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Buzzards Bay

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Gunkholes
Challenging Cruising in the NE

Buzzards Bay, MA: One of the most challenging and satisfying bodies of water to navigate on the East Coast

From Rhode Island Sound to Cape Cod, including the Elizabeth Island chain

From Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program. Click here to learn more and see larger map.

From Rhode Island Sound to Cape Cod, and bounded by the Elizabeth Islands chain, Buzzards Bay offers lots of charming harbors and plenty of island hopping to keep you busy. Buzzards Bay is a great destination for weekend or weeklong cruising, and despite the name, you are not likely to see any buzzards along the way. The name was given to this bay by colonists who saw a large bird that they called a buzzard near its shores. The bird was actually an osprey, and osprey continue to breed along the shores of Buzzards Bay.

Since 1914, Buzzards Bay has been connected to Cape Cod Bay by the Cape Cod Canal. In 1998 Buzzards Bay was designated an Estuary of National Significance. There are 310 miles of beautiful scenic coastline along Buzzards Bay. This total does not include the 9 miles of coastline of the Cape Cod Canal within the Buzzards Bay watershed, nor does it include an additional 40 miles of coastline on the bay-facing side of the Elizabeth Islands.

Massachusetts is one of five states* with property ownership to the low tide mark. So where do people swim? There are 13.4 miles of public beaches (municipal and state owned) in Buzzards Bay, with an additional 31.9 miles of "semi-public" beaches. Many of the semi-public areas are not open to the general public; they include some large tracts of government-owned and private conservation coastal lands where the public may have some right to use, beach association and community beaches, private pay-to use beaches, club and resort beaches, and other stretches of coastline where more than a single owner is allowed use. The rest of coastline is privately owned, generally to the low tide mark. More information on the origins of public rights in the intertidal zone in Massachusetts can be found on Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management's Public Rights Along the Shoreline page. Their background page is informative, and they offer booklets and maps with descriptions of public access sites in several coastal regions of Massachusetts, including Boston - unfortunately not in the Buzzards Bay vicinity yet.

On a boat, we can enter any one of so many lovely anchorages and enjoy the tranquility of the surroundings, or the hustle and bustle of their population centers. Therein lies an advantage to enjoying these beautiful coastal regions from the water. Eleven coastal communities share the Bay. The city of New Bedford, Massachusetts is a historically significant port, known for its role as one of the world's most successful whaling ports in the early-to mid-1800s. The town of Marion is a port of another significance, being the jumping off point for several major racing events in the northeast. And Padanarum, if you can find it, is a charming village destination.

Colorful spinnakers in the Buzzards Bay Regatta in the 1980s. Photo by Joe Costa.

Buzzards Bay Regatta

The Buzzards Bay Regatta is reported to be the largest multi-class regatta in North America. It typically attracts more than 400 boats representing at least 15 different classes. The three-day event is hosted by the Beverly Yacht Club in Marion and Community Boating Center in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Click here for information.

Marion to Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race

The Beverly Yacht Club also sponsors one of the most popular blue water races on the east coast. It is open to cruising and racing yachts and is somewhat less rigorous, but no less competitive, than the Newport to Bermuda Race. It is held every two years, and the two races to Bermuda alternate years in which they take place, Marion to Bermuda being in the odd numbered years.

Click here to view larger chart. Caution, the file that will open is very large and may take a long time to download.

Navigation

Buzzards Bay is considered to have some of the most challenging waters for boating on the east coast. The intense currents rushing through some of the cuts through the islands can be very daunting, and downright dangerous if you pay no heed. Storms can whip up the waters into a churning maelstrom. It's small wonder that there are so many wrecks noted on the charts. Click here for Buzzards Bay tides predictions. Yet, when the sun comes out, and you respect the movement of the tide, you can have the sleighride of your life, leading toward some of the most charming destinations on the east coast. So come along. Let's take a seven day joy ride.

Approaching Buzzards Bay from the Southwest, it's hard to miss the Buzzards Bay Entrance Light, a 63 foot spiderlike tower (Fl 2.5 sec, Horn, Racon _...) that replaced the larger light platform in 1997, which replaced the light ship in 1961. As fog is a frequent phenomenon in this part of the world, the fog horn is a welcome signal when transiting these waters.

Most of the harbors on the west shore of Buzzards Bay are open to the southeast, whereas harbors on the eastern shore tend to be open to the North and West. You may wish to consider this factor when planning a cruise of Buzzards Bay.

Destinations and 7-day Itinerary

Lighthouse on Buzzards Bay.

Padanaram
There is one thing that distinguishes Padanaram from all other destinations: you won't find it on any chart. Oh, the village is there, but on charts and maps it is officially labeled South Dartmouth, though it is still referred to by most locals by its historical name. Home of New Bedford Yacht Club, founded in 1877, Padanaram sits on beautiful Apponagansett Bay.

New Bedford
The historic whaling town of New Bedford has much to offer the cruising yachtsman. It is home to one of the world's best whaling museums. New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, created in 1996, encompasses 34 acres spread over 13 city blocks and includes a visitor center, the New Bedford Whaling Museum,the Seamen's Bethel, the schooner Ernestina, and the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum. New Bedford sits behind a hurricane barrier, the largest stone structure on the East Coast.

Marion
Marion is a charming town at the head of Sippican Harbor, and it is also home to the Beverly Yacht Club, host of the Buzzards Bay Regatta and the Marion to Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race. The last time we were there, everyone in town was dressed in colonial perdiod costumes and we felt we had crossed a portal into another era.

Quissett
Quissett is one of the prettiest harbors you'll find anywhere, with walking trails along the shore, pretty little boats on moorings tightly strung and a golf course leading down to the harbor. There is not much room inside, and holding can be a little iffy, so plan accordingly.

Wood's Hole
One of the most challenging tidal harbors to negotiate, Wood's Hole offers access to the world's finest marine biological and oceanographic resources. As a postgraduate studies center, its academic roots make the town rather stimulating. There is a great aquarium, the Marine Biological Laboratory, Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute, a film festival, the ferry to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, whalewatching expeditions and countless other fun activities.

Hadley Harbor
Second only to Quissett in beauty, Hadley Harbor has plenty of room for a whole fleet to anchor in the back yard of the Forbes' family estates. It is also a good alternative to Wood's Hole if you arrive at the wrong time to deal with the amazing currents washing through the Hole.

Cuttyhunk
Cuttyhunk is quite possibly our favorite destination on the NE Coast, being beautiful, isolated, peaceful, quiet, and unpretentious. It's a place where real people live. It's a place where big fish still visit and oysters and lobsters populate the ocean floor.

Please note: We will be adding more destinations so please come back and visit again. If you see something that should be added or corrected, please let us know!

Links (more on pages for each destination)
Buzzard's Bay Sailing
Chartlets Collection
Enjoy Buzzard's Bay
Buzzards Bay Project
Coalition for Buzzards Bay
Buzzard's Bay Light
Wikepedia New England place names
*The other states are Delaware, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Thinking about upgrading your boat?

Think twice before trading in your old vessel if you are considering piloting a new boat in any of these destinations. You may see an immediate benefit in trading in that old boat, but there are actually far more benefits to donating your boat to charity. Organizations like Boat Angel allow you to go online and choose from a number of organizations to help out with your generous boat donation. You can even use this donation as a tax write-off, significantly reducing your yearly taxes and ultimately saving yourself some money.

Further Reading

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