When asked to pick our favorite anchorages, it felt like trying to decide which child you like best. So our criterion was holding, protection, things to do ashore, beauty and, of course, location. Some of the anchorages don’t meet all of these, but they cover the range of things we look for when cruising. I think we can safely say there are an almost infinite number of anchorages for you to discover and make your own. Here are our favorites.
1. Hadley Harbor, Massachusetts
One of the most charming anchorages in the Southern Cape Cod area is Hadley Harbor. For those transiting from Buzzards Bay to Vineyard Sound, this scenic harbor among the Elizabeth Islands is a perfect stopover for lunch and a swim on a warm day while waiting for the current to change in the narrow opening at Woods Hole. The outer harbor is exposed to the Northeast so it is good for daytime visitors who want to stretch their legs and explore Bull Island. (Dogs are welcome!) Those wishing to stay overnight should continue through the narrow opening past Bull Island to the completely protected inner harbor. Its best to arrive early to guarantee a space to anchor because this little gem is very popular. Most all moorings are privately owned although there are three Coast Guard buoys available for public use. Hadley is close to many great attractions, such as the historic town of Woods Hole, home of the Oceanographic Institution, and a great swimming beach and hiking area known as “the Knob.”
2. Back Creek, Sassafras River, Maryland
In the Chesapeake, we would have to say one of our favorite anchorages is Back Creek on the Sassafras River on the Upper Eastern Shore of Maryland. We found very good holding, protection from all wind directions, a beautiful old mansion to explore ashore (Mt. Harmon Plantation) and lovely shoreline with high trees all around. It’s also located fairly close to Georgetown, one of the hubs of Eastern Shore cruising. Kitty Knight House, an 18th-century inn, serves some of the best crab cakes around while the long-loved Granary across the river offers the finest sunsets along the river. There are a number of little beaches to land a dinghy to take the dog ashore or just stretch your legs. This is just one of many great anchorages on this river.
3. Cambridge, Choptank River, Maryland
Another favorite spot on the Chesapeake’s Eastern Shore is the free seawall in Cambridge, Md. along the Choptank River. There is no worry with holding as you tie off to sturdy cleats, but you must fender well against the concrete wall. Located just next to the county building to starboard once inside the entrance to Cambridge Creek, the seawall and basin are well-protected from wind. From here you’ll see Snapper’s Waterfront Cafe (serving the area’s best Southwestern and Jamaican-inspired dishes) and a small bridge that makes regular openings so one can head deeper into the harbor to access more marinas. There are many other restaurants in town including Portside Seafood, a relaxed waterfront venue with divine seafood, and Jimmie & Sook’s Raw Bar & Grill, a Fish house. Cambridge is dotted with numerous shops and historical sites within walking distance, and a great Farmer’s Market is close by. Cambridge is a pretty little town that requires a stay of a number of days to do it justice.
4. Carolina Beach Harbor, North Carolina
While cruising along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, Carolina Beach in North Carolina is the perfect anchorage. We love the beach, First and foremost, so it’s always a plus to be near it. There is easy access off of the ICW with good depths. You can anchor north of the first island with good holding or take a mooring ball — operated by the Town of Carolina Beach for a small fee. This anchorage is surrounded by gorgeous beach homes to the north and east, a protective low marsh island to the south and marinas to the west (Carolina Beach State Park or Joyner Marina at the entrance to the harbor is a waterway favorite). A dinghy dock is located at the end of Sandpiper Lane toward the south end of the mooring field (beachside), and the town dock at the head of the harbor gives easy shore access. This is an attractive little beach town with quick access to the Cape Fear River so you can play the tides and currents to ensure a more comfortable ride down this wide and exposed river.
5. Greyfield and Dungeness, Cumberland Island, Georgia
Cumberland Island on the Georgia- Florida border has long been a favorite of ours. There is good holding anywhere along the island, with easy access from the ICW. Anchor anywhere between Greyfield and Dungeness. We prefer the north end near Greyfield. You’ll be protected from the west by Drum Point Island and from any easterly quadrant winds from the beautiful forest at the Cumberland Island National Seashore Park. You are right at the beach, just a short walk across the island through lush trees, palms and over the dunes. The beach is never crowded as the island is only accessed by boat. And there is great shelling here. The Dungeness Ruins on the south end are often visited by wild horses whose appearance is always welcome. We never miss a chance to stop here. Bike or hike ashore to your heart’s content.
6. Hontoon Dead River, St. John’s River, Florida
Once you see the beauty of the Lower St. John’s River, you will have to return for more. Hontoon Dead River is one of those spots you won’t forget. Its peace and quiet, completely surrounded by forest, is almost unsurpassed. With good depth, holding and protection, as well as quick access from the river channel to the state park, you will find the solitude you seek for kayaking or just resting on the boat. The Hontoon Dead River has a 10-mile paddling trail around Hontoon Island State Park, which is only accessible by boat or ferry and is perfect for the explorer looking to bird watch, hike, fish or take in the abundance of wildlife.
