Sardine harbor


To the editor: On the NOAA chart it looked fine, albeit a little small: an almost square dredged anchorage just north of Plymouth, Mass., that services the Pilgrim-founded hamlet of Duxbury. Sailing a tight serpentine path up the sprawling sand flats we sought a pump out, a mooring and a lobster roll at the Snug Harbor Fish Company. I was sailing along with my friends Dana and Craig as they took their maiden voyage aboard Hypatia, a Hunter 37, bound for a summer in Maine.

Perhaps I should have reviewed the cruising guide more carefully, reading between the lines when they warned that the 150 moorings of Snug Harbor made it, “a tight fit with a tide that can easily leave the careless boater aground.” We would soon discover how appropriate this name was.

But life is for learning, and the dogs needed a walk, so in we went on the afternoon flood with hopes there would be room for us. We came out of the last turn and what I saw still shocks me to the core: the moored boats proliferated in virtually every nook and cranny within — I’ve seen football game parking lots that had more empty space. The oystermen, too, had staked their claim in this sardine can with floating shacks that preserved and processed their catch. The chart showed a final pair of nav aids, but where were they? Well, mixed in with the boats, that’s where! It was the marine version of every man for himself.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all as a sailor: We tiptoed into the floating village, wending our way through the minefield, keenly aware that each mooring had a pennant or chain that could catch our prop. We zigged, we zagged, looking for some kind of lane that would lead us in; a nice man waved us over and then “ka-chunk!” the sickening sound of the prop slicing through something thick.

Robert Beringer

We approached the dock and Harbormaster Donald Beers spritely marched down the ramp and grabbed our line. Sheepishly I asked him for a pump out, fully expecting a public upbraiding for damage to the mooring. But he just grinned, waving his hand. “Forget it,” he said, “happens all the time. It’s so crowded in here.” Yeah, no kidding. He went on to explain that dredging funds had been delayed and it’s really shoal at low tide.

After requesting a mooring, he not only gave it to us gratis but insisted on escorting us out there, and when a neighboring powerboat strayed too close as the tide changed, he returned to move it. What a guy! But the guide wasn’t exaggerating — the spring low left all but the shacks and the small boats in the middle hard aground.

But at that point we didn’t care. The town was charming, with stately mansions dating from the early 19th century. Bayside Marine loaned us a truck for supplies, the lobster rolls were great and the croissants at French Memories were delightful.

As the tide neared its peak the next day and the last of the fog burned off, we fired up the diesel and cautiously made our way out of this tight but hospitable place, reminded of the old sailing saw that the worst thing about a port is leaving it.

—Robert Beringer is a marine journalist and college administrator who holds a USCG marine merchant officer license, and sails his Catalina 34 Ukiyo out of Jacksonville, Fla.

By Ocean Navigator