Marion

Marion offers a lovely, well-protected harbor and streets that are uniquely attractive among Massachusetts' old coastal towns.

Introduction

The colonial-era village of Sippican broke away from neighboring Rochester and re-christened itself Marion in 1852. Sippican Harbor, which kept its original name, has been a favorite of cruising sailors for at least a century, since the Beverly Yacht Club moved to Marion in 1913/14.

Hundreds of boats make their homeport here every summer, but few sailors seem to put Marion on their cruising itinerary. Perhaps that’s because it’s a bit out of the way from the primary sea lanes from the Canal to Woods Hole or Narragansett Bay? Perhaps it’s because the harbor features moorings rather than slips? Perhaps it’s because the town is almost exclusively residential with few commercial shoreside diversions?

For a sailor who considers those features rather than bugs, however, Marion offers a lovely, well-protected harbor and streets that are uniquely attractive among Massachusetts’ old coastal towns.

📷 Geoff Rand
This 1873 “Carpenter Gothic. . . diminutive stick-work belfry” {SHS} on the Episcopal Church is among the many nice architectural flourishes and quirky rooflines in the Wharf Village section of town near the waterfront.

Navigation

Approaches

The most prominent landmark for the outer harbor is the old lighthouse on Bird Island, now privately maintained, at the southeast corner of the entrance. The shores gradually narrow and the water generally shoals from the high teens to the mid-teens until you reach the one tight spot, west of Ram Island. The deep water is closer to the left-hand, western, shore, and flashing Red “8” marks the shoals off Ram Island, to the right. The harbormaster does warn of an uncharted rock covered seven feet at low just north of Red “8” and just slightly out of the channel.

Past Ram Island, the inner harbor opens up to an extensive mooring field with an obvious and well-buoyed fairway running through it.

Not for navigation

Anchorages

There is a marked, designated anchorage area just north of Ram Island.

Anchoring anywhere else in Sippican Harbor requires approval from the harbormaster. The density of established moorings, however, make this a pretty unlikely scenario for a sailboat with any kind of keel.

Moorings

Burr Brothers has transient moorings with launch service to their docks, which is a short walk to restaurants and town. Barden’s rents moorings seasonally, but is not actively in the transient business.

The Beverly Yacht Club has moorings for visiting yachtsmen from recognized clubs. On their website they ask that your club provide a letter of introduction before your arrival. That said, we’ve talked with sailors who’ve arrived with no prior arrangements, hailed the yacht club launch, and gotten a mooring for the night.

Slips

There are no slips specifically for visitors in Marion. The two working yards have only limited dock space.

Events

Marion hosts two big, biennial racing events that are a good time not to visit the harbor.

In odd-numbered years, the Beverly Yacht Club hosts the Marion Bermuda Race, starting on a Friday in mid-June. Forty or so good sized sailboats grab just about all the attention in the harbor for the days leading up to the race.

In even-numbered years, the BYC hosts the Buzzards Bay Regatta on the first Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in August. It’s primarily a one-design regatta with a significant PHRF division that attracts 400 to 500 boats for the weekend.

Charts

Not for navigation. Charts are not updated. 

Going Ashore

Marion’s development since the arrival of English settlers followed a pattern that is fairly typical for coastal towns in the region. First came descendants of the Pilgrims, spreading out from Plymouth to farm the shores and fish the waters of Buzzards Bay. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, Sippican (as both the village and harbor were then called) became a modest commercial center, focused on the sea. Records indicate some fishing, some whaling, some coastal and deep-water trade, and a little shipbuilding. But according to the Historical Society, the village was better known for the sailors and ship masters it exported than for its maritime commerce per se.

Many of the houses that give in-town Marion its character today date from this commercial period. They were home to carpenters and house painters, to innkeepers, shopkeepers, and bookkeepers, to a cranberry farmer and a strawberry farmer, to a ship caulker and a sailmaker, and of course to the range of men, and some women, who went to sea. The infrastructure of a small working harbor lined the shore, and a large salt works covered the area inland of the wharves now occupied by Barden’s Boat Yard.

In the railroad era, beginning in 1855, Marion again followed the pattern of many coastal towns, becoming a summer destination for wealthy urbanites. Marion attracted its share of artists and industrialists, along with two future presidents. Franklin Delano Roosevelt spent the summer of 1921 here being treated for polio (his doctor’s house is now the yacht club). And Grover Cleveland, following his wife Francis’ recommendation, came to Marion each of the four summers of his interregnum.