7. Emerald Rock, Warderick Wells, Exumas, Bahamas
The remote beauty of the Emerald Rock area of Warderick Wells in Exuma Land and Sea Park is probably one of our favorite places on the planet. The water is crystal clear. While open to the west, there are limestone cays at all other points of the compass. If you need westerly protection, there are a number of other spots within the park boundaries to the south where you can find protection from just about any wind direction. From Emerald Rock, you can dinghy to the Land and Sea Park headquarters on Warderick Wells and visit the ranger station. Hike the various trails, relax on the beaches or visit Boo Boo Hill to leave your wooden carved marker and permanently cement your place in history. We never get tired of this place, as it may be one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Keep in mind, this is a no-take zone (you cannot take any fish, conch or shells from the water or from land). Th is rule is strictly enforced.
8. Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco, Bahamas
For unending socializing and access to services and provisions, Marsh Harbour in the Abacos is unrivaled. Th e harbour is large enough for many, many boats and is surrounded by restaurants and shops offering a landing spot for the dinghy. You can have any type of boat work done, stock the boat from the U.S.-style grocery, restock the liquor cabinet or meet up with your friends at any number of restaurants and bars, all lining the harbour. The Jib Room has weekly steak and rib specials, while Curly Tails Restaurant & Bar serves fresh local seafood with a Mediterranean twist. Don’t forget about Snappas Grill & Chill pumping with live music every Friday and Saturday night. Marsh Harbour is the hub of the Abacos, and you will not be bored here. And it’s a quick hop to many of our other favorite spots, such as Treasure Cay, Man-O-War or Hope Town, just an hour or so away.
9. Bimini Basin, Cape Coral, Florida
On the Gulf Coast of Florida, off the Caloosahatchee River, in Cape Coral is Bimini Basin. Just blocks from downtown Cape Coral, this anchorage wins points in all areas. The approach is well-marked, although you will have to cross a 5.5- foot spot to enter. Once in the basin, there is excellent holding, 360-degrees protection, easy shore access, a short walk to provisions, free WiFi from Four Freedoms Park and beautiful surroundings. The basin is bordered on one side by a lovely park with dinghy docks and surrounded by well-kept residential homes and condominiums. One of the most appealing things is Ice Sssscreamin — the newest Cape Coral ice cream shop located onsite at the park — known for its gator tracks and heavenly hash flavors. One should never have to walk too far for ice cream.
10. Buttonwood Harbor, Longboat Key, Florida
Another gem of an anchorage on Florida’s Gulf Coast is Buttonwood Harbor at Longboat Key. Located at the west end of Sarasota Bay, this anchorage is much better protected than it would appear on the chart. Low-lying scrub keys and mud flats provide protection from the north and east and beautiful homes and tall palms from the south and west. You may be the only boat at anchor here! In the area of the chart marked “see Buttonwood Harbor note” and dinghy to either the kayak launch to the south or the town dock to the north (a quarter-mile south and a half-mile north respectively). From those locations, you can walk across to the beautiful Gulf beach, catch the bus to the grocery store or back into Sarasota’s tourist attractions, or tie up the dinghy or boat at Pattigeorge’s — a perfect place to end the day with Asian, Caribbean and Latin American dishes.
11. Roberts Bayou, Alabama
It was hard to pass on many of the other anchorages in the Florida Big Bend and Panhandle, but we have to choose Roberts Bayou in Alabama. Although the entrance channel is narrow, it is easily navigated, passing within feet of the beach just outside Pirates Cove Marina & Restaurant, and the deeper water is clearly visible. Travel at idle speed through the entrance, as there may be a number of boats, people and dogs parked at and playing near the channel. Once inside, you have one of the best protected anchorages you will find anywhere. The tall treeline and well-maintained homes provide all of the protection and views you would need. Dinghy ashore to the park near the anchorage to land Fido or head back to the restaurant for burgers and beers and a little nightlife.
12. North Channel, Lake Huron
The string of small islands along the north shore of Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron hold more picturesque anchorages per square mile than any other body of water I know. These islands have towering pines and spruce trees growing over clear fresh water along their shores. Many anchorages have deep enough water right up to the shore that you can safely tie a stern line to a nearby tree. The islands such as Croker or South Benjamin have so many bays and insets you can find shelter from virtually any wind. Many of the islands are close enough together to offer literally a dozen different anchorages in less than 2 miles from each other. With the charming town of Little Current nearby, provisioning is easy for a weekend or week’s stay. Granted the summers are short, but the beauty is worth it. Take your own or charter a local boat and don’t miss the clear water and clear night skies of the North Channel’s anchorages.