Tarpaulin Cove

Nowadays the cove, like the rest of the island, is largely uninhabited, the lighthouse is automated and the (relatively) few boats transiting the Sound rarely need a sheltered anchorage to wait for wind or tide. Tarpaulin Cove is left mostly to daytime visitors.


In a sense, Tarpaulin Cove is like a sleepy main street shopping district after the highway came through and by-passed the town. The “highway” here is the Cape Cod Canal, whose opening in 1914 effectively shifted coastwise traffic from the old route through Vineyard Sound and around the Cape to the new route through Buzzards Bay.

Before the Canal, traffic through Vineyard Sound was dense enough that Naushon Island warranted a lighthouse, and that a post office was established, with congressional approval, in the late 1800s. Sailors could drop and retrieve mail with just about “drive-thru” convenience.{mvg}

Nowadays the cove, like the rest of the island, is largely uninhabited, the lighthouse is automated and the (relatively) few boats transiting the Sound rarely need a sheltered anchorage to wait for wind or tide. Tarpaulin Cove is left mostly to daytime visitors.

📷 Tom Sparks
A privately maintained light was first built at Tarpaulin Cove in 1759; the Coast Guard’s predecessor took over in 1817. Today the structure is leased to the Cuttyhunk Historical Society and closed to the public. {nps/mhm}



Tarpaulin Cove opens directly onto Vineyard Sound and the entrance is clear of obstructions all the way across, so getting in and out presents no difficulty. The lighthouse shows prominently, especially from the east.

The only difficulty that we’ve encountered in trying to visit over the years is fitting it in to a larger itinerary. The currents in Vineyard Sound run hard (often 2+ knots) in one direction or the other – making the passage a discouraging one in the “wrong” direction at least half the time. But at about 5nm from Wood’s Hole, Tarpaulin Cove is close enough to visit as a lunch stop on a short day.

Not for navigation


The cove seems larger than the chart suggests. A dozen anchored boats would feel uncrowded and there’s plenty of room in 10-20 feet with sand. Anywhere in the cove you’ll feel some effect from whatever sea is running out in the Sound, though with the typical southwester, tucking in under the lighthouse can provide a slightly better lee.

Charlie Schock writes:
OK for overnight if you are confident of the weather. (Can one ever be confident of the New England weather?) If it comes to blow from the east you can always go through Quick’s Hole. . .

True enough, though perhaps not how most of us would choose to spend a dark and stormy night.

There are no moorings or slips.

📷 Tom Sparks
Anchoring in Tarpaulin Cove on a windless afternoon.


Not for navigation. Charts are not updated. 

Going Ashore

At the end of Gatsby, Fitzgerald imagines a vanished Long Island “that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh green breast of the new world.” Squint at Naushon the right way, and you may get a small glimpse of what he meant. [Or maybe it’s as Tom Lehrer sang, “When correctly viewed, everything is lewd.”]

Naushon is privately owned, by a Trust comprising the descendants of John Murray Forbes, who bought the island in 1842. There is a cluster of houses at the east end, overlooking Hadley Harbor, served by a private ferry. But the rest of the island, along with most of the neighboring Elizabeths (also owned by various Forbes family trusts), are conserved in a “natural” state. Like most of New England, nature includes a 400 year legacy of tree-cutting, crop-growing and animal-grazing and the occasional sensitively-placed house. Nonetheless, sailing today among these “many faire Islands”, it doesn’t take too romantic an imagination to conjure Gosnold in his “small barke of Dartmouth, called The Concord” gliding down the coast in the late spring of 1602. {Brereton}

📷 Tom Sparks
The beach extends nearly around the cove, so a short dinghy trip gets you ashore from just about any spot in the anchorage.
📷 Tom Sparks

One Hour Ashore

Since public access is limited to the beach, and the lighthouse isn’t open either, an hour is plenty of time to walk the whole cove.

Off the Beaten Path

Kettle Cove is diagonally across the island from Tarpaulin Cove; it also has a beach with public access and offers a mirror-image exposure to the north and west, as opposed to the south and east here. So if weather dictates, drop your anchor in Kettle Cove instead.



Facilities / Fitting Out

Tarpaulin Cove has no supplies, services or facilities




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Tarpaulin Cove

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