Charter Sailing Vacation to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard

Chartering out of Newport, RI, to Nantucket and More

In addition to being one of the world’s top sailing race Meccas, the delightful seaside town of Newport, RI, makes for a fantastic launch pad for some of my favorite cruising destinations. Whether heading south to Block Island, RI, New York, and Connecticut; north to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, MA; or just gunkholing around the Narragansett Bay, there’s no limit to the number of sailing charter adventures you can access from this beautiful, historic town.

charter sailing nantucket massachusetts
The quaint village of Siasconset in Nantucket, a great place to visit when charter sailing out of Newport, RI. Photo by Michaela Urban

On one of my recent charters out of Newport, I had my sights set on Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and a relatively undeveloped island called Cuttyhunk.

My friends and I chartered a beautiful Jeanneau 44.9 from Bareboat Sailing Charters in Newport. On our first night out, we grabbed a mooring ball in the town of Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard. Vineyard Haven is a “dry” town that does not serve alcohol. We chose this because some of our group wanted a quiet alternative to the often-intense party scene you can encounter on Martha’s Vineyard in the summer. For those looking for action, Oak Bluffs (with its many bars and lively nightlife) is only a 10-minute taxi ride away, making Vineyard Haven a nice compromise. In addition, the town has great shops, grocery stores, a nice quiet beach, and one of my favorite breakfast spots on Martha’s Vineyard: the ArtCliff Diner.

The following morning we rented bikes and headed out to Chappaquiddick Island. For those who do not know the history, Ted Kennedy drove off of this bridge in 1969, an accident which killed his 28-year-old campaign strategist Mary Jo Kopechne and his bid for the presidency.

charter sailing nantucket whaling museum
Photo by Michaela Urban

Martha’s Vineyard is a very bike-friendly island, and the local chamber of commerce in Tisbury has free bike maps and lots of good information regarding where to go and what to see. Some popular places to visit include: West Tisbury Farmers Market, Alley’s Historic General Store, Martha’s Vineyard Glass Works, and the Polly Hill Arboretum.

After a few days touring Martha’s Vineyard, we set sail for Nantucket. The waters around Nantucket are known for unpredictable storms, dense fog, strong currents, and many dangerous shoals. More than 700 ships have run aground in these waters over the years, giving this island the nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” For this reason (and many others), you’ll want to have a dependable navigation app on your phone or tablet. We used Navionics, which is one of my favorite all-around navigational systems.

Our marina of choice on Nantucket is The Boat Basin, which has 240 slips and is in the epicenter of the island’s main port town. This makes it easy to explore the many fun shops, bars, and restaurants in town, as well as the popular Whaling Museum and the island’s historical district, both highly recommended.

charter sailing dining nantucket
Sunset dinner at Topper's Restaurant at the Wauwinet on Nantucket. Photo by Michaela Urban

The second day we rented bikes and headed out to Siasconset on the southeast corner of Nantucket. On the way, we stopped at Egan Maritime Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum. Be sure to take a tour with one of the experienced guides there—they add much to the experience that you won’t capture by just looking at the displays. The quaint seaside town of Siasconset is a great place to spend a quiet afternoon. It’s not only “picture-postcard perfect” with its historic charm and sleepy dirt roads, but it has one of the best public beaches on the island.

After our bike tour, we headed out on a four-wheel-drive guided tour of the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge. This long arm of sand stretches from the eastern tip of Coatue Point to the Great Point Lighthouse on the northernmost corner of the island. After the tour, we stopped in at Topper’s Restaurant at the historic Wauwinet Inn. The views here are some of the best on the island, as is the food.

Our last stop on our sail was a little island called Cuttyhunk. The island is only accessible via a couple of small taxi and ferry services out of New Bedford, or via personal craft, and it only has a few scattered summer homes. For those who enjoy sleepy and peaceful, Cuttyhunk provides a nice respite from all the action at Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. We enjoyed a great locals’ lunch at the Cuttyhunk Café, which offers freshly made donuts and delicious “lobsta” rolls.

charter sailing lobster cuttihunk
"If you need lobster, give me a call!" That's a siren song for sailors!

If you love sailing, there are few places in the United States that are more dedicated to the sport than Newport, so be sure to include some time before and after your charter to enjoy what this historic town has to offer. You’d be hard pressed to find a weekend (or even a day) when there isn’t some type of sailing event going on. The oldest and most famous being the annual Newport-Bermuda Race (see page 79).

In addition to a wide variety of great shops and restaurants, be sure to visit the newly opened Sailing Museum and the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Those looking for a little exercise, can head out on the Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile seaside walking trail that tours a number of fantastic summer mansions that once belonged to America’s wealthiest families of the Gilded Age. 

~by Eric Vohr, Photos by Michaela Urban

Find more great charter destinations and tips here.