Newburyport

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Newburyport

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42°48.84′N, 70°52.30′W
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Local chartlet
Caption


Newburyport is the Northern-most port on the coast of Massachusetts. It lies at the mouth of the Merrimac River, on the Atlantic coast N of Cape Ann.

While it has been in existence since the early 17th century, its central business district was extensively rebuilt in Federal brick style after a massive fire in the early 19th century (1811). Many elegant Federal period (1787-1812) Captains' mansions on the hill look down on far earlier seafarers' houses still existing along the waterfront. It is this form in which it stands today, as an early 1800s architectural time capsule that has become a major tourist destination.

It calls itself the "Clipper City," as Donald McKay's first shipbuilding location. It was the earlier location of the yards that built many of the highly profitable privateers that preyed on British shipping during the American Revolution (1775-1783), and the US Coast Guard's first cutter. (See the historical summary).

As a recreational boating center, it is the homeport of a large number of vessels (including a few remaining fishing vessels) and offers extensive facilities for cruising tourists.

Charts

Submit the chart details that are required for safe navigation.

Chart No 13282 (best detail)
Chart No 13274 (usable scale)
Chart Sources

Weather

Local climate

The more extreme temperatures of the North American continent are (somewhat) ameliorated by the ocean. Winter sea temperatures are under 40F (5C), warming to more than 60F(15C) in Summer. Winter can exhibit long periods where the temperature stays below freezing, and most days from January through March exhibit freezing at night. Boston averages 40in (100cm) of snowfall per Winter. Summer can exhibit a couple of weeks of humid temperatures ranging from 68F (20C) at night to 95F (35C) in mid-day. Both Spring and Fall (Autumn) are more moderate and variable.

From late October through April, one extra-tropical cyclone after another is swept NE by the jet stream from Cape Haterras to Nova Scotia - the notorious "Nor'easters." July and August exhibit extended periods of light SW-lies and flat seas, punctuated by strong afternoon thunderstorms. Such Doldrum-like periods are terminated by arrival of sharp cool fronts, bringing Force 3-to-5 NW'lies and 2-4ft seas. Late May through June, and September through early October, offer slightly higher average (3-5ft) sea states and good winds - often NW-lies providing glorious Force 4-to-6 beam reaches to and from NH and ME, along the SW-to-NE coast.

Having sufficient sail area to move your hull in 5kts of wind, yet having enough reefing points to reduce that area to handle 30kt winds, will cover most any conditions from May through October, except for short storm periods. (My 36ft fractional sloop has a 500sq-ft mainsail with 3 reef points; a 300sq-ft jib with roller furling; and an 850sq-ft asymmetric spinnaker. Also, my fixed, 3-blade propeller is very helpful against the tidal and River currents over the Merrimac River bar.)

Sources for Weather forecasts
Current Weather Conditions

Passages

Popular passages/routes, timing, etc.

Islands

  • Isles of Shoals - 13nm NE "MR" (Southern Islands in NH, Northern Islands in ME. First described by John Smith in early 1600s. He tried to name them after himself, but the great "shoals of fish" inspired European fishermen to think otherwise.)
    • Lunging Island (NH), a private residence
    • White Island (NH), hosting Isles of Shoals Light - which may be visited
    • Star Island (NH), hosting a religious conference center with limited access
    • Cedar Island (ME), with connecting causeways to Star and Smuttynose Islands
    • Smuttynose Island (ME), site of an infamous 19th century axe murder and rumored treasure-burying stop of early 18th century pirates.
    • Appledore Island (ME), hosting the Cornell U./UNH marine sciences laboratory and poetess Celia Thaxter's garden - both of which can be visited.
    • Duck Island (ME) - a large rockpile, surrounded by even nastier awash rocks. Seal rookery.
  • Gosport Harbor opens to the NW, and is shaped like a letter "U" formed by Star, Cedar, Smuttynose and the causeways. A few moorings may be used if unoccupied, but must be relinquished when asked.

Communication

Also see World Cruiser's Nets

Navigation

The justifiably highly-rated historic/tourist portion of Newburyport, Massachusetts has been situated 3nm up the Merrimac River since the mid-17th century, and to approach it one must cross the Merrimac River entrance bar.


