The Bay of Oysters

A vector map illustration of of Oyster Bay, New York, On Long island. The map shows the harbors near the towns of Oyster Bay, Cold Spring Harbor, and Huntington, New York.

By Bill Hezlep
For Points East

Like the Connecticut shore, the less visited south shore of Long Island Sound – the north shore of Long Island – is dotted with fine cruising ports. From north to south, Mattituck, Port Jefferson, Northport, Eatons Neck, Huntington Harbor, Oyster Bay and Port Washington are all worth a visit. Our personal favorite is Oyster Bay: deep, sheltered, safe, with everything a visiting cruiser needs or wants, and offering a variety of things to see and do.

Oyster Bay is toward the west end of Long Island, roughly opposite Stamford Harbor, on the Connecticut shore. If you are southbound, Oyster Bay is a long day’s run from Fishers Island, Mystic or Essex, and, if northbound, a short day from Sandy Hook and Atlantic Highlands, N.J. The Oyster Bay Gong “1” is set well back into the bay at 40° 55.6’ N, 73° 30.2 W. Approaching G “1”, be aware of the shoals off Lloyd Neck, to the east and the Center Island Reef to the west.

Tidal currents in Oyster Bay rarely reach one mph, but in Long Island Sound, off the mouth of the bay, tidal currents range from one to two-plus mph, and, during the east-flowing ebb, it is possible to get set toward Lloyd Neck. Navigation within the bay is straightforward, but we have noticed that the small Red “4” off Plum Point can be hard to see. The Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club is on Center Island just west of Plum Point. A clearly marked and locally enforced no-wake zone is off the yacht club and in and around the large Oyster Bay Harbor mooring field.

In Oyster Bay Harbor, transient moorings and limited transient dockage are offered by the Oyster Bay Marine Center (516-624-2400, www.obmc.com), the only full-service boatyard and marina in Oyster Bay Harbor. There is 22 feet of water along the Marine Center’s long face dock.

Diesel and gas (the only fuel in Oyster Bay), water, and a pump-out are on the face dock, and vessels to 160 feet can be accommodated. A good ship’s store and heads and showers are in the main office building at the head of the dock. A launch service runs to and from the moorings, and the Oyster Bay Harbor pump-out boat services vessels on the moorings.

The Sagamore Yacht Club is adjacent to the Oyster Bay Marine Center. At the head of West Harbor, Bridge Marina in Ferry Beach (a taxi, rental car or long dinghy ride from the town of Oyster Bay) offers transient dockage.

A short walk from the Marine Center, down Bay Avenue to South Street, is the town of Oyster Bay. It offers numerous restaurants, a nice market, a craft-beer brewery, a good hardware store, a Laundromat, banks, delis, and pretty much anything a visiting boater might need or want. Two restaurants we have enjoyed are Osteria Leana, at 76 South St., which is Zagat-rated and very good, and the excellent Canterbury Ales Oyster Bar and Grill, at 46 Audrey Avenue.

Next door to Canterbury Ales, the Oyster Bay Brewing Company brews fine craft beers and offers a short lunch menu. At 60 South Street the Superstar Discount Beverage Center carries all your beverage needs and has the largest selection of craft beers you can walk to from a dock in any place between Portland and Key West. At least any place I know of.

Verrelli’s Market, 39 West Main St., is a small but complete (and good) market. Nobman’s Hardware, at the intersection of South and East Main streets is much larger than it looks from the outside. A block farther down South Street, Lee’s Laundromat is large and clean.

A number of interesting attractions are found in and around Oyster Bay. The Raynham Hall Museum, 20 West Main St. (across from Verrelli’s Market) is interesting and enjoyable. The Oyster Bay Railroad Museum, 102 Audrey Avenue, is fun for kids and railroad fans of all ages. Next door to the Railroad Museum, kids of a certain age will enjoy visiting the Oyster Bay Brewing Company, learning how beer is brewed and, possibly, trying a fine craft beer or two.

