We stayed two nights in Newport, Rhode Island anchored in Brenton Cove in front of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. Newport is an old town; Benedict Arnold sort of old. In fact, while exploring the older area of town, we found Benedict Arnold’s great grandfather’s gravesite. This tiny graveyard was flanked on three sides by clapboard houses and on the fourth side by a wrought iron fence. These cozy little gravesites tucked in amongst the older houses in Newport are always a good find I think. It was well cared for and the writings on the gravestones made for interesting reading, most of them dating back to the 1600′s.
In our ramblings through Newport, we also discovered the International Tennis Hall of Fame, site of the first U.S. National Championships in 1881. This was the first grass court that either of us has been within touching distance of, and found it pretty interesting. It’s hard to believe that grass courts are the fastest courts around; something to do with the hard-packed soil the grass is grown on. These particular courts were distinct in that they are the only competition grass courts that the public can actually play on.
We left Newport early Sunday morning and very shortly started seeing more cruiser/racer sorts of sailboats like Strathspey. By mid-day, we were in Fisher Sound, and it was filled with sailboats from Stonington and Mystic. It was beautiful; a stereotypical view of New England sailing on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The sound was filled with sailboats heading in every direction even though the wind was light. This area has enough maritime history to fill a library and we’d hoped to stay the night on the Mystic River but we hesitated to stop at noontime after committing to long days from Portland to get to the Chesapeake by early October. In addition, the marina in Mystic was charging on a per foot basis for mooring balls holding us hostage as Mystic is not an anchor-friendly location. We decided to press on for the Connecticut River on the recommendation of Wendy, Blair’s sister. Off the main river, we wound our way up a narrow cove through a maze of moored boats in 7-8 feet of water until we found an empty mooring ball.
If we’d had more time, we could have explored a good distance up the river but early the next day, we left the Connecticut River and immediately crossed the narrowest part of Long Island Sound to the north shore of Long Island. I wanted to follow Long Island all the way to New York City because I was quite certain we’d not ever have the time to drive this stretch of country. Long Island is definitely long; Ottawa to Montreal kind of long. At the far east Atlantic end, it’s low lying but as we headed west, the flatlands gave way to huge sand cliffs. Apparently, the Long Island sand is coveted by New York builders for use in concrete. The closer we got to New York City, the bigger the mansions got. Blair said they all had one thing in common though; the grounds were completely empty of people. Are these places perhaps summer homes closed down for the season? The season is still with us though as we’ve had extremely hot and humid weather for the past 4 days. In fact, we’ve had 21 days of sun in September so far.
We motored all day on flat water in 5 knots of wind on the nose. We took advantage of the calm to clean some of the salt off Strathspey’s decks, portholes and lifelines. We do this on a pretty regular basis because we find that when we get down to nitty gritty cleaning, we find it’s a good activity to check for rusty, loose or missing items. Whenever I do this, I usually have a screwdriver handy to tighten loose screws. We noticed in Lunenburg, the Bluenose crew all had both screwdrivers and hammers hanging from their belts. Being a fiberglass boat, we’d never consider hammering anything down on Strathspey, but it works for the mostly wooden Bluenose.
We arrived in Port Jefferson, New York and immediately found a good anchorage tucked up right behind the last row of mooring balls in the harbour’s huge mooring field. Sometimes we aren’t always so lucky and end up circling the harbour like a dog trying to find a good spot to curl up in. Port Jefferson seemed like all we were looking for in anchorage and shore facilities. The guidebook said two of the marinas had Laundromats and that we could drop anchor anywhere outside the main channel. We were sorely disappointed when we dinghied in and couldn’t find either a dock to tie our dinghy to or a Laundromat. To add insult to injury, at 4 am we were awakened by a loudspeaker broadcasting instructions to a tug crew. The tug, all lit up like a Christmas tree, pulled three barges of sand into the harbour and positioned them about 300 yards behind us. The noise went on for a good hour as the tug made multiple trips into shore with the barges. Another sailboat, anchored only about 100 feet behind the barges, was nowhere near a designated mooring field and probably had the fright of their life; they were long gone when we woke up the next morning. The sunny spot in this less than ideal place were the two swans that visited Strathspey the next morning.
