“I started that old Johnson and idled out the channel to Ram Island. It was getting light enough to see Marion, the lawns and houses, the yacht club and all the boats, hundreds, and the trees coming down to the water. Marion has a special color, I’ve always thought, a coolish browny green from the trees and the lawns.” – from A Storm Without Rain by Jan Adkins
It’s fair to say that Marion, named for the Revolutionary War hero General Francis Marion, has earned the title “Yachting Capital of Buzzards Bay” (although I also know it as a pretty good place to fish), especially when you consider its distinguished maritime history.
From 1678 to 1852, the area that is now Marion was part of Rochester, and was known as “Sippican” after the tribe of Wampanoag Indians that had lived there until European settlement. From 1815 to the mid-1800s, Marion was a thriving seacoast town. According to the Sippican Historical Society, “its chief product was seamen who sailed on whaleships, coastal schooners, and Liverpool packets. While neighboring Mattapoisett was a major shipbuilding town, Marion tended more toward whaling and producing captains than making money from shipbuilding.
At one point, 87 sea captains lived in Marion. Marion 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 disappeared in the mid-1800s Marion declined in prosperity until the budding tourism industry began drawing rich and famous visitors to the southeast coast of Massachusetts. By 1880 Marion had become a famous resort area. 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 waters of Buzzards Bay.
Today, that tradition continues, and from May to October Marion hosts hundreds of the most beautiful sailing and cruising boats in New England. The forest of masts that populate Marion Harbor from May to October make it easily visible from the middle of Buzzards Bay on a clear day, while the long, narrow harbor provides excellent shelter in winds from most every direction except due east.
Marion is served by 2 boatyards—Bardens and Burr Brothers. Both are full-service facilities offering transient slips and moorings, except during regattas and other yachting events. Both also sell gas and diesel, although you must schedule a fueling time at Bardens.
Marion is perhaps most famous among boaters as the site of various sailing events, including 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 fun events.
A good stretch of Marion’s western shore, from the Harbormasters office to the town landing, is occupied by Tabor Academy (established in 1878), which offers robust sailing and rowing programs. Indeed, budding mariners get the opportunity to sail aboard the Tabor Boy, a steel-hulled, 2-masted schooner moored in the harbor. Each summer the schooner makes a trip to the Caribbean as part of a long-term sailing, science and team-building project. On any given day when school’s in session, a parade of small sailing vessels and rowing shells manned by Tabor students can be seen filing in and out of the harbor.
Ashore, Marion is pretty and quiet. Aside from strolling, biking or jogging the tree-lined streets, or taking in a play at the Marion Art Center, there’s not a whole lot to do, although the town does have a few restaurants within walking distance of the harbor. These include the Sippican Café, BrewFish and House of Thai. Also of interest is Uncle Jon’s Coffee & Cafe, which serves delicious lunch and breakfast items, fine coffee, chai, lattes, expresso and pastries. Owner and founder Jonathan Pope is an accomplished sailor.
Downtown Marion has a small general store, a museum and a few shops worth checking out, but for the most part this is a place to enjoy great access to the waters of Buzzards Bay.