Frank Matteotti steers his 23 NorthCoast towards Conimicut Light on the Providence River. Photo by Cory Silken

Let’s make one thing clear right off the bat: Warren does not offer any full-service marinas. Sure, you can rent one of the 5 town-owned moorings or perhaps find a slip at Galinksi’s Boat Yard, but if you’re looking for fuel, water, electric, pumpout and the like, you’ll need to stay in the neighboring towns of Bristol and Barrington.

Now that we’ve issued that little caveat, let me state that Warren has a lot to offer visiting boaters — more, it could be argued, than either of the two towns just mentioned. There are at least 9 restaurants within walking distance of the waterfront, not to mention numerous antiques and gift shops, historic sites, and ready access to the East Bay bike path, which runs for 14 miles from Providence to Bristol.

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Warren is the kind of diamond in the rough that most boaters bypass on their way to more popular destinations, such as Newport or Block Island. However, in my opinion it’s worth a stop. I’m biased, of course, because I used to live in Warren, in a small apartment that overlooked the river. I used to keep my small aluminum skiff on the rocky shore, and used it to enjoy some of the best light-tackle inshore fishing I’ve ever experienced. Warren, and indeed all of Upper Narragansett Bay, is a small-boater’s paradise.

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The Warren River is study in contrasts. The west bank, or Barrington side, comprises large residential homes, many with big manicured lawns and private docks extending far into the river. The Warren side has a very different character. North of Burr’s Hill Park, the east bank takes on a crowded, industrial look. The shore is lined with large blocky buildings, most notably Blount Boats Shipbuilding, Blount Seafood, the now-defunct American Tourister factory (currently up for sale) and the municipal sewage-treatment plant. Wedged between these massive structures are a couple of restaurants, a boatyard, the town dock and a boatbuilding company.

In the 1700s and early 1800s, Warren flourished as a shipbuilding and whaling center.

One of the newer faces on the Warren waterfont and a great place to tie up and take a break is the Blount Clam Shack, which serves fried fare, grilled burgers and other summer favorites under a big tent in a lot next to Blount Seafood. Boaters can tie up in front of the shack and grab some lunch or walk across the street to shop at Blount Market. Here you can stock the galley with fine soups and sauces, appetizers like breaded calamari and, of course, fresh clams. Clam meat, breaded clams, clam strips and clam sauce all come fresh from the big Blount Seafood processing plant next door, which remains a major supplier of clams to U.S. soup companies.

Warren has numerous art galleries, antiques shops and restaurants. Photo by Cory Silken

Shellfishing has long been an important part of the local economy. In the late 1880s, Narragansett Bay’s rich oyster beds led to the establishment of several large shucking houses in West Barrington. The industry thrived until the oyster stocks collapsed in the 1930s. Filling the shellfish void was the humble quahog, which grew in popularity thanks to the entrepreneurial and marketing skills of one Nelson Blount, who opened Blount Seafood in 1946. The company is still owned and operated by the Blount family, and they buy many of the quahogs they sell from the independent clammers who work the beds of Narragansett Bay. On any day of the year, barring extreme weather, you can see the quahoggers in their fleet of small, ramshackle boats, many rigged with crude plywood pilothouses, diligently scraping the mud bottom of Ohio Ledge with their long-handled bull rakes.

Another pillar of the Warren waterfront also bears the Blount name. Blount Boats Shipyard, founded in 1949 by Nelson Blount’s brother, Luther, builds fast ferries, commuter boats, cruise ships, water taxis and commercial fishing trawlers.

Not all Warren-built boats are intended for commercial use. Warren is the home of Pearson Composites, a state-of-the-art fiberglass molding facility that builds, among other things, True North cruisers, Alerion Express sailboats, PDQ power catamarans, elegant J/Boats and the newly launched line of beautiful North Rip sportfishing boats. The company was originally founded by boating-industry pioneer Everett Pearson (who has since retired), and was one of the first sailboat builders to work with fiberglass. Today, Pearson Composites is a large and diverse company that also molds the giant fiberglass blades used by wind turbines.

