The Truth About Fishers Island

The local residents of Fishers Island, New York have an online reputation for keeping to themselves and treating tourists like flesh-eating vultures. So it came as a surprise when, just moments after tying our dinghy up to Pirates Cove Marina, a woman walking by turned to Karen and I and asked, “Do you two need a ride anywhere? I’m heading across town.” I guess, just maybe, not everything you read on the Internet is true [gasp!].

We declined the kind offer and set out to explore the island on foot. How’d she even know we were visitors? You have to let everyone know you’re a tourist, I told Karen as I adjusted my large Canon camera around my neck and the backpack on my back.

“Mhmm, yeah, I’m the tourist,” she replied. 

As we wandered the quiet, wooded streets we came across a number of locals who all greeted us not just with the obligatory mumble and head nod, but with actual smiles and articulate greetings.IMG_9360_1

Another misconception about Fishers Island is that the population is made up of blue-blazer and bow tie wearing seniors. And while that demographic is represented, the island offers much more diversity. We found this to be especially true when we stumbled onto a beach on the west side of the island where (at least) a hundred young people threw back red solo cups and tossed frisbees.

“Well, that’s different,” Karen suggested.

The rest of our day would be filled with requisite cocktails and an alfresco cookout. Afterwards we’d take the dinghy into the Fishers Island Yacht Club and set out in search of ice cream. One rule we’d made up that challenged this time-honored tradition was that we couldn’t use our phones to look at a map. We’d have to actually explore the town the old fashioned way.IMG_4599.JPG

The summer sun was setting, casting long shadows onto the quiet streets. The well-manicured landscapes and colorful homes with wrap-around porches gave you the feeling that you travelled back in time. Furthering that illusion was a gang of boys and girls tearing through town on their bikes. When was the last time you actually saw kids enjoying a bike ride with other kids? It was a welcome sight.

On a hunch, we followed their general direction until we were all reunited at Toppers ice cream shop, a pet-friendly hot spot in town where all the local kids hung out. If you were to take the phones from their hands, the scene would look like something from a 60’s movie.

We’d spend the rest of the weekend kicking back on the beach, exploring the island’s other harbors and generally enjoying some R&R.

A swift, Sunday sail later and we were back in Essex and preparing for the week ahead back in the real world. It’s funny,  I’ve probably passed Fishers Island from the water dozens of times, and because it didn’t have one of those popular destination names like Cuttyhunk, Shelter Island, or Block Island, I—and I suspect many boaters—never paid it much attention. It really is a gem hiding in plain sight.

So, if you’re looking to escape the world for a little while and slow things down on an island with small town charm to spare, a weekend on Fisher’s Island can be as refreshing as a cone of mint chip ice cream on a hot summer evening.

Just don’t tell the Internet.

Let There Be Light

I watched through envy-filled eyes as boaters who had done hardly an hour’s work were lowered from the travelift to the resting river below.

How!? I mean, gahhhh, another one,” I’d stammer, pointing wildly at the carefree looking family sailing off into summer.

Karen rolled her eyes and went back to varnishing. We had accomplished a fair amount in early spring; the brightwork had been tended to, the mast received six coats of varnish and was really starting to shine again. The hull was waxed and painted and still … there was much left to do. It was time to call in the troops; we asked my parents to come up for the weekend to help blitz through the remaining projects.

On our to-do list was two tasks that had eluded us since we bought the boat four seasons ago: Fixing the wiring and adding running water. Yes, water and electric, a reminder of how involved this restoration project has truly been.

IMG_91200700 on an unseasonably warm Saturday morning would come, they would arrive and it was game on. Now something of an annual tradition, we quickly settled into the tasks at hand. Karen and my mom fell into a rhythm of chatting and working, first painting the hull of the dinghy with an inflatable bottom paint before adding a layer of varnish to the toe rail.

My old man and I opened the slide-open draw that housed the boat’s electrical and exhaled deeply while taking in the sight. To explain the current electrical situation, well, let’s just say I’ve seen tumbleweeds with more order and organization. Thankfully, my dad has an above-average handle on marine electrical and we had a new DC panel in place within a couple hours. We’d go on to swap out some tarnished old cabin lights with some glistening new LED lamps.IMG_4242

With a couple flips of the breaker we had light. It was a little victory but certainly one worth celebrating.

