Manchester

Inside the slim well-protected harbor may be the prettiest shoreline attached to a full-sized town in all New England. The yacht club, private boat houses, boat yards, town docks and thickly placed moorings make an unambiguous impression.

Introduction

James Fields, the renown Boston publisher, put “Manchester-by-the-Sea” on his letterhead sometime after building his Manchester summer house in the 1870s. His correspondents, including Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Greenleaf Whittier, gently mocked him with replies from Beverly-by-the-Depot and Haverhill-by-the-Hollyhocks.{NS p.103} We’d like to think that when the town officially adopted the vaguely European suffix in 1990, it did so with tongue at least partly in cheek.

That said, Manchester is by-the-sea. An arriving sailor’s first view is of the oceanfront estates, from Gilded Age to Tech Bubble, that line most of the rocky shore. Inside the slim well-protected harbor may be the prettiest shoreline attached to a full-sized town in all New England. The yacht club, private boat houses, boat yards, town docks and thickly placed moorings make an unambiguous impression. One resident, taking sides in a zoning dispute over a horse farm, put it bluntly: “Manchester is about boats.”

Navigation

Approaches

In daylight, the entrance to Manchester is easy to negotiate. The dredged channel is narrow, it can seem barely wide enough to pass an oncoming boat, but it is clearly marked with a string of nuns and cans. Over the past few years we’ve seen a controlling depth of about 10 feet at low, with (perhaps?) a little better depth on the red side. Expecting the channel to degrade between dredgings, a deep-draft boat will treat both edges with respect.

Sailors unfamiliar with Manchester should avoid arriving at night. The channel marks are unlit, as are the prominent ledges around Solly (or Sauli) Rock, Whaleback, and the Halftide Rocks. The prominent tower outside the harbor is a great daymark, also unlit. It’s a WWII era observation post re-styled in a lighthouse motif.

Note that in 2006, the green daymark on Sauli Rock broke off. A stump of the pole still shows on the ledge, and a new green can is located just to the south.

The harbor is incredibly crowded. Moored boats hang fenders off their transoms to soften the blow when they don’t swing precisely in time with their neighbors. The distinction between fairway and mooring field is not always obvious. Room to maneuver is scarce; the widest spot is usually off the fuel docks, in front of Manchester Marine’s big red complex near the head of the harbor.

Not for navigation

Anchorages

There is no room to anchor inside Manchester Harbor. You can anchor in Manchester Bay, clear of the outer moorings, with reasonable protection in summer weather. Or go a little further out and anchor off Great Misery.

Not for navigation

Moorings

Manchester Marine has several transient moorings inside the harbor; they “highly recommend” reservations during peak season.

The Manchester Yacht Club, immediately inside the entrance, is not actively in the business of transient moorings, although their launch may have a vacant member’s mooring.

Slips

There are no transient slips per se in the harbor. Manchester Marine may have tie-up space at their docks, but it’s primarily a service yard.

📷 Geoff Rand
Red-roofed pavilion in front of the Manchester Yacht Club.
📷 Geoff Rand
The entrance to Manchester harbor, showing the observation tower.

Charts

Not for navigation. Charts are not updated. 

Going Ashore

Manchester is unusual among cruising destinations in Massachusetts, in that the town did not grow up as a significant port. Morison all but dismisses the colonial version of Manchester as “a poor fishing village, vot[ing] as the Boston merchant who handled its catch dictated.” {MHM, p.24}

A dramatic shift towards the Manchester we now recognize began in 1845, when Richard Henry Dana, Jr. bought thirty shorefront acres for his father as a summer retreat. After the railroad came to town in 1848, more summer residents followed, so that by the 1870s, most of the town’s coastal property had been bought up by wealthy out-of-towners. {NS p. 41 ff} Manchester was firmly established as part of Massachusetts’ Gold Coast.

Dredging in the 1890s finally opened up the harbor to vessels larger than small fishermen. The yacht club debuted in 1895, and the forerunners of today’s boatyards went into business around the same time. Manchester rose to prominence as a yachting locus in spite of lagging her neighbors, including the Boston YC (1866), Eastern YC (1870) and Beverly YC (1872) by a generation.

With its mostly private residential character, Manchester doesn’t offer a lot specifically for visitors to do. The downtown has a few interesting restaurants, plus coffee shops, sandwich shops and pizza places. The attractive shopfronts, also concentrated near the harbor, are mostly of the jewelry/clothing/decorating gallery type. And there’s an outpost of Nantucket Chocolatier. (Whether this is a good thing depends on your taste for upscale sweets outweighing your distaste for the occasional pretensions of a certain island. Either way, isn’t the “Nantucket” brand incongruous in Manchester-by-the-Sea?)

Outside of downtown are several appealing and restful blocks of mainly 18th and 19th century houses.

📷 Geoff Rand
📷 Geoff Rand

One Hour Ashore

Maybe a walk around town and ice cream. The old pub at 7 Central Street got acquired by The Landing (of Marblehead) in 2004 but still offers sports on the tube in an 18th century house.

Off the Beaten Path

Agassiz Rock is a striking glacial boulder deposit on a hilltop, about 2 miles from the harbor. Walk north out of town on School St. and continue a half mile past Rt. 128. Closer by is Singing Beach, maybe 3/4 mile south of town on Beach St.

Maritime History

Crocker’s Boat Yard is a family-run operation established in 1946. The grandfather of the yard’s current owner was yacht designer Samuel S. Crocker II, and a number of his distinctive boats may still be seen in local waters. {I’m sort of embarrassed I don’t have pictures. . .ed.} His 23 foot racer/pocket cruiser Stone Horse, first designed in the 1930s, in many ways prefigures the J/24. Edey & Duff of Mattapoisett revived the design in ‘glass, building 150 between 1969 and 1996.

Services

Facilities

From the Manchester Marine moorings, it’s an easy dinghy trip into their floats. The town dinghy dock is in the innermost cove, beyond the railroad bridge. There are also town floats at the head of the harbor, off Masconomo Park. The town dinghy dock and town floats are closer than Manchester Marine to most shoreside services.

Manchester Marine has showers and restrooms.

The commuter rail station in Manchester is just across the street from the harbor and has frequent service to Salem and Boston, or to Gloucester and Rockport.

Fitting Out

Manchester Marine’s fuel dock has diesel, water, ice and pumpout facilities — although be aware that the fuel dock typically doesn’t open until late May.

Both Manchester Marine and Crocker’s Boat Yard next door have full repair capabilities.

Manchester’s downtown is an easy walk from the harbor. It has all the shops and supplies you’d expect to find in a self-sufficient suburban town, including a grocery store.

Contacts

Manchester Marine
1-978-526-7911
VHF: 72
Book with Dockwa

Manchester Yacht Club
1-978-526-4595
VHF: 78

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Manchester

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