Highlights of exploring the North Shore by boat

Pictured below, the schooner Thomas E. Lannon on a summer afternoon, as she passes Eastern Point Light at the entrance to Gloucester Harbor:


The “North Shore” of Massachusetts Bay is rocky, rough and uneven, but provides some stunning views and good opportunities to explore by boat (or by land). The post below outlines points of interest along both the lower (I) and upper (II) parts of the North Shore, with landmarks and locations pointed out along the way. Some major obstructions and hazards are outlined as well. All of these locations can be accessible by boat from Boston Harbor, depending on weather conditions and the size of your vessel. This post should not be relied upon for navigation, it is only a framework for planning.

I. North of Boston- Deer Island to Marblehead:


Source: NOAA nautical chart. Not for official navigation. See disclaimer at NOAA.gov

Starting from the mouth of Boston Harbor at Deer Island, the shoreline that curves in at Revere Beach and stretches up to Saugus is generally developed and aesthetically unappealing stretch of coast. However, jutting out just a few miles North is the beautiful peninsula of Nahant. From here, a rocky and coastline extends up toward Salem sound, encompassing the towns of Swampscott, Marblehead and Tinker’s Island. I was usually limited to this near stretch of the North Shore in calm weather in my old boat (19 foot). However, with a 28′ I can now explore the entire shoreline to Cape Ann. Here are the major locations along the way:

1) Deer Island. The water treatment plant on Deer Island makes it highly recognizable. This is likely not what comes to mind when you think “North Shore” but it is technically the starting point of the North Shore. Deer Island is better visited by land than by boat, seeing as it is actually no longer and island but now a connected peninsula.


2) Winthrop. Located further up the Coast is the town of Winthrop, which was re-connected to Deer Island via the closing of Shirley Gut in the Hurricane of 1938. From Winthrop, the shoreline curves North along Revere Beach, and eventually up to Lynn Harbor before hitting the neck of Nahant. Lynn Harbor and the nearby town of Saugus are fairly industrial and not recommended as a top destination to visit by boat. Pictured below is the landmark watertower on Winthrop Heights, as well as the Great Fawn, a dangerous obstruction along the way:


3) Nahant. This rocky peninsula is located at the end of a long sandy neck jutting out from Lynn and Saugus. A battery casemate of Fort Ruckman, as well as two fire control towers are visible from offhore. These are remnants of the early 20th century harbor defense system. See more about Nahant in our previous post. Pictured below is one of the battery casemates as visible from the water:

north shore

4) Egg Rock. This large protruding rock is an interesting sight. Located just off the Eastern Shores of Nahant, it is a popular place for diving. Although the thought crossed my mind, I would not try to climb it as it seems too steep.


5) The Breakers. Further North off the Swampscott shores lie several rock outcrops and ledges, such as Ram Island and The Pig Rocks. Some of the ledges lurk just below the surface. These are somewhat well marked and may be visible on a clear day. However, they can be extremely dangerous in other conditions. This area should generally be avoided unless you know what you are doing. In the example below, the rock ledge below is only visible due to the breaking swell:


5) The Breakers (continued) This rock is more visible, but perhaps only due to low tide. Note the stacks of Salem Power Station in the background. These provide a good reference point as they are visible from virtually all points along the North Shore.

salem sound

6) Tinkers Island. This is the first of several large rocky islands as one approaches Marblehead and the entrance to Salem Sound. At this point, the coast turns very rocky. Named for the Tinker Mackerel which are plentiful in this area, the little island is directly South of Marblehead Neck, about a quarter mile offshore. There are some structures on the island, but it is only accessible by boat. As can be seen below, the skyline of the City of Boston remains quite visible at this point:


II. The Upper North Shore- Salem Sound to Cape Ann:

Cape Ann

Source: NOAA nautical chart. Not for official navigation. See disclaimer at NOAA.gov

If you have a larger boat and a bit more bravery, you can keep pushing North of Tinkers Island and Marblehead. It is at this point that a boater might notice the swells feeling a bit larger as they push further Northeast into more open water. Upon rounding Marblehead neck, the coastline empties into Salem Sound, which is highly visible from the mouth of Boston Harbor, and in fact, even from the South Shore. This is due to the large rocky cliffs along the shore, in addition to some noticeable landmarks: from the highly visible smokestacks of Salem power station all the way up to Gloucester’s wind turbines. 

