launching spots (South Dartmouth and Falmouth Harbor are 9 and 16 nautical miles distant, respectively). Duck inside the peaceful, protected harbor and call on Cuttyhunk Marina, at the town wharf, to see about short-term dockage. For moorings ($35/night), contact Jenkins Moorings or Frog Pond Marine.
Once ashore you can wander the hilly slopes for amazing views of Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay, play in the surf at Barges Beach (named for a series of rock-filled barges that were installed to prevent erosion), grab a hot dog at Bart’s Cart or cast a plug for stripers or bluefish in one of the greatest surfcasting venues in the world. If you choose to spend the night, be sure to hail Cuttyhunk Shellfish Farms, which will deliver ocean-fresh oysters and other raw-bar items direct to your boat.
The tiny village is home to a few gift and clothing shops, a pizza shop, a snack cart and a grocery store, but other than that there isn’t a whole lot to buy on the island. And for many that’s a good thing. If you’re interested in the island’s history, pay a visit to the Cuttyhunk Historical Society’s small museum. Here you’ll also find a map of walking trails leading to the southwestern side of the island. Bird life abounds in the thickets and scrub oak, and the views are amazing. In fact, you may find yourself looking for whaleships on the horizon.
Cuttyhunk Names & Numbers
For boaters approaching from the north, it is easiest to enter Cuttyhunk Harbor from the east. Head for Mo(A) Bell red/white “CH”, southeast of Penikese Island, then cut between RN “2E” and GC “1E”. From there head southeast and pick up the R “6” bell just east of the jetties and follow the markers into the harbor.
From the east or south, it is easiest to enter Vineyard Sound then head into Buzzards Bay via Quicks Hole. Head west after exiting Quicks until you pick up the red/white “CH” buoy southeast of Penikese. Then head southeast to pick up the buoys leading into the inner harbor.
Note: While some boaters may be tempted to enter the harbor via Canapitsit Channel, be aware that swells from the south can make this shallow, narrow and rocky inlet tricky—even dangerous. Inexperienced boaters and those new to the area are best off arriving from the east via the directions above.
Dockage, Moorings & Service
- Cuttyhunk Marina (508-990-7578; VHF 9): Public marina with slips, moorings and fuel.
- Jenkins Moorings (508-996-9294; VHF 9): Transient moorings in the inner and outer harbor.
- Frog Pond Marine (508-992-7530; VHF 72): Transient moorings in the outer harbor
An anchorage is located in the northeast corner of Cuttyhunk Pond, but it’s often filled in summer. Another anchorage can be found in the outer harbor, just west of Canapitsit Channel.
- VHF 9
- Cuttyhunk Market: At the corner of Broadway and Post Office; open all day from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Sells basic provisions.
- Cuttyhunk Corner Store (508-984-7167): Clothing, gifts and more near the harbor.
Where to Eat
- Bart’s Cart: An institution at the town docks; offers breakfast and lunch items in season (weather permitting).
- Cuttyhunk Fishing Club B&B Inn (508-992-5585): Serves breakfast to guests and non-guests alike.
- Cuttyhunk Shellfish Farms (508-971-1120): Floating raw bar that delivers direct to your boat; also offers lobster-bake and raw-bar catering.
Where to Stay
- The Cuttyhunk Fishing Club B&B Inn (508-992-5585): Established in 1864, the Club now offers rooms and meals in a beautifully restored building overlooking Vineyard Sound.
- The Avalon Club (The Inn at Cuttyhunk) (508-997-8388): Located on a hill overlooking the ocean, the Avalon Club offers 11 guest rooms with kitchens.
- Cuttyhunk Ferry (508-992-0200): Leaves from the State Pier in New Bedford. Schedules vary with season.
- Seahorse Water Taxi: Year-round water taxi service (508-789-3250).
Things to Do & See
- Cuttyhunk Historical Society, Museum of the Elizabeth Islands (508-984-4611): Open June 29 to Labor Day; offers exhibits on island history and ecology, as well as maps of walking trails.