Vineyard Haven

In the age of sail, Vineyard Sound was among the world's busiest sea lanes. When those vessels needed shelter from hard weather or a foul current, it was an obvious choice - easy to enter and close to their route.

Introduction

In the age of sail, Vineyard Sound was among the world’s busiest sea lanes. Traffic from the whole eastern seaboard passed between the Cape and the Islands en route to Boston or Maine. Samuel Eliot Morison asserts that “On a fine westerly day in the seventeen-nineties, fifty or sixty sail could be seen from any point in this great ocean fairway.” {SEM/MHM p.162}

When those vessels needed shelter from hard weather or a foul current, Vineyard Haven was an obvious choice – easy to enter and close to their route. George W. Eldridge conceived his still-famous Tide and Pilot Book while selling charts here in the 1870s to the “frequently more than 100 schooners [anchoring] to await a fair current.” {ET&P p 2} Even as late as 1898, the harbor was busy enough that a November gale wrecked over fifty vessels. {HFN/tisbury}

A sailor arriving in Vineyard Haven these days is most likely doing so in July or August, maybe after a short trip across the Sound from Woods Hole. The harbor still serves as a “haven” for sailors on their way to Nantucket or Edgartown, but should not be overlooked as a pleasant and convenient destination in its own right.

📷 Geoff Rand
The lovely double-ended yawl Slipper heads out of Vineyard Haven with East Chop just visible in the background. Vineyard Haven has become something of a mecca for traditional boats in Massachusetts.
📷 Geoff Rand
A catboat works through the mooring area near sunset.

Navigation

Approaches

The entrance to Vineyard Haven is a mile wide, with deep water right across. Prominent lights mark both of the flanking headlands – East and West Chop. Note that the current rounding West Chop is the strongest of any in Vineyard or Nantucket Sounds, topping 3 knots on a big tide.

Not for navigation

Anchorages

Anchor outside the breakwater, staying clear of the mooring field, and well clear of the fairway. Ferries transit the harbor at least hourly from 6 am to 11 pm. If you’re anchoring early in the season before all the moorings are in, a tripline on your anchor is good insurance against old mooring gear on the bottom.

Moorings

Town moorings inside the breakwater are first-come first-served. Call the Harbormaster.

Outside the breakwater are privately maintained moorings, available through either Vineyard Haven Launch Service or Vineyard Haven Marina. At least some of these may be reserved.

Moorings fill up throughout the summer.

Slips

Vineyard Haven Marina and Black Dog Wharf are the primary sources of transient slips. Tisbury Wharf Company may also have tie-up available.

When all private slips are full, the Harbormaster may use the Town Dock for overnight stays. Otherwise it is used for pickup/dropoff and hourly tie-up.

Storms

Because the harbor is quite exposed from north to northeast, the anchorages, outer harbor moorings and even some slips are vulnerable to severe weather from that direction. Given the limited space behind the breakwater, Vineyard Haven is a poor refuge in a northeast gale. We’ve been surprised that even in a northeaster just over twenty knots, the dockmaster at the Black Dog has deemed his slips untenable.

Charts

Not for navigation. Charts are not updated. 

Going Ashore

Vineyard Haven is the island’s year-round commercial center, and much of the waterfront is given over to everyday business. It’s an easy walk to Stop & Shop, a building supply store and a gas station. The big ferry terminal (busiest on the island) is the harbor’s central feature. North of the terminal is the public Owen Park Beach; to the south are the marinas and boat yards.

Just inshore from the Black Dog Wharf is Five Corners, the town’s retail crossroads, featuring an internet cafe. Walk a block further in to Main Street for the widest choice of restaurants. Vineyard Haven is a dry town. Restaurants are byob, and while it’s possible to get to Oak Bluffs to reprovision, the prudent mariner arrives prepared.

For an old coastal town, Vineyard Haven feels unusually open. Fire destroyed over 70 houses, shop and barns on Main Street in 1883. Today, the buildings near the harbor are spread out, sometimes by great parking lots and sometimes by unbuilt land. There are few crisp borders. The beach mixes with grass as it reaches between the buildings, pushing sand across the roads.

It’s not quite the up-island, open space vibe of Menemsha, but on a recent June visit I half expected to see a tumbleweed of spartina alterniflora blow past. The press of visitors in high summer would preclude such fantasies.

📷 Geoff Rand
On the beach between the Black Dog Wharf and Martha’s Vineyard Marina is the Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway, a highly regarded yard specializing in the design, construction and repair of traditional wooden boats. A number of the loveliest sailboats in the region are G&B originals.
📷 Geoff Rand
The town, even its commercial districts, blend casually into the shoreline.

One Hour Ashore

The essential veni, vidi, vici in Vineyard Haven is the Black Dog t-shirt. Maybe it falls short of Hello Kitty in the contest for world domination, but you can’t throw a tennis ball in Tisbury without hitting a Black Dog emporium.

Off the Beaten Path

The Lake Tashmoo Town Beach is just over a mile from town. Or rent bikes and head west.

Maritime History

The floating division of the Black Dog empire includes the harbor’s two large schooners. Shenandoah was built in 1964 by Harvey Gamage in South Bristol, ME, using traditional methods and materials. Alabama was built in Florida in 1926 and extensively restored in the 1990s. Both work the local waters, offering charters and kids programs. www.blackdogtallships.com

Services

Facilities

Launch service is available from the private mooring providers. Don’t count on launches out of season.

There are dinghy docks on the north sides of the Steamship Authority Dock and the Town Dock. Or you can land on the beach to the north of the Town Dock.

Martha’s Vineyard Marina and Black Dog Wharf have showers and restrooms for customers. There are public restrooms at the ferry terminal and showers (?) along with trash facilities at the harbormaster’s office in Owen Park.

Fitting Out

Fuel, water and ice are available from Tisbury Wharf Co. and Vineyard Haven Marina. The Town Dock, north of the Steamship Authority wharf, also has water.

Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard handles repairs.

For pumpout, contact the harbormaster.

Contacts

Tisbury Harbormaster
508.696.4249
VHF: 9/69

Black Dog Wharf
1-508-693-3854
VHF: 72
Book with Dockwa

Vineyard Haven Launch Service
1-508-693-3030
VHF: 72

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Vineyard Haven

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