I hate to admit it, but despite boating in Buzzards Bay for decades, my first visit to Block Island didn’t occur until August of 2016. We sailed Aquarius to Nantucket back in the 1980’s, but never ventured south. Even with Tenacity, the thought of traveling that far offshore was a little daunting.
Anyways, although the trip was somewhat eventful, I have to say that I can’t wait to return!
Why Not Paynes?
I actually booked Payne’s on Dockwa for two nights the week before our trip. It seemed to be as good a spot as any, but after further research, I discovered that they don’t really have slips. Rather they “pack em in” stern to stern, side to side, whatever it takes to get the most people possible.
I’m a review nerd and generally search the Internet looking for reports from people before I commit my hard earned cash. Payne’s is a bit of a cult hang out and I learned people either love it or hate it, but most people love it.
Then I found this review on Active Captain that fired up my antennae:
“First the employees at the marina all have an attitude. Second everything is so crowded you can’t move and getting in and out of your slip is difficult. The showers close at 7 and were ice cold both near closing and right after opening…
If you like to party and stay up late making a bunch of noise, this may be your place…
Not a nice experience…”
Don’t get me wrong, the crew of Tenacity may not stay up late these days, but we’ll party with the best of them. The problem was that my wife’s sister Gail and her husband Rudy were sleeping in the salon on the convertible dinette. Clearly late night parties and drunks stumbling home through the cockpit could be a problem!
A little more research uncovered The Block Island Boat Basin. It’s is purported to be the only marina with real slips on Block Island and that was enough to capture my attention.
So I called Paynes to see when I had to cancel and got owner Dick Payne on the phone. Immediately, I knew why boaters have a love-hate relationship with Paynes:
Me: “I made a reservation on Dockwa, when do I have to cancel to avoid being charged?”
Dick Payne: “Dockwa, what the hell is that – have you ever been here before?”
Me: “No, this is my first visit…”
Dick Payne: “Well, it’ll probably be your last!” (with a few laughs). No, I’ve never charged anybody who didn’t stay here, why do you want to cancel”.
Me: “My wife’s sister is sleeping in the salon and I’m concerned about her privacy”
Dick Payne: “Privacy, there’s no such thing here, we pack em so tight you can hear your neighbor snore”.
And with that, I canceled my reservation at Paynes. That said, unlike Tenacity, Vigilant has two staterooms below so no one’s sleeping in the salon. We do enjoy a good party, so I’ll probably give Payne’s a try in the off season. Like other marina’s on Block Island, Paynes owns Dick Eye Dicks, which is well know as one of the best restaurants on the island.
Block Island Boat Basin
As I mentioned above, we ended up switching to the Boat Basin because they have slips. From what I’ve learned researching the island, I can safely say they are the best slips on Block Island. You park stern in to floating piers and tie off the bow to pilings; not quite as nice as floating finger piers, but once you’re in, quite comfortable.
Mrs. Horne loved the social side of the Boat Basin. We sat on the back deck of Tenacity and greeted fellow boaters as they strolled down our finger pier.
While I too liked the back porch feeling, I have to say that I prefer the more private feeling of floating finger piers like 41 North and Newport Yachting Center.
The Boat Basin offers an impressive array of amenities for it’s location. There’s a nice grocery store stocked with essentials, ice, etc. Although they do not sell alcohol, you can place and order with the downtown liquor store and get it delivered to your boat. Just be aware that you’ll be paying both island prices and a little extra for delivery. Rudy ordered a 12 pack of Coors Light and I think it cost him $20.
The most prominent amenity is The Oar Restaurant located just to the left of the Boat Basin main pier. As co-located marina restaurants go, I say this is a good as I’ve experienced. The bar has that special Margaritaville feel, the menu has all the seafood classics folks love, and they have also added a decent sushi bar. I am a total softy for any restaurant or bar with open sea air flowing through and The Oar totally delivers.
In addition to the decent grocery store, The Boat Basin rents mopeds and provides overnight boaters with tokens for the so-called showers. Truth be told, the whole bath thing is undoubtedly the major downfall of The Block Island Boat Basin.
If you want to use the shore bathroom or shower, you’re facilities are the basement bathroom under The Oar. It’s pretty much a pit; wet tile floors and grimy looking shower curtains. I suppose you’d be okay taking a shower with flip flops on, but I think I’ll stick with shower on the boat when needed.
But wait, there’s more…
My review of The Block Island Boat Basin would not be complete with relaying the big adventure we experienced on our first visit.
Immediately following my conversation with Dick Payne, I called the Boat Basin and spoke to Justin about reserving a slip for two nights. He said he didn’t know, said he’d be “doing the reservations” soon, and asked me to call back.
When I called back he said – “I can get you in Friday, but I’m not sure about Saturday yet. I think you’ll be okay, but worst case, you may have to go on a mooring Saturday night”.
I said okay, booked Friday night, and told everyone we were a go.
