The mouse that roars

Ponham Rocks Light, in the Providence River. Photo courtesy Roger Kalenbach

By Roger Karlebach
For Points East

It was actually a six-week jaunt, but 34 days were spent in Rhode Island, savoring quite a few of its 384 miles of tidal shoreline. The first week of the six were part of the Harlem Yacht Club’s annual cruise, visiting ports in and about Long Island Sound with Huck and Cindy on Miraval, their Pearson 36. Coming to, and going home from, Stonington, Conn., near western Rhode Island’s border, we stopped at Port Jefferson, Long Island, and Duck island Roads, between Clinton and Westbrook Harbors. And we detoured for two lovely nights in Coecles and Deering harbors on Long Island’s Shelter Island. But Rhode Island was our focus.

Our Rhode cruise was our easiest since my retirement in 2006. For one thing, Rhode Island is only about 100 miles from our hailing port on City Island, in The Bronx, New York, a lot closer for us than Maine or Nova Scotia.

Second, because Rhode Island is the smallest state of the union, the passages between harbors are short. And, finally, we took at least one lay day in most of the places we visited.

My plan had been to put ILENE into every port I could get her into, what with her 5-foot, 10-inch draft and 63 1/2-foot mast, especially those I had never sailed into before. Another limitation: With our feline crew – the 12-year veteran, Alfie Girl, and Cruiser, her newly adopted 8-year-old brother – we prefer moorings or anchoring over docks. The cats tend to wander off, and they have gotten lost in the past. Docks also offer less privacy and interfere with natural ventilation. We managed to avoid docks (other than for fuel and water) except at one port.

Because this article may meander at times, like the eddies and currents of Narragansett Bay, check the map at right for our true route.

All told we spent 11 nights on our anchor, 22 on moorings, and three on a dock in East Providence (see sidebar on page 35). We were told that “folks around here try to get away from Providence,” but we are city slickers and did enjoy urban Providence: touring the Brown University Campus, the Rhode Island School of Design art museum, a Bolivian cultural festival, a cineplex, and the unique WaterFire river “sculpture” involving 80 bonfires flickering hauntingly to a backdrop of other-worldly music.

We were also invited to enjoy an outdoor Beach Boys concert on the harbormaster’s houseboat, only a short dink ride from our dock in East Providence. We actually spent our three nights there, on a rather scrabbly dock without water, showers, and (except during restaurant hours) a head. For this dock we paid way too much, but it was the only place in town we found that could accommodate ILENE. And the dock was but a short Uber ride from the city’s delights.

This was a cruise of discovery for us, and we learned that we should have stayed on an inexpensive mooring at the newly rebuilt, friendly and competent Edgewood Yacht Club in Cranston. On the west side of the Providence River, this club also is close to the city. The chart shows little depth at Edgewood, which scared me. However, we spent several tide cycles with no problems on a mooring at which the chart showed less water than our draft. We could have taken many Uber rides to town from Edgewood for what we paid for that East Providence darned dock.

Another discovery was that we should have gone to Potter Cove, on Prudence Island, before Bristol, rather than after it. Our next stop after Potter Cove was the Kickamuit River, which gave us two pure anchorages in a row, instead of breaking them up by the Bristol visit. I like to mix things up when possible.

We were visited at Bristol by our sailing friends, Lloyd and Rhoda, who drove up from New York. We all visited the Herreshoff Museum and other museums in Bristol, enjoyed great dinners, and had a beautiful day sail near a Herreshoff regatta. The next day, Lene and I took a ride most of the way back up north to East Providence on electric bikes. On that ride we stopped in both Warren and Barrington, the latter for lunch.

The closeness of the ports to each other, and our leisurely schedule, gave me time to hike several miles south on Prudence Island, while Lene enjoyed a bit of alone time with the kitties. Based on views of the mainland – east, west and north from Prudence – I finally realized what the charts had showed, but I’d never noticed: how central Prudence Island is to Narragansett Bay.

Kickamuit was a kick. The chart shows its entrance as impossibly narrow, but a well-marked channel led into a huge harbor with room for several hundred boats to anchor, though few were there. All of the shoreline is private, however, with no public dinghy dock, and there are no commercial establishments, only private homes. But if you have a friend who lets you land, it’s only about a two-and-a-half-mile walk to the bustle of Bristol.

Battleship Cove, in Fall River, Mass. (yes, Massachusetts), is approachable from the sea only through Rhode Island, and it was a treat. Many inexpensive moorings were available almost under the bows of the huge warships. We spent two days touring the ships and museum, and we took in a rock concert in a converted factory. Much can be done to improve the tour of the warships if the nonprofit maritime museum and war memorial can get more financing and volunteer labor.

