Cruising on the Charles

“Sailing for All” has drawn people of all ages to Boston’s Community Boating, Inc., docks to learn about rigging a sail, “heading up into the wind,” and tacking across the ever-changing winds that blow across the water from the wind tunnels created by the buildings of Boston’s skyline. From April to November the staff at CBI makes the art and science of sailing affordable, and the enclosed Charles River basin between the Longfellow and Harvard Bridges is a great place to learn.

I remember the feeling of excitement from being carried by the wind while propped up on the gunnel of the boat and the sense of accomplishment after docking and using the knots I had learned to secure it.

A member of my “crew” once had the unfortunate experience of waiting for the direction to “come ashore” as he stood holding onto the mast, and because of his height as he stepped onto the dock, the boat tilted too far, and he ended up in the water in full view of onlookers on the CBI dock. Being unnerved by his performance, he got out of the water and walked all the way home to Watertown.

Community Boating was started in the 1930s when Boston school committee member Joseph Lee, Jr., with the assistance of Suffolk College students, built a dock near Massachusetts General Hospital and constructed boats for the children of the West End to provide them with recreation. Then Helen Storrow who was an early international Girl Scout leader and philanthropist donated a million dollars to the enhancement of the parkland around Boston’s Charles River basin in memory of her husband James J. Storrow, and a portion of that funding was used to construct a boathouse for a cooperative sailing program that began in 1941 and was then incorporated five years later as a not-for-profit educational organization.

Further upriver on Nonantum Street in Brighton is the Harry Parker Boathouse where Community Rowing, Inc., offers opportunities for people of all ages, abilities, and income levels to learn the sport of rowing. Its motto is “Rowing for All.”

Last fall when we attended the Head of the Charles regatta, we met an individual representing the organization who spoke of the CRI’s inclusivity.

The Brighton boathouse has on its outside “skin” wave-like panels that can be opened and closed, providing ventilation for the boat storage area and efficient cooling on hot days.

Harry Parker whose name was given to this boathouse has been called the “dean of American rowing coaches.” He had become an accomplished rower while studying philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania and finished fifth in the finals at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Then he became coach to men’s and women’s award-winning Olympic crews for Harvard for over fifty years, creating an amazing legacy before his death in 2013.

Following is a brief Youtube of Harry Parker speaking about rowing:

In addition to the sailing and rowing opportunities on the Charles, one company that has had a long history of providing opportunities for recreation on the river is Charles River Canoe and Kayak that has four locations in the greater Boston area: Kendall Square (two blocks from the MBTA Red Line T stop – with a parking garage also at the site) – from here one can go out into the basin to enjoy the view and sign up for special excursions; the Allston/Brighton facility in Herter Park, upstream from the Eliot Bridge (on the Storrow Drive side of the river); the Waltham location at 160 Riverview Ave., accessible by commuter train at Moody Street and near the DCR bikeway (close to several restaurants and takeout places); and Nahanton Park, Newton, on the Needham/Newton line, and here the river takes you through wooded areas in Cutler Park and Millennium Park. These last two locations offer facilities for picnicking, and at all four sites, equipment rental and lessons are available, as well as special cruises and group outings.

 The Charles Riverboat Company offers sightseeing, architecture tours, and sunset cruises, as well as private events on their boats in the Charles River and in Boston Harbor. They have a variety of boats in their fleet, including the distinctive Longellow that I have seen gliding on the river along Memorial Drive.

Duck Boat Tours

These amphibious vehicles started out as DUKH boats used by the armed services during World War II. Not long after they were repurposed for tourists to cruise up and down the Charles River, they were renamed Duck Boats, and it is such a popular activity that other cities have adopted this program. Starting points are next to the Prudential Center in Copley Square, the Aquarium, and in front of the dinosaur statue outside the Museum of Science (which is accessible by the Green Line of the MBTA to the Science Park T Stop) or a longer walk from the MGH stop of the MBTA Red Line (on the Longfellow Bridge).

If you want to learn more about the many recreational opportunities on the Charles River, you will find additional information in my book Exploring the Charles River which is available at






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