March 9, 2016
Made in Marion
Relax and catch the breeze, or a fish, in this cozy harbor on Buzzards Bay. Text & Photos by Tom Richardson
First-time visitors to Marion Harbor are typically amazed by the sheer amount of floating wood and fiberglass packed into seemingly every square foot of water, but it’s only in keeping with the town’s salty roots. This well-protected natural harbor in Upper Buzzards Bay has long been attractive to seafaring types, dating back to the Wampanoag Sippicans who harvested fish, waterfowl, clams and oysters in the local waters.
Indeed, from 1678 to 1852 the area was called “Sippican” until its separation from the town of Rochester, whereupon it was renamed for Revolutionary War hero General Francis Marion. While small-scale fishing and farming were the chief pursuits of early Colonial settlers, the early 1800s saw Marion flourish and solidify its ties to the sea.
According to the Sippican Historical Society, the town’s chief product during this period was mariners who sailed on whaleships, coastal schooners, and Liverpool packets. While neighboring Mattapoisett served as a shipbuilding center, Marion tended more toward producing sailors than boats. At one point, 87 ship captains lived in town. Local boys went to sea at the age of 16 and worked their way up through the ranks to become mates and captains.
As the whaling and local shipbuilding industries vanished in the mid-1800s, Marion declined in prosperity until tourism began drawing wealthy visitors to the southeast coast of Massachusetts. By 1880, Marion had become a popular resort destination, attracting the likes of Grover Cleveland, Henry James and other luminaries. The “summer people” bought the homes of former ship captains or built their own on the harbor, and spent their time socializing and enjoying the breezes of Buzzards Bay.
Today, that tradition continues, and from May to October Marion hosts some of the most beautiful yachts in New England. The harbor even boasts its own schooner—the Tabor Boy—which is owned by Tabor Academy and used for sailing education cruises. The forest of masts that populates Marion’s inner harbor from May to October makes it easily visible from the middle of Buzzards Bay on a clear day, while the long, narrow harbor provides excellent shelter in winds from almost every direction.
Transient boaters are welcomed by Bardens Boatyard and Burr Brothers. Both are full-service facilities offering dockage and moorings, except during regattas and other yachting events. Anchoring is also possible, and there is good holding ground and protection just north of Ram Island, as well as in the more exposed outer harbor. Visitors in small boats can tie up at the town wharf for a short period, space permitting, while they go ashore to re-provision or get a bite to eat, and dinghies can be left for up to three hours. Marion’s well-staffed harbormaster’s office can provide more information on transient options, and may be able to arrange for longer stays.
Stay for the Season
Of course, Marion is also a pretty awesome place to keep a boat for the season, as it offers quick access to many cruising destinations, including Cuttyhunk, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and various Cape Cod harbors. Additionally, the nearby Cape Cod Canal serves as a convenient gateway for trips to Provincetown and points north of the Cape.
Closer to home, the bay’s predictable afternoon southwesterlies have long made Marion a favorite among sailors, and today it hosts numerous sailing events, chief among them the Marion to Bermuda Race, the Buzzards Bay Regatta (hosted by the Beverly Yacht Club) and the J80 races. In between are various smaller regattas and weekly races that keep the harbor hopping through the summer.
And while Marion is primarily known as a yachting port, plenty of fishermen call it home, as well. Fast action with stripers, bluefish, sea bass, fluke and scup is available right outside the harbor in May and June, while the run to midsummer hot spots such as Vineyard Sound, Cuttyhunk and Cape Cod Bay is relatively close, as well. Those who stick around until late August and early fall can often chase false albacore and bonito just outside Marion Harbor.
Although Marion’s main delights are nautical in nature, its shoreside attractions are also worth exploring. A good stretch of that shore—from the harbormaster’s office to the old town landing and launch ramp—is occupied by Tabor Academy, a private school established in 1878 by local philanthropist Elizabeth Taber. On any given day when school’s in session, a parade of small sailing vessels and rowing shells crewed by Tabor students can be seen filing in and out of the harbor.
The rest of Marion Center is pretty and quiet, with shady, tree-lined streets lined by classic homes. Tucked among its back roads are the Marion Art Center, which has a gallery and hosts live theatre performances, and the Elizabeth Taber Library, a good place to cool off and relax on a steamy summer day.
