If you’re a boater with a yen for some island ambiance that feels a thousand miles from home, set a course for Block Island. Swimming, fishing, clamming, fine restaurants and boutiques, marine facilities, clear water, awesome vistas and magnificent sunsets—the “Block” has it all. Small wonder it’s known as the “Bermuda of the North.”
My wife and I have brought our boat to Block Island many times, so we have a pretty good handle on the local boating scene, especially when it comes to the Great Salt Pond, also know as New Harbor. Great Salt Pond, also called simply the “Pond” is the large, sheltered harbor on the northwest shore of the porkchop-shaped island, and is the best place to anchor or grab a mooring or slip.
If you’re looking for dockside amenities such as electricity, cable, water, restrooms, showers and laundry, there are 3 full-service marinas to choose from, all located on the west side of the Pond. These are:Champlin’s Marina Hotel and Resort (CH 68), Block Island Boat Basin (401-466-2631; CH 9) and Payne’s Dock (401-466-5572).
New Harbor Marinas:
Champlin’s is the first marina to starboard as you enter the harbor through the channel (20’ MLW) to the west. Of the 3 marinas, Champlin’s is the largest, with 225 transient slips and dockage for boats up to 195’. If you are looking for kid-friendly entertainment, Champlin’s offers a playground, video arcade, movie theater, bumper boats and a swimming pool. The marina snackbar prepares canolis, pizza, burgers and subs, and there’s an on-site coffee and pastry shop that serves Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks coffee, ice cream and assorted donuts, cakes and stuffed breads. Other amenities include an upscale restaurant with a raw bar featuring Cajun and American cuisines and 2 tiki bars—one poolside and the other at the end of the main pier, both with live music on weekends and holidays. There’s even a small store that carries basic marine supplies, food, snacks and drinks.
The next marina to starboard is the Boat Basin with 85 transient slips and room for boats up to 110’. The docks are concrete “floaters”. The Boat Basin has picnic tables with grills and a small beach. You’ll find the harbormaster’s office here, as well as an all-purpose store with limited groceries, basic marine supplies and Block Island apparel and novelties.
About 10 steps from the store is the well-known Oar Restaurant, decorated with hundreds of donated oars of every size and color. The Oar offers casual dining at a reasonable price with a great view of the harbor. The house drink—a Mudslide—the best I’ve had, and the sushi is top-notch.
Last in line is Payne’s Dock, a short distance south of the Boat Basin. Payne’s offers 50 transient slips, sometimes more depending on how many boats can be squeezed in. It’s first come-first served, and they don’t take reservations like the other 2 marinas. Maximum length here is 300’, and the docks are fixed, save for the 10 or so slips for boats under 30’. There are no finger piers, so boats are docked stern-to, rafted together and packed in like sardines in July and August.
A family atmosphere prevails at Payne’s. It’s a friendly place with barbeque grills and all the other guest amenities. New indoor/outdoor dining can be found at the Burger Bar, and a stop at nearby Mahogany Shoals for a drink is a must. If you’re looking for a quick breakfast sandwich, muffin or one of Payne’s famous “Killer Donuts” to dunk in your coffee, the snackbar will fix you up. When you’re done eating, you can watch Cliff, Sands and the dockhands magically maneuver large boats in and out of the dock spaces.
New Harbor Town Moorings
If you are more of an independent boater, and want to save some money, consider one of the highly coveted 90 lime-green town moorings in the harbor. For your best shot a getting one, arrive early and during the week if possible, especially during the summer. The moorings are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and no tricks are allowed (such as tying your dinghy to a recently vacated mooring to reserve it). Once you get a mooring, the harbormaster (CH 12) will find you and collect the $40/night fee. You are allowed to raft 2 boats to a mooring.
New Harbor Anchorage
The harbor also has a large anchorage, but be aware that the eastern side of the Pond is often subject to stiff southwestlies in summer. Therefore, it’s wise to set 2 anchors off the bow and use plenty of rode if you are short on chain. You can anchor anywhere except inside the channel, the town mooring field and the north side of the Pond, which is reserved for water skiing, tubing, wake boarding and other watersports. Stay outside the “No Anchoring Buoys” and you should be fine.