In one important respect, though, Marion’s history diverges from typical: the influence of Elizabeth Pitcher Taber. Born in Sippican in the late 1700’s, Elizabeth taught school, married a New Bedford clockmaker in 1823, and had three children. By the 1870s, Elizabeth’s husband and children had all died, and she returned to Marion a widow, but with the profits from the Tabers’ investments in New Bedford whaling.

Now in her eighties, Elizabeth began her career as a philanthropist, giving to the town its library, the Music Hall, some parks, and in 1876, the original grounds and buildings of Tabor Academy. The Academy moved a few blocks to its present location in the 1920s and its campus now defines the waterfront between the ‘Old Landing’ (next to Burr Brothers) and the ‘Wharf Village’ in town.

There’s one additional factor that (I speculate. . .) may have profoundly influenced the development of contemporary Marion. In most old villages, the main road, and then the railroad, ran through the center of town. In Marion, though, the original highway (now Route 6) skirts the western edge of the town, and the railroad station was built up past the head of the cove. So the town center was mostly insulated from the two most important forces shaping late-19th and 20th century small-town streetscapes.

What does all this mean for a visiting sailor today? Mostly that there’s not much to do in Marion. Shopping, galleries, pub crawls, movies, museums, fine dining? No. There are a couple of restaurants within a short walk from the harbor. It’s less than a half-mile walk from Burr Brothers to the Cumberland Farms on Route 6. But that’s about it.

Marion’s appeal as a harbor to visit is found primarily in its almost unique combination of nicely-kept municipal and private buildings on widely-spaced lots. The town blends the order of a tightly zoned subdivision with a character and variety carefully built over 350 years of history.

📷 Geoff Rand
The waterfront park near the Old Landing is right next to Burr Brothers.
📷 Geoff Rand

One Hour Ashore

The Sippican Historical Society has a nice little walking tour of the central part of town, focused mostly on streets near the water. The stories of the houses and their occupants create a rich, anecdotal sense of Marion’s evolution from colonial outpost to prosperous shipping and whaling port to modern suburban town.

Off the Beaten Path

I’d be tempted to take the dinghy up into Hammett Cove, in the upper right-hand corner of the harbor, and check out Boatyard Park. At high tide.

Maritime History

Benjamin Briggs of Marion was captain of the famous ghost ship Mary Celeste, discovered under sail near the Straits of Gibralter in 1872, with her entire crew missing, including Brigg’s wife Sarah, also of Marion, and their daughter. Briggs’ mother lived in Marion, and Briggs had left his son with her for the voyage.

Rainy Day

The Sippican Historical Society has limited hours most days, as does the LibraryThe Natural History Collection is on the second floor.

Services

Facilities

Launch service is included with mooring rental at both the yacht club and Burr Brothers, and both places have dinghy docks as well. Both launches monitor VHF 68.

There are town docks with limited tie-up times along the waterfront downtown.

Showers, restrooms, and trash disposal are also available to mooring customers at the yacht club and Burr Brothers. Burr Brothers’ showers are coin-operated. There are also public restrooms underneath the harbormaster’s waterfront office near the middle of the harborfront.

Fitting Out

Diesel, water, and ice are available at Burr Brothers. The channel in to their fuel dock is narrow but clearly marked with privately maintained little nuns and cans. They report six feet of water at the dock at low tide, and we’ve made it in and out with a draft just under eight feet at the right tide. The dockmaster requests you hail in advance on #68.

Barden’s, next to the harbormaster’s office also sells fuel – with a prior appointment to ensure space at the dock.

For pumpout, call the harbormaster.

For provisioning, there’s a Shaw’s on Route 6 about four miles north of Marion, and a Super Stop and Shop just off Route 6 a couples mile further on.

Right in the center of town is the pleasingly well-stocked Marion General Store, featuring canned and dry goods, some produce, a meat counter, plus a decent selection of beer and wine. It would be tough to provision for a full week here, but it would certainly get you through a couple days. There’s a liquor store next door.

Both Barden’s and Burr Brothers are full-service yards that can handle any needed repairs. Otherwise, the nearest West Marine is in Fairhaven, about 8 miles south.

Contacts

Burr Brothers
1-508-748-0541
VHF: 68
Book with Dockwa

Barden’s Boat Yard
1-508-748-0250

Beverly Yacht Club
1-508-748-0540
VHF: 68

Marion Harbormaster
Office: 1-508-748-3515
Dock: 1-508-748-3535
VHF: 09 & 16

Photos

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Marion

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