This is a trip I had been planning for a few months and finally got around to launching on Sep. 11, 2011. It was a chance to test my new Grabner Discovery 2 inflatable kayak (Peschke Design) on an extended tour. It was also the first time I’d be using a lot of freeze dried foods for cooking camp dinners.
Day 1 – Sep. 11, 2011
I finally got everything sorted out for launch from the Sebago club dock in Canarsie some time in the dreary mid morning. Conditions on Jamaica Bay were a little rough but once I got into the channel leading to Breezy Point it was smooth sailing with the the current until I got around the point where the conditions got rougher the further east I went. I had hoped to make it to Fort Tilden but it got so difficult to progress into the wind that I was forced to land on the private beach just past Breezy Point park. The landing was a bit rough with a lot of water into the cockpit but the boat stayed upright the whole time.
The passers by I met were friendly. The birds were very aggressive. There are framed walkways through the dunes there to protect people walking to and from the beach from the little beasts. After dark they got very rambunctious chasing each other and fighting all night long, often just a few feet away from me! They seemed to avoid hitting me directly but they didn’t leave much of a buffer. They were really intent just on harassing each other. I tried to create a no fly zone above where I slept by standing the paddle up and hanging my trunks on it. They’d fly up and down they beach, their squawks fading into the distance but then they’d come back every 15 or 20 minutes to fight near where I was again. Eventually I got some sleep…
Day 2 – Sep. 12
The weather was much nicer this day with somewhat less surf which was much more predictable so I would be able to easily time the wave sets and launch between them. Finally security did get around to telling me to get out of there and we came to some kind of agreement depending on the fact that I was already on my way out. The wind had changed from east to west so I could ride the waves all the way to Rockaway inlet. When I got there the tide seemed pretty slack and there was no problem getting into the inlet. I chose one of the sandbars on the channel opposite Long Beach for a camp site.
Day 3 – Sep. 13
I decided to explore the marshes a little bit and went back to Crooked Creek and headed north east. Eventually I ran into a very industrial area and had to head directly south back to the main channel. On the way to Point Lookout I passed more marshes with cute little marsh homes. I landed right on the point itself near the ball field and headed to the home of some relatives that live in the village for a nice meal and comfortable bed!
Day 4 – Sep 14
I continued east underneath both the Jones beach bridges. Then I headed through the marshes just north of the main channel. At one point I thought I might be lost in one of the twisting natural channels. Finally I made it to the two solid ground islands I had spotted in Google satellite. One of them had a relatively wide beach where people sometimes camp as I was told by a local Long Islander who was there with his power boat and 2 small dogs that he kept berating. The other island was more mysterious with it’s interior all hidden by steep and heavily overgrown banks. The guy told me that helicopters sometimes land there. Later that evening I observed a small helicopter make several circles of the area, landing briefly on the island each time then taking off to do it all over again and again. Weird!
Day 5 – Sep 15
I crossed the wide inlet between Jones Beach Island and Fire Island. The skies turned cloudy and then a fierce north wind blew up but by then I’d already crossed the open water. I found a sheltered spot for lunch sitting on a drift board beneath some reeds with my feet in the water. After I headed out again the wind died out and the water got very calm for a while but after an hour or so the north wind started up again and eventually got much worse than it had been earlier. I had to fight my way across the wind to the Watch Hill campground and got to try my new bilge pump after some waves washed into the cockpit. I got blown into the entrance to the marina with no hope of fighting my way back out against that wind. There was no place to take the kayak out of the water there so I was forced to moor the boat in the marina. That part actually worked out well.
In the campground the wind was blowing really hard all night long and it took me a long time to figure out the best way to pitch my tarp on the ground to keep it from flapping excessively. In the end I think I was much better off than my neighbors using actual tents.
Day 6 – Sep 16
This was a wash and bathing day at the Watch Hill campground facilities. The weather was much milder and I was able to paddle the kayak out of the marina and onto the beach just outside where I could dump the little excess water out of it and load it more easily the next morning. I then hung out on the ocean side beach, checked out the nature trails and had a burger at the marina restaurant where there was a kind of weird bar scene with a gang of Long Island power boaters.
Day 7 – Sep 17
I started out paddling into a strong east wind. I found that by staying as close to the shore as possible I was able to avoid the main brunt of the wind most of the time. At one point I passed a small deer that was walking along the edge of the water. I didn’t get as far as I had wanted to but I found an old derelict dock on a little beach at a very narrow part of the island where I could walk over to the ocean side. I hung out there reading while multiple SUVs and pickup trucks drove up and down the beach, many of them with large fishing poles mounted on them. I noticed a small structure nearby and a couple parked there with their SUV. After a while they left driving past me and the woman hung out of the window and told me I should go over and check out the memorial to her late husband! I did as she had bid me and took some photos of the “Surf Shack” memorial.
Day 8 – Sep 18
The east wind was much stronger this day and the direction had changed a bit making forward progress almost impossible. Using Google satellite I found a man made channel through the marsh to avoid some of the wind. I didn’t get past Fire Island and camped in the “trucker beach” area again.
Day 9 – Sep 19
The east wind was much weaker today so I was able to continue much further. In the afternoon I stopped at West Hampton Beach for supplies. The whole village downtown area and strip mall are a short walk from the free mooring at the end of the inlet there which was very convenient! I camped in Shinnecok bay at a spot I found with Google satellite: an old dock and broken concrete slab with strange band graffiti painted with a brush all at one time it seemed. When I landed there I met a local in his pickup who then drove off and nobody else came down that road until the morning when I was already packing up.
