Relaxing beside the Connecticut River
Sometimes I think the whole world needs to step back, kick its shoes off and take a nap under a tree. #clarity
The local residents of Fishers Island, New York have an online reputation for keeping to themselves and treating tourists like flesh-eating vultures. So it came as a surprise when, just moments after tying our dinghy up to Pirates Cove Marina, a woman walking by turned to Karen and I and asked, “Do you two need a ride anywhere? I’m heading across town.” I guess, just maybe, not everything you read on the Internet is true [gasp!].
We declined the kind offer and set out to explore the island on foot. How’d she even know we were visitors? You have to let everyone know you’re a tourist, I told Karen as I adjusted my large Canon camera around my neck and the backpack on my back.
“Mhmm, yeah, I’m the tourist,” she replied.
As we wandered the quiet, wooded streets we came across a number of locals who all greeted us not just with the obligatory mumble and head nod, but with actual smiles and articulate greetings.
Another misconception about Fishers Island is that the population is made up of blue-blazer and bow tie wearing seniors. And while that demographic is represented, the island offers much more diversity. We found this to be especially true when we stumbled onto a beach on the west side of the island where (at least) a hundred young people threw back red solo cups and tossed frisbees.
“Well, that’s different,” Karen suggested.
The rest of our day would be filled with requisite cocktails and an alfresco cookout. Afterwards we’d take the dinghy into the Fishers Island Yacht Club and set out in search of ice cream. One rule we’d made up that challenged this time-honored tradition was that we couldn’t use our phones to look at a map. We’d have to actually explore the town the old fashioned way.
The summer sun was setting, casting long shadows onto the quiet streets. The well-manicured landscapes and colorful homes with wrap-around porches gave you the feeling that you travelled back in time. Furthering that illusion was a gang of boys and girls tearing through town on their bikes. When was the last time you actually saw kids enjoying a bike ride with other kids? It was a welcome sight.
On a hunch, we followed their general direction until we were all reunited at Toppers ice cream shop, a pet-friendly hot spot in town where all the local kids hung out. If you were to take the phones from their hands, the scene would look like something from a 60’s movie.
We’d spend the rest of the weekend kicking back on the beach, exploring the island’s other harbors and generally enjoying some R&R.
A swift, Sunday sail later and we were back in Essex and preparing for the week ahead back in the real world. It’s funny, I’ve probably passed Fishers Island from the water dozens of times, and because it didn’t have one of those popular destination names like Cuttyhunk, Shelter Island, or Block Island, I—and I suspect many boaters—never paid it much attention. It really is a gem hiding in plain sight.
So, if you’re looking to escape the world for a little while and slow things down on an island with small town charm to spare, a weekend on Fisher’s Island can be as refreshing as a cone of mint chip ice cream on a hot summer evening.
Just don’t tell the Internet.
On a typical day most of us drive through a dozen towns, maybe more. But how many of us can say that we’ve stopped, walked around or explored any of those towns to see what they have to offer? Probably not many. Even one rainy weekends where complaints of boredom are echoed, the odds are unlikely that we’ll take that time and simply drive around or explore a new place.
I know myself, I drive each day from Middletown to Essex without giving as much as passing thought to the towns I’m driving passed. Their enormous green road signs blur together in my subconscious as my mind wanders to the day ahead.
When I’m on the boat however, that’s a different story. I can search around on Active Captain for hours looking for a secluded or hidden harbor to explore (I even click around in harbors overseas, you know, incase I suddenly need to find an anchorage in Italy). In fact, it was during such a planning session that I spotted a small little Brewer marina a few miles north in a town called Deep River. Our current Brewer membership awards us two free nights at Brewer locations so I figured, what the hell, why not go check it out?
So with that we packed the requisite cooler, sheets, and pillows and cruised north. Boat traffic had dramatically dropped off since the leaves began to change color, so our hour-long trip north was pretty darn peaceful (a nice change of pace from our recent sporty trips across the Sound).
With plenty of open moorings in Deep River, we picked a nice spot off by itself and got settled in. The marina would prove to be up to Brewer’s high standard. There was a clean in-ground pool, clean facilities, plenty of propane grills for guests to use etc.
I recalled seeing that the historic Gillette Castle wasn’t too far from the marina and when I asked a dockhand how far it was he nonchalantly responded, “oh not far at all, go just around the corner and you’ll see it.”