We arrived around noon on Friday, hailed them on channel 9 and they checked us into a slip facing shore on the first float. Tenacity is a Back Cove 37, so that’s how long I told them my boat was. Little did I know that the row of slips they put us in was designed for boats 39 feet or less. Unlike most boat builders who “round up” the actual LOA to get the model length, Back Cove seems to do the opposite. Tenacity’s hull measured 38’2″, but she topped out at 42’6″ when you added in the swim platform and the bowsprit. Needless to say, it was quite an effort to spin her and back her into a slip designed for boats under 39′.
Although The Boat Basin boasts “only slips with floating piers” on Block Island, the bow and spring lines are secured to pilings — there are no finger piers.
The Boat Basin sent out a deckhand to help us tie up and connect to power. It was a beautiful afternoon and we grabbed a cab ($20 including tip) for a short ride to down. We had checked The Oar for lunch, but they were sporting a one hour wait, so we ended up at The Poor People’s Pub.
After lunch we socialized on Tenacity’s “back porch” for a few hours and headed up to The Oar for dinner. Once again, the wait was an hour, but the host offered us a pager that worked down on the pier! With this we returned to Tenacity for another cocktail until our pager called (about 45 minutes later).
Back on the dock after dinner, the socializing continued. The owner Howling Wolf asked Rudy and I to perform a few tunes so I grabbed my guitar, Rudy his harp, and we walked the pier serenading our neighbors. Based on their applause, I’d say we did go, but Mrs. Horne wasn’t so sure.
The next morning, my cousin, who has a house on the island, planed to pick us up for a tour. Just before departing, I checked with the dockmaster to see if we were good for the night and discovered we weren’t confirmed yet. Wanting to avoid a forced hasty retreat as the storm was coming, I called the harbormaster on the VHF and asked about a mooring.
The harbormaster was putting people on the mooring, but asked me to check back later. He was monitoring people leaving the town moorings and directing people looking for moorings to queue up at the end of New Harbor. I asked him if I should do that and he “no, worst case, we’ll put you on an open private mooring”.
After the tour, the sun was coming out, but the wind was building to the small craft levels in the forecast. Once again, I checked with the dockmaster and once again, we were not yet confirmed, but she said “sit tight, I’m working on some options”.
The little voice in my head said, “fagettaboutit, we’re getting tossed”, but the eternal optimist Mrs. Horne insisted we hold out. A quick listen on the VHF assured me the harbormaster was still finding moorings and now the owner of Howling Wolf had joined in the effort to find us a home.
At 11:00 AM, the dockmaster appeared with the words I knew where coming – “I’m so sorry, but we have no room — you’ll have to leave”.
I then called up the harbormaster and asked about a mooring – “Sorry Captain, we’re full up for the night. You can anchor in the outer harbor, but we’re in for quite a blow, so I can’t recommend it.”
Nice, kinda the yachting version of The Sum of All Fears; winds gusting at 30, 70 miles from home, and now I had to pull Tenacity out of the slip and make the turn in a shipway designed for 39 footers!
But we persevered!
By now the captain of Howling Wolf and few other newly found friends had all gathered to give me their sage advice on how to get a 42′ boat out of a 39′ slip in small craft warnings.
Having been through this sort of mess before, I put Rudy on the bow, Mrs. Horne on the stern, and told them both to ignore out well intended helpers on the dock.
As both closed their hands to show me how many INCHES in had before a collision on the bow and stern, I jockeyed Tenacity’s thrusters and engine out of the slip and made the turn amid cheers from the float.
Will the first test of the day behind us, I called up Todd at Sakonnet Point and asked if we could stay their for the night. Todd, said “sorry captain, I just got a cancellation and filled it 5 minutes ago”.
Now for plan B, I tossed Mrs. Horne my Newport Harbor guidebook and asked her to start calling marinas and see if we could get one for the night. At this point, she began to look ill. With the island tour and all the drama back at The Boat Basin, I had forgetten to feed the crew. After a night of her favorite GT’s, Mrs. Horne’s tummy was calling a time out.
Fortunately, I always stock the number one cure for seasickness on the boat – pretzels. And after munching down a few, she was back in the hunt.
The Newport Yachting Center was sold out. Goat Island had room, but they had a 2 night minimum and Gail had to be at work Monday morning. Finally, she hit pay dirt at Newport’s top marina – 41 North!
We booked it and then went to the Yelp app on my iPhone to book dinner in Newport (a tip for the wise — always make dinner reservations in Newport in the summer, it’s very popular dining out destination).
Although the wind blew 20-30 all the way to Newport, we were heading downwind in open ocean monster waves. In these big ocean waves, you just have to get the speed right and you simple glide down the face and climb over the peak. It turned out to be quite smooth; so smooth that Gail and Rudy fell asleep in the deck chairs in the cockpit!
With that, I’ll end the tale of The Block Island Boat Basin and our big adventure. We ended up enjoying a wonderful evening at 41 North and a superb dinner on the upper deck of the Midtown Oyster House followed up with Sunday morning breakfast at Meg’s Aussie Milk Bar and lunch at The Chartroom.