If you’re a boater and are yearning for some get away island ambiance, Block Island has it all: swimming, fishing, clamming, fine restaurants and boutiques, marine facilities, gunk- holing opportunities, clean clear water, awesome vistas and magnificent sunsets. It’s no wonder Block Island is known as “the Bermuda of the North”. And where’s the best opportunity to anchor, find an available mooring or a slip? It’s on Great Salt Pond, a large sheltered harbor 1 mile long, 1/2 mile wide in the northern third of the pork chop shaped island.
First stop for boaters who want all the service amenities of electricity, cable, water, restrooms, showers and laundry are one of the three popular seasonal marinas on the west side of “the Pond”, Champlin’s Marina, Hotel and Resort (CH 68), Block Island Boat Basin (CH 9) and Payne’s Dock (401-466-5572).
Marinas, Restaurants and Snackbars
Champlin’s is the first marina to starboard as you enter “the Pond” through the 20 ft-deep channel to the west, the only access for boats of any size. All three marinas are “full service”, Champlin’s being the largest with 225 transient guest slips with accommodations up to 195 feet, LOA. If you want to entertain the kids, this is the place to go. There’s a playground, video arcade, movie theater, bumper boats and a swimming pool. There’s also a snack bar that prepares cannolis, pizza, burgers and subs, a pastry shop serving Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks coffee, ice cream and assorted donuts, cakes and stuffed breads, an upscale restaurant with a raw bar featuring Cajun and American cuisines and two tiki bars, one at pool side, the other at the end of the main pier, both with live music on weekends and holidays. There’s even a small general store with basic marine supplies, food, snack and drink staples.
Next marina to starboard is the “BoatBasin” with 85 transient guest slips with accommodation for up to 110 feet, LOA. The docks are concrete “floaters”. The Boat Basinhas picnic tables with barbeques for their boating tenants and a small beach. You’ll find the harbormaster’s office there and an all purpose store with small grocery, basic marine supplies and Block Island apparel and novelties. Not too far away, about 10 steps from the store, stands the Oar Restaurant, decorated with hundreds of donated oars of every size and color. The Oar offers casual dining at a reasonable price with one of the best views of the harbor anywhere on the island. Don’t forget to try the house drink, a mudslide, the best I’ve had bar none and the popular house sushi.
You’ll find Payne’s Dock a short distance south of the Boat Basin, also to starboard, with 50 transient guest spots, sometimes more depending on how many boats can be squeezed in. It’s first come first served and they don’t take reservations like the other two marinas. Maximum length here is 300 feet, LOA. The docks are “fixed”, non-floating except for the 10 or so for boats under 30 feet. There are no finger piers, boats being docked stern to, rafted together and tightly packed in July and August. There’s a family atmosphere at Payne’s, a friendly place with barbeque grills and all the other guest amenities. New indoor/outdoor on-the-roof dining can be found at the Burger Bar and a stop at the nearby Mahogany Shoals for a drink is a must. If you’re looking for a good quick breakfast sandwich, muffin or one of Payne’s famous “Killer Donuts” to dunk in your coffee, the snack bar will fix you up in a jiffy. When you’re done eating, watch Cliff, Sands and the dock hands deftly maneuver in a well coordinated, seemingly effortless manner a large cruiser into a spot on the dock that wasn’t there moments before.
If saving money is on your mind and you’re are not a stranger to being a bit more independent, free from the comforts of home port, try to secure one of the 90 lime green town moorings before somebody else does. If you want to be somewhat assured you’ll get one, and there are no guarantees, come early and during the week if possible, especially during the summer. They are first come first served and no tricks allowed. Don’t think you can lie in wait in your dinghy for someone to leave so you can have their ball. If you are successful in securing a mooring, the harbormaster (CH 12) will find you and collect the $40/night fee. You are allowed to raft two boats to a mooring.
The more adventurous might want to anchor, but let me warn you the wind, especially on the eastern side of the Pond is often subject to stiff southwest breezes on summer afternoons so its wise to put two anchors out on the bow and use plenty of rode if you are short on chain. You can anchor anywhere except the channel, the town mooring field and the north side of the Pond which is reserved for water skiing, tubing, wake boarding and other water sports. Stay within the “No Anchoring Buoys” and you should be fine.
