Rockport

Rockport seems to exist just this side of magic realism. A narrow cut between rocky headlands provides the setting; a man-made breakwater forms the harbor.

Introduction

Rockport seems to exist just this side of magic realism. A narrow cut between rocky headlands provides the setting; a man-made breakwater forms the harbor. Massive wharves, built of Cape Ann granite, define the harbor’s perimeter. Once used for the export of the town’s namesake commodity, they now serve whale-watchers, lobstermen, and the throngs of summer visitors to Rockport’s shops and galleries.

On the long stretch of coast between Gloucester and Portsmouth, Rockport is the only harbor that can be entered in (almost) any weather. The tiny mooring area, completely filled with local boats, offers near-perfect protection except in a stiff northeaster.

📷 Geoff Rand
If you tie up to the wharves in Rockport, you become part of the scenery. Painters and photographers are always looking for their signature shot of Motif #1 in the low morning light.

Navigation

Approaches

The entrance to Rockport is tight, but well-marked and unobstructed. Just outside, however, is one of the region’s more ignominious hazards: From whichever direction you approach Sandy Bay, BE CERTAIN TO LOCATE THE LARGE, UNFINISHED BREAKWATER. Yes, it does stretch in an inverted V all the way from Green ‘3’ off Pigeon Cove to Red ‘2’ off Straightsmouth Island. It’s a menace at any tide, and yes, several unwary navigators hit it each year.

Not for navigation

Anchorages

In most summer weather, Sandy Bay is a surprisingly benign body of water. The long reach of Halibut Point to the west and the high land of Cape Ann to the South form a partial enclosure that offers a comfortable lee in the prevailing winds and blocks most ocean swell. On a typical summer weekend, there may be a dozen or so boats happily anchored for the night off Front Beach. A short dinghy trip gets you to town.

The anchorage is, however, completely exposed to the north and east and if the northeaster builds to any strength, many of the berths within Rockport Harbor itself become untenable, as a powerful surge echoes off the granite walls. The nearest reliable shelter is Gloucester, eight miles away.

Not for navigation

Moorings and Slips

Rockport’s actual harbor is extremely crowded, with local boats moored fore-and-aft on either side of the narrow fairway. The harbormasters do maintain a handful of berths for guests, but these too are very popular. If you’re planning to visit Rockport, it is preferable to do so mid-week or off-season. Whenever you go, call the harbormasters several days in advance to establish whether or not a berth is available. Rockport’s harbormasters must be the most outgoing on the coast, working closely with visiting boats to keep the somewhat tricky harbor working smoothly.

This is not a harbor to enter after dark unless you’re pretty familiar with it. Plan to arrive in Sandy Bay by late afternoon , and hail the harbormasters on channel 9.They will direct you to one of the berths. Rockport uses 3 different mooring techniques, all unusual in Massachusetts. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice when tying up. In any case, be prepared with fenders and docklines before entering the harbor. Docking conditions are calm in most weather, still you’ll want to get it right the first time. Turning room is scant, and the inevitable crowd of onlookers at the Town Pier is hoping for more excitment in your landing than you are.

Once your boat is secured, remember to pay the Town’s modest dockage fee, using the envelopes at the desk inside the Sandy Bay Yacht Club building at the end of T wharf.

📷 Geoff Rand
If you are anchored in Sandy Bay, the nearest dinghy landing is this float in the Old Harbor, a granite enclosure next to Front Beach to the west of the harbor. And true to its name, anchors in Sandy Bay come up clean.
📷 Geoff Rand
Only a small central portion of the breakwater across Sandy Bay is consistently above water.

A FINAL NOTE:

Sailing Center boats are frequent visitors to Rockport, and are well recognized. Please respect the hospitality that Rockport extends, bearing in mind those other members who will follow you.

Charts

Not for navigation. Charts are not updated. 

Going Ashore

Downtown Rockport is compact and easy to walk. Straight across the intersection from the wharf, the road leads to the ‘modern’ part of town, including a bank, small market and pizza. A short block to the right is Bearskin Neck, with its streets and alleys full of restaurants, shops and galleries catering to the visitor. Most summer evenings, you can expect plenty of those visitors will be on hand, sampling Rockport’s charms.

Walk a little beyond downtown, and Rockport is a completely different place. There are beaches, parks, public footpaths and street after street of attractive houses that neatly get the aesthetic of an old coastal village.

Rockport hasn’t always been this charming. When Robert Carter sailed in during his Summer Cruise of 1858, he recounted:

We landed on a dirty beach, covered with the decaying offal of fish, the stench of which was almost suffocating. . . It was so unpleasant on deck that, immediately after supper, we had lighted our cigars and closed the cabin doors, to smother with the fumes of tobacco the fishy odors from the shore. {Carter, p.97}

The current incarnation of the old storefronts and fishhouses on Bearskin Neck may stretch the notion of a coastal New England village until it’s almost unrecognizable. And yet, the waterfront of most towns historically was crowded, public and commercial. Fishing villages never were pristine.

📷 Rich Urmston
The breakwater at the end of Bearskin Neck near sunset.
📷 Geoff Rand
The rocky “Headlands” form the east side of the harbor entrance. Follow Atlantic Ave along the harbor’s east side, and then the Foot Path at the end.

One Hour Ashore

Ok, walk to the end of Bearskin Neck. But try one of the alternatives listed below on your way back.

Off the Beaten Path

Sit on the massive granite wharves of the Old Harbor. Wander through Millbrook Meadow. Find your way out to the Headlands.

Maritime History

This is a separate trip (by car), but the State Park at Halibut Point gives a nice overview of how Rockport got its rock. There’s a fascinating little exhibit, an interpretive trail through the old quarries, and a WWII observation tower to climb.

Rainy Day

Hmmm. Even in the rain, Rockport is still pretty dry, although the town voted in the spring of 2005 to allow limited alcohol sales in restaurants. There are plenty of art galleries and clothing stores, plus an intriguing book store.

Services

Facilities

There is informal launch service in the harbor, but the hours are pretty limited, even on busy summer weekends. It’s best to check with the harbormasters for details when you arrive. Or, if you don’t have your own dinghy, you can drop a crew member off to borrow one of the club’s red & white skiffs.

Tie up among the other dinghies at the float to the left (east) of the yacht club. Both the town dock to the right of the yacht club and the front face of the yacht club float are frequently used loading zones.

The shower is behind the yacht club; it’s usually open all hours. Restrooms are in the Yacht Club, which closes around sunset, or at the Harbormaster’s brick office at the head of the wharf, open a little earlier and later. There is also a set of restrooms behind Front Beach.

Trash receptacles are on the wharf.

You should receive a Visitors Guide along with the payment envelope when you arrive.

Fitting Out

There is no diesel available in Rockport. Fishing boats fill up from an oil truck, but for sailboats, Gloucester is the closest source.

Water and ice are available at the yacht club.

For groceries, there’s a convenience store a short block up Broadway from the wharf, or an IGA about 3/4 of a mile away.

The Harbormasters have a pumpout boat.

Contacts

Rockport Harbormasters
Rosemary Lesch
Scott Story
Assistant Ron Petoff
Assistant 
Story Reed
harbormaster@rockportma.org

1-978-546-9589
VHF: 09

Sandy Bay Yacht Club
Nice basic facilities.

All moorings are administered by the harbormasters.

Photos

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Rockport

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