Newburyport, Massachusetts

Cruising - January 2002 - Newburyport, MA
Cruising — January 2002
By Capt. Ken Kreisler

Newburyport, Massachusetts
A great stop for the traveling mariner, this New England town is also where the U.S. Coast Guard began.

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The entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well during the American Revolution and helped set the tone for the future of the emerging nation. Among the most productive businessmen were the privateers–legalized pirates–who plied East Coast waters. These bold brigands, excellent seamen who manned swift, heavily armed cutters in search of British vessels, would also smuggle goods into the colonies to avoid the heavy British taxes. They were so good at their trade they were instrumental in bringing about the defeat of the Redcoats.

With the war’s end, bad habits, especially the lucrative ones, were hard to break. The privateers who called Newburyport Harbor home were probably responsible for absconding with some $50 million in acquired goods and property. To protect the country’s shipping and taxation, Congress commissioned 10 revenue cutters in 1790 to enforce new laws. On July 23, 1791, the first cutter, the Massachusetts, slid down the ways at Newburyport, heralding the beginning of the United States Coast Guard.

Newburyport flourished as a shipbuilding center–but in 1811 a devastating fire put an end to its shipbuilding industry. Today the town offers a redeveloped downtown and waterfront and many natural attractions. With its proximity to Maine and the nearby coastal cities of Essex, Gloucester, Manchester, Salem, and Marblehead, it’s the perfect stopover for visiting mariners.

Newburyport is a stone’s throw from the ocean and easily accessible via the well-marked Merrimack River. However, when the river’s strong ebb current is opposed by heavy wind–especially out of the northeast–you’ll need to watch for what locals call The Bar. As you make your approach towards the mouth of the river, note the diamond-shape white daybeacon with an orange reflective border and quick-flashing white light on the north jetty. If the light is flashing, the bar is rough with the rip up. But even if the marker is not lit, conditions may be troubling for the first-time visitor or inexperienced skipper. If in doubt, call the Newburyport harbor master on VHF channel 12 or the Coast Guard at Merrimack River Station on VHF Channel 16 or (978) 465-5921. You will need the following NOAA charts for Newburyport: 13267, 13274-13276, 13278, 13279, 13281-13283, and 13285.

While there are some safe anchorages in the area, dropping the hook in the Merrimack River is not advisable. The bottom is gravel and does not provide good holding. With the river’s

4-knot current, it’s best to seek a marina in the area.

The harbor master (978) 462-3746 can take vessels up to 150 feet in length. Windward (978) 462-6500 is a full-service yard and can do hull and prop repairs. Boatworks (978) 465-1855 can handle boats up to 70 feet in length, while nearby Merri-Mar (978) 465-3022 can take vessels up to 125 feet.

Next page > Newburyport, Massachusetts continued > Page 1, 2

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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