Westport Harbor, at the confluence of the East and West Branches of the Westport River, is the type of port that appeals to cruisers, fishermen, small-boaters, and paddlers alike. The harbor doesn’t offer much in terms of waterfront-accessible shops, although it does have an excellent waterfront restaurant—the Back Eddy—that rocks throughout the summer and serves imaginative meals featuring locally sourced ingredients. Next to the restaurant, in the shadow of the Rt. 88 bascule bridge, is a beautiful state launch ramp with ample parking and deep-water access on all tides, making Westport a popular destination among trailer-boaters.
While officially located on Buzzards Bay, the Westport inlet faces open ocean to the south and, as such, can be a dangerous spot to navigate, especially when steep swells or strong southerly winds meet the swift outgoing tide flowing out of the rivers. Plenty of accidents have occurred at the mouth of the Westport, so plan your trips accordingly if you intend to venture past the inlet. If returning in the afternoon, remember the area’s notoriously summer southwesterlies, which can stack up steep seas at the inlet against an ebb tide.
On most days, however, Westport serves as an excellent jumping-off spot for trips to Cuttyhunk and Martha’s Vineyard, as well as to Newport and other Narragansett Bay destinations. If the water’s calm, many small-boaters simply anchor out or beach their craft along Horseneck Point, which borders the east side of the inlet and marks the beginning of long, sandy Horseneck Beach.
Fishermen love Westport for its close proximity to the striper-rich Elizabeth Islands, Sakonnet Point, Buzzards Bay, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nomans Island. There’s good fishing for scup, sea bass, tautog and fluke nearby, too. The river also puts anglers relatively close to the offshore grounds, home to tuna, white marlin, mahi, skipjack, sharks, and more.
Of course, there’s plenty of action inside the river, especially in the spring and early summer, when trophy stripers invade the Westport to chase herring that have finished spawning upstream. Tautog and scup are also taken well inside the river, particularly in the early season, as evidenced by the seemingly perpetual line of anglers soaking baits from the Rte. 88 bridge.
The East and West Branches of the Westport are a world unto themselves, ideal for kayaking, PWC, and skiff exploration. The West Branch extends roughly northwest from the inlet for three miles to Adamsville, while the East Branch winds due north for some eight miles before ending (or beginning, depending on how you look at it) at Osprey Surf & Sea Adventures sales and rental shop. Along the way, boaters are treated to vistas of densely wooded shores and sweeping marshlands broken by vineyards, farms, summer-cottage colonies, and the occasional mansion. Overall, the Westport River is decidedly bucolic.
Newcomers attempting to navigate the river in a power or sailing vessel should note that the river channel is narrow and winding—especially where it snakes between Big Pine and Great Island on the East Branch—and it’s easy to run aground unless you know where you are. Water depth in the narrow main channels of both branches is 6 to 12 feet.
A popular spot among kayakers is the Horseneck Beach State Reservation, an extensive saltmarsh system behind Horseneck Beach. The reservation’s marshes are forested with osprey nesting platforms, and kayaking affords an excellent opportunity to see these birds close up—just don’t get too close. Heron, egret, and other wading and shore birds also populate the marshes. Oyster-farming operations have also sprouted inside the river, where conditions are near perfect for raising the tasty bivalves.
Westport is serviced by two marinas—F.L. Tripp & Sons and Shamrock Marine—plus a couple of yacht clubs that sometimes offer transient space. Anchoring inside the river is not recommended due to the narrow channel and strong currents, but you may find a suitable spot up the East Branch just below Ship Rock, where sailing ships once tied up to await a favorable tide. Nowadays the rock serves as a popular spot for families to picnic and dive into the river, which often heats up to a toasty 80 degrees in mid-summer.