Plymouth

Plymouth has a working waterfront in the modern sense: whale watching, charter fishing, restaurants, motels and shops all cater to the town's visitors.

Introduction

Sailing into Plymouth, one can begin to imagine just how tenuous their foothold in the New World must have seemed to the Pilgrims. With the captain of the Mayflower threatening to “turn them and their goods ashore and leave them” in Provincetown, and sail for England, they had little choice but to settle in this difficult and commercially unpromising harbor. {OPP p71}

Exploring to the head of the bay 15 years before the Mayflower, Samuel de Champlain. . .

. . .saw only an arm of water extending a short distance inland, where the land is only in part cleared up. Running into this is merely a brook not deep enough for boats except at full tide. . .
{Voyages p78}

Even today, the entrance is remote and a little wild, with its eroded bluffs, vast mudflats and powerful currents.

But the town has nice facilities for visiting sailors and some unique shoreside attractions close to the harbor. Plymouth is not a convenient stopover if you’re mostly enroute to someplace else, but it makes a strong case on its own merits for inclusion in a Cape Cod Bay itinerary.

📷 Geoff Rand
The masts of the 1950s-built replica Mayflower II are prominent along the Plymouth shoreline.

Navigation

Approaches

The harbor at Plymouth is nearly 5 miles from open water. With the sun setting in your eyes and the outgoing current pushing hard on your bow, those miles can seem twice as long. But the entrance is merely long, not difficult. There is plenty of water to get in and out at any tide, and the channel is well marked. The range lights leading into the mooring area, however, are widely reported to be nearly indiscernible among the lights of town. {cs}

The outer channel, from Gurnet Point, past Brown’s Bank to the Duxbury Pier Light (aka “Bug Light”) does shift year to year, and the buoys sometimes move accordingly. Following the Chart Kit’s pre-printed course between Gurnet Point and Bug Light may take you outside the channel.

At the narrow part of the channel off Bug Light the current can run over two knots. And where the various channels converge just inside the Light there can be some strange rips.

Also note that there is a security zone around the Pilgrim nuclear power plant, on Rocky Point south of Plymouth Bay. In 2002, the zone extended about a half mile off shore.

Not for navigation

Anchorages

At the elbow of the dredged channel, behind Plymouth Beach, is a narrow anchorage. It is remote from the bustle of town and harbor, but not from the traffic in and out. The deep water in the Cowyard is also used as an anchorage, but it’s only suitable for fair weather, and is also subject to traffic.

More secluded are the anchorages west or north of Clarks Island. They are over three miles from town, however, and feel exposed in a westerly of any force.

Not for navigation

Moorings

There isn’t room to anchor behind the breakwater, but there is generally a mooring available in the well-sheltered field between the breakwater and town. Sailboats are concentrated in the east of of the dredged mooring area, where in 2009 there was typically 8 feet at low, with 7 feet in a couple places, 9 feet in others.

Guest moorings throughout the harbor are handled by the Plymouth Yacht Club, whose launch monitors the uncommon VHF 08. The Club does now take reservations for moorings, with an online form available. Their clubhouse is at the south end of the harbor.

Neither the Harbormaster nor the Plymouth Harbor Launch Service, both located on the Town Wharf, is in the transient mooring business.

Slips

Just north of the yacht club and convenient to the heart of town are the facilities of Safe Harbor Plymouth. With over 100 slips, there is usually one available for an overnight visitor, though reservations are recommended.

📷 Geoff Rand
The dramatically eroded cliffs of Gurnet Point mark the entrance to Plymouth Harbor.
📷 Geoff Rand
‘Bug Light’ sits at the confluence of channels running north to Duxbury, south to Plymouth, and straight ahead to the former Plymouth Cordage Company site.

Charts

Not for navigation. Charts are not updated. 

Going Ashore

Plymouth has a working waterfront in the modern sense: whale watching, charter fishing, restaurants, motels and shops all cater to the town’s visitors. Commercial fishermen and ferries use the big wharves.

Most prominent on the harbor is Mayflower II, a 1950’s reproduction of the ship seminal in New England mythology. Onboard, surprisingly well-informed interpreters describe the Pilgrims’ voyage, illuminating the techniques and hardships of 17th century seafaring.

If you push beyond the gift shops ringing Mayflower and the nearby, uh, temple, you can find half a dozen attractive little parks and gardens along the waterfront. There is a Pilgrim Trail that follows Town Brook a mile and a half inland from Brewster Gardens.

The Town Wharf, at the north end of the harbor, is home to the whale watching and fishing fleets, and a magnet to shops and restaurants.

Main Street, parallel to Water Street and one block in, is an extensive and vibrant downtown commercial district. You’ll find antique shops and art galleries, along with Mexican, Thai, Indian, and pizza, plus a cafe or two with wi-fi.

Did I forget to mention the Rock?

📷 Geoff Rand
Looking over the the Plymouth Rock Temple to the mooring area and breakwater.

One Hour Ashore

Visit Plymouth Rock, in its outsize, Greekish Temple just south of Mayflower, and you’ll still have 55 minutes to walk around town.

Off the Beaten Path

Even on a busy day in the fall, the gardens seemed to attract more ducks than people

Maritime History

Mayflower.

Or you can walk about a mile north from the Town Wharf along the waterfront to the mill complex of the former Plymouth Cordage Company. They manufactured rope on the site from 1824 through the 1960’s; at one point they were the largest ropemakers in the world.

Rainy Day

Plymouth sprawls a bit farther than it’s comfortable to explore on a truly rainy day, and the big attraction, Plimouth Patuxet, is 3 miles out of town.

Pilgrim Hall Museum completed a major renovation – including a wing for changing exhibits and a new installation of their permanent exhibits – in May 2008. It’s located just a block up from the waterfront.

📷 Geoff Rand
This little bridge over Town Brook in the pretty, quiet Brewster Gardens is a short walk from the harbor. According to a sign in the Gardens: “The brook was a major contributing factor in the Pilgrims’ decision to settle at Plymouth.” Champlain may have derogated it, but the spring-fed source of water must have looked good to anyone getting off the Mayflower.

Services

Facilities

The PYC launch (VHF 08) will take you to the clubhouse. Plymouth Harbor Launch Service (“Lightening” on 09) runs service to the Town Wharf, and charges per person.

There are dinghy docks at the State Pier (by Mayflower) and at the Town Wharf.

The yacht club and Brewer’s have showers. Public restrooms are also available at the State Pier, along with lots of trash barrels for a small discreet off-load.

On Water St, by the Town Wharf, is a Tourist Info Center.

Fitting Out

Diesel, Water & Ice are available both at Brewer’s and the Town Wharf

There’s a Tedeschi’s at the left end of Main Street.

Contacts

Photos

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Comments

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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David Filipov
David Filipov
5 months ago

Hey, everyone! Here’s an update circa fall 2021: The Plymouth Harbormaster has a few moorings at $67.50 night, along with a launch service and very nice onshore facilities. They are on Dockwa, and they are very friendly and understanding (when weather intrudes, they’ll do a same-day cancellation.) Here’s another important update: There is plenty of water all the way into the mooring field. Hail them on 16 and they’ll walk you in. Launch runs til sundown and dinghy dock is a slugfest so plan your evening accordingly!!

Plymouth

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