Sunday, July 31, 2011

Stony Creek, 6 a.m.

Oystering on Long Island Sound is not always a large enterprise. Early Thursday morning, I arrived at the Stony Creek docks to meet Brendan Smith of the Thimble Island Oyster Company. This is an independent, one-man operation, with Brendan (or Bren) serving as captain, deckhand, marketing director, and part-time mechanic.

Finding a parking space along the narrow streets of Stony Creek can be a chore. The fact that I had a choice of several prime spots was a quick reminder of just how early in the morning it was. Bren was already there, and after some friendly small-talk, there were tasks which began to present themselves. We carried some gear and a large cooler full of ice to the end of the dock, to load into a small skiff which would carry us to his boat in the mooring field. But before we could do that, some rainwater in the skiff needed to be bailed.

Stony Creek is an attractive harbor with the Thimble Islands scattered just beyond its entrance. In the village however, most of them are obscured from view, as only two or three poke out from beyond the point. But as our loaded down skiff cleared the town dock, the full expanse of the granite island chain came into view.

I wasn't the only guest aboard for the day;  Helen Bennett and Peter Hvizdak of the New Haven Register were on hand as well. This was the first time I had met Peter, and prior to this, I had only "known" Helen and Bren through our communications on Twitter. I always have some apprehension meeting online acquaintances because they often are not the same person you thought they would be.

Within minutes however, it was clear this would not be the case today. Both Bren and Helen are every bit as nice in the real world as they are in the virtual world. These characteristics are important aboard a small boat.

The four of us motored through the maze of moorings until the red hull of a 22-foot workboat appeared over my right shoulder. Gliding alongside her, I grabbed a bow-line and fastened it to a cleat at mid-ship. It was about this time that Bren said something very bizarre.
"I don't know how to swim!" He said.
He had to be joking, I thought............right?

(More to follow)
Soundbounder: Just Your Local Oysterman part two
Soundbounder: Hauling The Cage part three
Soundbounder: Starfish...And Other Threats part four

Thimble Island Oysters: website
Helen Bennett on Twitter: @NewsGirlCT
Peter Hvizdak on Twitter: @NHRphizdak
Brendan Smith on Twitter: @organicOysters

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thimble Island Oysters

This morning, I had the opportunity to spend a few hours aboard with Brendan Smith of the Thimble Island Oyster Company. The next several posts will discuss Brendan's work, along with the challenges he faces as a small, independent, local oysterman on Long Island Sound.

Thimble Island Oyster Company

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dead Calm

When Long Island Sound is jokingly referred to as the Dead Sea, it is not because of its high salt content or lack of marine life. The Dead Sea remark pokes fun at the lack of wind here during the peak of summer. Hot, windless days with nearly a ripple on the water's surface.
Like all good jokes, there is an element of truth to this, but it sometimes become overstated. The winds most certainly die in late July and August, but on most days, the prevailing southwesterlies  pick up by mid-afternoon.
There are exceptions of course, and they can be lasting. The heatwave this past week brought a 24-hour hazy stillness to the Sound for several days. No afternoon breeze, no puff of wind in the jib, no sunset sails.

The Mystic Whaler , a 1967 reproduction of a 19th-century schooner, was rebuilt in Providence, Rhode Island in 1993. Based in New London during the summer months, she offers everything from sunset sails to 3-day cruises.
Keeping a busy schedule, Carina and I have crossed paths with her in Greenport, Stonington, and several other ports. She is a beautiful sight to see under-sail.
On this hazy evening however, she wasn't going anywhere fast. Just south of Morgan Point, I spotted her practicing that old 21st-century tradition of trimming the iron genoa.

Mystic Whaler Cruises
Cruising Guide To The New England Coast: General Conditions
Iron Genoa - a sailboat's engine

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Watch Hill Lighthouse

Watch Hill Lighthouse

Built: 1856
Automated: 1986
New England Lighthouses: Watch Hill Light
Lighthouse Friends (map included)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Restless Farewell

Others will enter the gates of the ferry, and cross
         from shore to shore.......
The others that are to follow me, the ties between
me and them
Walt Whitman: Crossing Brooklyn Ferry 

As gentrification continues its scorched-earth, forward march,
I've often found reassurances in the rituals and structures 
around us which remain constant. No, not silly nostalgia for 
some make-believe past, but instead a tangible connection to 
those provincial traits which help define the towns and people 
of Long Island Sound.
There are the baymen of Oyster and Huntington Bays, who 
still work their shellfish beds manually. The wooden 
oysterboats of Norwalk, Stratford, and other shoreline towns. 
Then there are the lighthouses; the 18th and 19th century 
villages; and the farms of the North Fork and the
Connecticut River.
 These are not museum relics, but instead, working 
links to our past which carry on. Stripped of them, we 
inch closer to every other shoreline town which sold its 
soul to postwar Los Angelization long ago.