And with that grossly undersold measurement of distance we hopped in the dinghy with its 3.3 hp outboard and went to go check it out. Now, the dockhand wasn’t exactly lying, you could see the castle from there, the problem was the giant castle looked like a spec off in the distance and motoring against an incoming tide had us motoring at a turtle’s pace. We plowed through our snacks and drinks before making it halfway there.
Against the odds, and the tide, we eventually made it to a small stretch of beach beneath the castle; things were looking up. It was an absolutely beautiful day and I wasn’t particularly in the mood for an indoor tour but again we figured, why not? We sprung for tickets and headed up to the towering stone castle for a tour.
We step inside the castle and hand our tickets to an overly enthusiastic guide. Ms. Peppy then says, “let’s just have you wait here a minute while the group ahead of you gets ahead.”
“Alright, is it a big group?” I ask.
“Oh, it’s a group of about a hundred seniors that are here on a bus trip.”
A long pause ensues before I mumble to Karen, “a simple yes, would have sufficed.” She of course rolled her eyes.
Now let me reiterate, it was a stinkin beautiful day outside; it felt like a July day. And I strongly dislike crowds. And I respect my elders just like I was taught to, but listening to the shuffling crowd complain, “Oh, that bus was too cold!” “You’re right Muriel, I’m going to say something to the bus driver.” “I thought it was cold too, Dorothy, much too cold,” well, that just wasn’t how I wanted to spend my Saturday. If we could just scoot ahead of them I thought.
And with that I dragged Karen passed what I’m sure were many interesting rooms until we were ahead of the group, finally. We walked through the next door, which ended up being the end of the castle, and you’re “not allowed” to go back the way you came. We had missed practically the whole castle. But I smelled the fresh air and wasn’t about to go back and hear more about the great temperature debate; I promised Karen we’d come back another day.
Back on the boat sipping a cold beer, I had no regrets. In the evening we walked about a mile into town where we enjoyed a great dinner outside at a barbeque restaurant called the Red House. We ate too much meat and cornbread, if that’s even possible, before making out way back to the boat. The following morning we’d enjoy a nice walk through the quaint little town that boasts only a handful of stores, and not much else. We ate breakfast at a popular little hole-in-the-wall breakfast spot called Hally Jo’s. It’s a happening little spot on a Sunday that seems to attract the entire town.
Too soon after we’d head back to Essex and our mini adventure in Deep River was over. Not only did the quiet little town provide a welcome escape after a busy week, it reminded me that if you slow down and look around once in a while you might just find a fun adventure hiding in plain sight.
Leaves along Connecticut’s Route 9 had begun to trade their deep green for hints of orange and yellow; nature was showing its hand. Fall is here. With a long holiday weekend on tap the Karen Marie would be chasing the horizon at full throttle trying mightily to catch back up to summer.
That’s how it came to be that we motored from Essex early Saturday morning, hitching a ride down the river with an outgoing tide. The early, yet strong rays of sun burned off the morning dew providing a smoky hue to our cruise. Short chop in the Sound and the confused waters of Plum Gut made for a less-than-leisurely ride over to our destination of Shelter Island’s Dering Harbor. Covered in a weird combo of salt spray and sweat, we eventually tied up to our mooring in the southeast corner of the harbor and took in the view of sailboats and blue-hulled powerboats bobbing up and down in the clear water surrounded by beautiful homes and lush green tress.
After a bit of settling in, we hopped in the dinghy to explore town. It would be a short trip. The main street in town, and the hub of activity, is a short block comprised of a True Value, a gas station, toy store, a rustic looking bar/restaurant called Dory and a café/deli/grocery store called Marie Eiffel Market where we stood on a line nearly out the door for a pair of excellent sandwiches. It was clear that we would be back.
After a bit of R&R I had a little “work” for the magazine to tend to. For the next issue’s gear column I was testing and photographing a uniquely shaped inflatable standup paddle board called the Sea Eagle NeedleNose 126. (I know, I know…tough job!) The paddle board ended up working great; it went from rolled up in a backpack to fully inflated in two minutes and as you can see from these outtakes, it ended up being a lot of fun.
An evening of grilling and watching the sun set capped off the rest of a pleasant night.
Day two was kicked off the Shelter Island way with breakfast from, where else but Marie Eiffels. Determined to better see what the island had to offer we rented bikes from the gas station (apparently specialty stores aren’t real popular here). The plan for our half day rental was to take a “nice easy” ride out to the northeast jetty and then double back to a marina/boat builder called CH Marine where we could shower and inspect any new builds in progress. Well, that plan lasted until the first stop sign when Karen tried to pass me. A two hour race would ensue that I’m sure did little to help tourist relations. (When the island wasn’t whizzing past, it was really a beautiful way to see Shelter.)