Lene fell in love with the worn, old, friendly and busy Standish Boatyard at Tiverton, in the Sakonnet River. The proprietor twice let us use his car, one day to provision at a supermarket and the next to visit Tiverton’s Four Corners art-gallery district. Of course, we returned the car with a full tank of gas. We also enjoyed a great nature trail and lookout within walking distance. And we dined with sailing friends Hadley and Susan, who retired in Rhode Island.

Next came two more pure anchorages: Fogland cove, on the east side of the Sakonnet, and off Third Beach, on the west side near the river’s mouth – on Aquidneck island, home to Newport. We could have dinked ashore at both anchorages but we just enjoyed our time together aboard.

I’ve sailed to Newport perhaps a dozen times, and done many things there, including walking the Cliff Walk, and visiting several of the “cottages,” the art museum and the Tennis Hall of Fame. This cruise, we discovered new experiences, mostly along historic fashionable Bellevue Avenue. These included a great art gallery of 19th- and 20th-century masterpieces next to the Hall of Fame, and the Redwood Athenaeum and Library, the cemetery associated with the Touro Synagogue, and a great new bookstore. Also, on Broadway, a few blocks north of the bustle of the main drag, we enjoyed dinner at the innovative Salvation Café.

The only bad night logged on this trip was in the Great Salt Pond of Block Island. The night after a blissfully serene sunset, we felt the edge of Hurricane Dorian, which ravaged the Bahamas and the North Carolina coast. This was an avoidable discomfort and hazard: I should have stayed in Newport, more inland and farther north, away from the eye. But I loved the idea of visiting Block after the season, when it is empty – and we survived.

During the 34 days we ate two breakfasts, 12 lunches and 11 dinners in 25 different restaurants, ranging from the appropriately named The Shack – in the marina in Dutch Harbor (think Chipotle, but better food and great outdoor ambiance) – to fine dining at several places and imaginative grub such as that at Jigger’s Diner (since 1916) in East Greenwich. We ate the other 77 meals aboard, mostly cooked by Lene, but with a few cameo appearances in the galley (other than as dish washer) by the captain. Visiting the chi-chi shops in nearby Wickford, and shopping in the less fashionable ones in East Greenwich was fun, as was visiting Goddard State Park there.

One culinary conundrum was the absence from all the menus we saw of baked stuffed Rhode Island quahogs, a dish that was synonymous with Rhode Island cuisine back in the ’60s, when I served on the USS Hammerberg, DE-1015, homeported in Newport. When we got to Block Island, we did a thorough search and were disappointed, until we got to cavernous Ballard’s Hotel, which was almost empty. “Oh yes, we have them, but we just call them ‘stuffies’ now,” said the manager. Like many ethnic foods, they are not gourmet, but what with all that bread they are simply delicious. And we did not go away empty stomached.

The other cuisine I associate with Rhode Island (and the whole southeastern New England coast) is Portuguese. So many folks from that brave seafaring nation have enriched ours with their service in the fishing industry as well as in many other enterprises. Both in Fall River and Block Island, we were able to score Portuguese bread – so sweet and absorbent for French toast.

One thing that we did not mind missing was insects. ILENE’s ports and hatches are fully screened, but insects can make the cockpit uncomfortable. I don’t know if it is climate change or just us, but the little critters did not join our party in Rhode Island.

We missed several potentially good spots. One is the huge, unnamed cove with good depth for anchoring (no access to shore) north of Quonset Point and south of the Davisville Depot. We saw no boats or moorings; maybe the Navy does not want boats so close, and it is only good in the prevailing southwesterlies. Mackerel Cove – on the southwest side of Conanicut Island, and across from Newport – also seems promising, with appropriate water depth at its inner end. A binocular scan while passing the entrance showed some boats and moorings there. But, at that point, we were hurrying to get a first-come-first-served mooring in Newport, and passed it by.

Finally, it would have been nice to tour the historic Town of Westerly, at the head of the Pawcatuck River. This would have required a three-mile, upstream dink passage from an anchorage area at the Connecticut side of the river. The river is way too shallow and narrow for ILENE. I had confirmed that the Bridge Restaurant, in town, had a dinghy dock where we could have left the dink for a few hours, especially if we had lunch there on a weekday, after Labor Day. But at this point we had run out of time, and, after our close encounter with Dorian at Block Island, “The Admiral” told me in no uncertain terms that she wanted to go home. I figured this would be a good time to agree with her.

The point is that there are still new ports for us to visit in Rhode Island. And we will, next time around.

When not sailing, retired attorney Roger Karlebach lives in New York City with his wife Lene and their two cats. All four of them have also sailed their Saga 43, ILENE, from the Harlem Yacht Club, on City Island in Long Island Sound, south to Grenada, in the West Indies. Details of their adventures can be found at