Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Leeds Pond Preserve

Years ago, when I was looking to anchor in Manhasset Bay, I would often drop the hook in about ten feet of water off of Leeds Pond. My rule of thumb in locating the anchorage was to motor south of the yacht club mooring fields, and look for a stretch of shoreline that was heavily wooded, and was void of any waterfront homes.

 Manhasset Bay is a busy harbor, but this anchorage provided calm from activity ashore and afloat. Leeds Pond is a 35 acre preserve that includes a wetlands trail that winds along the pond and a freshwater marsh. The preserve is also the home of the Science Museum Of Long Island. The museum sits on a hill that provides views of the lower section of the bay. There are gardens and an interpretive center on the grounds as well.

 The highlight of my visit was a walk along North Plandome Road, that separates Leeds Pond from Manhasset Bay. From this location, I could watch the waters of the pond fall into a spillway and pass an old mill, before making their way across tidal flats and into the bay. Scenic and peaceful, as it normally is. 


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Noank In Snow: WebAlbum

Sunday, December 21, 2008


My original plan was to post a story about Southport from a summer perspective. A walk along Harbor Road during all of its summer splendor provides one of the most attractive waterfront settings in Fairfield County. The finely fitted yachts moored in the harbor with their proper burgees flying. The well kept colonial homes with their understated elegance and gardens. The stately Pequot Yacht Club, that seems to be the cover photograph of choice for many regional atlases and guides. The village of Southport is a beautiful setting during the warmer months, and I highly recommend a visit. Beauty however, comes in different forms. I visited Southport just a day before the winter solstice, as a fresh layer of snow blanketed the landscape. The bunting and flags were nowhere to be seen. The gardens were dead and buried under the snowfall, while Perry's Green was a study in gray. The sailing yachts that decorated the harbor were now covered in khaki green tarps that resembled tents from some long ago army camp. The Mill River and the golf course were void of activity, except for some waterfowl that huddled near the shore. On a day that was the opposite extreme of summer, there was beauty in the starkness of it all. Southport: WebAlbum Map

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It Snowed

photo credit: NOAA Archives

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pelham Bay Park

Years ago, I read some information about Pelham Bay Park that has stuck with me. The article or guidebook described the park as the southernmost example of a rocky New England shoreline. It was one of those things that I had not really thought about, yet it seemed so obvious, and so amazing at the same time. The rocky shoreline does continue to Throggs Neck and the East River, but most of it is no longer in its natural state. South of New York Harbor, it is sandy beaches and barrier islands, with the Chesapeake and Delaware bays consisting of mostly mud. Starting in Novia Scotia and extending through New England, this is the end of the line for the classic rocky coast. Pelham Bay Park covers 2,766 acres in the Northeast Bronx, and includes golf courses, horse stables,a museum, and a police firing range. My visit in October however, was focused on Twin Island Preserve and Hunter Island Preserve, which form the peninsula that extends northeast from Orchard Beach. I entered Twin Island Preserve at the far end of the promenade that wraps around the beach. After a short distance along the main trail, I came to several paths that lead to the shoreline. The exposed bedrock and glacial erratics were bright from the sun. Davids Island and Pea Island sat in the distance, while a lone barge made its way down the Sound. I passed a few fishermen as I made my way along, eventually reaching the ruins of an old tide mill. All that remains is a dam with a sluice, and two ebb tides a day. I entered Hunter Island Preserve after crossing through a picnic area that is adjacent to the beach. This area was much more wooded and seemed less traveled (it is also a larger area). I arrived at a spot where Glen Island and the New York Athletic Club were just a short distance across the channel. The Iona College crew team glided by as their coach barked orders from a boat that trailed behind them. The newly built high-rises in New Rochelle stood in the distance. Eventually, I reached a forested area that contained a stand of very large trees. I am certainly no expert on trees, but these were of considerable size, and appeared to be quite old. I began to wonder where the oldest native trees were in NYC. Inwood Hill? Riverdale? Brooklyn? Were any of the trees here around in colonial times? The trail began to lead west and work its way back. There was less shore access along this stretch, but there were still random views of a protected cove, and the lagoon used for the 1964 Olympic Rowing trials. The top floors of a few Co-op City buildings appeared on the horizon, reminding me that I was in the Bronx, and it was 2008. Pelham Bay Park: WebAlbum Soundbounder: Orchard Beach Lagoon Map