A much smaller but no less venerable boatbuilding enterprise that was also on the cutting edge of fiberglass construction can be found right on the Warren River, just opposite Tyler Point, at a site it has occupied since 1939. Established in 1930 by a former cotton broker named Bill Dyer, Dyer Boats introduced a nine-foot fiberglass sailing dinghy in 1949. In the ’50s, the company began turning out other recreational boats made with the material, among them the famous Dyer Dink sailing dinghy and the Dyer 29, a Downeast-style cruiser that remains a staple of the Dyer line. Over the years, the Dyer yard (called The Anchorage) has managed to survive a fire, several major hurricanes and the varied seas of the boating industry. When the yard isn’t building new boats, company president Tad Jones, Bill Dyer’s grandson, keeps his team busy with repair, maintenance and upgrades of existing models.

The Anchorage, home of Dyer Boats, calls the Warren River home. Photo by Cory Silken

The Dyer yard roughly marks the spot where the Warren River forks to become the Barrington and Palmer Rivers. If you follow the channel to port where it forks at the southern tip of Tyler Point, you’ll come to the Barrington Yacht Club (BYC), which celebrated its centennial in 2008. The BYC has 451 members and offers a host of sailing programs, including women’s classes, a Seniors Circuit series and winter frostbiting. It also maintains a junior sailing fleet of Optimists and 420s. It also offers a few transient slips and moorings, as well as reciprocity with affiliated clubs. You can fuel up here as well, and it’s a short dinghy ride across the river to Warren.

If BYC is the hub of sailing activity in these parts, Striper Marina, on the other side of Tyler Point, could be considered the angler’s headquarters. Owned by avid fisherman Al Elson, the Barrington-based marina holds an annual spring striped bass tournament and offers slips, moorings, fuel, storage, engine repair and a launch ramp. Just behind the marina is the Tyler Point Grille, which serves excellent modern Italian cuisine and seafood.

Also on Tyler Point is the small and friendly Stanley’s Boat Yard, located just below the Route 114 bridge (seemingly under perpetual repair). The bridge marks the gateway to the Hundred Acre Cove, a huge, shallow salt pond that’s a small-boater’s paradise. Kayaks, canoes, small sailboats and PWCs all share the protected cove during the season, and there’s excellent light-tackle fishing here too. The same applies to the Palmer River, on the other side of Tyler Point, and East Warren’s tiny but scenic Kickiamuit River, which flows into Mount Hope Bay.

It’s here, in the quiet, marshy backwaters, that boaters can best imagine what this fertile area was like when it served as the royal residence of Massasoit, sachem of the Wampanoags when the Europeans arrived in the early 1600s. By the time of Massasoit’s death around 1660, the land along the Warren River had been occupied by European settlers. The village, then called Swanzey, was razed by the Wampanoags after Massasoit’s son Metacomet, also known as King Phillip, declared war on the colonists.

In the 1700s and early 1800s, Warren flourished as a shipbuilding and whaling center. In fact, at one point Warren was one of the largest whaling ports in America, rivaling even New Bedford. Remnants of that era still exist in Warren, in the form of ancient wharves and buildings along the waterfront, most notably the Maxwell House Museum on Church Street. Built between 1752 and 1756, the museum serves as an example of a working 18th-century home and is also the headquarters of the Massasoit Association, founded in 1909 to preserve Massasoit Spring, which still flows from a monument at the foot of Baker Street.

A less-romantic relic of Warren’s history stands at the northern end of Water Street. The sprawling former American Tourister/Samsonite factory—now for sale—speaks to Warren’s former life as a textile center, which, like most New England mill towns, saw its heyday in the mid- and late 1800s. The Warren Manufacturing Company, Berkshire Hathaway, Cutler Mills, Parker Mills, Converse and Crown Zipper were some of the companies that once owned mills and factories in the area.

If you like to eat, note that Warren does not suffer from a lack of restaurants catering to a variety of tastes. They include Bebop Burrito, the Cheese Plate, Stella Blues, Rod’s Grill, India, Warren House of Pizza and Crossroads. All of the above restaurants are within walking distance of the town dock. Additionally, there are all sorts of shops to visit along Water Street and in nearby Warren Center, a short (1/4-mile) stroll from the river.