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.
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.
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.
Boating is, in many ways, a suitable metaphor for life. In both, there are times when the sun’s shinning and you’re cruising in calm conditions that you think’ll never end. Then there are times when—out of nowhere—the wind picks up and you’re braced, white-knuckled at the helm, fighting mightily in vain to get your bearings. In the end you hope the good days out number the bad, or at least break even. And along the way you’ll come across characters of all types and sorts. If you’re blessed, like I’ve been, the people that mean the most, your family, will stay aboard with you for as long as they can. Friends and colleagues, well, they’ll come and go.
You’ll spend some time in stunning destinations, making connections that’ll shape you in ways you never expected, and you’ll also find yourself in spots so miserable you’ll find yourself praying for the tide to change so you can leave it in your wake.
There will be times where the boat purrs like a kitten and the brightwork glistens into the eye of all those who pass it. Beautiful! Some will proclaim at the sight of her. There is always a lot of praise when you’re up on top. Then there are times where things are breaking left and right; leaks spring up from everywhere, the floorboards get rotted. You pull up the carpet and put away the fluffy pillows. Tools and drops of sweat are scatted everywhere. Frustration is high, and there’s not a soul around to help.
But you stay focused, work hard, and with a little luck smooth sailing finds you once again.
In life, as in boating, it’s important to find a partner, a first-mate of sorts that will stand by you not just in the good times, but in the bad. After all, what’s the point of embarking on an epic adventure if you have no one there to share it with?
Over the last four years, Karen has proven to be such a partner. From convincing me to buy the boat, to spending hundreds of hours sanding, packing, painting, priming and pumping out endless moral support, without her, none of this sailing adventure would be possible. I’m excited to announce that last weekend, on a picturesque afternoon in Hamburg Cove, Karen agreed to marry me and stay on this adventure for the long haul.
I feel like the luckiest guy alive and I’m extremely grateful to be on this adventure with her.
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.
0700 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.
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.
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.
0515: We raise the anchor and pull out of Point Judith’s Harbor of Refuge and into the Sound. The promise of 30 knots of wind in the afternoon inspired us to start early and get through the Cape Cod Canal as quickly as possible. Once through the canal, the strong wind and waves would be on our stern. That was the plan.
Two- to 3-foot chop on the beam was a rude wakeup call. The weather wasn’t the only thing not cooperating with us; we had electronic difficulty as well. For some reason—unknown at the moment—our Raymarine electronic compass failed, causing us to lose heading info. The result of this was that our chart plotters showed the boat facing south while we were running east. The good news is that Gizmo has multiple redundancies of every system and our Simrad plotter (running off a separate electronic compass) was picking up our heading just fine. There is a lesson here: Even on a floating laboratory like Gizmo, things happen and backups need to be ready to be called into the game.
Like the eye of a storm, the Cape Cod Canal was a calm and peaceful middle of our day. Navigating from the flying bridge, I sat with the warm sun on my face as bridges, fishermen, and other boats passed by. Intent on making lunch, Ben stepped away from the bridge and suggested that I plot the next leg of our course from the canal mouth to Scituate, Massachusetts.
“I didn’t plot that part yet, but it’s super simple,” said Ellison.
“Plot the course, OK, got it,” I responded, as the fleet of MFDs stared up at me. I started with the Furuno at the far left, quickly grew discouraged and moved on to the Raymarine display. I got closer that time but couldn’t immediately locate Scituate. This game continued until I got to the Garmin MFD to the far right. Garmin was what I use on my boat.
“Come on ol’ buddy, don’t let me down now,” I whispered, hoping that it would help. It didn’t. This brings me to lesson number two of the day: The best marine electronics money can buy are only as helpful as your working knowledge of each unit. After a few minutes I did get the Garmin course set and shortly after, sucessfully set a course on the Furuno display. I plan on practicing with the other MFDs on the helm tomorrow when conditions are better.
After leaving the canal, we were met by steep following seas and wind gusts to 34 knots that had us surfing and swerving our way up the Massachusetts coast. After a few hours of rocking and rolling Ben made the (smart) decision to grab a mooring at the Plymouth Yacht Club in Plymouth, Massachusetts, for the night. The timing was right; after we got settled in the protected harbor we witnessed wind gusts north of 40 knots.
A short walk from the marina took us past the fabled Plymouth Rock (the alleged location where the pilgrims first landed in the America). Tourist-filled buses filed out to see the overhyped stone. We quickly made our way passed the selfie-snapping tourists in search of dinner and a cold drink.
We found both at a waterfront eatery called Cabby Shack. Plymouth is a nice town to walk around and explore, which is good, because strong winds will likely keep us here for another day.
It’s known as the Sailing Capital of the World, America’s First Resort and the City by the Sea; for the last two years I have simply called it: home. Since moving here from Long Island to begin my journey with Yachting magazine, I have walked the cobblestone streets with flocks of tourists, slurped clam chowder at its many seafood spots and frequented the many salty pubs. I thought I knew Newport pretty well but the one thing I haven’t done, at least until the other weekend, was visit by boat.
Just a ten minute trip from Jamestown, we cruised past Fort Adams, a garrison originally built in 1799 and revamped in 1841, and were met by perhaps the most eclectic fleet of yachts found in the United States. Schooners under a full wardrobe of sails silently swept by monstrous megayachts, and families in rubber dinghies dodged rust-laden fishing vessels. Simply put, it was a boat nut’s dream.
The Karen Marie anchored in one of the more quiet (a relative term) corners of the harbor, in the shadow of the New York Yacht Club’s summer location, Harbour Court. Long hours of yacht watching ensued, as did multiple dinghy rides around the harbor, which yielded some of the amazing sights I hope you enjoy below.