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sea Cliff

I was first introduced to Sea Cliff about a decade ago when I embarked on my old Bristol 24 for my first overnight cruise aboard. It was my first summer with the boat, and most of my time aboard had been spent daysailing or just puttering around. Sea Cliff was a sensible destination that weekend. Despite having visited nearly every harbor on the North Shore over the years, I had never been to Hempstead Harbor. Also, Sea Cliff was a short sail from my mooring on City Island, which made it a safe choice for a first solo overnight cruise. Upon arrival, I remember thinking to myself what an excellent choice this was. I have since sailed to Sea Cliff many times, but I have never visited by land, or in the off-season, until this year. It is a great walking town. The hillside that separates the waterfront from the business district is filled with Victorian, and other century-old homes that look over the harbor. West of the Sea Cliff Yacht Club is a walkway with a sitting area that skirts the shoreline. At the top of the hill, Memorial Park (Hippie Park) provides sweeping views of the harbor and Long Island Sound. In my opinion, it is one of the best views in the western portion of the Sound. The park is a popular spot to watch the sunset. Sea Cliff Avenue has some shops, as well as a market and a few restaurants. The most unique feature in Sea Cliff is the layout itself. There are a network of stairways that climb the hilly neighborhood from the shoreline. Combined with the winding, narrow roads, they form a sort of Chutes And Ladders pattern as you make your way up or down the hill. You will certainly get a workout, but the views are worth it. SEA CLIFF: WebAlbum MAP

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Race Day On Long Island Sound

THE YACHTS Brilliance of cloudless days, with broad bellying sails they glide to the wind tossing green water
from their ship prows while over them the crew crawls
Ant-like, solicitously grooming them, releasing, making fast as they turn, lean far over and having caught the wind again, side by side, head for the mark
William Carlos Williams
The LIFE Magazine photo archives are now available online. (Thanks to Good Old Boat Redwing for the link) The photographs above are entitled Race Day On Long Island Sound. These photos immediately sparked a memory of a poem I first heard in high school English class. I did not remember much about the poem except that it was about a sailboat race, and there were similar pictures on the textbook page opposite the poem. There were also pictures of fruit opposite a poem about someone eating plums. Why I remember that, I have no idea. Thanks to the wonders of Google, I was able to track it down. It is funny how memory works. LIFE Magazine Photo Archives William Carlos Williams: The Yachts (complete poem) photo credits:(top to bottom) Alfred Eisenstaedt 1947, Bob Gomel 1960, Alfred Eisenstaedt 1947

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Niantic Boardwalk

It is a busy strip of land. The narrow sand barrier that separates the Niantic River from Niantic Bay is only a few hundred feet wide, and most of it is consumed by Route 156 and railroad tracks. The Millstone Nuclear Power Station is in full view to the southeast. Despite the less than ideal surroundings, East Lyme and the village of Niantic have been very creative in making this stretch of shoreline attractive and accessible.

The Niantic Boardwalk is a recent addition that extends about a mile along Railroad Beach (or Amtrak Beach). The boardwalk, combined with a walkway, links Hole In The Wall Beach with Cini Park. There are benches along the way, as well as ramps that lead down to the beach. The beach appears to be popular with fishermen. Restrictions at nearby beaches, along with the strong currents here, are most likely the reason. I couldn't help but laugh though when I looked at one of my pictures of a fisherman with the nuclear plant in the background.

 I visited recently on a late afternoon. I started in Cini Park and reached the boardwalk by proceeding on a path under the railroad bridge. There are interpretive signs along the way that address the ecology of the area and the efforts taken to create this park. The East Lyme Public Land Trust has raised funds through a sponsorship program. The rails and benches along the boardwalk are decorated with nameplates of those who have contributed to the cause. It is nice to see such enthusiastic support from so many people.

 A nice feature about the boardwalk is that combined with the neighboring parks, one can walk the shoreline from McCook Park all the way to Cini Park. It is an extensive stretch of public shoreline. I walked the full length of the boardwalk before turning around and working my way back. I thought it was odd that I had not seen any trains pass while I was there. Sure enough, as I was looking out at Plum Island, an Amtrak train came roaring by. A few minutes later, there was another, and then a third just minutes after that. Like so many things in our lives, it is always feast or famine.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ferry Landing Park in Old Lyme

I awoke early on Sunday just after 5 AM. The house was cold, and the forecast was calling for rain and possibly some snow throughout the day. One temptation was to stay in bed. The other was to get outdoors for a little while before the weather turned bad.

