Sunday, July 25, 2010

North Shore of Long Island

I didn't realize it had been so long since I posted. We've been wandering around the north shore of Long Island for the last several weeks in the hottest New York July on record. Even being on the water doesn't mitigate the heat. I suppose it is better than being in the concrete jungle of Manhattan, but not by much. That said we're having a great time.

We went home to Cleveland for a couple of days because Jim had a post-op appointment with his cataract surgeon. After we got back to New York we kept the rental car and did a day of sightseeing on Long Island. We went to Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt's home and to see the home of William Vanderbilt. The two homes were built about 25 years apart and the contrast in architectural style was interesting. Roosevelt's home was generally quite dark with dark walls and small windows in all the rooms except for the parlor. Vanderbilt's home was much more open with lots of windows that took in the view of the bay and the Sound.

Teddy's place had lots of gifts he had been given while President, he was before the time when presidential gifts were considered to be given to the country not the person. But the construction of the house and the furnishings were all local products. Vanderbilt's home was much more like Hearst Castle in California, put together with walls, ceilings and furniture imported from Italy, France and Germany. My favorite relocated items in the Vanderbilt estate were the two cast iron eagles at the entrance. They were from a set of 12 that had been atop Grand Central Station when the trains came into the city on the surface street level. When the city required the Vanderbilts (the owners) to re-design the station to support underground trains, William took two of the eagle to his house.

After re-provisioning and doing the laundry, we headed east along the north shore of Long Island. Our first stop was Port Jefferson, a cutesy little town near the Stoney Brook campus of SUNY. One night there and then on to the eastern end of Long Island, the so-called fish tale. If you look at a map of Long Island you'll see that the eastern end has two points with a big bay between them. We rounded the northern point, called the North Fork by the locals, and went first to an anchorage in Shelter Island, an island in the middle of the bay.
Shelter Island is a well known summer/vacation home destination for many folks in the northeast. We arrived about 3:30 PM, put the anchor down in a large anchorage with about a dozen boats, and settled into for a quiet night on the hook. Three hours later all hell broke loose. A severe thunderstorm with 70 mile/hour winds and impenetrable rain hit the anchorage. Our anchor held, but the anchor of the sailboat in front of us didn't. All we could see was a sailboat coming right at us through the rain. Fortunately, they didn't snag our anchor when they crossed over it, nor did they hit our boat. But the wind was just tossing them everywhere. I was scared, they must have been terrified! It didn't last long, less that 15 minutes but it seemed like a lifetime.

The next day we went into the town of Greenport on the North Fork, a typical summer destination town in the wine country of Long Island. From there we went across to a different harbor on Shelter Island to spend two days at the Shelter Island Yacht Club. I was able to get off the boat and walk around. Given the reputation/prices on Shelter Island I was expecting nothing but mansions. While there were plenty of those, there were also a surprising number of simple summer cottage types of places. But you really need to be able to amuse yourself if you come here. The big Sunday entertainment is going to the pastry store to get coffee and the Sunday NY Times. Nothing much happening here.

Tomorrow we're off to Sag Harbor, another ritzy destination on the eastern end of Long Island. Then we'll head across the Sound to Connecticut, Newport, Rhode Island and Buzzard's Bay, Massachusetts. I'm beginning to realize there is more to see out here than we can hope to do in a single summer.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New York Harbor to Long Island Sound

I've marked off one thing on my bucket list. I've always wanted to drive my boat past the Statue of Liberty and on Monday we did just that. We had beautiful weather (the last nice day before it became blazingly hot!) and calm seas in New York Harbor. There were two container ships, one tug pushing a barge and the Staten Island Ferry to dodge. Not bad for a harbor as busy as New York.

We also went past Ellis Island before turning up the East River.

Taking your boat up the East River is just plain cool! You go under the Brooklyn Bridge,

under the Manhattan Bridge,

past the Empire State Building,

past the United Nations

and under the Queensboro Bridge.

You have Manhattan to the west and Brooklyn to the East. We timed it right, running with the rising tide, so we made great time and had a wonderful trip.

We didn't actually see many other boats until we got to Long Island Sound. Then we remembered that it was a holiday. The winds were light but they were enough to move the sailboats which were out in force in the Sound. We tucked into the first major bay on the north shore of Long Island, Manhasset Bay, picked up a mooring and decided to wait until everyone else went back to work before we explored further. It worked. On Tuesday, when we headed east to Oyster Bay, there were only 2-3 other boats out there with us.

Oyster Bay is where Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt's summer White House, is located. It seems that Teddy was the first president to decamp with all of his aides to summer quarters. He kept his boat here and liked to sail in the summer. Under normal weather circumstances we probably would have walked over to see Sagamore Hill, but it is 2.5 miles away and this is the week that New York is experiencing 100+ temperatures. So we'll visit Sagamore Hill when we have a car weekend after next.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day

There is a reason why tourists do tourist things -- they are fun! For all the times Jim and I have been in New York, we had never done the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tour. We did both this week and they were very interesting. I never knew that Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) designed the interior structure that holds up the State of Liberty. Nor did I realize that it was the tallest structure in New York City when it was erected.

Ellis Island is the only island in the USA owned by two states -- New York and New Jersey. New York owns the part where the Reception Center is and New Jersey owns all of the island created over the years by landfill (the area where the hospital ruins are located, for example) because New Jersey owned the seabed where the landfill was placed. All of which was decided as recently as 1998 by a Supreme Court case. They should have settled the dispute the same way they determined the ownership of Staten Island, with a sailboat race.

Staten Island has been an interesting stop. It is very much a typical suburb with tree lined streets and kids riding their bikes up and down the street, but it has all of the local small shops you find tucked away in the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Two days ago I got a fantastic Italian sandwich at a gas station store.

Last night we went to the official Staten Island fireworks show, brought to you by the Borough President. From the park of the southeastern shore of the island, we could see four other fireworks shows going on at the same time across the Lower Bay in New Jersey.

The best entertainment of the evening, however, was not the fireworks but NYPD's finest trying to direct traffic when the fireworks were over. We had gotten to the event on a city bus, so we were waiting at the bus stop in front of the park as the hundreds and hundreds of people were leaving. Six cops were directing the traffic and not a one of them had any reflective gear on, no lighted batons, and no plan for what they were doing. Each cop seemed to be making his own decisions. We saw cops direct cars into lines of pedestrians who had been told to go, we saw cops try to direct lines of traffic into each other, we saw pedestrians decide to cross in front of an emergency vehicle coming down the main street and the cops do nothing. It was absolute chaos, truly a miracle no one was killed and no accidents happened.

Tonight, like the rest of America, we'll watch the New York fireworks on television. We have tried for three days to figure out if there is a place on Staten Island where you can go to see the fireworks without having to leave the island. The answer appears to be no. While I'd happily go to Manhattan and mingle with the crowds, the last launch from the yacht club dock back to our boat is at 11:45 PM and we couldn't be assured of making it home in time to get back to the boat.