Our next stop down the Long Island shore was Oyster Bay, a wealthy enclave close to New York. It was the summer home of Teddy Roosevelt and where Billy Joel and John McEnroe grew up. Apparently, Typhoid Mary worked here as a cook way back in the early 1900s and infected some of her patrons. We anchored behind a sailing school in a fairly wide open area sans any mooring balls, which was unusual. Upon dinghying into the marina, we were directed to tie up at their dinghy dock. We walked into town with so much laundry that we looked like homeless people carrying our worldly possessions in sacks and tote bags. While the laundry was taking care of itself, we settled ourselves at Canterbury’s Oyster Bar and sampled a few oysters. When we returned to the dock with our clean, folded clothes, we discovered our dinghy high and dry in the thickest, black ooze you can imagine; good for oyster beds but pretty disgusting nonetheless.
Oyster Bay, despite being full of sail and motor boats and some heavy-duty waterfront development, still supports an active oyster fishery. We saw an oyster boat dredging for oysters in the open bays as well as between sailboats on mooring balls. We also saw large numbers of small boats engaged in what we think was oyster tonging; basically hand-raking the seabed for oysters. This is also an active rowing center and early the next morning, I saw a long low shape glide by silently with a green bow light and a bright white stern light.
We made a short hop the next day over to Manhasset Bay and started studying tide and current tables for New York City’s East River. We were headed for the 79th Street Boat Basin on the other side of Manhattan Island. Basically, the route from Long Island Sound to NYC harbour is to enter the East River heading towards Manhattan and then join the Harlem River at an ominous-sounding spot called Hell Gate. From that point, we’d follow the river down the east side of Manhattan, round the tip of the island at Battery Park and then head on up the Hudson on the west side of Manhattan Island. It sounds simple but we’d read so many accounts of the dangerous currents and waves that could kick up at Hell Gate, that I spent a fair bit of time looking at the timing of this passage so we would be at Hell Gate at slack time. Surprisingly, the trip through was pretty easy with the only complicating factor being the closure of the west side of the East River (beside Roosevelt Island) due to the sitting of the General Assembly at the United Nations building.
We cruised past LaGuardia airport, Riker’s Island (where they actually locked Typhoid Mary up), under the Manhattan bridge, then the Brooklyn bridge, past Pier 21 and the Staten Island ferry terminal. As we rounded the corner of Battery Park, I had a little heart clutch to see our good friends Derek and Wendy on shore, waving and smiling and calling to us. They keep an apartment in NYC as Derek works in the financial district at the tip of Manhattan. Wendy had flown down from Ottawa that morning. What a sight to see them waving from shore, what a thrill to know someone onshore, what good friends! After heading up the other side of the island to the 79th Street Boat Basin and getting settled at a mooring ball, we packed a bag and hobo’d on down to Derek and Wendy’s apartment and moved in.
They’ve always been the ultimate hosts and this time was no exception. Blair worked in Manhattan for a good long stretch a few years ago so we’ve both spent considerable time here dining, touring, going to plays and all those other great things New York is so famous for. This time though, Derek and Wendy showed us a side of New York we’d not seen before; the financial district, Soho, Greenwich Village and Battery Park. Derek arranged a tour of the New York Stock Exchange for us the day the prime minister of Vietnam was there to ring the opening bell.
Watching the traders on the floor below, again emphasizes for us NYC’s position as the money and trading capital of America. Relaxing every evening on the terrace of their apartment building, with New York’s harbour spread out below, we caught up on all our news, laughed a lot and planned a lot. As Derek always says, ‘At the end of the day, it just doesn’t get any better than this’.