Next up was the water tank. Because of a design flaw and many years of neglect, the water tank beneath the sole of the salon is susceptible to contamination from bilge water. After working through a half dozen possible options, I decided the best solution would be to place a 26-gallon Plastimo water tank under the forward V-berth. The most demanding aspect of this project was acquiring all the fittings, hoses and pumps we’d need; the actual installation was completed within an hour. Besides adding running water to the head and salon sinks, we also ran a hose to the stern of the cockpit where it will serve as an outdoor shower.IMG_9137

We worked hard that day and were proud of what we accomplished. We had a few laughs and spent time unplugged talking about our hopes for the coming summer. Looking back on that weekend, I realize you don’t really need to be on the water to enjoy the positive affects of boating. The season has begun.

Finding Solitude in an Empty Metal Shed

The gravel road rumbles beneath my tires as my headlights illuminate the deserted boatyard. I shift into park, pull one last long swig from my coffee cup and walk into the empty metal shed. Rain begins to dance atop the large roof; the light pinging is a soothing soundtrack.

IMG_8967           The task du jour is varnishing my 35-foot wooden mast, which is stretched out before me. We un-stepped the mast this year to apply six layers of varnish armor to it, ensuring that—after three seasons since it was built—it remains impervious to the elements. It would also give me, and some poor unsuspecting accomplice (read: Karen), the year off from trying to varnish it from a swinging bosuns chair.

I lightly scuff the spruce with 220-grit paper and wipe off the dust with a tack cloth. I then break out a closed-cell roller and a brush to apply Epifanes varnish to two sides of the mast at a time. After work I’d return, flip the mast and varnish the remaining two sides.IMG_8916

As far as boat projects go, this isn’t what you would call a difficult task, in fact it’s rather mindless. That said I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve been enjoying the uninterrupted solitude that this chore provides. My personal and professional schedule as of late has resembled that of a Nascar pit crew, Go-Go-Go.

Allowing my mind to wander and reflect while preparing for the boating season is a welcome win-win.

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A Terrible, Perfect Night

Tired, frustrated, and drenched in sweat, I spun the Karen Marie in a tight circle to retrieve my lost boat hook that was lodged in the chain of a mooring ball and now protruded straight up from the water like a big middle finger. No, my evening was not going according to plan.

My original vision for the night began with a nice easy wash-down of the boat, which in recent weeks had become a bombing strip for cormorant crap. Then Karen and I would enjoy a cold drink or two on our glistening boat, enjoying all that is right in the boating world.

Well, as the old saying goes, when it rains it pours. With a temperature near 90 and not even a zephyr to cool us off, we were sopping with sweat. We’d wash the boat from bow to stern and then notice some stubborn spots we missed. We scrubbed and scrubbed. My suggestion to Karen that she “try using some elbow grease” was met with a look that suggested I was in for a world or more than bird crap.

From there I spilled some content from our porta-potty on my hands while en route to empty it. Simmering at this point now, we returned to grab our mooring, which we’d done a hundred times. This time our pickup stick (a float used for easily retrieving a mooring line) broke off and our mooring line became impossible to grab. “It’s fine, we’ll grab one of the empty moorings then I’ll fix it,” I said. Good plan but then our boat hook got stuck in the before-mentioned chain of the mooring ball, ripping it out of Karen’s hands.

By the time we retrieved our boat hook, fixed our original mooring ball and tied the boat up for the night, my pride hurt more than the sweat in my eyes.

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Annoyed yet determined to salvage some of the night, I stripped down to my boxers and dove into the water. And I have to say, I surfaced feeling like a new man. I swam over and grabbed a hold of the dinghy with one hand and let the four-knot current rush passed me. Looking back towards shore, I watched as the pink and purple remnants from sunset slowly disappeared. Karen even agreed to join me in the raft and sit with her feet in the water.

The harbor was whisper quiet, such that the only sound was the rushing tide that carried away the stress from the day’s many mishaps.

