Favorite Weekend Cruise: Boston Harbor Islands

We dropped anchor in the lee of an uninhabited island and pulled the dinghy up the sandy beach. Soon we had a campfire blazing and the entire island to ourselves.
Author:
Updated:
Original:
 Just a few miles from Boston, the Harbor Islands make for a sweet weekend cruising ground

Just a few miles from Boston, the Harbor Islands make for a sweet weekend cruising ground

We dropped anchor in the lee of an uninhabited island and pulled the dinghy up the sandy beach. Soon we had a campfire blazing and the entire island to ourselves. Then an American Airlines 777 came in for a landing amazingly close to the top of our mast and almost blew our fire out. As we learned during a magical weekend spent cruising among the 34 islands that comprise Boston Harbor Islands National Park, watching (and at times feeling) the planes land is all part of the fun.

We started our cruise in Hingham on Boston’s south shore, but any harbor within a 25-mile radius of the city puts you within easy striking distance of this unique cruising ground. We got a late start and didn’t sail far that first day, but that’s one of the benefits of cruising Boston Harbor: you don’t have to sail far to find the fun, and most “passages” can be completed in a couple of hours. The sailing is also typically fast and flat among the protected islands, the majority of which are wild and uninhabited, in spite of the close proximity to the city; the channels between the islands are deep and well-marked; and the islands are so close together that the pilotage is as easy as pointing and saying, “Head over there.” You do, however, have to watch out for commercial traffic. Tankers, cruise ships, whale watchers and high-speed ferries churn up the channels with regularity.

 Like the nearby city, these islands are steeped in history

Like the nearby city, these islands are steeped in history

Our time was limited, so we sailed straight to Grape Island, just off Hingham, and pitched a tent ashore, since we were sailing aboard a pocket cruiser with limited space. In fact, sleeping in the tent added such a wonderful dimension to the cruise that since then, I’ve encouraged all my cruising friends to bring camping supplies, even if they are aboard boats with more palatial accommodations. Camping is allowed on many of the harbor islands and you can confirm campsite availability at bostonharborislands.org.

The next morning we sailed out with the current (it can get up to 5 knots) through Hull Gut and around America’s first lighthouse, Boston Light, which was built in 1716 and then rebuilt in 1783 after the British destroyed it during the Revolu tionary War. Like the nearby city, these islands are steeped in history. Boston Light on Little Brewster Island is the last manned lighthouse in the United States, and Grape Island not only has a number of ancient shell middens but was also the site of an early Revolutionary War skirmish. Fort Warren, on Georges Island, was used as a prison for captured Confederate soldiers during the Civil War and is reported to have a ghost. Nearby Lovells Island still showcases Fort Standish’s old concrete watch towers and gun emplacements—which like Fort Warren remained active through both World Wars—in addition to the stellar beach where we built a campfire for our final night out.

While we were sitting around the campfire, basking in the glow of our fantastic day of sailing and adventuring among stunningly beautiful and culturally interesting islands, it dawned on me: wait a minute, I live here.

And maybe that’s the best part of all. We’re not the only people who live within a 25-mile radius of these wonderful islands that are hidden in plain sight. But as the fire crackled, the crickets chirped, the tiny wavelets lapped up the beach and the Boston skyline lit up, we sure felt like it. Just then, British Airways flight 213 banked in on its final approach into Logan, straight from London, and we had the best seats in the house.

Related

2020-06-01_13-53-06

A New Era for Sailing Program Safety

As states begin to lift restrictions on gathering and marinas open back up, many sailing programs are still wary, especially since sailors from different households will necessarily be in close quarters, whether on their boat, in a launch or at a yacht club. Most will not be ...read more

MTcyNTIwMzc1NDYzMTkyNDkw

Zipwake

Zipwake Series S, the world's first inexpensive dynamic trim-control system, incorporates a state-of-the-art family of durable, fast-acting interceptors. The system is fully automatic, and is designed to significantly enhance performance, fuel economy, comfort and safety when ...read more

CCA-story-2048x

Safety Culture Starts with the Skipper

Sailing might not be the first pastime that comes to mind when you think of extreme sports, but that’s not to say risks don’t abound. The Cruising Club of America tackles many of them head-on in their newly released guide for skippers, Creating a Culture of Safety: The Skipper’s ...read more

GMR19_F53_0539

Boat Review: Beneteau First Yacht 53

Luxury performance-cruising isn’t entirely new. You can go fast and still be comfortable. You can even race if you make the right tradeoffs—or so says Beneteau, which recently launched its First Yacht 53, in the process also reinventing the company’s “First” brand. Design & ...read more

BirdonBoard

Cruising: Birds of a Feather

One of the neatest things about sailing offshore is the other lifeforms we encounter. We smile when we see flying fish skimming over the surface of the sea. We cheer when dolphins leap and dance in our bow waves. We are duly reverent when mighty whales sound and spout, and ...read more

pirate-marlin-logo

Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament

This Spring has felt a bit like a slow day of fishing but it’s almost time to time to Bait…and Switch. The Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournaments offer something for every member of your crew. Exceptional fishing, fun times with family, old friends and new. Our run is short, our ...read more

Tusk.00_00_16_21.Still001

Tusk by Spyderco

Spyderco's Tusk knife combines a blade and marlinspike to create a multitool perfect for marine use. Made with corrosion resistant materials like titanium and LC200N steel, a nitrogen alloyed steel, and Spyderco-exclusive locking mechanisms, this knife is one of the toughest ...read more

IY11.98_fTaccola©DJI_0200

Italia 11.98 Performance-cruiser

This past winter, SAIL principal editor, Adam Cort, checked out the new Italia Yachts’ new 11.98 performance-cruiser at the boot Dusseldorf show in German, and says he can attest to the fact it’s a boat more than worthy of the attention of North American sailors. Available in ...read more