Out of town, via a reasonable cab ride, Theodore Roosevelt’s home and Summer White House, Sagamore Hill (the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site) is interesting, and the Cold Springs Whaling Museum is small but nice. Finally, the Long Island Railroad station in Oyster Bay, with service to Penn Station, in New City, is a short walk from the Oyster Bay Marine Center. It’s easy to spend a day in the big city.

As on the Chesapeake and Delaware bays, oysters were a major fishery on Long Island Sound from the early 19th century through the middle of the 20th century. By the 1950s, the public free-to-harvest beds were in decline from overfishing and pollution, and by the late 1960s no harvestable beds existed in many parts of the sound. In some formerly rich areas, oysters were nearly extinct.

In 1972, in response to strong public pressure to address water pollution, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, which broadly revised and strengthened the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948. The Clean Water Act – in conjunction with large-scale seeding of natural beds by Connecticut and New York and a rise in leased-bottom aquaculture – resulted in a resurgence in the oyster industry in the 1980s. But the industry collapsed in 1989-1990 because the MSX parasite – the same organism that almost ended oystering on Chesapeake Bay – reached Long Island Sound.

In 2002, a small oyster-industry revival began in Long Island Sound, brought about primarily by aquaculture, but also, and to a lesser extent, by seeding of the public beds. Today, a large number of aquaculture operations are marketing Long Island Sound oysters, the sound’s “baymen” are again oystering on some of the state-seeded public beds, and oysters are a multimillion-dollar industry.

On Oyster Bay, oysters still form part of the local economy. Frank M. Flowers and Sons have harvested oysters and clams from leased beds in the bay and on Long Island Sound since 1937, and since the 1980s they have farmed (aquaculture) their leases by placing juvenile oysters and clams, which they breed, on the beds to augment the natural population.

Aquaculture companies from Texas to Prince Edward Island, Canada, and on the U.S. West Coast are using the French concept of terroir – the environment in which something grows that affects its taste and characteristics – to market oysters. This makes sense: Oysters are filter feeders, and the water in which they live, and their food supply, will affect their taste. Crassostrea virginica, the eastern oyster, is the oyster farmed and harvested along the entire coast from Texas to Canada (there are different varieties on the West Coast). A Crassostrea virginica raised in the clear, cold, salty waters of Prince Edward Island tastes very different from one farmed in Oyster Bay, Long Island, or one from the warmer brackish waters of the Chesapeake.

Long Island Sound aquaculturists sell their Blue Point, Robin’s Island, Saddle Rock, Great White, Widows Hole, Peconic Pearl, Mystic, and other oysters to restaurants and oyster bars all over the country. Some oyster bars and high-end restaurants offer as many as a dozen name-branded oysters, all of which, unless they were flown in from the West Coast, Europe, Japan, or from somewhere else, are Crassostrea virginicas.

Marketing on terroir has been so successful that, as articles in the food press have pointed out, name adjustments in the marketing chain between oyster bed and restaurant or oyster bar are now common. Many more oysters are shucked and eaten than are commercially harvested, and theft from farmed oyster beds is a growing problem.

Oyster Bay may have been named by trader and navigator Capt. Adriaen Block as early as 1614. In any case, the bay was named for these sharp-edged and savory bivalves, and the name was in common use by 1639. In June of that year, Capt. David Pietersen de Vries anchored in the bay and wrote in his journal, “There are fine oysters here, whence our nation has given it the name Oyster Bay.”

But there is so much more to this harbor and village than shellfish and history. Call there on your way west and south this fall. You will be delighted.

A cartographer, Bill’s infatuation with boats and the sea began in 1961 when, at 17, he went to sea on a Norwegian school ship. He met his wife Betty – aerospace engineer, mathematician, pilot and sailor – at an Annapolis sailing club in 1993. A year later, they left the Chesapeake on a cruise to the Bahamas, and they never returned to their former lives. They spend half the year cruising the East and Gulf coasts and the Bahamas aboard their Nauset 28, Nauset.

 

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