Friday, April 30, 2010


Kimberly-Ann, Clinton Town Dock, April,2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mon Lei Update

An online acquaintance from Mystic provided me with some information on the Mon Lei he researched last year. Here is what he wrote:

 There is a lot of conflicting information on the history of this boat... probably because Riply is dead and the current owner (or at lease recently current owner) seems to be prone to weaving a good yarn. Here is what I know.

•Dates for the boat's construction range from 1854 (sourced from a 1973 news paper article where the then professional captain claimed it was "119 years old") to 1920. No source that I was able to find put her build date at any thing younger than 1920. None of the sources sound any more or less authoritative than the last, but based on the other news paper comments about the captain who said she was "119 years old", I would give his account the least credance.
•One source indicated that she was built in Aberdeen, near Hong Kong
•The boat is 50 foot, with 3 masts, 2 cabins, a galley and a bar.
•In 1937 the boat was sold to "5 Englishmen", unidentified by name. They sailed her from Hong Kong to San Francisco for the 1939 Worlds Fair, taking 83 days to get there.
•At some point between 1939 and 1946, Robert Ripley bought the boat and renamed her "Mon Lei", meaning "Infinity". He used her for promotional junkets and relaxation, keeping her on the east coast and making as far south as Florida and as far north as New York.
•Ripley died in 1948 or so. At some point after his death, the boat transfered ownership to Mystic Seaport.
•In 1954, Alen Sands York buys the boat from Mystic Seaport. Sands is apparently a flamboyent raconteur, working in advertising and living a lifestyle akin to that which you would see on Mad Men. The boat becomes part party barge and part advertising prop for his business.
•In 1959, the boat is leased by North West Airlines for a promotional junket to advertise NWA's Asian routes. According to an article from time, the boat was in pretty bad shape and required a substantial refit. She is sailed up and down the coast as part of that junket.
•The next mention I can find of her is in 1974, when Sands apparently lent the boat to a friend / client who had her in Florida. The friend also sounds like quite the booze hound / play boy.
•I can find mention of Sands still owning the boat in 2002, and it still being on the NYC waterfront. I don't have any mention after that date.
The articles that indicated the build date as being 1920 were actually about Robert Ripley, with no reference to Alen Sands. Which leads me to believe that they were sourced directly from Ripley. As he was the preceding owner, I would suspect that his data would be more accurate than Sands data. But Ripley was also known for tales that beggard belief.

This seems to make more sense than the stories claiming she was built in the 1860's or 1890's. Also, the NOAA Vessel Documentaion website lists her as being constructed in the 1930's.

NOAA: Mon Lei Documentation
Soundbounder: Mon Lei
Frogma: Mon Lei (scroll down)
Tugster: Mon Lei
Sailing Anarchy Forum: Mon Lei Thread

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mon Lei

I have seen many unique and interesting boats on Long Island Sound, but a 19th century Chinese junk was never one of them. I first saw the Mon Lei this past February when I visited the oyster docks in East Norwalk. Except for a partially exposed transom, she was covered under her winter tarps which prevented me from getting a full view. I made a mental note to return in April. 
At first, I was highly skeptical that this was the 150 year old ship which has sailed the world. Built near Hong Kong, she is 50 feet long and was once owned by Robert Ripley. She also served time with an airline company that used her to promote their flight service to the Far East in 1959. Unable to find much current information on her, I suspected that this ship was either a replica, or simply had the same name (for example, there are lots of boats named Kon Tiki).
The trouble with online research is that misinformation gets repeated just as often as accurate information.To paraphrase an old Chinese proverb: One website tells a lie, and hundreds of others repeat it. While I am not totally convinced, I am starting to believe that this may indeed be the original Mon Lei. It sure would be nice to find out for sure.

