Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sakonnet River

Today, the last Sunday in September, is World Rivers Day.

Celebrate World Rivers Day and celebrate the greatest little river in the whole world, the Sakonnet River.

The Sakonnet River is only 14 miles long and, strictly speaking, it's not a river at all; it's a tidal strait. But all the modern maps and charts call it the Sakonnet River so I'm submitting it as my entry for World Rivers Day.

The Sakonnet is my river. It stretches from Mount Hope Bay (aka My Bay) in the north to where it meets the open ocean at
Sakonnet Lighthouse on Rhode Island Sound. On the river's west side is Aquidneck Island, and on its east side are the mainland Rhode Island towns of Tiverton and Little Compton. It is the easternmost of the three north-south waterways that form the southern part of the Narragansett Bay system.

Of those three passages it is arguably the most beautiful, being bordered on both sides by some of the most rural scenery in Narragansett Bay. And, of the three, it is certainly the least crowded with hardly any commercial traffic, except for the occasional fishing boat, and usually only a handful of pleasure boats. For most of its length the river is between one and two miles wide. In the northern half of the river the water is usually flat, but near the mouth of the river in a southerly or southwesterly breeze there can be some long rolling waves that create perfect downwind surfing conditions. All in all, one of the best spots in the world for dinghy sailing.

US Sailing obviously agrees with me. The last US Olympic Trials for Lasers and Laser Radials were held near the mouth of the Sakonnet, launching from the nearby sheltered cove of Third Beach. This was also the site of one of my best regattas last year, Not Throwing in the Towel, and where Fat Boy and Little Man had some fun in awesome waves a few weeks later.

The middle section of the river is dominated by the peninsula of Fogland which sticks out from the eastern shore like a huge fist on a skinny arm. This provides two great options for small boat launching. Fogland Beach on the south side of the peninsula is a gently sloping pebble and sand beach perfect for launching a Laser off a dolly. But if the winds from the south are too stiff to make it tricky to launch from this side, then I just drive over to the rocky north side of Fogland where I can launch into a sheltered cove. Accounts of sailing both sides of Fogland can be found at Fogland Fartlek and David Atlas, J.S. Marshall, R.H. Douglas, Walter Palmer 79th Sail.

At the northern end of the Sakonnet River there is a narrower, busier section between the towns of Tiverton and Portsmouth with a large mooring field, several marinas, shops, cafes etc. The tides run faster here and there is none of the more rural atmosphere of the southern stretches. I don't bother with Laser sailing around here.

The river is steeped in history being the site of an historic amphibious invasion and the home of a famous queen. On its shores are three vineyards, and I can personally recommend Sakonnet Vineyards as a perfect spot for a picnic lunch on a summer Sunday. The rural lanes on the eastern shore are some of my favorite places around here for running and cycling.

The river is popular with windsurfers (especially at Fogland) and with kayakers. One of the most interesting spots for kayakers to explore is Seapowet Marsh just north of Fogland.

The river has two yacht clubs, Tiverton Yacht Club and the Sakonnet Yacht Club. They don't have much of the kind of sailing that interests me right now, but it's good to know that they are there if I want to try something different. There is even a Model Yacht Racing Club right at the north end of the river. I ran into them one day when I was out cycling and found a dozen or so old geezers like me racing RC Solings around some buoys. Looked like they were having a lot of fun.

There are also (at least) two blogs, not counting this one, about living the good life here on the shores of the Sakonnet. Sustainable Sakonnet has a focus on environmental issues and Sogkonnite Living is mainly about cooking our delicious local produce.

How's that for 14 miles? What other river has so much packed into such a short stretch?

Thanks to Captain JP for challenging us to blog about our favorite river for World Rivers Day.


Anonymous said...

Inquiring minds want to know: can a crusing boat ge through the entire 14 miles?

Steve in Baltimore

Tillerman said...

Absolutely Steve. But don't tell everyone.

According to the cruising guide, the Sakonnet is well-marked and easy to navigate in daylight. Although shallower than the East or West Passage you will find depths of more than 20 feet in most areas of the marked channel, and indeed plenty of water outside the channel too except near Gould Island and Island Park where there are pockets of 5-7 feet and some uncharted shoaling.

Currents are less than 1 knot in the lower river but stronger at the north end at two points, between the piers of the old ruined stone bridge and under the current highway bridge.

In certain wind and tide conditions the white water kicked up in the narrow passage at the old stone bridge almost makes it look like you are sailing on to a shoal. The cruising guide advises small boats without auxiliary power to time their passage through here for a favorable tide.

Once you reach the top of the river you can cruise on into Mount Hope Bay or sail round Common Fence Point (the northern tip of Aquidneck) and sail the East or West Passage or Upper Narragansett Bay.

Unknown said...

How wide is it?

Tillerman said...

The river is about a mile wide for most of its length, widening out to about two miles where it joins Rhode Island Sound.

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