This perfect little gem of a harbor sits near the Buzzards Bay entrance to Woods Hole – at the nautical crossroads of southern New England. Surrounded by the largely undeveloped Elizabeth Islands, and with no shoreside facilities, Hadley can offer a serenity unmatched in the region. It holds a well-deserved spot on everybody’s A-list of cruising destinations.
So boats come and go all afternoon, some looking for a mooring, some just looking. And a disproportionate number of Hadley’s admirers have a peculiar fascination with entering and leaving under sail – whether it’s an informal rite of passage or a reluctance to disturb the quiet with diesel exhaust.
Entering the outer harbor between the nun and can will keep you clear of the various ledges and shoals across the mouth. The entrance to the inner harbor, between Bull and Nonamesset islands, is not buoyed so stick to the middle and trust your instincts. Both sides shoal quickly, but the depth sounder seems to give a little more warning if you slightly favor the left (east) side going in.
The entrance to Hadley looks narrow, but opens up once inside. The rocks in the foreground right are the east tip of Bull Island; the trees in the background are Goats Neck.
The outer harbor anchorage, north and east of Bull Island, is exposed to the northeast, but well-enough protected otherwise. It’s a great lunch stop if you’re waiting for the current to change in Woods Hole, a good overnight spot in the right weather, and it’s rarely crowded.
The inner harbor is protected in all directions, but it’s as likely to be completely full as the outer harbor is to be nearly empty. There is a narrow anchorage to the north of Goats Neck. It’s comfortable, but swinging room can be scarce when the inevitable 2 or 3 boats tuck in with short scope on an all-chain rode.
Note that down the middle of the harbor is a fairway, marked by a few warning buoys, where anchoring is prohibited. A private ferry from the mainland runs frequently to its dock on Naushon at the head of the cove.
The moorings in the inner harbor are privately maintained, and there are no published guidelines for using them. Visiting boats routinely pick up any unoccupied ball, but they are wildly popular. Don’t count on finding one available.
North of Goats Neck, there are 3 Coast Guard moorings, large white nuns. Visiting boats tie up to these as well, though the Coast Guard may require them in bad weather or other emergency.
Overcrowding is the perennial complaint of cruising sailors, but Hadley is unique. Its proximity to boat traffic, natural appeal, tight anchorages, lack of any reservation system, and maybe a little cachet, all ensure that it is heavily used seven days a week throughout the season. So avoid weekends and holidays, check the weather and Woods Hole currents, plan to arrive early and size up your options. Remember that the much larger harbors of Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, Cuttyhunk and Great Harbor in Woods Hole itself are all within 2 or 3 hours of Hadley.
All of the islands forming Hadley Harbor are privately owned by the Naushon Trust, a low-profile organization of the Forbes family. John Murray Forbes, the 19th century Boston merchant and capitalist, left the islands to his descendants in 1898, and the Trust has maintained them in a near-natural state (with a few Forbes houses) ever since.
Landing is prohibited anywhere in Hadley except for Bull Island, where visitors ashore are welcome. A quick walk offers views of the inner harbor, outer harbor and the entrance channel.
Naushon is also home to the first known population in New England of I. scapularis (the Lyme disease tick) – still reported to be thriving there.
The dinghy dock at Bull Island.
One Hour Ashore
Bull Island is small and pretty; the setting is spectacular.
Off the Beaten Path
Bull Island is also pretty tightly circumscribed.
The islands themselves represent a bit of maritime history. John Murray Forbes purchased Naushon, the largest of the Elizabeths, in 1842 with money made at least in part from his work trading in China.
About the only diversion in Hadley is to go below and read a book.
The dinghy dock on Bull Island is meant for visitors.
There are no other facilities in Hadley.