Bristol Harbor’s New Maritime Center

A new facility on the Bristol waterfront is making it easier than ever for boaters to enjoy this beautiful Narragansett Bay harbor.

Written by Rob Duca | Photography by Cate Brown

Rhode Island’s Bristol Harbor has long been a welcoming stopover for boaters, thanks in large part to its vibrant waterfront steeped in history. But since the town’s Maritime Center opened in 2016, it has experienced an explosion in popularity.

Offering a host of amenities, including showers, locker rooms, washers and dryers, and free WiFi, all housed within a former Naval Armory built in 1894, the Center has been at the forefront of a surge that has seen an increase in the town’s transient boating revenue from approximately $12,000 in 2015 to nearly $30,000 last summer.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS

“We’re about 98-percent at full service,” says Bristol harbormaster Gregg Marsili. “The only thing we don’t have is fuel. Still, [the Center] makes a great stop as you travel from the north or south, or are coming from the islands. You can get a hot shower, do some laundry and maybe use the WiFi to catch up on some bills or correspondence.”

Another plus: Bristol Harbor is easy to reach by water. “It’s a straight shot coming up from Newport or the Sakonnet River, and it’s pretty simple,” Marsili says. “And once you get here, everything is close by. It provides boaters with an opportunity to get away from the busier ports and still experience that New England feel.”

The Maritime Center
occupies a former armory.

PATRIOTIC PLACE

With a population of only 23,000, Bristol is the quintessential New England coastal town, and proudly touts its patriotism as home to the longest running Independence Day parade in the country. The compact waterfront district is home to churches, mills, mansions and museums, along with dining options ranging from ice cream and lobster shacks to cozy pubs and romantic restaurants. Shops, galleries and boutiques line the streets, and several parks provide open spaces to relax, picnic and play.

Of course, boating has long played a major role in the town’s more than 300-year-old history. Today, Bristol remains home to several shipbuilding and marine-service companies, and its sailing heritage is on full display at the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, which came to Bristol in 1995.

MOORINGS & DOCKAGE

The addition of the Maritime Center has made visits much more attractive for transient boaters. There are 15 transient moorings near the Center, with a dingy dock in close proximity. A 130-foot transient dock is also located nearby. Moorings can be rented for $40 per night, while space along the transient dock is $3 per foot per night.

“Everything is compact and close by,” Marsili adds. “We are right in the center of downtown Bristol. All the bars, restaurants and shops are just a five- to ten-minute walk.”

Harbormaster Gregg Marsili and friend welcome transients.

EVENT CENTER

The walls of the Maritime Center are adorned with the work of local artists, and in its opening summer a 4,000-square-foot hall accommodated nonprofit events and galas. The town is hoping to make the hall available for private functions this summer.

“We have had a lot of interest from people who want to rent space by the water, so we’re looking to expand by doing that,” Marsili says. “We had a really good team, from the engineers to the builders, who created a nice space for people to use.”

PLENTY TO SEE & DO

Once ashore, boaters are within walking distance of a multitude of entertainment and educational opportunities. They can learn about life in 17th-century Rhode Island, tour the mansion of a slave trader, stroll through a 400-acre saltwater farm, explore an oceanfront wildlife refuge or experience a public garden that has been named by Yankee magazine as one of the top five in New England.

Linden Place, also within the waterfront district, is where generations of Bristol’s elite entertained presidents and other luminaries of the day. Not far away is the Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame. The museum features exhibits on the famous Herreshoff Manufacturing Company’s numerous boat designs, innovations and technology, while the Hall of Fame features plaques honoring America’s Cup inductees, along with half-hull models of challengers and defenders, and other sailing artifacts. The museum also offers both short-term and overnight dockage and moorings, space permitting.

The Herreshoff Marine Museum is one of Bristol’s many waterfront attractions.

RESTAURANT CENTRAL

Naturally, there are numerous dining options in Bristol. One of the most popular is the Lobster Pot, which sits on the waterfront and offers a spectacular view of Narragansett Bay. Another good choice is the Thames Waterside Bar and Grille (at right), where you sink into plush couches and savor the harbor view from the deck.

For a bit of history to go with your dinner, head over to the DeWolf Tavern. This renovated 1818 warehouse was built by Bristol-based maritime merchants James and William DeWolf for their shipping business. A boat slip originally ran alongside the tavern where ships could dock and unload goods into both levels of the building. The office, or “counting room,” was located on the waterside end of the second floor with the finished plaster walls and fireplace. The sections of graffiti-covered plaster, now framed as artwork, came from this area.

In the mood for some lobster, fried clams, steamers and other summer seafood favorites? You’ll find them all at Quito’s, a popular eatery on the water near Independence Park. And if you’re looking for some solid comfort food in a cozy pub atmosphere, head for Aiden’s, just a minute’s walk from the Maritime Center. Down the street a bit, you can enjoy authentic German cuisine and beer at Redlefsen’s.

Wherever your dining tastes or interests lie, Bristol’s new Maritime Center is a game-changer for boaters in search of a convenient and welcoming port of call. Be sure to add it to your itinerary this season!

Bristol Maritime Center
(401) 253-1700
VHF 16
Open May 15-October 15
Hours: 8:00 a.m.-9:00 Monday-Saturday

This Herreshoff 12 1/2 is one of many classic boats that occupy the harbor. | TOM RICHARDSON

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