May: Quisset Harbor

It’s home to many sharp-looking sailboats

Falmouth’s Quissett Harbor, May’s Mystery Harbor, is easily recognized by the moored Herreshoff 12 1/2s in the photo’s foreground and the Quissett Harbor Boatyard buildings behind them. It’s where our family has harbored our boats and hundreds of great memories for 65 years. Few harbors have as many of the Herreshoff 12 1/2s (the original “Buzzards Bay Boy’s Boat” wooden versions) or the Doughdishes (their fiberglass knock-offs), so their image in the May issue immediately catches the eye, as would those and the many other classics of both wood and fiberglass, power and sail, for pleasure and for fishing, that Quissett Harbor displays during the peak summer months of this well-protected harbor on Buzzards Bay.

The boatyard in the background recently rebounded from a very damaging blaze, which destroyed the yard’s main building a few years ago. In a nod to the traditions of the area, the Barnard-Dorris family, the owners of this ancient facility, rebuilt the yard’s main shop building while keeping its original architectural lines and characteristics, but while also updating its equipment and safety gear. This sense of preservationism is consistent with many of the large well-kept summer homes that surround the harbor, some of which are nearly two centuries old. Most of which, though, were built in the early half of the last century; and all of them are set back apiece from the natural features of the large red oaks on the slopes to the harbor and the granite boulders deposited along the harbor’s shores since in the glacial age.

Those boulders’ siblings are not far from Quissett’s entrance channel, so visiting boaters should stay in the channel when entering the harbor, leaving “The Knob” (the rock-encrusted promontory and ancient Wampanoag sacred site) well off of your port flipper. The red entrance buoy light #2 is roughly one mile northeast-by-east from Woods Hole entrance’s Gong 13, but can also be seen on a clear night and most days by looking southward from as far away as the CC Canal’s Cleveland Ledge light (about 8 miles north of the Quissett entrance buoy). With the prevalent SW breezes of summer, Quissett is an easy southeast reach from Marion or New Bedford, or a close reach south from the Canal’s West End, or an even easier northeast reach from Cuttyhunk, which is about 16 miles away. It’s a popular stop-over spot for vessels spending a night to await a favorable morning tide through Woods Hole or the canal. Quissett’s outer harbor has a few dozen visitor moorings that the yard rents at reasonable rates. The inner harbor is tight with moored boats, but it is one of the most protected hurricane holes in the region. The yard’s dock is at the northeast head of the inner harbor, and it is where visitors can easily buy ice and get fresh water. However, there are no slips and there is no fuel; land vehicle parking is scarce; and anchoring is limited to a small area in the outer harbor.

Further, there is not — at least not in the typical senses — much night life at Quissett, for it has no bars or nightclubs. It is not Oak Bluffs, nor is it Edgartown. The nearest restaurants and provisions are found either in Falmouth or in Woods Hole, and each is a nearly-equidistant two miles from the Quissett traffic lights at the top of Quissett Harbor Road. Taxicab drivers normally respond quickly for quick rides from the harbor. Historic Falmouth has some great spots for family or fancier dining, and has an excellent West Marine. The village of Woods Hole has some fine places on the harbor for dining and sipping, and its aquarium is small but very good. The bustling summer evening crowds in Woods Hole are fun to watch, and may include a Nobel science laureate from one of the nearby marine science institutions, or may even include a national celebrity hustling to the Vineyard ferry for a weekend of salutary slumming. More often, though, you will find nice families enjoying the area. Both nearby villages offer worthwhile scenery and excellent walking; both have excellent and quaint shops and galleries; and both are connected by an easy bike path on the converted old railroad bed that hugs the coast with good access to public beaches. It ain’t bad.

Being at Quissett on a mooring in the summer can be relaxing. At the height of a sunny day, the deep rich greens surrounding and meeting the deep blue harbor waters are awesome. The sunsets are spectacular, and are truly the subject of travel log photos. As I kid, I loved to futz about and to catch snapper bluefish there . . . and my wife thinks that I am still a kid. Dogs love the place, and the sailing class beach is a good place to walk your seafaring canine, keeping in mind that the town has a leash law — please pick up any messes! The inner harbor has a very sandy beach that is well protected and the water is quite warm; it is to port as you curl northward from the outer to the inner harbor while obeying all buoys. Stretching approximately north from The Knob (to the end of which makes for a memorable walk) is a crescent-shaped beach that is good for swimming on the bay side. These are all private beaches. There is varied and interesting wildlife. In some respects, Quissett is like Hadley Harbor, only with roads that go somewhere. The area’s residents and the land trusts, which hold the deeds, are rightly proud of how clean and preserved this harbor, these beaches, and the Quissett waters are. Visiting boaters are usually respectful, relatively quiet, and do not crowd or soil the properties — which is why they’re welcomed back. Please respect the place and its people.

One of the most popular forms of entertainment for visitors is admiring some of the boats there. Visiting boaters have often remarked how much they’ve enjoyed sitting at a mooring in the morning as the sailing classes set out, or grilling dinner in the late afternoons or evenings as the boat traffic sagaciously parades in the harbor channel. In addition to the 12 1/2s, there are many other well-maintained examples of both classic wooden boats and “classic plastics,” some of which are professionally maintained by the local yard, while others are proudly and capably maintained by their owners. Sailing into Quissett Harbor, in some senses, is like sailing into a more serene version of Mystic Seaport.


Dana K. Smith
Falmouth, Mass.

A harbor that takes you back

At this time of year I start looking forward to launching our boat and making our first sail across Buzzards Bay from Marion, Mass., to Quissett. In the many years before we retired, Quissett was our go-to stop on Friday nights. After a harrowing drive from Boston to Marion, a short sail across the bay put us in another world, far from the pressures of work. The harbor takes you back in time, with its large fleet of H121⁄2s and S Boats and the Quissett Harbor Boatyard. Rick and Weatherly, owners of the yard, could not be more hospitable, and I never mind parting with my mooring fee when Rick makes his evening rounds in his launch, Ticker. We’ve always sailed there with our dogs, and they love romping in the early morning in the woods and on the beaches in the preserve between the harbor and Buzzards Bay. Now that we’re retired, Quissett remains one of our favorites, and now we have the time to spend two or three days at a time there. We bike to Falmouth or Wood’s Hole and just enjoy one of the most beautiful harbors on the cape.

Bob Buck
Swampscott, Mass.

It’s a great stop for lunch, swim

Your picture of Quissett Harbor was easily identified by the Quissett Harbor Boatyard building and the number of moored Herreshoff 121⁄2s. If you backed up, you’d see a lot more. It’s a great stop for lunch and a swim. If you spend the night on one of the moorings there it’s always entertaining chatting with Rick, on Ticker.

John Woodley
Bourne, Mass.

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