Misery Islands

The Misery Islands supposedly got their name after a local shipbuilder, harvesting timber, spent three days stranded by a December storm in the 1620s. We've never visited the islands in December, but from May through October, we've found them unanimously pleasant.


“Here one finds liberty and privacy, things most desired in modern civilization.”

So Charles Hanks, President of the Misery Island Club, described the islands in 1901. {JEG/NS, p.222} To club members, a visit to Great Misery meant freedom from the oversight of general society. A sailor today may be disappointed here in his pursuit of such liberty, but stands a reasonable chance of finding a little privacy.

Great and Little Misery Islands, less than a mile outside of Manchester, can be crowded with day trippers on a summer weekend. Mid-week or off season, however, these wooded and grassy islands owned by the Trustees of Reservations offer reasonably protected anchorages and an unexpected sense of seclusion.

📷 Geoff Rand
Dinghy trip back from the beach at Great Misery.
📷 Geoff Rand
Writing of his classic Rozinante the Marblehead designer L. Francis Herrshoff said “When an object is nicely proportioned and has retained some well-proven ancient quality, it is romantic looking.” {LFH p97} This “Rozi” is moored with Great Misery in the background.



Great Misery has two distinct harbors, an unnamed cove to the Southwest between Great and Little Misery, and to the Northwest the so-called Cocktail Cove. Both have moorings, good beaches and protection on two sides; pick your cove based on expected conditions.

To enter the Southwest cove, head for flashing R”10″ off Little Misery, leaving it to starboard, then aim for the middle of the cove. Check the tide and watch your depth sounder — not all moorings are in deep water.

Cocktail Cove is unmarked, but the shore is bold and easily eyeballed in daylight. On a dark night, however, the shores can be hard to gauge and unlit Sauli Rock looms uncomfortably close.

The green daymark on Sauli Rock, missing for the past few years, was replaced in 2008.

Not for navigation


In either cove, anchor just outside the moorings, though you may feel a little exposed and roll with any swell; Cocktail Cove is flatter in most conditions. For a smoother night and quicker trip to the beach, head in for a mooring.


The moorings at Great Misery are unusual — privately owned, organized by the Beverly Harbormaster, and by custom free to all on a first-come basis. Used primarily by the islands’ daytime visitors, most are empty at night.

With no one around to vouch for their groundtackle, the moorings at Great Misery, like the coves themselves, are suitable only for a mild night. If it threatens to blow, head for a more secure mainland harbor.


Not for navigation. Charts are not updated. 

Going Ashore

The Misery Islands supposedly got their name after a local shipbuilder, harvesting timber, spent three days stranded by a December storm in the 1620s. {TTOR} We’ve never visited the islands in December, but from May through October, we’ve found them unanimously pleasant.

The islands are open daily from sunrise to sunset. A Trustees of Reservations caretaker lives on Great Misery from June through Labor Day, and collects a small admission fee. Trustee members are free.

On the beach in either cove there are signs with island maps describing the 2.5 miles of footpaths which criss-cross Great Misery.

Wandering the island, you can see ruins of the often spectacular summer cottages built in the early 1900s, along with traces of their landscaping and a 9-hole golf course, now gone wild.

There are several pleasant picnic areas.

📷 Rich Urmston
The narrow cut between Great and Little Misery is nearly dry at low tide. The beaches on both islands are accessible by dinghy.
📷 Jim Griffeth
The two-room composting toilet in the middle of the island is architecturally stunning – bright and airy with skylit interiors and delicately soaring rooflines.

One Hour Ashore

It takes about an hour to wander over Great Misery. Little Misery is a separate dinghy trip at most tides.

Off the Beaten Path

It’s more a question of when than where. The islands aren’t big enough to get away from other visitors on busy weekends, but they are always tranquil. Midweek, you can have half the island to yourself.

Maritime History

A few bits of the wrecked steamship City of Rockland lie on the beach between the islands.

Rainy Day

The only roof is the outhouse.



Dinghy in to the beach at either cove.

All trash must be carried off the islands.

Sun Line Cruises runs boats to the islands out of Salem.

Fitting Out

There are no supplies or services at Great Misery. The truly addicted will send a morning dinghy expedition into nearby Manchester for Dunkin Donuts coffee. Manchester is also the closest source for any other cruising necessities.

The Manchester Harbormaster’s pumpout boat often tours the mooring areas.






If you have updated information, corrections, or contributions to this harbor, please share them below. Comments are moderated by Boston Sailing Center. 

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