Long Island inside

By Jim & Dede McGuire
For Points East

In Moriches Bay, a channel buoy turned out to be a marker denoting a shoal, and the McGuires paid the price.

Our Grand Banks 42 Hope began the second half of her cruise with the vague idea of visiting the ports along Long Island Sound we always seem to pass. We never stop because we’re usually going someplace else, like the Hudson River or Chesapeake Bay. So, this time, we were determined to smell the Long Island roses, bigtime.

While our eventful, yet pleasant, stay in Little Narragansett Bay and Watch Hill, R.I., offered interesting sights and experiences, our cruise farther down Long Island Sound promised new delights. Among them would be meeting with friends (and Points East contributors) Marilyn and Paul Brigham to see their new boat, the Catalina 445 Selkie which, at the time, was being fitted out at Mystic Shipyard, in Mystic, Conn. Selkie now sails out of Quissett, Mass.

We wandered our way through the entrance to the Mystic River, an interesting bit of navigation even in broad daylight. A friend, Bill Owens, from our yacht club, had offered us his mooring at the Mystic River Yacht Club, and gave us a set of landmarks to find it. There was a bit of shoal water, so advice to follow the chart was well-heeded. Unfortunately, when we arrived at Bill’s mooring, someone else had already found it, and our hopes for a free mooring were dashed, and there was no room to swing on an anchor.

However, several other empty moorings were evident, so we boldly picked one up. We selected one with a heavy pennant, which hinted of what was down there. Before you panic and call me a mooring jumper, know that we immediately dinghied in to make sure we could use the mooring. They could not have been friendly and understood our plight. The assistant to the steward made some phone calls, and we were pronounced “good company” and allowed to stay on the club’s guest mooring a few balls away.

We dinghied back to m/v Hope and moored as we’d been told, and made phone contact with Paul and Marilyn, and joined them for a short “fueling” cruise on the Mystic River and then dinner aboard the new vessel. Somehow, during dinner, a plan blossomed: explore the inside of Long Island’s North and South Forks and the sheltered bays.

The next day, after crossing the sound from Mystic to Long Island’s east end, we motored into Montauk Harbor. Having checked ActiveCaptain  – Garmin calls this their “all-in-one app for the ultimate connected boating experience” – I knew that docking was a budget-buster, so we went into Montauk Pond. The last time I was there, our sailboat carried six feet of draft, which limited the doable anchorage area.

Now, with a little over four feet, there were more options, and we found a good spot just inside the pond, on the western shore. That was easy. Finding a dinghy landing in Montauk was not. The only spot we found was just outside the entrance channel on a small beach, which would not have been worth the effort. We dinghied back to Hope and ate aboard. A pleasant evening at anchor, without visiting the town, was still disappointing, so we decided to venture farther west into the fork the next day.

After breakfast, we cruised out and around Gardiners Island, then motored across Gardiners Bay to the comfort of Shelter Island and its welcoming folks. We anchored in the designated public anchorage, just inside the sandbar entrance of Coecles Harbor, which was scary but well-marked and deep. After setting the anchor and dinghying into Coecles Harbor Marina, we rented an electric golf cart to tour the island.

What great fun freely exploring this beautiful, isolated island. My only warning is that the golf carts are designed for a couple of hours of golfing stop-and-go – not eight hours of touring. After our second return with depleted batteries, the company decided that we had seen enough of the island, and that they were out of charged carts.

Lovely Coecles Harbor is formed by Ram and Little Ram islands to the north and Shelter Island proper to the south. On Ram Island is Ram’s Head Inn, which provides complimentary moorings for dinner guests. Doing the math, we chose between a free dinner and a free mooring, and took advantage of a lovely evening on a free mooring to savor a good dinner. FYI: Renting a mooring is cheaper: You play, you must pay.

As we looked over our charts after dinner, we talked about our last adventure, which resulted in a kite-shaped cruise through rivers and canals in New York and Canada [see “Cruising the Kite Loop” by Jim and Dede in the August and September 2016 Points East issues]. Our simple, inside-the-fork plan suddenly expanded exponentially into a pie-in-the-sky circumnavigation of Long Island including the sheltered bays protected by the south-coast barrier islands. Our new plan was to run southeast inside the north and south forks from Coecles Harbor, through Gardiners, Noyack and Great Peconic bays, and then cross Shinnecock Bay. We’d transit the Shinnecock Canal and head west to Brooklyn in the six-foot Intracoastal Waterway, and then exit into the Atlantic at East Rockaway inlet.

At Shinnecock Canal, we believed the vertical clearance of the railroad bridge was 22 feet, as noted on the NOAA chart. Instead, the lock attendant informed us, 19’ 6” was the real number at high tide; at low tide 22 might work. We had timed the canal for low tide, but the tide on the low side and the high side are different. Duh, of course; that’s why there is a lock, stupid. Well, m/v Hope is 19’ 9” above the water, so a bit before high tide on the Shinnecock Bay side we squeaked under with plenty of room – maybe an inch. We proceeded into Shinnecock Bay.