MERRIMAC RIVER BAR

There is a US Coast Guard station, which is rated as a "surf station" and equipped with a 47ft self-righting motor lifeboat. The Merrimac river bar - while nothing like the Columbia river bar in Oregon where USCG surfmen train with such boats - is considered the most dangerous bar on the East coast of the US. 4-to-6ft Easterly swells against a strong ebb can become 8-to-10ft breakers over the shallow bar. (See USCG video of Merrimac "rough bar" training with 47ft MLB )

Having said all that, however, except in the event of Easterly swells against a strong ebb current out of the river mouth, your impression crossing the bar will be "What's the problem? Seems like a non-event to me."

Monitor VHF channel 16 for notices of a "safety marine information broadcast concerning conditions on the Merrimac River bar" to be given on channel 22A. Unless you hear such warning (or see the 47-footer bobbing around in breakers near the entrance), conditions will be quite benign.

To be certain of (the usually very) benign conditions, timing your approach for a flood tide will also save you time going up to the town docks and marinas.

(The tidal ebb combines with a surface river current that, in total, can sometimes reach 4-5kts in the deep channel next to the North jetty, and 2kts in the main body of the river. The flood will easily give you a 1-1.5kts boost in up-river speed-over-ground.)

The entrance lies between Plum Island to the South and Salisbury Beach to the North.

From the red-white striped seabuoy ("safe water buoy") at 42N48.55, 070W47.09 labeled MR (Merrimac River) the green cans and red nuns leading out from the ends of the stone jetties defining the entrance channel will be easily visible in most conditions.

  • Note for European visitors: All buoyage follows the IALA-B "red-right-returning" rule, so keep red, even-numbered, conical-topped "nuns" to starboard and green, odd-numbered, cylindrical "cans" to port. US chart number 13282 is quite detailed. 13274 is usable, but at the limit of utility. Larger scale charts will be useful only for finding "MR." (A MapTech "Embassy" Crusing Guide for New England will be a good investment for visiting any port between the Canadian border and Block Island, with navigational details and much about available facilities and attractions.)


NAVIGATION UP-RIVER

From MR, head on C(ourse)315M(agnetic) until you are close to the bend in the stone jetty on the North side of the wide entrance channel. By this point, you will be past the bar, and should hug the North jetty to stay in the deep channel on C325M until green can 7.

  • Note: Magnetic compass variation here is W by almost 17 degrees.

There are strong river currents in the deep channel along the South side of the North jetty to can 7, which can be almost pulled under water in strong ebb conditions. This channel is narrow, with the submerged Northern end of Plum Island just South of can 7 to port and the stone jetty to starboard, but it is 30ft deep.

After a sharp turn to port around green can 7 you'll head on C255M to red nun 10, keeping it to starboard to avoid "the badgers" rocks. At nun 10 you'll make a turn to starboard and head on C285M to can 11, and then on C280M to can 13. Take care to stay North of the line between 11 and 13. The shallow muddy bottom 1-2 boatlengths South of that line is actually Woodbridge Island, which becomes awash at half-tide and dry at low tide.

  • Note: Newburyport has 9-10ft tides.

At can 13 you'll turn to port aiming for the wind turbine behind all the houses and church steeples of Newburyport on C265M, until you reach can 15 and nun 16. Depths at 16 during extreme low tides can be under 10ft, but I've never seen less than 8.

There you'll turn to starboard on C280M to pass between red daymark tower 18 and can 17, each of which mark rock hazards close outside the channel (including the well-named "half-tide rocks"). The rest of the channel up to the US Route 1 highway bascule bridge (as far as you'll probably be interested in going) is well marked, deep and very straightforward.

The city, itself, will be on the South side of the river, to your port.


NEWBURYPORT

You will pass the American Yacht Club with moorings in front and "AYC" on its roof, and then Newburyport Harbor Marina, which usually has transient slips and has a floating fuel dock. The walk from there to the central tourist area is less than 1/4 mile.

Farther up river are the floating Town Docks. They lie alongside the town boardwalk, which fronts a very nice park hosting summer outdoor music events and indoor plays in its theater. Side-to docking, water and electricity are usually available, and the location is convenient for very short walks to most of the tourist area and restaurants. (Contact the Newburyport Harbormaster on VHF channel 12.)

The marinas above the town docks are directly in front of some of the better restaurants, but seldom have transient slips or moorings available. (The strong, oblique river currents caused by the river bend can make slip-docking here tricky, anyway.)