Tugster: Other Harbors
Frogma: Mon Lei Photos (scroll down)

Note: Mon Lei means 10,000 miles, and can be used to imply infinity.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Ambro Wetlands Preserve

It's still winter in the marshes. Maybe that is an overstatement, but many of the wetland areas on Long Island Sound are a month behind their neighboring drier lands. This was very apparent when I visited the Ambro Wetlands Preserve which is tucked behind Crab Meadow Beach in the town of Huntington. While the trees along the road were in full bloom, they began to lose their green as I approached the marsh. In a sort of Wizard Of Oz moment, I was met by a brown landscape that had the appearance of early March, rather than the second week in April. Despite air temperatures of 70 degrees,  the water temperature is still in the low 40's.

During my sophomore year in high school, one of the books assigned by my biology class was The Life And Death Of A Salt Marsh. Maybe I was too young, but the book had no impact on me. I am not even sure I finished reading it. This winter, I read it again and was completely consumed.

The chapters devoted to the seasons of a salt marsh were especially clear as I walked along the creek that winds its way towards Smithtown Bay. The low tide had exposed much of the marsh to the strong rays of sun that heated the landscape. But it would not last for long. Within a few hours, the rising tide would flood the grasses with 40 degree water, halting the spring progress for the day.

 In some areas, the high water mark was visible from the heavy rains of the past month. Many of the areas I walked were most likely submerged for days during those storms. There was a line I could see where the green of April met the cold of March.
Spring will come to the salt marsh, but not so fast. As for me, I am thinking of reading the Great Gatsby and Moby Dick once again. I hear they are very good.

Wikipedia: Jerome Ambro

Friday, April 16, 2010

Callahan's Beach

This is one of the more impressive town beaches I have visited. Callahan's Beach in Smithtown resembles a small state park in many ways. Most of the property sits atop a high bluff that provides sweeping views of Long Island Sound. There is a large picnic area, and camping is allowed here as well. A wooden stairway leads down the bluff to the beach below.
Some repair work was taking place on the stairway, so instead of walking along the beach, I walked the edge of the bluffs. I have a fear of heights which forced me to stay back a good distance. At least three times, a sense of weakness and dizziness came over me and I had to move away. The photos above make it appear that I was much closer than I really was.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Huntington Harbor 7:36 AM

Huntington Harbor, April 15, 2010, 7:36 AM

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Creek In Westport

Sherwood Island is sometimes known as Connecticut's first state park, but that is not entirely accurate. As early as 1914, the state began acquiring the first 48 acres of shoreline property here, but opposition and a lack of access prevented the park from opening until 1937. Hammonasset State Park meanwhile, opened in the summer of 1920.
The combination of ponds, salt marsh, and creeks that surround Sherwood Island had been altered as early as the 17th century. The Sherwood Millpond attempted to control the flow of water with a series of ditches and dams. By the early 20th century, the New Creek along Sherwood's eastern border was dry much of the year. Access to the proposed park was possible by crossing over from Burial Hill Beach. In 1929, Westport officials (opposed to the park) altered the flow of water once again, in an attempt to sabotage access by dredging and widening the creek.. It took another eight years for the state to purchase additional land and provide access to the 234 acre state park we know today.

Friends Of Sherwood Island: History
CT Coastal Access Guide: Sherwood Island State Park
Friends of Sherwood Island: Map of original 48 acres

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hot Fun In The Springtime

It seems like everyone is taking advantage of the weather. Calling this an early spring would be an understatement. Beaches and parks along the Sound have had plenty of activity this week with visitors enjoying the lovely spring summer temperatures. Even these two mallards in Oyster Bay Cove got in on the act, with their own version of Grazing In The Sand.
Sure hope it doesn't snow next week.

YouTube: Hugh Masekela: Grazing In The Grass
YouTube: Sly & The Family Stone: Hot Fun In The Summertime
YouTube: War: Summer
SOUNDBOUNDER: That First Day (Hammonasset)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

