The Throgs Neck Bridge cast a shadow over the East River off the bow of StewardShip, my friend Dave Steward’s C&C 29 MK II, a fast-yet-comfortable cruiser. A stiff southerly breeze bearing funky scents of the Big Apple filled the sails, speeding us along.
Standing at the wheel, I glanced up at the underside of the span, experiencing the usual trick of the eye that made it seem our mast was about to hit the bridge. “We’re almost in the Sound,” I said.
Dave, or Big Stew, as he’s sometimes called (much like a skinny guy who gets nicknamed Fatty), sat to leeward, peering under the foot of the genny. “We got heavy metal to port,” he said.
“Yeah, probably,” said Big Stew. He shot me a smile, as in fact there was plenty of room between our boat and the tug-and-barge tow emerging slowly from behind the headsail.
We’d set off from Big Stew’s mooring at the Raritan Yacht Club in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, early in the morning to catch the flood tide through the Verrazano Narrows so we could reach the notorious Hell Gate on the East River at slack water. If the tide Gods are with you, you can ride a fair current all the way from the Atlantic Ocean through New York Harbor and up the East River into Long Island Sound, which we’d just done. It was an auspicious beginning to Big Stew’s first cruise along Long Island’s North Shore aboard his new boat.
Picturesque anchorages, full-service marinas, friendly yacht clubs, and quaint villages that were first settled back when New York City was Dutch New Amsterdam make the western end of Long Island’s North Shore one of the most-pleasant places I’ve ever cruised. Unlike the Connecticut coast, there are few shoals. When the summer southerlies crank up in mid-afternoon, you can stay in the lee of the land and sail fast in flat water.
The North Shore is crowded during the summer, but that’s not surprising given the huge concentration of boats on both sides of Long Island Sound. There’s a party atmosphere on weekends, an exodus of city workers out for fun in the sun. I’d warned Big Stew that we wouldn’t be alone as we explored the series of good harbors all lined up in a row like Godiva chocolates in a box, each with its own sweet flavor.
As we sailed out of the East River, Willets Point hove into view to starboard. Beyond was Little Neck Bay, a popular anchorage for boats waiting on East River tides for the transit south. In all my passages up and down the Sound I’d always bypassed the wee Neck, favoring Manhasset Bay, the first stop on our way east and home to Port Washington. Venerable yacht clubs with rental moorings and launch services, full-service marinas, and more than a dozen restaurants and assorted art galleries, boutiques, and antique shops on tree-lined Main Street are among the attractions of the town, formerly called Cow Neck Village.
We were tired, however, after sailing more than 50 miles and didn’t go ashore. We dropped the hook in 8 to 10 feet in thick black mud outside the mooring field on the south end of the bay. It is well-protected in all but honking northwesterly winds. In strong northerlies anchoring at the north end of the bay is better, but the mooring fields will limit swinging room.
Big Stew plopped a boil-in-the-bag meatloaf into a pot on the stove downbelow and flipped on the boom box. Classic rock tunes playing at low volume wafted out into the cockpit while we drank beer and watched kids sailing in an evening regatta. I quipped about the meatloaf being “guy food.”
“We got rib-eyes, you know. For tomorrow.”
I was glad to hear it.
The following day we sailed on a long tack toward Connecticut, bypassing Hempstead Harbor and the town of Glen Cove right next door to Manhasset Bay. We dodged fleets of racing boats flying colorful spinnakers to catch the wind. We picked up G “17” off Center Island’s Rocky Point at the western approaches of Oyster Bay, beat into the bay as far as possible, then motored the rest of the way in, anchoring in 9 feet just west of Cove Neck in good mud. As Big Stew fired up the grill to barbecue the rib-eyes, I noticed a sailboat anchored nearby with its forehatch wide open, weed on its anchor rode and along its waterline, and its sail cover blown half off the boom.
“Check out our neighbor,” I said.
The boat looked as though it had been abandoned in a hurry. It clearly had been left at the mercy of the weather. Several sundowners later, after speculating about dope smugglers and grisly murders, we began calling our neighbor “spooky boat.” No one showed up that night, or the next morning before we got under way.
We were sailing Long Island’s so-called Gold Coast, which extends along Long Island’s North Shore from Great Neck to Huntington. Because it’s located so close to New York City, many wealthy families such as the Astors and Vanderbilts built their summer estates overlooking the Sound from 1900 through the 1930s. President Theodore Roosevelt built a 23-room home on Cove Neck; it’s now the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site and is well worth a visit.
From our vantage point we could see the moorings and docks of Oyster Bay Marine Center, a full-service marina on the waterfront of historic Oyster Bay Village. Transient slips and mooring rentals with launch service are available, and the town, with its quaint shops and wide variety of restaurants, is an easy walk.
Off the starboard quarter was expansive West Harbor. It’s another anchorage worth considering, especially in northerly winds. To the east of us, across Cove Neck, was Cold Spring Harbor. The network of three harbors, all tucked into the North Shore within Oyster Bay proper, are some of Long Island’s best.