View of West Island and Sakonnet Point. Photo Tom Richardson

Paddling to West Island, RI

By Tom Richardson

Just off the tip of Rhode Island’s Sakonnet Point, at the mouth of the Sakonnet River, is a collection of small islands reachable by kayak when the weather and seas allow. The largest of these rocky outcrops is West Island, which served as the site of an exclusive sport fishing club in the late 1800s. In its heyday, the West Island Club hosted U.S. Presidents and some of the wealthiest businessmen of the day, including JP Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt. It also saw some incredible fishing, mostly for striped bass, which patrolled the surf-pounded rocks.

A photo of West Island during its heyday as a fishing club.

Today, all that remains of the fabled club are three stone columns, easily seen from the water. The island is overgrown with weeds and brush, making it a perfect spot for the seagull rookery it has become. It’s a loud and smelly place, but well worth visiting—as long as you don’t suffer from ornithophobia.

This trio of stone columns is all that remains of the clubhouse.

Paddlers can reach the island after launching at the Sakonnet Harbor Put-In on Sakonnet Harbor, in the town of Little Compton. From here, it’s a short paddle through the harbor and around Breakwater Point to the river. Head due south along the shore and you’ll reach the islands. The trip is roughly one mile. You can access the island on its protected northwest shore where the water shallows. The bottom here is rocky and slippery, so watch your step. Once ashore you can pick your way through the gull rookery and up to the top of the granite knob, where some club members would dive into the Atlantic.

This paddle is appropriate for experienced kayakers, who should take note of the weather and sea conditions before launching. The mouth of the river can get very rough, particularly on an outgoing tide and when the wind is out of the southerly quadrants. Also, large ocean swells can also affect the area. Paddle with a buddy, and pack appropriate safety gear.

West Island is a popular spot for spear-fishing. Photo Tom Richardson