Known as the “City by the Sea,” New­port, Rhode Island, has a rich sea­far­ing his­tory.

Soundings - - Contents - By Dennis Caprio

New­port is as much a feel­ing as it is a city. I live here, and I am the hap­pier for it. Lo­cated on the south­ern tip of Aquid­neck Island, New­port an­chors the state of Rhode Island to the North At­lantic through Rhode Island Sound. This easy ac­cess to the sea cre­ates a sense of free­dom among res­i­dents and has for cen­turies en­cour­aged sea­far­ers to take shel­ter in the city’s safe har­bor. When fog blan­kets the area, the horn at Cas­tle Hill Light­house sends its mourn­ful voice into town, re­mind­ing ev­ery­one that a path to the world lies nearby. A boat is all you need.

Colonists founded New­port in 1639, when Aquid­neck Island bore the name Rhode Island. The town’s eight founders and first of­fi­cers — Ni­cholas Eas­ton, William Cod­ding­ton, John Clarke, John Cogge­shall, William Bren­ton, Jeremy Clark, Thomas Haz­ard and Henry Bull — con­tinue liv­ing as street names, build­ings and land­marks. Eas­ton’s Point on the flats op­po­site Goat Island is one such area.

Tiny New­port was in­cor­po­rated as a city in 1784. It oc­cu­pies an area of 11.4 square miles — 7.7 of it land, 3.7 of it wa­ter. Its per­ma­nent pop­u­la­tion was listed as 24,027 in 2013. Dur­ing the tourist sea­son, roughly mid-May through mid-Oc­to­ber, the pop­u­la­tion swells dra­mat­i­cally. Each cruise ship that drops an­chor dumps about 3,000 vis­i­tors ashore. Al­though these pas­sen­gers clog the side­walks and stores, walk­ing among them is a les­son in lan­guages — Ger­man, French, Chi­nese, Ja­panese, Swedish, Nor­we­gian and oth­ers. Their pres­ence both thrills and an­noys us — it’s just part of life in New­port.

Any time is a good time to visit — even the dead of win­ter — but the height of boat­ing sea­son is the most ex­cit­ing. Boats be­gin re­turn­ing to their moor­ings and slips about the mid­dle of April. Six weeks later the har­bor is full — a boat-watcher’s dream come true. Among the many con­tem­po­rary ves­sels, you’ll find vin­tage Ber­trams, Huck­ins cruis­ers, Her­reshoff S-Class sloops, Shields onedesign sail­boats, com­muter boats from the 1930s and 12 Me­ter race­boats.

We’ve been lucky be­cause the city gov­ern­ment has pre­served a lot of the wa­ter­front for com­mer­cial marine use. This de­ci­sion has al­lowed nine mari­nas to flour­ish. New­port Ship­yard is on the western side of Amer­ica’s Cup Av­enue and a stone’s throw from Goat Island. A full-ser­vice ma­rina, it caters to some of the world’s most spec­tac­u­lar su­pery­achts. The sec­ond floor of the main build­ing hous- es a va­ri­ety of busi­nesses, such as W-Class Yachts, Rodger Martin De­sign and Ly­manMorse bro­ker­age. If you stop in to gaze at the big boats, J Class yachts among them, be sure to have break­fast, lunch or a snack at Belle’s Café. It alone is a good rea­son to visit.

Cof­fee Grinder at the end of Ban­nis­ter’s

Wharf may be the small­est, funki­est cof­fee shop in the North­east. It’s my fa­vorite for a crois­sant and dou­ble espresso any time of year. In fine weather, sit on one of the Adiron­dack chairs out­side and watch the com­ings and go­ings of har­bor tour boats and fel­low vis­i­tors while you sip and munch. If the weather is grumpy, hang out at one of the ta­bles in­side. Hope­fully the owner is on duty when you call; her smile, good hu­mor and en­ergy can turn dread to de­light.

I’ve never had a bad meal at any restau­rant in New­port. Among my fa­vorites are sushi at the Clarke Cooke House, Ba­hamian fish chow­der at Mid­town Oys­ter Bar on Thames Street, break­fast at the Cor­ner Café on Broad­way, a Café Zelda burger at Zelda’s on lower Thames, and mus­sels and frites at the White Horse Tav­ern on Marl­bor­ough Street.

If you want to see the best of real life in New­port, I rec­om­mend walk­ing. The nar­row streets and short blocks re­veal the city’s Colo­nial char­ac­ter, and walk­ing lets you stop to take in the his­tory. Most of the pe­riod build­ings bear a plaque that re­counts its ori­gins. Al­though pedes­tri­ans have the right of way in cross­walks, don’t take that for grant- ed. Give ve­hi­cles a mo­ment to reg­is­ter your pres­ence be­fore you pro­ceed.

So many at­trac­tions, so lit­tle time. (The man­sions are New­port icons.) You’ll find a host of help­ful in­for­ma­tion at dis­cov­ernew­port. org, but I urge you to use the site’s sug­ges­tions as a start­ing point. Min­gle with the lo­cals; a smile and a “hello” open many fine con­ver­sa­tions. Visit of­ten; you’ll feel New­port’s vi­brance.

New­port has long catered to those who travel by sea.

Dur­ing the Gilded Age, some of Amer­ica’s wealth­i­est fam­i­lies re­treated to their sum­mer “cot­tages” in New­port.

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