The floating slips of Windward Yacht Yard marina extend out from McKay's wharf - as in Donald McKay, who built his early, fast clipper ships here (for the Brazil-to-NY coffee trade), before moving to East Boston to build his (larger) record-breaking, round-the-horn clippers (such as Flying Cloud) for the California Gold Rush.

Before the clippers, many of the privateers that very profitably preyed on British shipping during the American Revolution were built here, as were many early ocean-going trading vessels. Most were snows, brigs, brigantines or topsail schooners - sized for the local merchants' cargos in the "triangular trade" before independence, and in the Baltic, Mediterranean and China trades after. Newburyport's wealth was evidenced in the homes its traders built. Only Salem and Boston were comparably rich ports.

The US Coast Guard was founded here. Its first revenue cutter - built here at the end of the 18th century - became the new US government's first contract cost/schedule overrun scandal. The armed topsail schooner's assigned commanding officer kept conceiving of change after change to make his new ship ever-more-perfect - a now all-too-familiar story.

The early 19th century granite Custom House is now a museum that shows much about the USCG's early life-saving service, which grew out of the privately-funded Massachusetts life-saving service. Some of the stories of courageous rescues presented next to the primitive equipment used (and 19th century photos) are impressive, indeed.

Tours of the USCG's Station Merrimac River are available with advance reservations.

In front of the Harbormaster's office near the Eastern end of the boardwalk stands a poignant monument to Newburyport fishermen lost at sea.

Check-in facilities

Submit details about facilities for checking in - where to dock, location of immigration & customs, etc.

Marinas & Yacht Clubs

Newburyport hosts many summer events, during which advance reservations are advisable (obligatory during Yankee Homecoming Week). Finding an available mooring is difficult at any time, and anchoring isn't allowed.

Anchorages

  • NONE - anchoring is not permitted inside the bar. (You don't want to try it outside. Plum Island is a notorious lee shore with many wrecks buried in its sands over the past 4 centuries.)

Yacht Repairs and Services

Marine Stores

  • Khalil Marine, US Route 1, on Ring's Island (Salisbury) 1/2 mile N of bascule bridge.
  • West Marine, Seabrook, NH on Lafayette Road (US Route 1).

Repairs/Yards

Fuel, Water, & Electricity

  • Fuel (diesel and gasoline)
    • Newburyport Harbor Marina
    • Bridge Marina (Salisbury side of river)
  • Water (good potable water)
    • Newburyport Harbor Marina
    • Newburyport Town Docks
  • Electricity (30amp and 50amp 110V/60Hz AC)
    • Newburyport Harbor Marina
    • Newburyport Town Docks

Tourism and Things to do Ashore

Tourism

  • Town Boardwalk
  • Waterfront Park and playhouse
  • Custom House Maritime Museum (port history and origins of the USCG)
  • Cushing House Historical Museum (Newburyport Historical Society)
  • Market Square and neighboring early 1800s buildings (shops, restaurants)
  • Water Street and surrounding neighborhood (18th century houses, art galleries, USCG station)
  • The Tannery (shops, restaurants in restored 19th century mill complex)
  • Brown Square (statue of slavery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison)
  • High Street (many early 19th century sea captains' mansions)
  • several old churches and meeting houses
  • Plum Island and Parker Wildlife Refuge

Laundry

Grocery & Supply Stores

Eateries within walking distance of (or along) water

  • Michael's Harborside Restaurant (seafood+)
  • Black Cow
  • Ten Center Street
  • Starboard Galley (seafood)
  • The Grog
  • Whale's Tail
  • Agave Mexican Bistro
  • Jewel in the Crown (Indian)
  • Joseph's Winter Street Cafe
  • Not Your Average Joe's

+++ others

Internet/WiFi

Motorbike & Car Rentals

Garbage Disposal

  • Bagged garbage and trash disposal included at Marinas
  • Free holding tank pump-out service (Harbormaster - VHF ch12)

Transportation

  • Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA, or "the T") commuter trains to/from Boston

Friends

Contact details of "Cruiser's Friends" that can be contacted for local information or assistance.

Forums

List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements)

Links

Links to relevant websites.

References & Publications

Publications, Guides, etc.

Last Visited & Details Checked (and updated here)

  • I don't live in Newburyport, but my boat does (homeport). While I sail most of the coast between Penobscot Bay and Nantucket, I rent a slip at Windward Yacht Yard, and am storing my boat in their yard this winter. Boat pulled from water on Nov. 10, 2009 - after last daysail. (Al - s/v Persephone)

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