Services and Supplies
If you’re on the hook or on a mooring you’ll need to ply your inflatable tender to dump garbage or perhaps pick up some ice or water if you’re staying long enough to drain your water tank. I’ve found the best way to take care of business is to head for the Boat Basin and tie up to the dinghy dock around the south end of the Boat Basin docks. It’s often crowded in peak season and finding a spot is at times a challenge. If you are averse to doubling up, swing around to the north side of the Basin and come ashore on their small beach. Dumpsters can be found are on a small hill beyond the harbormaster’s office and you’ll find a water tap and the best ice on the Pond on the main pier.
I suggest buying gas for your inflatable at Payne’s; its the shortest carry back to your dinghy. But you need to be patient if it’s bustling with activity there. Just wait by the gas pump for the attendant to find you. And, don’t expect change. At Payne’s all the attendants are often in a hurry and carry one inch thick wads of folded U.S. currency wanting to be paid in kind.
There are two launch services that will keep you high and dry on a windy day; two at the Boat Basin, the two Old Port Launches (CH 68) and one which provides service to Champlin’s painted in red, white and blue, affectionately known as Shortstop (CH 68).
If you want to go into town or explore the island, you can hail any of the numerous taxi’s that ferry and pick up passengers to any of the three marinas. Bike, moped and car rentals can be booked at the BoatBasin behind the BoatBasin store.
All three marinas have pump-out services and both gasoline a diesel fuel can be purchased at Payne’s and Champlins. Three pump-out boats are operational on busy days and can be hailed on CH 73, but call early and expect long waits on those days. There are sometimes as many as 2,000 boats on the Pond on a busy weekend.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the most endearing souls on Block Island, Aldo of Aldo’s Bakery fame. Every morning at 7:00 and 3:30, like clockwork, Aldo makes his rounds, circumnavigating the Pond in his skiff wearing a straw fedora belting out in tenor voice, “andia, andiam, andiamo”, a head turner for sure. He comes with an full assortment of pastries and breakfast sandwiches in the morning and stuffed breads and jumbo shrimp cocktail in the afternoon. Don’t miss this great performance. The food is great and a welcome site when you’re entertaining on a boat!
You can get basic grocery staples at the Boat Basin, but if you’re looking for a supermarket where you can buy meat, produce, deli, baked goods and more, walk or take a taxi to the Block Island Grocery a little over 1/2 mile east from Payne’s Dock on Ocean Avenue. It’s open daily 8 a.m to 10 p.m., 8 a.m to 8 p.m on Sundays.
You’ll find the fishing is excellent for bluefish, striped bass and flounder mid-May through the fall and a mere 6 miles south of Block Island you might be lucky enough to hook a cod or tuna. If you have a clamming license, which can be obtained from the Harbormaster at $20/wk, $32/mo. or $60/yr., you’ll find the quarry plentiful at low tide over on the tidal flats on the northwest side of the Pond, near the channel entrance.
One of the finest ocean side beaches in the Northeast can be found on the east side of Block Island. Load your beach chairs into the dinghy and spin over to the southeast shore of the Great Salt Pond to DinghyBeach as it’s known to boaters and drop and anchor or pull it up on shore for a walk across Corn Neck Road, through the beach grass to a two mile stretch of soft sand and pounding surf. A short walk south down the beach about a quarter mile will put you on Fred Benson Town Beach where you’ll find lifeguards and a snack bar with ice cream, soft drinks, hot dogs, grilled cheese and arguable the best grilled burgers and fixin’s on the island. Bathroom facilities are available with showers and you can rent beach umbrellas, chairs and bogey boards for the day if you decide to stay.
I provided you with an abridged preview of what you might expect on a visit to Block Island, but there’s lots more. If you’re coming by boat, stay awhile on the Great Salt Pond. There’s plenty to see and do and you won’t have to go far to find something to keep you engaged and entertained.