Front Street, which parallels the western shore of the harbor, is home to the friendly, old-fashioned Marion General Store, which sells coffee and pastries, as well as meats cut to order, fine cheeses, fresh fruits and veggies, soft drinks, beer and basic sundry items. A few doors down is Dean Ross, a fine home-furnishings store, followed by Serendipity by the Sea, an eclectic clothing, home goods, craft and gift shop. Across the street from Burr Brothers Boats is the Marion Sports Shop, which carries designer men’s and women’s clothing from around the world. Rounding out the Front Street offerings is Spirits liquor store and the Sippican Historical Society headquarters, where the curious can learn more about the history of the town.
Feeling hungry or thirsty? Several restaurants are within walking distance of the harbor, including Cilantro and Brew Fish. Harriet’s Catering, on Cottage Street, is a great place to order a delicious home-cooked meal for the boat. The morning gathering spot is Uncle Jon’s Coffee & Cafe, which serves tasty lunch and breakfast items, fine coffee, chai, lattes, expresso, sandwiches and pastries. In keeping with the Marion tradition, owner and founder Jonathan Pope is an accomplished sailor.
Indeed, one can’t get very far in Marion without running into someone who’s a boater. But that’s no surprise in a town that’s been producing mariners for centuries.
Marion at a Glance
Dockage, Moorings & Service
- Barden’s Boatyard
Full-service marina and boatyard located on west side of harbor adjacent to the town wharf. Offers transient slips and moorings, launch service, haul-out, WiFi, storage, electric, hull repair and more.
- Burr Brothers Boatyard
Full-service marina at northern end of harbor. Offers transient slips and moorings, launch service, electric, WiFi, water, ship’s store, fuel dock, haul-out, rigging, canvas work and more.
- Barden’s Boatyard
- A&J Boat Corp.
Full-service yard on Hammetts Cove.
- Beverly Yacht Club
Private club founded in 1872 and offering transient services to members of reciprocal clubs.
- An anchorage with excellent holding ground is located at the southern end of the harbor, just north of Ram Island, although boats cannot be left unattended. A public dinghy dock is located at the town wharf adjacent to the harbormaster’s office. Dinghies can be left here for up to three hours. Very large vessels can anchor in the outer harbor, south of Ram Island and outside of buoy “6”, as well as outside the swimming barrier off Silvershell Beach.
- A town ramp is located at Old Veterans Memorial Park (Old Landing), but there is no trailer parking available. Kayakers can launch and park at the town wharf next to the Harbormasters Office.
- Two large public ramps with ample parking are available in nearby Wareham and Mattapoisett.
- Marion General Store
Purveyors of custom-cut meats, cheeses, produce, beer, coffee, gifts and more on Front Street.
- Dean Ross Home
Fine home-furnishings store on Front Street.
- Serendipity by the Sea
Unique gifts and clothing store with a decidedly nautical theme, across the street from Bardens Boatyard.
- Marion Sports Shop
Sophisticated men’s and women’s clothing from around the world, across the street from Burr Brothers Boatyard.
Where to Eat
- Sippican Café
Creative lunch and dinner menu in an intimate setting.
Tasty and creative Thai cuisine a short walk from the harbor. BYOB.
- Brew Fish
Restaurant and bar specializing in microbrews. A short walk from the harbor.
- Kate’s Simple Eats
Cozy café serving tasty breakfast and lunch items.
- Uncle Jon’s Coffee & Café
Delicious coffee, tea, chai, lattes and pastries, plus lunch items to go for boat and beach picnics. Within walking distance of the harbor.
- Harriet’s Catering
Delicious home-cooked meals to go. Menu changes frequently.
Things to See & Do
- Sippican Historical Society
Learn about Marion’s past at the Historical Society headquarters on Front Street.
- Buzzards Bay Regatta
Held in early August and hosted by the Beverly Yacht Club, the BBR is a well-attended series of races that draws sailors from all over the country. Classes include 505, Ensign 420, Vanguard 15, Rhodes 19, PHFR, Multihull, Laser, J/80, J/24 and Etchells.
- Marion Art Center
Established in 1957 as a non-profit community cultural organization dedicated to promoting the visual and performing arts. Maintains a gallery of local art and hosts live theatre.