Stopping at CH Marine yielded both refreshing showers and the chance to see a newly built 34-foot runabout. With a really unique blue Awlgrip paint job and sweet down east lines, I was not alone in ogling the new build. Many visitors stopped to snap a few pictures.
Refreshed and feeling like humans again, we hopped a 5-minute ferry ride from Shelter to Greenport, a beautiful town that is often referred to as one of the most beautiful on Long Island. The thing about the most beautiful place on Long Island on the most popular weekend of the summer is, well, it gets pretty darn crowded. Crowds of inebriated college kids, ice cream-covered children and older couples filled the streets in what would be become a very strange scene. We would enjoy a cold beer at the Greenport Brewery before I convinced Karen that it would be in our best interest to explore a nearby down-on-its-luck boatyard. She hardly puts up a fight anymore and just rolled her eyes. After climbing around a few rotten wooden boats, I found a real gem. Something that 7-year-old-boatyard-exploring-Daniel could only have dreamed of…tucked being an abandoned rust covered building, surrounded by a small flotilla of derelict sailboats was…a 1967 Lockheed submarine. My jaw dropped as I took in the site. “You can trespass in boatyards your whole life and never find something like this,” I whispered to Karen who began to realize another plan, this time for a “5 minute yard visit” was going out the window.
After poking around the sub for too long, we decided to end the day with a drink at the waterfront bar called The Blue Canoe. Watching the sun set with a couple cold rum drinks, you couldn’t really write a better official end to the summer.
We’d return home the next morning and our mini vacation, much like our bike ride, and our summer, would end all too soon. But this short weekend reminded us of how much we enjoy cruising to, and exploring new destinations. There’s just a certain excitement that comes with not knowing what’s around the next corner, it might just be the submarine you’ve spent 20 years searching for.
With summer weekends getting snatched up faster than you can say “we’re going boating,” Karen and I were determined to spend the 3-day 4th of July weekend doing some overdue cruising. So at 0700 on Friday we meandered down the Connecticut River to the Sound. We sailed against an incoming tide in very light air for the better part of an hour. Music was cranking, the sun was shinning, and all was right in the world. That is until I looked back and saw, well pretty much the exact same scenery I had been looking at an hour prior.
“OK, we tried,” I shrugged as we fired up the engine and set a more direct course to Long Island’s Gardiners Bay and our intended destination of Shelter Island. A fleet of fishing boats, a ripping tide, and ferries kept us on our toes and justified a few early afternoon beers (as if justification was really needed.)
With all the island’s slips and moorings filled thanks to the nearby Tall Ship Festival in Greenport, we were constrained to a small anchorage in the corner of Coecles Harbor. The clear-blue water looked almost drinkable and made for some serene afternoon swimming. If you’re cruising this area, I highly recommend this anchorage as the holding there is excellent.
But even the best anchoring conditions don’t totally dispel my phobia of dragging anchor, so we didn’t spend too much exploring the island; I hope to return, rent bikes and see what else Shelter has to offer. But for now, I’ll fondly remember the simplicity of swimming, reading a good book and some long dinghy rides.
The following morning, anticipating dreary weather and dreading a long day hiding in the cabin, we set out for Three Mile Harbor, East Hampton. It was a two-hour trek to the harbor but it was definitely worth it. The Harbor was well protected, and lined with lush green forest. It was a beautiful spot even in less-than stellar weather.
The early start to the day coupled with two nights on the boat left Karen and I with different cravings. She really wanted to use a bathroom/shower ashore and I wanted to find breakfast foods. Suffice it to say, the mooring line had barley kissed the cleat before we were in the dinghy bound for shore.
Once there I fired up my cell phone and typed in b-r-e-a-k-f-a-s-t. Nothing. In today’s instant gratification world we were in a fabled dead zone. We opted to set out on foot. “How far could it be until we hit town?” I foolishly wondered aloud. (Editors note: Blinded by a hunger for bacon and coffee, I neglected to think to myself “you know, just maybe they call this place Three Mile Harbor because, I don’t know…it’s three miles long?”)
In our haste we neglected to change out of the clothes we were wearing during the chilly sail over; our outfits were comprised of jeans, multiple shirts and raincoats. Our remaining essentials were stuffed into a red-drawstring bag. In short order the sun broke through the cloud cover providing a hot and humid backdrop for our quest. During our walk I would see something that looked like a diner, which would give us hope. “No, it’s only an old station wagon,” Karen would comment on my many mirages. 4.26 miles later we arrived in town.
