Adventures on Narragansett Bay

Whether as a captain, passenger, or paddler – the East Bay is filled with numerous small islands and coves to explore


Discovering new-to-you coves and islands in Narragansett Bay can be a lifelong adventure. While many Rhode Islanders have their ride-or-die nooks and crannies, others embrace their wanderlust. Just ask Michael Reuter, who loves cruising from Barrington to Potter Cove just off Prudence Island with his family aboard their East Bay 49, named Ignite. More recently he fell upon Mackerel Cove, a deep-water, protected cove nestled between Short Point and Southwest Point on Conanicut Island not far from Beavertail State Park. “On a beautiful day, Mackerel Cove is one of the most spectacular swimming holes in all of Narragansett Bay,” says Reuter, adding he has a lot of friends in Long Island who spend two or three days just cruising to get to Narragansett Bay because of its sheer beauty and many harbors, which are not only easily accessible, but conveniently close together. “You can go five miles and have a completely different vibe,” he explains. But as any lover of Rhode Island waters might do, Reuter holds a few cards close to the vest. “I can never reveal my secret spots.”

If you have your own boat, there are ample scenic spots to drop anchor. Potter Cove is also a favorite location for Taylor Gilbert and her fiance, Ryan Buttie, who cruise out regularly in the summer aboard Luminous, a Sea Ray 240 Sundancer power boat. It takes about 35 minutes from where the boat is docked in Providence, but once they arrive, it’s a world away. “We watch the tides because it can get shallow during low tide,” says Gilbert, a senior designer at Providence Media whose ears perked up when she heard rumblings of a story about one of her favorite summer pastimes.

“We anchor out, inflate our rafts, tie them to the back of the boat, and float all day,” says Gilbert. When they’ve worked up an appetite, the couple cruise around the island’s westernmost tip, called Providence Point because you can see the capital city in the distance on a clear day, to Coggeshall Cove, a calmer coastal nook where they head to shore with clam rakes in hand to dig for dinner. “We grill them until they open and just eat out and it’s such a great time,” she says. “They’re the freshest you can possibly get.”

Charter boats take the guesswork out of island hopping, exploring enviable offshore swimming coves and planning excursions in the bay. Candace Riddle captains Serendipity, a Beneteau Oceanis 45’ sail boat moored in Newport Harbor that she charters for up to six guests. Typically, the sailboat is chartered for half- or full-day sails, or a sunset sail, but guests are welcome to choose their own adventure. “If someone wanted to do a custom itinerary, if they wanted to go somewhere other than sailing around the bay or out to Block Island….as long as the weather is good and the depths are good, than that’s an option as well,” says Riddle, adding she can anchor at various locations as well if guests choose. “That’s the beauty of a private charter over a by-the-head charter.”

Riddle says guests can bring provisions aboard and the charter has partnerships with two other women-owned businesses, The Perfect Parcel, which provides charcuterie boards and other goods, and Kristi’s Kraftails, locally sourced, seasonally inspired craft mocktails (that can also be used as as a base for cocktails). “I’m excited this year to actually be on board with the guests and sharing the love of sailing, and hopefully somebody else catches the bug, too.”

Charter options include Boat NPT, a marketplace of privately owned boats where prospective guests can reach out and find the right charter for their needs as the fleet has 10 power boats and catamarans available for private charter ranging from a 24’ center console to a 88’ yacht and can accommodate parties from two to 40 guests. Sara Austin, who books charters for the company, explains, “Think of us as the VRBO or Airbnb of the boat world. They are all privately owned boats, and the owners use them personally, but there’s a lot of time when they’re not.” From further flung islands including Cuttyhunk and beyond to closer-to-home sails, planning an adventure with this concierge style service cuts out the clutter when finding a boat that’ll work for your duo, family, or group.

One of the best ways to see Prudence and nine other Narragansett Bay islands from afar along other local islands is aboard Rhode Island Fast Ferry’s 90-minute lighthouse cruise. This narrated sightseeing cruise on a catamaran sails past Fox Island, Dutch Island, Jamestown, Rose Island, Coasters Harbor Island, Gould Island, and Hope Island, in addition to the bigger Aquidneck Island and Goat Island. You’ll also see 10 local lighthouses and cool sights like Clingstone, the famous “house on the rock” near Jamestown on one of the outcroppings called “The Dumplings.” (Fun fact: Mumford & Sons shot a music video in the house in 2018 for their song “Guiding Light”).

