By land or by sea, this granite peninsula rocks. By Diane Bair
Perhaps you’re sitting on a bench at Chandler Hovey Park, sipping an iced coffee and watching the waves smash against the rocky shore. Or maybe you’re relaxing on the deck of The Landing restaurant, nursing a cocktail as sailboats glide past. Either way, it’s clear: In Marblehead, it’s all about the water.
What else would you expect from the so-called “Yachting Capital of the World?” (Take that, Monaco!) A look at Marblehead’s sheltered harbor in summertime reveals that the town isn’t a poser. You’ll see every manner of sail craft imaginable, from bathtub-sized Optimist prams to sleek 12-meter racing yachts. And you’ll see everything in between, plus a few weathered-looking lobster boats, accompanied by a swirl of sea gulls, as they putt-putt out of the harbor.
“Marblehead has a very accessible harbor, and the sailing out of here is fabulous-you get all kinds of conditions,” says Eastern Yacht Club commodore Phil Smith. “Going back to the 1800s, Marblehead has [always] had sailors competing in the America’s Cup,” he says, dropping names like yacht designer Ted Hood, who won the coveted cup in 1974, and Robbie Doyle, who sailed to victory with Ted Turner in 1977. Now Marblehead claims top one-design sailors like Dave Curtis and Jud Smith. “There are a lot of great sailors in the world, but we certainly have more than our fair share,” Smith says.
In a town with several yacht clubs, Marblehead Race Week is a very big deal. Launched in 1889, Race Week attracts upwards of 200 boats, with races for junior and adult sailors during the last full week of July. Pre-race, the staging areas at local yacht clubs are a chaotic scene of boat rigging, last-minute tune-ups, and a mad dash to the starting line. Long-time Marblehead skipper Steve Cucchiaro says, “Sailors love this event because of the camaraderie and the high level of competition. And it’s an excellent excuse to be out on the water in Marblehead!”
If you’d like to explore this picturesque harbor yourself, but don’t have the means for your own yacht, no worries: Maryellen Auger and her crew at Rowing for All will set you up with a rowing shell, a kayak, or a stand-up paddleboard and teach you how to use it. It’s a fun way to see the coastline, get a great core workout, and discover offshore islets. To learn how to sail or improve your skills, sign up with a program like Coastal Sailing School, where Captain Bert Williams has been teaching novices the fine points of tacking and jibing for more than 30 years. And because it’s never too early to pick up a lifelong sport, there’s Pleon Yacht Club, America’s oldest junior yacht club, run by and for young people. Or go even smaller-race a model sailboat on Redd’s Pond, a Marblehead tradition that’s continued for more than 100 years.
But there are more ways to enjoy the scenic splendor of Marblehead than on the water. The shoreline is dotted with sweet green spaces that are perfect for soaking up the scene. You won’t do better than one of the benches perched on the rocky promontory of Chandler Hovey Park. Marked by historic Marblehead Light (c. 1896), it’s a prime zone for watching sailboats zig and zag on the racecourse or for just kicking back and watching the world go by. Fort Sewall, across the harbor, is another plummy spot. Not only are the views amazing, but you also get a sense of Marblehead’s past as you read historic plaques and peek at the half-underground bunkers.
And who says all the natural beauty is on the ocean? Inland, the 16-acre Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary offers lush, woodsy walks along the wetlands to a soundtrack of birdsong. Although it’s snug up against a residential area, the refuge is a birding hotspot, especially when migrants arrive in spring and fall.
In fact, it’s a treat to walk anywhere around Marblehead. Amble the charmingly twisted streets of Old Town and admire the architecture, including a stunning collection of pre-1775 homes. Or stroll over Veteran’s Memorial Causeway to Marblehead Neck, where the homes are stately but not showy, as befitting Marblehead’s classic preppy style, as well as the tastes of bold-face-named residents like investor/author/philanthropist Peter Lynch.
And speaking of names, about that offbeat moniker “Marblehead”: the town was named for its rocky headlands that some thought resembled marble. (They’re actually granite, as any Massachusetts school child can probably tell you.) But would Marblehead have the same mystique if one of its former names, such as Foy, had stuck? Hard to say, but given its spectacular harbor and dazzling beauty, the town would definitely be Foy-bulous.
Â The Details
Date of Settlement: 1629. Date of Incorporation: 1639. Population: 19,808. Total Area: 4.5 square miles. Median Household Income: $97,097. Schools: Marblehead High School, Veterans Middle School, Village School, Malcolm L. Bell School, L.H. Coffin School, Elbridge Gerry School, Eveleth School, Glover School. Notable Residents: Keith Ablow, psychiatrist/writer; Frank Black, musician; Julia Glass, novelist; John Glover, Revolutionary War general; Ted Hood, yachtsman; Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture critic; Peter Lynch, investor/author; Eugene O’Neill, playwright; Estelle Parsons, actress.