Services & Supplies
If you’re on the hook or a mooring, you’ll need to use your tender to dump garbage or perhaps pick up some ice or water if you’re staying several days. I’ve found that the best way to take care of this business is to head for the Boat Basin and tie up along the dinghy dock, at the southern end of the docks. It’s often crowded in peak season, and finding a spot can be a challenge. If you are averse to doubling up, swing around to the north side of the Basin and come ashore on the small beach there. Dumpsters can be found on a small hill beyond the harbormaster’s office. A water tap and ice can be found on the main pier.
I suggest buying gas for your dinghy at Payne’s, as it’s the closest carry. However, you’ll need to be patient, because Payne’s can be bustling with activity. Just wait by the gas pump for the attendant to find you. Cash is preferred, and don’t expect change.
On windy days, the harbor has launch services that will keep you dry. There are 2 at the Boat Basin, the 2 Old Port Launches (CH 68) and one that provides service to Champlin’s (CH 68). The last is painted red, white and blue, and is affectionately known as Shortstop.
If you want to go into town or explore the island, you can hail any of the island’s numerous taxis. Bike, moped and car rentals can be booked at the Boat Basin behind the Boat Basin store.
Pump-Out & Fuel
All 3 marinas offer pump-out service, while gas and diesel can be purchased at Payne’s and Champlin’s. Three pump-out boats operate on busy days and can be hailed on CH 73, but call early and expect long waits. After all, there are sometimes as many as 2,000 boats on the Pond on a busy weekend.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the most endearing characters on Block Island: Aldo of Aldo’s Bakery fame. Every morning at 7:00 a.m. and every afternoon at 3:30 p.m., Aldo makes his rounds, circumnavigating the Pond in his skiff, wearing a straw fedora and belting out “Andia, andiam, andiamo!” in his tenor voice. He carries a full assortment of pastries and breakfast sandwiches in the morning and stuffed breads and jumbo shrimp cocktail in the afternoon. The food is great and a welcome sight when you’re entertaining onboard.
New Harbor Provisions
You can pick up basic grocery staples at the Boat Basin, but if you’re looking for a supermarket that carries meat, produce, deli, baked goods and more, walk or take a taxi to the Block Island Grocery, a little over 1/2 mile east of Payne’s Dock on Ocean Avenue. It’s open daily 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Sundays.
Block Island Fishing & Clamming
The sport fishing around Block Island is world-famous. Bluefish, striped bass and fluke are available from mid-May through the fall, while cod and tuna are available just south of the island. In the early fall, bonito and false albacore often add to the excitement.
For tackle needs, see Chris Willi and his crew at Block Island Fishworks (BIFW), just up the road from Payne’s Dock. Note that you will need a Rhode Island saltwater fishing permit to fish on Block Island; they can be obtained online athttp://www.saltwater.ri.gov. You do not need a permit to fish with one of the numerous guides and charter skippers on the island. Again, BIFW can hook you up.
Click here to learn more about Block Island’s fishing opportunities: The Block Rocks.
There is good clamming at low tide on the flats on the northwest side of the Pond, near the channel entrance. A clamming license can be obtained from the Harbormaster for $20/wk, $32/mo. or $60/yr.
Hit the Beach!
One of the finest beaches in the Northeast is on the east side of Block Island. Load your beach chairs in the dinghy and spin over to the southeast shore of the Great Salt Pond to Dinghy Beach (as it’s known to boaters), drop anchor and walk across Corn Neck Road and through the beach grass to a 2-mile stretch of soft sand and pounding surf.
A short walk south down the beach about a quarter mile will put you on Fred Benson Town Beach, where you’ll find lifeguards and a snack bar with ice cream, soft drinks, hot dogs, grilled cheese and arguably the best burgers on the island. Bathroom facilities are available with showers, and you can rent beach umbrellas, chairs and boogie boards for the day.
The above is an abridged preview of what you might expect on a visit to Block Island. If you’re coming by boat, stay a while on the Great Salt Pond. There’s plenty to see and do, and you won’t have to go far to find something to keep you entertained.
To read more about Block Island, see our complete destination feature here: Focus on Block Island