Why You Should Sail Through Summer In Rhode Island

Bristol, Rhode Island has the Guinness record for oldest continuously operating Independence Day celebration in the US,

Sol Mate at dock in New Port at Bowen's Whart (the small one)
Sol Mate at dock in Newport at Bowen’s Whart. PHOTO JASON CANTER

Complete with a full parade down a route marked year-round on the streets by what else, a red, white and blue median strip of course! Block Island is a North East summer playground with a short season seemingly sandwiched between winters, where for more than eight months, everything is boarded up. But when summer hits, it is hopping and alive as ferries and boats from all over the Northeast dump and pick up people all day long, every day.

The sailing tradition here is long, proud and steeped in the U.S. history. Newport is home to the New York Yacht Club, keeper of Sailing’s highest honor, the America’s Cup for countless years (not recently though, but that’s another story…)

We need to experience this as our forefathers intended, by sea. So we charter Sol Mate, a 46’ Hunter sailboat. Every boat name must be a sea-based pun. It’s almost a law. I fly from SFO to Boston as it’s cheaper and non-stop compared to flying into the closer Providence airport, so I have to take the Peter Pan bus from Boston for $35 to meet up with the crew already aboard the boat at Bowen’s Wharf in Newport. It is like stepping back in time with cobble stone streets, colonial-era architecture.

Bowen's Wharf and the view from our boat
Bowen’s Wharf and the view from our boat. PHOTO JASON CANTER

I find the crew already green from last night’s antics. We head out for lunch at Brick Alley for their amazing Portuguese littleneck clams. These clams are not steamers, those are disgusting. Steamers taste like bile and sand, and you have to remove a part of the clam before you start, which is reminiscent of either circumcision or removing a profilactic! Google it. Seriously.

Portugese clams at the Bricks
Portugese clams at the Bricks. PHOTO JASON CANTER

We head back to the boat for a delightful sail for around the harbor. We see 100’ race boats getting ready for the big Transatlantic Race, mega yachts of the rich and famous, beautiful classic, older wooden boats, and everything in between. Breeze is a healthy 10-15 knots, while the sun is warm. Back to the dock, drinks at The Landing, since it is literally spitting distance from our slip. We are way too old for these twenty-somethings, but we hang for a while and eventually retreat back to the boat to drink al fresco on the deck.

Eventually, dinner at a local standout Anthony’s Seafood for stuffies, clam cakes, and the best “naked” lobster roll outside of Maine I have ever had. “Naked” means all chunks in butter, no mayo or filling, and hot. Stuffies are quahog clams chopped and mixed with stuffing (breading, spices…etc.) baked on the half shell. Clam cakes are not like crab cakes, they are deep fried dough balls that are supposed to have pieces of clam in there, but they are few and far between in what I am told by a reliable source are “the best clam cakes in the world”. Delicious, nonetheless.

Stuffies and Clam Cakes at Anthony's
Stuffies and Clam Cakes at Anthony’s. PHOTO JASON CANTER

The next morning, we take off early to Block Island. Wind is right on the nose, so four hours of motoring for us. The crew is already green from last night’s drinking, there is a big swell coming at us. The diesel fumes are strong, and we decide to empty the holding tanks at the same time. Note to self, don’t do that again. The combo is too much for some of the crew, enough said.

We arrive in Block at Ballard’s marina. It is chock a block with power boats, so we drop the anchor right in the middle of the harbor. Soon enough, other boats rafted to us. Although you can almost walk boat to boat to get to shore, we drop the dinghy and head into Ballard Beach Bar and Grill. We have some calamari and another naked lobster roll with a frozen Del’s Citron (lemonade with vodka). Calamari in Rhode Island is like the state dish, with banana peppers, always tender and fried to perfection.

Balard's Beach and the pails of Dark and Stormy drinks
Balard’s Beach and the pails of Dark and Stormy drinks. PHOTO JASON CANTER


Famous Rhode Island calamari
Famous Rhode Island calamari. PHOTO JASON CANTER

We clean up and relax on the boat for awhile, then off to The National Tap and Grill for cocktail hour and then dinner.  What to have for dinner? Naked lobster roll, of course, wash it down with Jack Daniels and Diet Coke (gotta watch my figure.) Maybe I will get sick of lobster rolls, but so far I am holding strong. A live band performs as one guy play cover tunes. When he gets to Billy Joel and “Cruising through Block Island Sound”, the crowd is at a fever pitch! Then off to Yellow Kittens Tavern, I don’t know why, but once again, we are way too old for this bar.

Today is a big decision: Stay here or head to Bristol and dock at Goff’s water side bar to have sundowners and watch fireworks from their awesome, huge roof deck. It closed and reopened as Thames, and they cover the roof deck to give more dining space. #wearestayinghereinparadise.

Fireworks from the New York Yacht Club lawn
Fireworks from the New York Yacht Club lawn. PHOTO JASON CANTER

It is a gorgeous sunny day, so we head to brunch at the Surf Hotel for, what else, lobster rolls! It had been shut down since 2007, then opened back up a few years ago. It has stunning harbor views from the patio on one side and the beach from the lawn on the other side. Then off to the beach in front of Ballard’s, which is even more hopping than ever, for pails of Dark and Stormy – rum and ginger beer – a sailing tradition. The water is clean, clear, and warm; bordering on tropical.

The Surf Hotel lawn and the view of the marina and beach from it
The Surf Hotel lawn and the view of the marina and beach from it. PHOTO JASON CANTER

We head back to the boat for what I consider the greatest: The Tropical Tahiti Island. Our neighbors have blown up and tied off to their stern a 12’x12’ raft, complete with coolers, drink holders, 2 full chairs, and a sunbed. Ridiculous! It is relaxing to say the least, especially if you have people on the boat who can throw you cans of beer periodically.

Off to the Harbor Grill for dinner, and we are the only ones there as everybody else is positioning to watch fireworks. No lobster on the menu, surprisingly enough. The food is actually very good, a Cajun blackened rib eye with Pinot Noir. Who would have thought of it! We can almost see the fireworks from the deck, those who want a better view can go across the street briefly. Back to Yellow Kittens for drinks as there is not a lot of choice on the island. Amazingly enough, we are still too old for this bar.

Rhode Island

The next morning, we get up early, and head out. Getting ready to raise the sails, we realize the wind clocked all the way around so it is again on our nose. At least the waves are with us this time, so it is a comfortable, faster ride.

We arrive back in Newport. We are dreading what tomorrow will bring, the planes, trains, and automobiles (and sailboats!) of trying to get home.

Me and my 2 lb lobster at Ye Old Union Oyster House
Me and my 2 lb lobster at Ye Old Union Oyster House. PHOTO JASON CANTER

We wake up early and sail to Warwick to drop the boat off. Then Uber to Providence airport, get in a rental car, drive to Boston-Logan to catch our flights. But we have time, so we head into the city to Ye Old Union Oyster House, the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the country! They opened their doors in 1826 and still have the original wooden horseshoe bar where Daniel Webster used to wash down plates of oysters with tumblers of brandy and water. Great chowdah and a two pound lobster is a fantastic way to wrap up the trip as we rehash the highlights of the week. All of this washed down with a Jack and Diet Coke…hold the Jack. My detox starts today! Off to Boston airport from there and a well deserved sleep on the way home.

So do yourself a favor and get a sailboat or a powerboat (or just take ferries around) and cruise Rhode Island this summer for an unbelievably patriotic good time!

Jason Canter


Jason loves beaches, sailing, diving & trying new foods. His travel style is about staying central & close to the action. His favorite country is Mexico & he never travels without his Tumi roller.

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