Menemsha

With just one street of small shops, surrounded by beach, dunes, grass, mixed forest and vast saltwater ponds, Menemsha feels seductively like the edge of the world.

Introduction

📷 Geoff Rand

With just one street of small shops, surrounded by beach, dunes, grass, mixed forest and vast saltwater ponds, Menemsha feels seductively like the edge of the world. Residents and visitors alike come here for the unhurried, untucked mood it engenders.

The harbor itself is not quite tranquil. The man-made basin is lit up by street lamps, and it’s home to countless dedicated fishermen, both recreational and pro. Plus there’s a small Coast Guard station.

While it may be just as exclusive as any other place on the Vineyard, Menemsha seems determined not to flaunt it.

Navigation

Approaches

Menemsha Harbor opens directly onto Vineyard Sound via a narrow dredged channel between breakwaters. A 25 ft high flashing green sits at the end of the eastern breakwater and there’s an (unlit) green bell about 250 yards off the entrance. Current runs hard, but straight, through the entrance, from a knot or two up to 4 or 5, as the expanse of Menemsha Pond drains and fills with the tide. The only tricky part of the entrance is to recognize that there’s very little room for boathandling inside the breakwaters and to prepare accordingly.

The harbormaster reported depths were 18 feet in the entrance channel and 12 feet in the basin. {2005} The mooring basin opens to your left immediately inside the breakwaters. Current in the basin is negligible.

Geoff Rand
Not for navigation

Anchorages

Anchoring is possible outside the breakwaters and clear of the moorings. It’s protected enough for calm summer weather and the prevailing southwesterly, but any groundswell from the west or chop in the Sound makes it rolly. Menemsha Bight is exposed from northeast around to west, and goes from uncomfortable to untenable in any significant northerly.

There is no room to anchor inside the breakwaters. Menemsha Pond looks tempting, but depths in the creek leading to it vary yearly and generally don’t admit large keelboats. The dredging indicated on the chart is intended more to promote circulation and water quality than navigation. Overnight anchoring in the Pond is prohibited.

Moorings

The Town maintains a handful of guest moorings outside the breakwaters, to the north and east of the entrance. (The moorings south and west of the entrance are private). The outside town moorings are first come first served and they are frequently used throughout the summer, but they are subject to the same weather as the anchorage discussed above.

Inside the mooring basin are two town moorings for visitors which may be reserved, and to which several boats may be rafted. The basin is well sheltered from any weather short of a hurricane.

For any of the moorings, contact the harbormaster.

Slips

The town also maintains 120 feet of dock space for visitors, along the north edge of the basin, north of the fuel pumps. South of the fuel pumps is designated for the use of commercial fishermen.

Call the harbormaster to arrange for dock space.

Not for navigation

Charts

Not for navigation. Charts are not updated. 

Going Ashore

Lacking a deepwater harbor until the entrance was first dredged in 1899, the town of Chilmark, including Menemsha village, evolved quite differently than her larger maritime neighbors of Vineyard Haven and Edgartown. Farmers outnumbered fishermen by 2:1 in late nineteenth century Chilmark, with only a handful of men employed as sailors. In fact the town experienced a nearly uninterrupted decline in population from the late 18th century until the 1950’s. The Hurricane of 1938 obliterated most of the village’s structures.

Tranquility and open space proved irresistible in the late 20th century, though, with year-round population growing by a factor of five. (Now just under 1000, it finally exceeded pre-American Revolution levels around 1990!) Summer residents multiply that severalfold. Even as the land around Menemsha has become some of the most desired in the region, the town has largely avoided both crowding and sprawl. Big lots, tight zoning, agricultural covenants and significant tracts of conservation land have transformed the old farms and forests into an appealing, if staggeringly expensive, post-rural landscape.

Fishermen are decisively more prevalent than farmers these days. The harbor has an active commercial fishery, plus a vibrant charter fleet. And just about every private boat in the harbor carries some kind of fishing gear. Walking along the wharves and breakwaters in the evening, you’d swear that everyone has a fishing rod in their hands.

📷 Geoff Rand
📷 Geoff Rand
End of summer. Residents gather on the town beach at the fall equinox to watch as the sun sets just beyond Gay Head. 

One Hour Ashore

Cocktails on the town beach at sunset. Bring your own wine and hors d’oeuvres or get takeout steamers from one of the nearby fish markets.

Off the Beaten Path

Dinghy exploration of Menemsha and Squibnocket Ponds offers glimpses of the island’s largely undeveloped interior. The current runs at several knots in and out of the ponds with the tide, requiring an outboard – or careful timing if you’re oars-only.

If you’d rather explore by land, the Trustees of Reservations’ 211 acre property Menemsha Hills is about 2 miles from the harbor.

Services

Facilities

The dinghy dock is in the northern corner of the basin, between the slips and the breakwater. If you’re anchored or moored outside, remember that at its peak, the current in the entrance can fight a small outboard to a draw.

Showers and restrooms are across the street from the fuel dock. Showers are partially solar-heated, operate with quarters and are open 24 hours.

Fitting Out

Diesel and water are available at the fuel dock. The shop on the wharf above the fuel dock sells ice and a modest selection of basic supplies.

The larger general store at the head of the harbor offers a wider assortment of groceries, but it’s seasonal. By the second half of September they were paring inventory (no ice cream. . .). For a major re-supply, the Vineyard’s three other harbors offer better options. Menemsha, like Vineyard Haven, is in a dry town.

There are a couple nice fish markets along the wharf.

For pumpout, contact the Harbormaster.

Contacts

Chilmark Harbormaster
Dock: 1-508.645.2110
Harbormaster: 1-508-645-2846
VHF: 09/08
Book with Dockwa

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Menemsha

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Menemsha

With just one street of small shops, surrounded by beach, dunes, grass, mixed forest and vast saltwater ponds, Menemsha feels seductively like the edge of the world.

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