Driving the dingy to shore at 5:15 this morning, my eyes still blurry and adjusting to the first rays of sunlight, Karen said, “I definitely think we should do this more often.” Thinking back to all the work it took just a few moments of peacefulness I responded, “absolutely.”

New York State of Mind

With summer weekends getting snatched up faster than you can say “we’re going boating,” Karen and I were determined to spend the 3-day 4th of July weekend doing some overdue cruising. So at 0700 on Friday we meandered down the Connecticut River to the Sound. We sailed against an incoming tide in very light air for the better part of an hour. Music was cranking, the sun was shinning, and all was right in the world. That is until I looked back and saw, well pretty much the exact same scenery I had been looking at an hour prior.IMG_1922

“OK, we tried,” I shrugged as we fired up the engine and set a more direct course to Long Island’s Gardiners Bay and our intended destination of Shelter Island. A fleet of fishing boats, a ripping tide, and ferries kept us on our toes and justified a few early afternoon beers (as if justification was really needed.)

With all the island’s slips and moorings filled thanks to the nearby Tall Ship Festival in Greenport, we were constrained to a small anchorage in the corner of Coecles Harbor. The clear-blue water looked almost drinkable and made for some serene afternoon swimming. If you’re cruising this area, I highly recommend this anchorage as the holding there is excellent.

But even the best anchoring conditions don’t totally dispel my phobia of dragging anchor, so we didn’t spend too much exploring the island; I hope to return, rent bikes and see what else Shelter has to offer. But for now, I’ll fondly remember the simplicity of swimming, reading a good book and some long dinghy rides.

The following morning, anticipating dreary weather and dreading a long day hiding in the cabin, we set out for Three Mile Harbor, East Hampton. It was a two-hour trek to the harbor but it was definitely worth it. The Harbor was well protected, and lined with lush green forest. It was a beautiful spot even in less-than stellar weather.

The early start to the day coupled with two nights on the boat left Karen and I with different cravings. She really wanted to use a bathroom/shower ashore and I wanted to find breakfast foods. Suffice it to say, the mooring line had barley kissed the cleat before we were in the dinghy bound for shore.

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It must have been early into our walk.

Once there I fired up my cell phone and typed in b-r-e-a-k-f-a-s-t. Nothing. In today’s instant gratification world we were in a fabled dead zone. We opted to set out on foot. “How far could it be until we hit town?” I foolishly wondered aloud. (Editors note: Blinded by a hunger for bacon and coffee, I neglected to think to myself “you know, just maybe they call this place Three Mile Harbor because, I don’t know…it’s three miles long?”)

In our haste we neglected to change out of the clothes we were wearing during the chilly sail over; our outfits were comprised of jeans, multiple shirts and raincoats. Our remaining essentials were stuffed into a red-drawstring bag. In short order the sun broke through the cloud cover providing a hot and humid backdrop for our quest. During our walk I would see something that looked like a diner, which would give us hope. “No, it’s only an old station wagon,” Karen would comment on my many mirages. 4.26 miles later we arrived in town.

Before us in neat little rows were stores emblazoned with names like Michael Kors, J Crew, Lululemon, Lilly Pulitzer etc. Frenzied flocks of hipsters shuffled between stores with multiple bags in hand, stopping only for triple macchiatos from one of the two Starbucks. It’s safe to say that we stuck out like, well, we stuck out like sailors in the Hamptons. We grabbed breakfast at a small deli on the outskirts of town before I relented to visiting some stores with Karen. Considering the 4th is also our anniversary, my wallet trembled with fear.

You can imagine my delight when after visiting two stores Karen suggested we skip the crowds and catch a mid-afternoon movie. “Woooo-hooo! Umm, I mean yeah ok, we can do that. Why don’t you go ahead and pick out some candy too!”

After a couple hours of relaxing and watching Ted 2 we stepped outside to realize the crowds had doubled in size. That cab ride back to the boat we were hoping for would not be in the forecast. We wrapped our blistered toes in Band-Aids and trekked back.

