The historic seaport of Salem, on the North Shore of Massachusetts, is best known as the site of the infamous “witch trials” of the late 1600’s, but boaters will find a lot more to love about the city than its past.
Upon entering the harbor from Salem Sound, you’ll see Winter Island to starboard. The island, once home to a military installation, is now a marine recreational park featuring seasonal dinghy and rack storage, an excellent all-tide boat ramp, RV and tent camping, scenic picnic areas, and the Fort Pickering Lighthouse.
Next to the powerplant is the Salem Harbor ferry terminal and dock, providing high-speed shuttle service to and from Boston Harbor. The dock also acommodates small cruise ships and other commercial vessels.
After making your way through the mooring field near Safe Habor Hawthorne Cove Marina, you can get a glimpse of the famed House of the Seven Gables, the Custom House, the Hawkes House, and other 18th- and 19th-century buildings along historic Derby Street.
Continuing southwest, you can’t miss Derby Wharf, punctuated by a distinctive squat, cubical lighthouse at its southern end. Built more than 200 years ago, the massive stone wharf stretches into the harbor for a half-mile. In Salem’s heyday as a commercial shipping hub, the wharf received some of the largest and grandest sailing vessels in the world. You can get a sense of what life was like aboard these boats by visiting the Friendship, a replica of a 1797, three-masted merchant ship that floats alongside the wharf.
Tucked behind Derby and Central Wharves is Pickering Wharf. Built in the late ’70s on the site of an industrial oil facility, the wharf is home to condos, shops, restaurants, and, most important to boaters, slips, moorings and a launch service. It’s an ideal place to keep your boat, as it affords immediate access to the downtown area.
The National Park Service offers several walking tours of Salem from its headquarters at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site at the base of Central Wharf off Derby Street. Another option for touring the city is the Salem Trolley, which circles Salem’s popular destinations, allowing passengers to get on and off at will.
If you continue south of Derby Wharf you’ll come to the channel leading into Palmer Cove and the Palmer Cove Yacht Club, a private club offering reciprocal privileges. A bit farther south, at buoy G “3”, is the channel (eight feet MLW) leading to the Fred J. Dion Yacht Yard, a full-service boatyard offering mooring rental, haul-out, engine repair, rigging, and more.
While Salem Harbor naturally steals the spotlight, it should be mentioned that Salem also borders the Danvers River to the north. The river offers a couple of protected coves for small-boat exploration or anchoring, as well as the McCabe Marina and Recreation Area. Located west of the Rte. 1 bridge, McCabe features a launch ramp ($5 daily fee for residents; $10 for non-residents) and dinghy storage. It’s a great place to launch a small boat or kayak for exploring the river or fishing the area’s many hot spots.