Before us in neat little rows were stores emblazoned with names like Michael Kors, J Crew, Lululemon, Lilly Pulitzer etc. Frenzied flocks of hipsters shuffled between stores with multiple bags in hand, stopping only for triple macchiatos from one of the two Starbucks. It’s safe to say that we stuck out like, well, we stuck out like sailors in the Hamptons. We grabbed breakfast at a small deli on the outskirts of town before I relented to visiting some stores with Karen. Considering the 4th is also our anniversary, my wallet trembled with fear.
You can imagine my delight when after visiting two stores Karen suggested we skip the crowds and catch a mid-afternoon movie. “Woooo-hooo! Umm, I mean yeah ok, we can do that. Why don’t you go ahead and pick out some candy too!”
After a couple hours of relaxing and watching Ted 2 we stepped outside to realize the crowds had doubled in size. That cab ride back to the boat we were hoping for would not be in the forecast. We wrapped our blistered toes in Band-Aids and trekked back.
The glass-half-full part of this story is that we had once again earned some evening drinks and dinner at the East Hampton Point Restaurant. The pain from blistered feet seemed to melt away as we enjoyed a nice meal served with a stunning view of the sunset over the harbor (or maybe that was the alcohol, I digress). The meal was great but the weekend left a renewed appetite for cruising to new places. So, from now until October don’t be surprised to hear us say, “we can’t, we’re going boating.”
The morning of our last day aboard Gizmo began with a heightened sense of urgency. 106 miles, 4- to 6-foot seas, and almost 20 knots of wind stood between us and Camden, but we were determined, come hell or following seas, to get there. The hatches were battened down, and loose cameras and other assorted gear was stowed away and secured.
Leaving Isle of Shoals, off New Hampshire, in sloppy conditions, it was immediately apparent that we were in for a long day (cruising speed was an average of 9 knots). Our Duffy 37 slipped and slid down the backs of waves; the autopilot was frequently turned to standby as we slalomed through patches of lobster traps. After an hour of standing wide-legged and braced at the helm, fatigue would start to creep in. The casual watch schedule that Ellison and I had been keeping was replaced by a strict hour-on, hour-off schedule. The watch changes allowed the helmsman to be as fresh as possible, and we kept at it for most of the day.
Like many things in life, the challenging conditions we faced made our long-awaited approach into Camden that much sweeter. Conifer-covered mountains protruded from the sea in front of our bow; Ellison’s smile grew as friends threw him a wave in the inner harbor. “Man I really love it here,” said Ellison as he exhaled a deep breath of crisp, clean air.
In short order we tied Gizmo to her floating dock in the harbor, then made our way to the Ellison estate, which Ben himself built in the 1970s. After some much-needed showers, and even-more-needed glasses of wine, we found ourselves, and his lovely wife, Andrea sitting on his porch in the shade of Camden’s Mt. Battie.
We began the time-honored tradition of recounting tales from our five-day adventure. “You wouldn’t believe this burger joint we went to in Plymouth,” Ben would say. “Oh, tell Andrea about pulling into Isle of Shoals, this is a good one.”…“Yeah, then this group on the dock started chanting in unison.” Story-swapping would continue until two bottles of vino—and our remaining energy—had been polished off.
I had joined this delivery to increase my navigation and marine electronics knowledge, which I gained in spades. But the more important take away for me was how time on the water can form the most unlikely of friendships. Before pulling away from Essex, Ben and I were professional acquaintances whose only shared experiences were a couple dozen e-mails. And aside from a similar profession we’re almost as different as they come. Where Ben enjoys listening to countless hours (and I mean COUNTLESS HOURS) of talk radio and spending time with his grandchildren, I prefer country music and often have a friend from college crashing in my cramped apartment. We have very different opinions on the meaning of “optimum cruising speed” and our preferred bedtime differed by a good four hours.
Shared experiences and a common goal at sea have a funny way of erasing all those land-based differences and forming what I hope to be a long-lasting friendship.
I had a secret agenda for the mini delivery of the Karen Marie from Jamestown to Essex; the plan was to bring my brother along both for the extra pair of hands and to plant the boat ownership seed into his subconscious. Standing at the wheel, soaked to the bone, wind burnt, and shivering on the first leg, I was fairly certain I had succeeded in sending him running for the hills.
“You’ll want to bring a couple books for the ride, and don’t forget your bathing suit,” I texted him days before our trip.
A wetsuit would have been more appropriate.
