If you go to Newport Rhode Island and it’s warm enough to sail, then getting out on the water should be on your must-do list, even if you haven’t a clue how to sail or ever been on a boat. We explored a number of options, from kayaking and paddle boarding to day cruises and also had a couple of private lessons with Sail Newport.
Newport Day & Sunset Cruises
If you don’t want to invest that much time on the water (I’m a water baby so it’s hard for me to understand why anyone wouldn’t unless of course you get sea sick), you can easily opt for a cruise that runs anywhere from a couple of hours, to a half day cruise or full day cruise on the New England waters surrounding Newport’s harbor.
We went with a company called Classic Cruises of Newport to experience the boat they call the Madeleine, which does both day sails and sunset sails. What I love most about sailing is that you never know what you’re going to see out there, but one thing you can be assured of, you’ll inevitably be surprised by the variety of boats you’ll come across and the breathtaking views you’ll have along the way.
The boat is a 72 foot schooner that takes you through Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay. Madeleine is a traditional Bermuda rig schooner and is apparently the oldest operating and most popular sailing vessel open to the public in Newport, a quirky factoid we didn’t know in advance. Day trips offer complimentary bottled water and soft drinks and the captain let Jake steer the boat which he loved….under supervision of course.
They point out the many historical points of interest along the waterfront including a number of estates, islands and lighthouses. Rather than complimentary water and soft drinks on the day cruise, they offer champagne and beer on the sunset cruise, all while basking in the warm glow of that sunset you’ve been waiting for on Narragansett Bay.
While some companies offer faster sightseeing options including Classic Cruises of Newport, I’m all about the ‘natural sailing’ experience. It was nice to be on a smaller boat when we had our lessons with Sail Newport and on a much larger boat a few days later in the same waters. When you’re on a larger boat, it also means that it’s much easier to get up and walk around and take in some of the sights rather than focus on what the wind was doing and how we were supposed to respond.
The sail and the jib on the Madeleine was obviously much larger than the smaller boats.
We had a l’il photography fun before we took the boat back to the harbor — I have to admit, I fell in love the majestic-ness of the sail and the beauty of the boat’s wood.
While we went with the Madeleine, there’s a number of options to choose from and while I have noted some of them here, it is not an exhaustive list.
Madeleine & the Rum Rummer II: they offer sailing harbor tours and sunset sailing cruises aboard a 72-foot schooner sailing yacht Madeleine, which maintains 19th century sailboat style with a 21st century sailing yacht comfort and convenience.
Not quite traditional sailing, but as briefly referenced above, you can opt for their high speed motor boat Rum Runner II, which takes you by Newport mansions and former speakeasies that were fueled by seaborne smugglers back in the 1920s and 30s. This restored Elco Motor yacht carries you swiftly and safely through local waters of Newport Harbor on an adventurous motor yacht tour. Originally powered with three Packard airplane engines, she has been re-powered with twin turbo-charged 350HP Caterpillar Marine Diesels. Both can be booked through Classic Cruises of Newport. Details: Classic Cruises of Newport, 24 Bannister’s Wharf, Newport, RI 02840 | 401.847.0298.
The Schooner Adirondack II: this elegant, 80-foot, turn-of-the-century-style pilot schooner has been a local mainstay in Newport since it joined the Scarano boat fleet in 1999. The Schooner Adirondack II features plenty of seating, teak decks and impressive mahogany trim. They offer private excursions as well. Details: Bowen’s Wharf | Newport, RI 02840 | 401.847.0000.
Schooner Aquidneck: this boat is a beautiful, traditional eighty food schooner with a blue hull, billowing sails and wood trim. You’ll see the major sights including Goat Island, where the U.S. Navy made most of the torpedoes used in WWII, Fort Adams, one of the largest forts on the East Coast, Hammersmith Farm, the summer Whitehouse of JFK and Clingstone, an iconic home perched on a rocky outcropping. Vintage America’s Cup boats, lighthouses, super yachts and weekly races are common sights. Details: Sightsailing, Inc. 32 Bowen’s Wharf, Newport RI 02840 | 401.849.3333.
Jamestown Newport Ferries: originally on our agenda was an afternoon with Jamestown Newport Ferries, but we opted for a more personalized experience on the Madeleine instead and also because it was a shorter time commitment. That said, the ferries are a great way to see a lot of the bay while offering the opportunity to get off on the way and if we had more time, we would have loved to experience it. For example, they stop at Jamestown, Rose Island, Fort Adams, Ann St. Pier and Perrotti Park, and they do a bit of a loop, so you can get on and off as you’d like.
Sailing Lessons With Sail Newport
We actually started with sailing lessons before we ventured on the larger boat options above. Note that I grew up on a lake, so have had plenty of experience on small sunfishes and Catamarans but it’s a whole lot different sailing on the ocean than it is a lake. Even though I also spent time working on a mid-sized yacht in Greece and Turkey in my early twenties, and have sailed as a passenger several times in the San Francisco Bay Area and Boston before that, it had been a long time since I had to pay attention to the process of sailing rather than enjoying it as a passenger.
Sail Newport offers sailing lessons on much smaller boats (four is comfortable) that leave from Fort Adams. Sail Newport is home to New England’s largest public sailing center and is considered Rhode Island’s premier public sailing site. We had two private lessons with them on subsequent days so we could build on what we learned the previous day, which I’d strongly recommend, even if you’re only in Newport for a short stay.
Sail Newport’s mission is to promote and operate affordable public sailing instruction, rental programs and to create opportunities to attract new sailors to the sport. Applause applause – we’re huge fans!
For the sailboat savvy geeks among you, their fleet that people can take out consists of 12 J/22s and 2 Rhodes 19s. While yes, they offer instructional programs and private lessons, they also have fleets of rental boats you can rent on your own if you’re already an avid sailer. If you happen to be in the area for longer or can arrange an extended stay, they offer weekly group adult learn-to-sail lessons, as well as adult intermediate and adult advanced courses from late May through Labor Day weekend, and then on weekends in September and October. Each session consists of six hours of instruction over a three day period.
Below is the port from where the boats leave from at Fort Adams.
Our experience was very different on each day; one instructor was a little more casual and had us pick things up through watching and then doing “hands-on” work whereas the second instructor was a bit more formal, giving us a list of things to do in order, from setting up the sail, to tacking at appropriate times depending on the wind’s direction to taking the sail down. We put the jib up together, went through best practices for steering versus loosening the sail, as well as how to handle the boat when the wind was dead. It was awesome that nine-year old Jake was able to take the helm and get a feel for navigating at an early age; we quickly learned that he was a real “natural” and has the sailor’s gift.
More shots taken out on the wide open sea with my slightly scratched fisheye lens….it was absolute bliss!
Planning Details & Logistics:
- Sail Newport | 60 Fort Adams Drive, Newport RI | 401.846.1983 | sailnewport.org
- Madeleine and Rum Runner Cruises | Classic Cruises of Newport, 24 Bannister’s Wharf, Newport, RI | 401.847.0298
- Rose Island Lighthouse Tour | 401.847.4242 | roseisland.org
- Jamestown Newport Ferry, Perrotti Park | 39 America’s Cup Avenue, Newport RI
- Schooner Adirondack | Bowen’s Wharf | Newport, RI | 401.847.0000
- Schooner Aquidneck: Sightsailing, 32 Bowen’s Wharf, Newport RI | 401.849.3333
T’was a blast! Thanks Newport and your waters. Below, a selfie taken of Anthony, Jake and I on the Madeleine and then run through a Prisma filter.
Note: we were hosted by Madeleine and Sail Newport but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.