The glass-half-full part of this story is that we had once again earned some evening drinks and dinner at the East Hampton Point Restaurant. The pain from blistered feet seemed to melt away as we enjoyed a nice meal served with a stunning view of the sunset over the harbor (or maybe that was the alcohol, I digress). The meal was great but the weekend left a renewed appetite for cruising to new places. So, from now until October don’t be surprised to hear us say, “we can’t, we’re going boating.”

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See you next winter.

Brighter Days Ahead

Spring commissioning is in full swing aboard the Karen Marie these days. The boom cover is getting stitched up, spare parts are on order and cluttered cabinets are starting to see some semblance of organization. On the list of chores to tackle this year is to refinish the topside brightwork, a project that has been underway since we first bought the boat 2 and a half years ago.

The toe rail—the wood trim around the perimeter of the boat—was first on the list, as was the companionway hatch and handrails. Constantly exposed to the sun and salt water, these sections need varnish for protection from the elements, but they’re also some of the first things people see when coming aboard. I typically don’t mind doing brightwork; the sanding and varnishing are mindless tasks that require only time to do correctly. Pop in your headphones and off you go.

This year Clark Boat Yard packed the boats in like sardines, requiring me to sand the rail while straddling both mine and my neighbor’s boat. I’d like to say I channeled my inner Michelle Kwan and nimbly sanded the toe rail down to bare wood. I’d like to say that after years of practice I applied the varnish with the brush control of the great Michaelangelo. I’d like to tell a lot of lies, but since my grandma reads this blog, I’ll confess: I haven’t been able to touch my toes since 2010, and as far as being nimble; I might as well have been wearing cinder blocks for shoes. And brush work like Michaelangelo, I was more like Picasso.

I’d be reaching down with my left hand to wipe up spilled varnish from the hull while my right hand was spilling more into the cockpit. It was a mess. It really is no wonder why sailors get such a bad rap for their foul language. Part of the reason for this mess was trying to finish too much in one day. Rush and cut corners when it comes to woodwork and the results will show clear as day.

Karen and I would go down to the boat again on Sunday to finish the job. With the extra help, I’m happy to report things went much smoother. After I would sand a section down, Karen would follow up with a rag and paint thinner, cleaning up the dust. While I varnished the outside of the toe rail she tackled the inside. Funny thing, I didn’t hear her curse once. With a tag-team effort we finished up at a respectable 2:00, with enough time to get back to Connecticut and enjoy some of the day.

The good news after all this is that I learned to not be a hero and recruit an extra pair of hands when possible. The bad news? Karen has a whole lot of varnishing in her future.

Back to Boating

An orbital sander whirled, a pile of shrink wrap sat neatly beside the dumpster, and extension cords crisscrossed the yard. After a painfully long winter, these are welcome signs of spring, and the telltale signs that another boating season is bearing down upon us.

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Bring on the boating season.

Unlike the previous two winters, because of my move to Connecticut, I wasn’t able to check in on the boat as often as I would have liked, so you could say I was anxious to get back to Jamestown and reevaluate my spring work list. At first glance, everything appeared to be where it should be; the mast was vertical and the boom was horizontal.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I slid down into the companionway, where legion of bacteria lie waiting. Armed with lemon-scented Pledge and lemon-scented Clorox wipes, I attacked my fuzzy enemy for what felt like hours.

The next tasks I took to are what most would consider low-hanging fruit: waxing the hull and painting the bottom. As boring as they are essential, these tasks bring with them a sense of nostalgia.

I’ve been waxing my parent’s boat since…well, before child-labor laws say I should have been, and bottom painting was my first job in high school. I worked for $9 an hour and silent pizza lunches with immigrants that didn’t speak a word of English. I’ve come a long way since then I thought to myself, right before spilling Petit Neptune 5 all over my Sperrys. And yet, so far yet to go.

Karen would come down from Boston to join the spring commissioning effort. Together we sanded, varnished, painted, ran the engine (which went much smoother than last year) and cleaned some more. By the time the weekend came to an end, the ol’ Karen Marie was cleaned up nicely.

We left the boat feeling hungry, tired, dirty and forever detesting the smell of lemons. We were also content. We came a long way in just a couple days but, as my once-favorite shoes aptly reminded me, there is still a lot left to do.