Our trip started ordinarily enough. Egg sandwiches, hot coffee, naps and snapping pictures highlighted the first couple hours of the journey. Rounding Point Judith and turning into 2- to 3- foot chop, and 20 knots of wind flipped the switch on all that. It was the most miserable time on a boat that I’ve ever experienced. We were pummeled for hours–which felt like days–until we found the channel to Stonington, CT.
After finding our mooring, we took to the next tasks at hand: hanging sheets, pillowcases and clothes on the lifelines to dry while enjoying a few well-deserved adult beverages. In short order my once-proud classic yacht took on the appearance of a homeless shelter.
Once on land, hot showers and dinner at the marina restaurant, Dog Watch Café thawed our cold and clammy crew.
After a nice meal, Karen, Ryan and I opted for a peaceful nightcap out on the restaurant’s back deck before calling it a day. This was going to plan just fine until we spotted an adult Jenga set. (You know, the game where you pull blocks from a wooden tower until it topples over, but this one was much bigger.) Now if you know my brother and I, you know we’re what some people call “stupid competitive.” Video games and bike rides in our younger days turned into more brawls than my parents care to know about. So it shouldn’t come as a shock to learn that our game attracted a crowd of onlookers who critiqued each move.
Yours truly won the game and no bloody noses ensued; so we can file the night away in the win column.
Leg two from Stonington to Essex was drier that our first leg, but man was it cold! Combine 45 degree air temperature with sustained 20 knot winds on the nose and throw in a splash of salt spray and you have a recipe for a very long morning. Double socks stuffed into Sperrys and towels doubling as blankets made for rather unique fashion statements.
After hours of sitting on our hands, we finally made our way up the Connecitcut River. Lighthouses, a pair of bridges and plenty of boat traffic provided a lot to look at after spending so much time in the middle of the Sound. Finally appearing off our bow, the quaint town of Essex appeared like a postcard from a small Maine village. Frown lines from cold crew morphed into wide grins after tying up to the mooring. High fives all around signified a successful end to the trip.
Long naps and hours of leisurely reading may not have come to fruition on this delivery but few memories worth making ever started with “remember that time we went swimming after a peaceful passage?” I’m sure this trip will be something we all remember for a long time.
When one journey ends, it’s natural to take a look back at how it began. And that can now be said about my time in Newport, RI and with Yachting magazine.
My Newport story began on a warm April morning, nearly two and a half years ago. It was zero dark thirty as I drove from Long Island to Newport for an interview with Yachting, an opportunity that seemed to materialize overnight. My mind raced faster than the headlights of my old Honda.
Do I really want to move to Newport? Is this job right for me? What if I bomb this interview? I thought to myself.
These questions snaked through my mind as my car weaved through the wooded single-lane roads of Rhode Island. Then the woods seemed to open up and I crossed the Jamestown Verrazano Bridge and saw Narragansett Bay for the first time. And an impressive sight it was. I followed the GPS a few miles further and came to the Pell Bridge, the same one I have talked about countless times in this blog, but for good reason. The view was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Sailboats (a foreign wind-powered craft) and sunlight danced a top the expansive blue water. The Newport skyline rose in front of my dashboard.
Like after a first kiss, sparks flew, I laughed and said aloud, “yeah, this is going to do just fine. New York, it’s been fun.”
As you can guess, I got the job and moved to the City by the Sea a week later and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then I’ve worked with some of the best people you could hope to meet, I’ve traveled the world, met people so interesting that they’d put the Dos Equis guy to shame. I ate at some great restaurants and drank at a few awful bars. I bought a boat. And broke a boat. And forged an unlikely friendship with an old carpenter who helped me fix it up.
Karen and I have raced around the bay enjoying incredible sailing and at times, sailed in circles, becoming frustrated nearly to the point of tears. We’ve watched mega yachts, schooners, America’s Cup yachts and cruise ships come and go while sitting on the back of our boat. Yes. Life in Newport for a 25-year-old dreamer has been damn good.
But I will be moving to another good home in Essex, Connecticut to become the senior managing editor of Power & Motoryacht magazine, one of the most respected marine magazines in the world. I feel that same type of excitement that I did two and a half years ago, the kind that you only get when you don’t know what the future has in store.
As I drive west over the Pell Bridge to Connecticut, I’ll look back in my rear-view mirror and see a town where I left nothing but good friends and great memories. I’ll hope that one day, years from now, I’ll drive back over that bridge and my future children will look up from their iPhone 20’s and become as mesmerized as I was when I first crossed it.
The story continues…