Block Island holds a special place in the hearts of East Coast sailors, but you don’t have to know a mainsheet from a boom vang to enjoy a trip to this 10-square-mile island at the entrance to Long Island Sound.
With 2 harbors, 5 marinas, countless slips, and hundreds of moorings, Block Island is well equipped to accommodate visiting boaters, whether they come for the superb fishing, the sandy beaches and dramatic scenery, the hiking and biking, or the great dining and lively nightlife.
The town of New Shoreham, which actually encompasses the entire island, has fewer than 1,200 year-round residents, but the population swells to some 12,000 during the summer and fall. Settled by Rhode Islanders in 1661, Block Island had no natural harbor until 1876, when Old Harbor, which has limited resources for visiting boaters, was completed. New Harbor, on the other hand, formed by opening the Great Salt Pond to Long Island Sound, boasts ample moorings, anchoring space, slips and other amenities for recreational boaters.
Tale of Two Harbors:
On the southeast side of the island, Old Harbor is protected by a breakwater and a jetty, as well as high bluffs. With a controlling depth in its dredged channel of 15’, and direct access to what passes for downtown on Block, this would be an ideal landing spot if public facilities were not so limited. The town maintains a public dock at Old Harbor, but accepts no reservations, so it’s first come, first served. The only other option is Ballard’s Inn and Beach Club Marina, which accepts transients, but only has 8 slips. And since Old Harbor is where the ferries dock, it can be a bit noisy. Therefore, transient boaters are best off heading for New Harbor.
Also known as Great Salt Pond, spacious New Harbor, with its 3 marinas, fuel docks, public moorings and a designated anchorage, has it all, although it can get a bit rolly in a northwesterly blow. The town of New Shoreham maintains 90 transient moorings, assigned by the harbormaster (VHF 12). Although the town moorings tend to fill up early, especially on weekends, the harbormaster can accommodate most visiting cruisers on vacant private moorings. The mooring fee is $40, and the harbormaster accepts Visa or Mastercard.
For those staying on moorings, there are 2 free dinghy docks and launch service (VHF 68). Be aware that the town charges a 1-time landing fee of 50 cents for every adult who sets foot in New Shoreham.
Entering the cut to New Harbor is pretty straightforward during the day. At night it can be tricky, as the channel runs parallel to—but not directly along—the jetty. Be sure to follow the markers, not the jetty.
Heading south into the pond, once you pass the private mooring field and designated anchorage, you’ll see the public mooring area to port and dead ahead. Just beyond are the slips and facilities of Champlin’s Marina and Resort, the largest marina in the pond, on the western shore. Also to starboard are the Block Island Boat Basin and Payne’s New Harbor Dock. Block Island Marine, where boats 25’ and smaller can get service and fuel, lies at the head of the pond.
Once ashore, the island’s open, rolling landscape invites exploration. Historic farms and fields are separated by high stone walls, built by early settlers to keep the winds at bay as they cleared their farmsteads. Bicycling is a wonderful way to see the island, and rentals are available near the ferry docks and at most marinas. The island also boasts some wonderful hiking trails and protected areas, as well as many public beaches.
If it’s shops and restaurants you seek, Old Harbor is the place to find them. The streets in town abound with stores selling tee-shirts and souvenirs, as well as some that specialize in upscale clothing and home furnishings. And of course there are numerous places to dine, drink, and party.
For hearty breakfasts with a water view and an easy walk from the ferry dock in Old Harbor, Ernie’s Old Harbor Restaurant is a local favorite. The same building on Water Street also houses Finn’s Seafood Restaurant, which claims to serve the freshest seafood on the island. For a great view of the harbor and street life, no place beats the giant porch bar at the National Hotel.
Rocking the Block:
You’ll find plenty of good dining and sometimes raucous partying on the shores of New Harbor, too. On the grounds of Champlin’s is the Dockside Restaurant, offering a selection of American and Cajun-style cuisine, as well as a tiki bar. Payne’s also has a popular and funky cocktail bar called Mahogany Shoals.
But perhaps the most famous drinking-and-dining establishment on New Harbor is The Oar at the Block Island Boat Basin. Its sedate deck serves seafood to families overlooking the harbor, while its bar, decorated with oars and paddles from all over the world, is a famous rendezvous spot for sailors during Race Week.
Organized every second year by the Storm Trysail Club, an elite group of experienced ocean racers, Race Week celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2013. It’s just one of many boating events that take place on the island throughout the season, all of which continue to cement Block’s reputation as the “Bermuda of the Northeast.”
For detailed information on Block Island’s marinas, anchorages, fuel docks, restaurants, fun things to see and do, and more, CLICK HERE.