I had originally intended to visit Griswold Point, but that would have to wait for a sunnier day. I had taken note however, of a smaller, more accessible park in Old Lyme last month. From the cockpit while I waited for the Amtrak Bridge to open, I saw several people fishing from a pier that extended southward from the bridge through some marshland. Soon I was out of bed and on my way.

Ferry Landing Park is also referred to as the DEP Headquarters. The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Marine Division maintains several buildings and boats on the grounds. There is a lawn with a gazebo and picnic tables, as well as the walkways and boardwalk that I was hoping to visit. Upon arrival, I immediately noticed a sign that stated that the park was closed from sunset to sunrise. The dark clouds made it hard to distinguish sunrise from early dawn. I threw caution to the wind, and entered the park anyway (More on this in a later post). I found my way to the boardwalk that leads under the railroad bridge and out to the marsh and tidal flats. A heavy layer of frost covered the planks, which forced me to take baby steps to maintain my balance. A light, misty rain began to fall.

At the far end of the boardwalk, I came to a small observation deck that provided maybe an 8 foot advantage. The small increase in elevation however, expanded the views considerably. Great Island and the two Saybrook lighthouses came into view as well as a large area of tidal flats and marshes. Some of the backwaters were covered with a thin film of ice. The river itself was free of ice, but the tide was slack. The tug of war between the currents of the river and the sound was in a temporary lull, as neither waters held the higher ground. Water that had made its way from small beaver ponds in Vermont and New Hampshire, would sit here for a one hour layover before making the final push to the sea. It was only a matter of time and tide.

When I awoke from daydreaming about Vermont beaver ponds, I noticed that the bridge operator had been keeping a sharp eye on me. I tossed around some ideas about why he might be watching me through binoculars. Maybe they take that sunrise rule very seriously (possible). Maybe he thinks I am a lunatic to be walking around out here on such a cold and damp morning (plausible). Maybe he reads my blog and was thrilled that the Soundbounder guy was in Old Lyme (highly unlikely). And finally, maybe he found it suspicious of me to be taking pictures of the bridge at such an early hour, on such a miserable day (very likely). I did not wait around for the answer. I made my way back to land and waved to the operator as I passed.

The wind began to blow just enough to make it feel very uncomfortable. Small ripples now covered the water surface that had been glassy just moments before. My hands began to feel numb from the cold. The rain began to freeze.

 Ferry Landing Park WebAlbum

Monday, December 1, 2008

Chaffinch Island Park in Guilford

The best places are often the most difficult to find. Chaffinch Island Park in Guilford is no exception to this rule. Tucked away on a winding, residential road near the mouth of the West River, the park is not easily found. At least three times, I passed the same elderly couple walking their dog as I retraced my steps back to a previous intersection (I got lost). My effort and sense of embarrassment were well rewarded though, when I eventually found a sign that led me into the park. The information I read on Chaffinch Island describes it as a "low-key municipal park with minimal amenities". Other than some picnic tables and barbecue grills, the main attraction here is the scenery. The park is a nice combination of rocky shoreline and salt marsh. I walked along the large rocks that extend out into the water. To the south, Falkner Island and its trademark lighthouse were silhouetted by the sun. A few small fishing boats skimmed along the horizon. Some birds worked the shoreline and dropped shells upon the rocks, hoping to crack open their catch. To the west, the rocky shoreline gives way to a salt marsh that extends a great distance. The trails through this area were quite wet, and I was fortunate to have a good pair of boots on my feet. Wet feet in December is never a nice feeling. What struck me most about Chaffinch Island Park was the silence. There were no leaf blowers wailing in the distance, and no hum of traffic from a nearby highway. The nearby boatyards stood silent in their winter nap. The trickle of the tide through the muck of the marsh was the only sound I heard. Eventually the silence was replaced by an approaching, panting sound. The couple I had passed several times earlier, were walking their dog along the rocks. "It's a beautiful spot" he said. "It's hard to find, and most people don't even know about it." I nodded and laughed at the same time. "Sometimes it is best that way", I responded. Chaffinch Island Park WebAlbum Map