The Rocky Hill-Glastonbury Ferry is believed to be the oldest
continuously operated ferry in the U.S. Established in 1655, it 
became a state operation in 1915, surviving the Great Depression,
the Floods of 1936, and several ill-conceived highway overpasses
in the 1950's and '60's. 
Just a barge pushed by a tugboat, she is highly functional, but never  
glamorous. Sadly, she met her fate with the budget-cuts this week. 

About 25 miles south of here is the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry. She is 
considered to be the second oldest continuously operated ferry in 
the U.S.. Linking a prettier, more affluent stretch, with museums
and parks overlooking the river, this boat is the more popular of 
the two. Somewhat famous, she is an appealing September/October 
fall foliage excursion, and provides an important transportation 
link along this 16 mile bridge-less stretch between Saybrook and 
East Haddam.

But pedigrees, logistics, and big-pictures don't carry much 
weight in Hartford. The Chester-Hadlyme Ferry has been 
axed along with her older sister to the north. There has been 
a lot of talk about how neither of these boats make money, 
but that argument is selective, penny-wise, and pound foolish. 
No form of transportation makes money without public subsidies. 
Highways, airports, shipping terminals, etc, all lose money 
without government assistance. 

Both ferries are scheduled to close on August 25.
I've thought about taking one final boat ride, but 
what good would it do? Maybe, instead, I'll go find 
some franchise restaurant along the CT Turnpike 
or Long Island Expressway which serves generic 
jalapeno poppers, hot-pockets, fish-a-ma-jig 
sandwiches, and booze.
I'll sit in one of those formica cubicles, partitioned 
by the glazed glass ovals depicting lighthouses, 
oystermen, church steeples, ferry boats, and 
everything  else we chose to abandon.

Chester-Hadlyme Ferry

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bright Sky, Big Erratics

I have a love-hate relationship with rocks. As they say on Facebook...."it's complicated"
Aboard Carina, I don't want to see them, yet I find myself thinking of them all the time. And when I don't see them, it only makes things worse: I know they are out there lurking just beneath the surface, ready to confront my keel when I least expect it.  Big rocks don't like me, and I don't like them. Even worse, if I were to run into them, I know I'll never win.
But once ashore, I can never stay angry for very long. I suppress the destructive, bad times and become seduced again by their polish and form. I take all sorts of pictures and send them to my friends......trying to convince everyone, including myself, things will be different from now on.

While glacial erratics are found throughout Long Island Sound, they are especially abundant along the eastern  portion of the Suffolk County shoreline. Walking the beaches of Wildwood, Wading River, and Horton Point  provides a crash-course in the geological history of North America. 
They are very pleasing to look at........  from shore.

Garvies Pt Museum: Geology of Long Island
Hofstra University: L.I. Geology
The Outer Lands: A Natural History Guide (Cape Cod to Long Island)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Working The Ledge

Something wasn't right! After motoring clear of some ferry traffic near the entrance to New London Harbor, I was about to hoist the mainsail when I spotted Escape circling east of the channel. Lobster boats are common here, and it was obvious she was hauling pots, but something wasn't adding up.
She appeared too perfect...too clean and orderly. Her yellow hull looked all polished and buffed, without the nicks and blemishes from the realities of lobstering. No diesel stains or grease marks - no rusty streaks.
The crew didn't seem legit either. There were too many of them, and their clothing stood out. Sure, they were dressed like lobstermen, but it was an L.L. Bean version of how a fisherman would dress. With the Ledge Lighthouse in the background, it was too choreographed a scene; straight out of a catalogue.

It turns out that Escape is indeed a commercial lobster boat, but she is a charter boat, as well. The smartly dressed people I saw aboard were customers, along for the ride. The fading lobster industry on Long Island Sound has led some creative fishermen to seek harvest  from other sources of income. This thirtysomething-foot boat from Groton offers not only lighthouse and sunset cruises, but working trips to bait and haul lobster pots too. 

According to their website:
"Ever wonder what it's like to make your living from the sea?  Why not learn firsthand from lobsterman?  As the boat leaves picturesque Pine Island Bay and heads out into Fishers Island Sound, we will share our 35 years of experience and knowledge as a commercial lobsterman. You will see traps hauled and baited, lobsters caught and measured, plus a variety of other sea creatures like crabs, starfish, sea urchins, and an occasional fish. Your active participation is encouraged."

Reality Tourism? Vocation Vacations? Carhartt Chic?
There's been considerable press in recent years highlighting farms and ranches which offer visitors the opportunity to work the land. It's only natural this niche market would find its way to the lobster industry, and I like the concept.
Anything which provides a better knowledge of where our food comes from, along with an appreciation of the labor involved, seems like a good idea. I only hope the day doesn't arrive when the words lobster-trap and tourist-trap become synonymous.

Rates: $30/person $20/under12; Reservations required. Lobsters are fished on the tide

Washington Post: A Knell for Lobsters On LIS (2007)
Jennifer Lynn: Lobster Cruise A slightly different version offered in Norwalk

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Miss Patty

Returning home, the lobster boat Miss Patty navigates the Mattituck Creek.

Soundbounder: Phyllis Ann