For paddlers, on the north end of Portsmouth is Gull Cove, better known as “The Cove,” with typically calm waters along the coastline ideal for kayaking and even stand-up paddleboarding, though the deeper parts of  the tidal currents can be strong. (Insider’s tip: early mornings here are extraordinarily peaceful.) Make ample time to explore the many coves and channels in this large tidal estuary, which in many areas is quite shallow, so you’ll only find small craft (and plenty of folks fishing and clamming) here. The cove is home to Rye Island, Tommy Island, Hen Island, and Spectacle Island, which you can paddle around. If don’t own a personal watercraft, have a roof rack on top of your vehicle, ratchet straps, or have space to store what can be a cumbersome piece of equipment, have no fear – Mobile Kayaks can solve that very problem, delivering kayaks and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) to designated launches in the area.

On the opposite end of Aquidneck Island, Mobile Kayaks delivers to Gooseneck Cove in Newport, where the salt marshes are vibrant habitats for fish, birds, and other wildlife. Located at Green Bridge on Ocean Drive, the area is a coastal New England postcard brought to life, hence you’ll see plenty of folks snapping photos, lingering about (i.e. taking selfies), or even perched opposite an easel for plein air painting. Mansion gawking is common here, but your best vantage point of these architectural behemoths, including Jay Leno’s Seafair, locally dubbed “Hurricane Hut,” is by the water. Mobile Kayaks are especially
convenient here as parking is scarce.

With numerous places to explore by water in Newport, a SUP is a great option. Island Adventures offers sturdy, portable inflatable SUPs (and kayaks) you can rent and launch on your own. A scenic spot to explore is Brenton Cove which you can access easily by launching from Fort Adams State Park. The company also has a location at the Newport Harbor Island Resort, which offers a protected area that’s ideal for first-timers getting the hang of it. Here you can also take a guided SUP tour or even take a SUP yoga class.



Rustic charm awaits at this no-fuss under-the-radar gem

Just about seven miles long and a mile wide, Prudence Island is the third-largest island in Narragansett Bay behind Aquidneck and Conanicut islands, the latter of which encompasses the entirety of Jamestown. Prudence Island has always had a sense of allure and mystery for those who’ve never visited, but if it’s piqued your Rhode Island curiosity, make it a point to explore Prudence this summer – and bring your hiking boots. Here you’ll find more than 13 miles of hiking trails that traverse the island’s vast swaths of conserved land. Though part of Portsmouth, you’ll have to go to Bristol if you plan to take the ferry, operated by Prudence & Bay Islands Transport. The ferry departs and returns daily at multiple times, which is convenient, but reservations are strongly recommended, especially during the summer as seasonal residents boost the population as much as tenfold. Rates for the 30-minute journey are affordable at less than $6 each way for adults and under $2 for children, and while the ferry can accommodate vehicles, daytrippers typically won’t need a vehicle on the island, but a bike, which adds just a few dollars to your fare, will come in handy for exploring.

Visitors pursue Prudence Island more for what it doesn’t have than what it does, as its tranquil vibe and slow pace is just the way residents – around 100 year-round – like it. Nary a restaurant, bar, hotel, commercial center, or stoplight in sight, think of Prudence Island as a BYO destination – as in, bring your own lunch, refreshments, sunscreen, and sundries. If you’re lucky, Prudence Variety will be open for anything you forgot, but you won’t find a full-service marina or anything of the sort, unless you count Rossi Farm, a family-run farm where you can find in-season produce and the like.

You’ll also want to bring your camera, as the Prudence Island Lighthouse, colloquially dubbed the Sandy Point Lighthouse, is a sight to behold. Reaching 30 feet into the sky, it’s the oldest lighthouse in Rhode Island. Made of granite, it’s uniquely ​​capped by what’s called a birdcage lantern, which was common before the introduction of the Fresnel lens. Today, there’s less than a handful remaining in the US. You’ll also want to see the historic Prudence Island School, the last operating one-room schoolhouse in Rhode Island. It’s changed little since being built in 1896 and serves a tiny, single-digit student body. Little House on the Prairie fans will notice it looks nearly identical to the school on the TV show. 


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