City Island: A Bronx Boat Building Village

When I was spending a lot of time in City Island, there were a handful of people who would often  compare this Bronx neighborhood to Cape Cod or some other New England coastal region. Immediately, my internal BS Detector would start flashing Code Red. It was obvious to me that the person stating this had never been to Chatham, Stonington, or whatever town they were comparing it to. Rather than start a drunken argument, I would usually try to make nice-nice by continuing to mind my own business and eat my halibut
The release of the movie City Island, has my detector flashing once again. I have not seen the film, but my Google Alert box is flooded with reviews that describe the island as a "quaint New England fishing village". Some even give the impression that it is located in the middle of Long Island Sound, with a fishing armada supplying the seafood restaurants  dotting it's shore.
Like most of Long Island Sound, City Island had it's share of oystering and lobstering. It's real claim to fame however, was shipbuilding. Numerous yards lined the eastern side of the island that built, outfitted, and repaired large yachts. Eight of these boats went on to win the  America's Cup. That is an impressive legacy, and the City Island Nautical Museum does an excellent job at presenting it. 
As for the New England comparisons? The island has some narrow streets with a few colonial and victorian homes, but so do lots of towns. Through careful editing, filmmakers can portray it as a much quainter place than it is. I think Tom Andersen put it best when he said:  "It doesn't (look like a little fishing village). It looks like the Bronx waterfront".
I remember how disappointed I was when I first saw the movie, Mystic Pizza. Sure, it was fun checking out a young Julia Roberts, and seeing parts of Mystic on the big screen. But I was really turned-off by how the film portrayed the town as some ethnic theme park, where the girls married young; the boys all went fishing; and everybody ate Lobstah.  Hardly very accurate.

Eventually I will make it to the theatre to see City Island. But if Andy Garcia's neighbor is a tuna fisherman, and the house has a widow's walk, I'm heading for the exit.

City Island Nautical Museum: (highly recommended museum)

photo credit: City Island Nautical Museum

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thursday, April 1, 2010

New Ways To Lose

....I see new ways to lose, I never knew existed before.
Casey Stengel

Orient Beach State Park consists of 363 acres at the far end of Long Island's North Fork. Located slightly west of the Orient-New London ferry terminal, it is a narrow peninsula surrounded by oyster ponds and Gardiner's Bay. According to the park website, there is "45,000 feet of frontage on Gardiner's Bay and a rare maritime forest with red cedar, black-jack oak trees and prickly-pear cactus."
On a late afternoon last October,  I paid a short visit to this park for the first time in nearly a decade. I had about an hour to kill before I was scheduled to take the ferry back across the Sound, and hopefully, be home in time to watch the baseball playoff games that evening.
With spring now arriving, baseball isn't the only thing back in the news. There have been rumblings out of Albany that the state of New York will close up to 55 state parks and historic sites in an attempt to save money. Sadly, Orient Beach is one of the state parks listed to be closed. I postponed writing about this, believing it was just one of those bad ideas that would disappear in a week or two. Today, the first day of April, there is still a  possibility that this could occur. No April Fools joke about it!

Maybe it is just a sign of me getting older, but we seem to be in a decade of mixed messages and double-speak. We are told to save our money by going shopping; to use mass transit while services are cut; and at a time when Staycation has become a buzzword, local parks and public sites are scheduled to close.
Connecticut has not been immune from these bad ideas either. Money from the Long Island Sound License Plate Program was  grabbed by Hartford, and parks with surpluses, such as Harkness State Park have had their dollars transferred to the state's general fund. Meanwhile, park fees and fishing licenses have doubled in some cases.
The current economic crisis has brought on a lot of references to the Great Depression. I find it ironic that many of these parks were created in the 1930's. Today, we treat them as an unnecessary luxury, while we hand over billions of dollars to subsidize baseball stadiums. As much as I love the game of baseball, our fiscal priorities appear completely backwards. Sacrifices need to be made, but they shouldn't all be so lopsided. I may love to hear the sound of Play Ball!, but not at the expense of A Day In The Park.

Field Of Schemes:  Taxpayer Subsidized Sports Stadiums
New York Times: State Proposes Closing 55 Parks & Sites
Steve Fagin: Hijacking CT Park Fees; A Sharp Stick In The Eye
North Fork Vue: Fans Of Orient State Park
Newsday: NY Audubon: Don't Be Shortsighted About Parks
Saratogian: Senate Dems Say Parks Will Stay Open
Yonkers Tribune: $2 Billion Taxpayer Dollars Go To Yankees
From The North Fork: Orient Photos

You can stay updated on this issue by following me on Twitter.