The magenta line, buoys and depths seemed OK through Shinnecock and westward under the 55-foot Ponquogue Point Bridge, and with the currents with us it was relatively easy. Transiting the western half of Shinnecock Bay was a bit tricky: Follow the buoys and the chartplotter, and you’ll be OK.

The 15-foot Quogue bascule bridge opened on request to allow a 50-foot-wide horizontal passage – but it was being worked on, and it was only 25 feet wide. Hope is 13’ 6” wide, and with a current pushing it, the transit was a heart-stopper. Beach Lane Bridge was the same sweet story, although the current was minimal. The narrow channel between Shinnecock and Quogue bays is much like the ICW south of Portsmouth, Va., lined with nice homes and easy to follow.

In the West Hamptons, two little bays opened up – Quantuck and Moneybogue – each with no water outside the channel. Some marinas were in this area, but the first two syllables of “Moneybogue” might explain the $9.50 a foot dockage at the Ocean Reef Resort on the barrier beach.

We pushed on a bit farther, into Moriches Bay, where the channel had been dredged to six feet, according to the chart notes, all the way to Bellport. And then we’d be in Great South Bay. So on the chart we found a place to anchor in 14 feet of water, along the beach near Moriches Inlet. It was a falling tide, but we purposefully passed much expensive dockage as we headed to Moriches Bay.

We passed under the bascule bridge and entered the open water of the bay. Simple navigation in a wide-open expanse of water, dredged to six feet by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Follow the channel, a little dogleg to the left, and a straight shot to the Moriches inlet anchorage. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Buoy G “29” Fl G 2.5s, midway across the bay, was visible on my paper chart, my Navionics chartplotter and my Garmin iPad plotter. I could also see it straight ahead, a buoy that appeared to be white from bird droppings, and it showed up on radar. No sweat, right? We got a little closer, and the fathometer grabbed my five-foot-depth attention. We slowed from five knots to three . . . two . . . one and then buzzzzzzz on the fathometer. Binoculars revealed our channel buoy was a white marker noting a shoal. And the tide was falling.

First order of business: Call the Coast Guard and ask where they moved the channel. Response: “The shoaling is so bad we can hardly keep it open, even at high water. We have red markers up about a half-mile to the north that will get you around at high tide.”

So: “BoatUS . . . BoatUS, m/v Hope: We are in need of assistance with a soft grounding.” BoatUS arrived quickly, knowing exactly where we were: It was where every deep-draft boat calls for their assistance. The towboat captain pulled us around and told us to anchor. Leave the lights on and have a nice night; next daylight high tide is at 7 a.m. We headed east in the morning, following our track back to the Shinnecock lock.

The weather forecast – strong southerlies, 20 to 30 knots – forced us out of Shinnecock without delay, and after a fast passage west we ran through the fixed bridge into protected Sag Harbor Cove. Of course, we went to town for ice cream and lunch (the American Hotel lobster BLT was better than any lobster roll). We visited the Whaling Museum, and, at Sag Harbor Yacht Yard, found a well-stocked ship’s store. The American Legion Hall is said to have some of the best food in town. We never got in to try it; the line was too long.

Disappointed with our failed attempt at circumnavigating, we headed for Greenport, on the North Fork, with our tails between our legs. The ride over was nice, but gusting winds and large seas inside the Shelter Island bays made it a bit bumpy. We stayed at Greenport for three nights, getting one night free at Mitchell Park Marina.

Greenport is a great place to get weather-bound. Preston’s Ships Marine Supply, right off Front Street, is known for its catalog sales, but most of its catalog items are on display. We took a stroll around the port and wandered a few back streets. On South Street, we found Triangle Sea Sales, a treasure trove of marine collectibles.

Greenport has quite a few restaurants – some fine dining, some clam shacks, all good – including a wonderful breakfast joint called Crazy Beans, taco and tequila joints, and expensive ice-cream and sandwich shops that were worth every penny.

Between Main Street and Front Street there are more eateries than meals in a week.

The East End Seaport Maritime Museum is at the end of the docks, at Mitchell Marine. The Greenport Yacht & Shipbuilding Company has a collection of old wooden and fiberglass boats – and did I see a submarine in there?

The Long Island Railroad terminus is at the museum, and the Shelter Island ferry landing is there, too. For $14, one way, the train goes to Penn Station in midtown Manhattan. In only three hours, we jumped aboard and went from heaven to Hell’s Kitchen. In the city, there’s a lot to do: We strolled on a walking path along the West Side, on the beautiful, converted elevated train tracks from the original “West Side Story.” Contemporary glass architecture among the old brownstone apartments has drowned out the banter of the Sharks and Jets. Things are different here; times have sure changed.

Back in Greenport, we realized that we’d run out of time, and when the offshore wind abated to a one- to two-foot sea, we headed for East Greenwich. Passing Enders Island, off Mystic, Conn.’s Mason Island, we relaxed and thought warmly of home; and I suggested, “Let’s stop at Block Island.”

But that’s another story for another day.

Jim is a retired college professor and a retired USCG-R chief petty officer.

Dede is a retired hospital administrator who now plays grandmother to two grandchildren. Lifelong cruisers under both sail and power, they plan their adventures out of their homeport of East Greenwich, R.I.