With its Victorian architecture, multi-hued cottages and spectacular beach, the village of Onset is a destination waiting to be discovered by more boaters. Of course, many already have, as the bay also serves as a great home base, especially given its location at the west end of the Cape Cod Canal and the head of Buzzards Bay.
“Onset is close to a multitude of harbors in both Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod Bay, as well as secluded islands, beaches and world-class fishing,” points out Gary Bacchiocchi, President of Buzzards Bay boat dealership and marine-service center G&S Marine. “And it doesn’t take a day and a full tank of fuel to get to these places.”
Part of the town of Wareham, Onset was established in the 1800’s as a tony resort community serviced by trains from Boston and New York. Keep in mind that this was 30 years before the Cape Cod Canal was dug. Despite some hard times in the past century, the village has retained its Victorian charm; in fact, many of the original buildings and homes remain unchanged, save for a fresh coat of paint.
Transient boaters on their way north or south, as well as daytrippers looking for a place to relax or take a break from the water, will find lots to like about Onset, as there is plenty to keep them occupied. “There are concerts and fairs almost every weekend in summer,” says John Cornish, Owner and President of Atlantic Boats, another local boat dealership and service facility. “There’s everything from coffee and gift shops to grocery and hardware stores—all of them on or near the water.”
Access to Onset’s well-protected harbor is gained via a winding channel off the Cape Cod Canal’s west entrance, just north of Widows Cove and Hog Neck at daymarker QG “21.” Remember to account for the swift current in the Canal as you make your turn into the channel. There is a designated federal anchorage with 5 to 15 feet of water between Wickets and Onset Islands, but there are plenty of moorings and slips available as well. By the way, Wickets Island is now owned and managed by the Buzzards Bay Coalition, and is open to the public. Just watch out for ticks and poison ivy!
Moorings and sometimes slips can be rented and reserved through the town harbormaster’s office, and launch service is available. Dinghies can be tied up at the docks next to the main pier. You may also be able to find short-term tie-up at the town docks, but it’s hard to come by in summer.
In terms of private marinas, there are two options. Stonebridge Marina, just a short walk from the village center, on Broad Cove, is primarily for powerboats 35 feet and under, although it also maintains four deep-water moorings. You can rent a boat here, too. The marina is home to the Stonebridge Bar and Grill, which specializes in seafood, grilled steaks, and Italian dishes. Guests are also welcome to use one of the marina’s complementary gas grills.
A bit farther south and east, Safe Harbor Onset Bay Marina is a full-service, year-round facility that can accommodate vessels up to 120 feet, with slips, moorings and valet rack storage. Transient slips, moorings and urgent service is also available, along with gas and diesel, WiFi, ice, cable, and a picnic facility with gas grills. Transportation to and from the nearby Bay Pointe golf course can be arranged.
Lastly, guest slips and moorings are sometimes available at the Point Independence Yacht Club, tucked in between the two marinas. The club offers reciprocal privileges to members of other yacht clubs.
Once secured, boaters have easy access to the village and its many attractions and events, including the dazzling Illumination Night in August, when flares are lit along the perimeter of the Onset Bay. Also held in August is the annual Cape Verdean Festival, which celebrates the history, culture, music, traditions and food brought to the area by the immigrants of the Cape Verde Islands in the late 19th century. Yet another late-summer event is the Onset Blues Festival, which attracts some of the most highly acclaimed blues acts in the country.
If you’re looking for a place to spend the night, there are several Victorian-era inns and bed-and-breakfasts from which to choose. These include the cozy Inn at Onset Bay, which offers yoga classes, and the Oak Crest and Anchor Inn, once used as the set location for the TV movie “The Kennedys of Massachusetts.”
Dining options are plentiful, too. Directly on the water is Stash’s Onset Beach, which serves New England “clam shack” fare, New York-style pizza, burgers, hot dogs and a variety of other dishes, including homemade lasagna. It has outdoor and indoor seating overlooking the beach and the Town Pier. Just across the street, the hip, happening Quahog Republic is a haven for lovers of lobster rolls, fish-and-chips, raw oysters and, of course, stuffed quahogs. Not to be missed is their Bloody Mary featuring a pepper-, sun-dried-tomato- and garlic-infused vodka garnished with bacon.
If you hanker for delicious thin-crust pizza, along with subs, pasta, steamed clams or fried onion rings, Marc Anthony’s popular pizzeria is also a few steps from the wharf. This big, boisterous place is a favorite après-beach hangout, especially among kids, who can hammer away at video games while the adults share a pie and a pitcher of beer at the long communal tables.
Whatever your pleasure, one thing’s for sure: Onset is no longer just a convenient stopping point for boaters transiting the Canal en route to some place more exotic. Now there’s good reason to stick around—for the season, a weekend or an afternoon—and enjoy the same ambience that appealed to vacationers over a century ago.