This snug little harbor on Buzzards Bay is fast becoming a favorite stopover among coastal cruisers, and also makes an excellent daytrip or fishing destination. By Gaelen Adam; Photography by Tom Richardson
Despite its well-protected harbor and prime location at the crossroads of the north- south cruising routes, Padanaram has remained largely underappreciated by visiting boaters. However, that is rapidly changing, partly because this oddly named little village—part of the town of South Dartmouth—on the western shore of Buzzards Bay is undergoing something of a renaissance.
After years of domination by real estate offices and shuttered storefronts, the village has recently seen the opening of two new restaurants, a sandwich shop and several boutique stores. A new market and ATM now provide amenities for cruisers that have long been missing. And there may be more to come, as the development of a welcome center for visiting boaters, complete with showers, short-term tie-up and a new harbormaster’s headquarters, appears to be in the works.
Originally known as “Ponogansett,” the village was founded when William Bradford and 33 other members of the Plymouth Colony purchased land along the Apponagansett River from the Wampanoags in 1652. After the first settlement was destroyed in 1675 during King Philips War, Padanaram recovered to become a shipbuilding center then prospered as a minor whaling port through the mid-1800s. In response to trade embargos imposed during the War of 1812, the village also developed a large salt works at Ricketsons Point.
Its current name is thought to have originated with Laban Thatcher, who moved from Harwich around 1805 and founded a successful shipyard on the Apponagansett. According to the Proceedings of the Fall Meeting of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society in 1903, “The first mention of Padanaram occurred in a deed given by [Thatcher] in 1828, and it is supposed that the circumstances of his life corresponding with the Bible story of Laban who lived in Padanaram prompted him to give the place that name.”
HAVEN ON THE BAY
For those with a keel, the approach to the harbor, particularly from the east, appears more challenging than it is. There are plenty of rocks and ledges, to be sure, but all are well marked. Follow the channel markers, pay attention to your chart and you should be fine. The harbor itself is protected by a stone breakwater, and is home to several marine facilities.
Chief among them is South Wharf Yacht Yard and Marina, which offers transient dockage for boats up to 100 feet and 12 feet of depth. The full-service yard also offers repair, service, haul-out, private showers, laundry, bike and kayak rentals and WiFi, plus an onsite restaurant called the Sail Loft.
If you’d prefer a mooring, the Town of Dartmouth has installed six transient moorings on the north side of the causeway drawbridge that are free for up to a three-night stay. They can be reserved through the harbormaster’s office (see sidebar). Town officials are also working to enhance the short-term dinghy tie-up on the north side of the pump- out dock, immediately adjacent to the northeast corner of the bridge.
Speaking of the bridge, it opens on the half-hour from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. and from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., May through October, and every hour from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Bridge openings can also be requested by hailing the bridge tender on VHF 13 or calling (508) 910-7107. The bridge has a vertical clearance of 8 feet MHW when closed, so smaller boats may be able to sneak through at high tide.
Moorings are also available through the venerable Davis & Tripp boatyard and the New Bedford Yacht Club, which offers use of its facilities, including launch service, showers and clubhouse, for $55 per night. The club’s fuel dock is the only place to get gas and diesel inside the harbor, and also sells water and ice.
FUN AT THE PARK
On the north side of the drawbridge, trailer-boaters will find a newly refurbished, two-lane launch ramp at Apponagansett Park, which also has a playground and a beach. The park hosts concerts on Wednesday nights throughout the summer and is home to the family-favorite Gulf Hill Dairy Ice Cream Bucket, where you can grab a lobster roll, burger and, of course, all kinds of frozen treats. Across the street from the park, trails lead through the coastal woodlands and salt marsh of the Knowles Reserve—a terrific spot for a stroll and nature-watching.
Paddlers will find that the Apponagansett River is a wonderful place to explore in a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard. Just west of Apponagansett Park, a lovely tidal creek meanders through scenic salt marsh containing osprey, heron, egrets and other birds. And a quarter-mile due north of the drawbridge, Little Island (locally known as “Monkey Island”) is ideal for a picnic or swim. In summer, the water is delightfully warm.
While Padanaram may not offer the type of dining options you’ll find in major cruising destinations like Newport or Camden, you won’t go hungry. Options include the aforementioned Sail Loft at South Wharf Marina, Little Moss, the Black Bass Grille and a terrific new sandwich shop called Chumley’s. In addition, there’s local favorite Dockside Ice Cream, where you can order hot dogs, burgers, fries, frappes and the like.