1) Marblehead. After passing Tinkers Island and several other rocks and lodges in the area, one can enter the channel between Marblehead neck, which would be to port, and Children’s Island to Starboard. To the South, boaters will find the picturesque mooring field at Marblehead Harbor. Unfortunately, transient docking and mooring options here appear to be limited, but boaters can find more options around the corner in Salem Harbor. To the Northeast lies the vast Salem Sound, which is littered with rocks, ledges and islands. See the past post about Salem Sound here, or keep reading.

salem sound

2) Salem Harbor. Once around Marblehead, one approaches the city of Salem on the Southwest side of Salem Sound. There is a wonderful historical downtown here, with attractions including the Nathaniel Bowditch House, The Salem Witch Museum and the Tall Ship Friendship. Check out a prior post about the City of Salem here. Pictured below is Fort Pickering Light, a small lighthouse built on a fortification outside the city of Salem. If you look carefully, you can see Baker’s Island and its lighthouse far in the background.


3) Bakers Island. This island is located on the Northeast side of Salem Sound. It is home to private residences and a lighthouse. I have never been on the island, but have cruised by its ragged, picturesque shores many times. Baker’s is accessible from inside Salem sound if one takes the previously mentioned South channel entrance, but is also accessible from another entrance, The Salem Channel, located to the North of the Light. This approach is one of the most dangerous parts of the North Shore, as it is littered with rocks and ledges, some large and protruding, but some small and submerged. Among these are the Dry Breakers, Gooseberry Island, and the Brimbles. There is even a rock called Satan Rock…check it out on a chart. One interesting part about Baker’s Island is that old charts tell us that there used to be not one light, but two on the island.

salem sound

Baker’s Island as seen from far out at sea, with the smoke stacks of the landmark Salem Power Station visible in the background:


4) Misery Island and Salem Sound: Located further inland in Salem Sound is Misery Island, a former resort island now owned by the Massachusetts Trustees of Reservations. Named for a sailor who was once marooned on the island during a fierce winter storm (a miserable experience) the island is far from misery-inducing today. It is a popular place for exploring and has a mooring field on the North side which I believe is free (at least nobody checked). There is more info about Misery Island in the last post about Salem Sound. Pictured below are the ruins of an old resort building on Misery Island.


5) Kettle Island and Magnolia. Moving North out of Salem Sound, the next stop is Manchester, which has a rocky coast full of coves such as Kettle Cove and singing beach. Kettle Island is a small, rocky island inhabited mostly by birds that lies off the coast of kettle cove. Getting ashore would be difficult given the rocky cliffs on all sides.

salem sound

Just to the East of Kettle Island lies Rafe’s Chasm one of the most unique geological features of Massachusetts Bay. The large rock outcrop is bifurcated by a long and deep chasm, probably fifty feet or more deep, into which the ocean flows at high tide. Pictured below is a photo of Rafe’s Chasm at low tide:


6) Eastern Point. At the mouth of Gloucester Harbor lies Eastern Point, a peninsula extending down around the body of water making up Gloucester Harbor. Eastern Point Lighthouse, pictured below, is located at the entrance to Gloucester Harbor, at the top of a long granite breakwater called the Dogbar. From this point, one can continue up to the end of Cape Ann at Thacher Island, or head into the Harbor and up the Annisquam River.


7) Thacher Island: About five miles north of the entrance to Gloucester Harbor lies Thacher Island, a large rocky Island with two tall, thin and weathered lighthouses. The seas around this point can be quite rough, but it is worth visiting for its beauty, if you can accomplish it safely. These markers have quite a foreboding look to them; they fullfill their intended purpose well. This is about the Eastern-most point of Cape Ann, before it curves North to Halibut Point and back in toward Annisquam. Check out a prior post about Cape Ann and Thacher Island for more info. Pictured below are the lighthouses of Thacher island, with the Gloucester wind turbines in the background, as seen from far offshore:


Looking along the North Shore from Thacher Island, back in a Southeastern direction toward Boston on a late summer afternoon:


In conclusion, the North Shore makes for an adventure but is also somewhat easily accessible. It is smaller than the South Shore: Thacher Island is only about 25 miles from the North entrance of the Boston Harbor, whereas it is nearly 50 miles from the South entrance down to the Cape Cod Canal. However, the North Shore has more to see given its jagged rocky coastline and many interesting islands. The South Shore, buy contrast, is largely comprised of long stretches of uninterrupted sandy beach. Below is a photo of Gloucester’s Wind Turbines as seen while approaching the North Shore. Landmarks, including these and some others (like the smokestacks of the Salem power station) help provide some bearing when far offshore.


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One Response to Highlights of exploring the North Shore by boat

  1. Russ Sears says:

    Dear freinds.

    I live in Hull.
    I am curious what wind turbines I am seeing on the North Shore. I cant find any on Google maps. If I am standing up the hill at Ft Revere in Hull the wind turbines on the horizon are only visible (barely with naked eye) with binoculars. They are in line with the rock just to the south east of the Boston Lighthouse. From my estimate of direction and use of Google Maps they are in Marblehead and 13 miles away. However, I cant find them on the maps anywhere.

    Any ideas what I might be looking at?

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