If you’re looking to restock the galley, the Farm and Coast Market offers a wide selection of local foods and wine, along with premade sandwiches, bakery goods, coffee and much more. In term of shops, the village has several worth checking out. Flora, 321 Elm, Folia, Refried Tees, the Village Merchant and several other businesses carry unique clothing, household items and gifts. And don’t miss the Woodhouse Shop, a Padanaram institution for knickknacks and penny candy since . . . well, forever. The Norton Gallery highlights high-end artwork, while the Karyne & Company Day Spa and Salt Spa offer massage therapy, body treatments, and nail and skin care. For a unique workout, book a session with Padanaram Standup Paddleboard Yoga, which holds classes every Wednesday during the summer.
In the market for a new catboat? Aficionados of these classic workhorse sailboats may want to drop by Marshall Marine, just north of the drawbridge. Owner Geoff Marshall continues his family’s tradition of building fiberglass versions of the classic New England shoal-draft craft, and offers several different models for sale, from the 15-foot Sandpiper to the Marshall 22. If you happen visit at the end of July, catch the Padanaram summer festival, featuring live music, vendor booths and sidewalk sales. And sailboat-racing aficionados won’t want to miss the 45th edition of the Buzzards Bay Regatta, which will be hosted by the New Bedford Yacht Club this August. While those of us who live here would rather keep it a secret, Padanaram offers too much not to let cruisers now about this destination, which rivals the Vineyard or Nantucket for charm without the crowds—at least so far.
Padanaram Names & Numbers
HARBORMASTER (508) 999-0759
DOCKAGE, MOORINGS & SERVICE
Town of Dartmouth (508) 999-0759
Transient moorings are available free of charge for up to 3 nights through the harbormaster; reservations accepted.
South Wharf Yacht Yard & Marina (508) 990-1011
Full-service boatyard and marina offering transient dockage, haul-out, repair, showers, WiFi and onsite restaurant. Twelve feet MLW.
Davis & Tripp (508) 993-9232
Transient moorings, repair, service and a small marine store.
New Bedford Yacht Club (508) 997-0762; nbyc.com
Offers public use of its facilities, including moorings, launch service, showers and clubhouse, for $55 per night. The club also has a fuel dock with water and ice.
Concordia Boatyard (508) 999-1381
Transient moorings, repair and service.
Doyle Sails (508) 992-6322
Boaters who wish to anchor may find a spot tucked inside the north end of the breakwater protecting the inner harbor, as well as plenty of room along the Nonquit shoreline in some 10 feet of water.
A two-lane launch ramp with plenty of parking can be found at Apponagansett Park, on the north side of the bridge off Gulf Road. Daily fee is $5 to launch and park.
WHERE TO EAT
The Sail Loft (774) 328-9871
Serves mouth-watering “South Coast comfort food” in a fun atmosphere with outdoor seating and a small Tiki bar near the harbor. Free dockage at South Wharf Yacht Yard and Marina.
Little Moss (508) 994-1162
Intimate, casual restaurant featuring locally sourced seafood and produce. Menu changes based on seasonal availability.
Chumley’s (774) 425-4378
Creative sandwiches, wraps, salads, burgers, hot dogs and more.
Black Bass Grille (508) 999-6975
Near the water just north of the bridge. Specializes in surf-and-turf dishes.
Hip women’s clothing, home décor items, creative jewelry and more.
321 Elm (508) 992-0519
Gifts, toys, casual clothing, penny candy, housewares and other fun stuff.
Village Merchant (508) 496-9653
Unique antiques in a funky store presided over by a charming pug named Dozer.
Woodhouse Shop (508) 993-5014
A Padanaram original, this throwback store is a favorite among kids for its selection of toys, candy, doll and dollhouse accessories and more.
THINGS TO SEE & DO
Public park with playground and beach. Hosts concerts on Wednesday nights throughout the summer.
Standup Paddleboard Yoga (508) 676-5511
Stay cool—and fit—at one of these unique classes, held Wednesdays during the summer.
Osprey Sea Kayak Adventures (508) 636-0300
This Westport-based outfitter can arrange kayak and SUP tours of Apponagansett Bay and nearby waters.