Day 10 – Sep 20
West wind going my way! I continued east under the causeway and seas got a bit heavy there. I then turned north towards the channel to Peconic Bay. I entered the channel with caution and encountered little or no current and soon reached the lock where the traffic light was green and many signs beckoned me to continually more forward which I did until I neared a closed flood gate which I didn’t want to get too close too. Soon I heard the noise of machinery behind me and looked back to see a set of doors starting to close behind me just like the ones closed in front of me. Once they had closed I heard other noises and started to get a “sinking feeling” as the water level was lowered. Finally the doors in front of me began opening and after a moment I looked up over my right shoulder to the control both where a door was open but nobody could be seen behind the glass due to the the angle of view. I shouted “Thank You” , heard back “You’re Welcome!” and then continued my journey. From there on everything was much different, I had entered a different world…
Across the Greater Peconic Bay I could see Robin’s Island, a private island, but was it posted? I had a Clif bar and decided to go see. If it was off limits then I could easily cross to the south and stop along the south side of the Little Peconic Bay. I passed some huge mansions and a large Dutch wind mill on the south shore. The wind was getting stronger and seas were getting higher then suddenly the long screw that holds my rudder pin broke and now I had this hunk of of metal dangling behind the boat in the water attached by the rudder control cables. I decided it wasn’t too rough to hop out onto the deck behind the cockpit where I pulled the rudder closer with the cables and grabbed it with my left hand behind my back. Then with my right hand I was able to lodge the rudder into the cart attached to the stern of the boat so it would be out of the water. After I got back into my seat the seas started getting even rougher and I had to control the boat with the paddle. Using the paddle as a rudder was easy but tended to slow the boat a lot. Using hard strokes on the opposite side took much more energy but was I successful at times in maintaining a good forward momentum that way. It felt like the the boat frame was flexing with the waves so it couldn’t ride them as much as I would have liked. A fishing boat came to my aide but I wasn’t in need of any and by then I was getting pretty close to the south end of the mysterious island. I told them I was fine and thanked them for checking on me. I had checked my bilge pump and it was operational but I didn’t end up needing it and soon enough reached the shore and crossed to the other side of the island away from the waves. There I observed many well maintained POSTED signs as well as an off limits bird nesting area. I stopped at the edge of the beach and made repairs to my rudder with the spare parts I had brought. Not wanting to trespass for too long I made my way south across heavy seas through a zone where the waves from the greater bay were transformed into short steep swells just west of the shallows extending south from the island.
On the other side I landed on a public beach with vehicle access that was bounded by more private posted land. Continuing east along the shore I found an inlet to a small bay bounded by marshes and forests where there was an overwhelming fragrance of cedar wood! The west side of the inlet was a continuation of the public beach with a very tall and steep embankment. On the left side of the embankment there was a lower shelf, about 10 feet above beach level, where I was able to pitch my tarp over the sand and out of the way.
The evening was very quiet, I don’t think I saw a single power boat on the water. It was actually kind of eerie there. Earlier I noticed that all the beaches in this area had a lot of polished stones and pebbles plus many pretty little translucent yellow and orange shells. It definitely looked and felt like a different world there between the forks…
Day 11 – Sep 21
The next morning a middle aged French couple were walking straight up the tallest part of the steep embankment and then walking back down diagonally across it with their arms stretched out straight to each side. Obviously they were exercising but it looked like some strange ritual and probably contributed to the erosion of the slope.
I Crossed the Little Peconic Bay to a peninsula that is a wildlife preserve where signs on the beach instruct you not to go past them. There I had lunch. After that I crossed the next bay to another peninsula which contained a very picturesque residential area with very large houses and tall trees coming down to near the water’s edge. I passed a small beach with a picnic table and stopped to enjoy the shade of the huge oak tree growing next to it. After that I continued past the Shelter Island ferry that runs continuously across the narrow channel there. I started to cross the channel but I soon realized that the current was very strong in the wrong direction and that I would have to work very hard to get around the next 2 points which looked to be all off-limits wildlife preserve. I relented and went back to the little beach and started to unload not sure what the status of this property was though it seemed to be fairly public, there were 2 public park type heavy duty barbecue grills installed and a little bit of graffiti written and carved onto the table . A young woman with 2 small children came out of the woods and said “hi” then continued to the right around the point and out of sight. Then a middle aged man with 2 black labs came out, noticed my boat, had a few questions and comments and was generally impressed. He reminded me of some actor or newscaster or an actor that has played newscasters. Both he and the woman left by the same way they had come. Later I checked out the trail through the forest and found a very nice kayak rack with some beat up plastic kayaks and a trail about 100m long that led to a traffic circle with a house or 2 on it. The entrance to the trail had waist high stone wall corners, upon one of which were metal letters spelling out “BEACH TRAIL” with a feather stuck in the A of beach. I figured I must be inside a gated community, you don’t usually find public places that nice in the real world! I setup my hammock between 2 trees just behind the kayak rack so I would be out of the way if any early morning strollers happened by.
Day 12 – Sep 22
In the morning the tide was going out and the current carried me out past one point that was quite lovely and wooded. I then turned to go past the next point with an old lighthouse. This land was not posted anything (for future reference ;)). The fog was getting heavier so I stopped to install my compass on the deck and prepared to cross the bay on the right/south side. I could not see Gardiner’s Island due to the fog but I knew it was there off in the distance. As I neared the next point, the one nearest to Gardiner’s Island, the fog had receded and soon the island didn’t look very far away at all so I decided to cross and see how private this one would be. It took less than an hour and it turned out to be very private with a lot of “Private Land” signs spaced closely together. I stopped for lunch and then crossed to the south end of the island to the sand bar there. There were a lot of signs there also. I finally found a spot to cross the sandbar through a shallow gap against a very strong current. The next sandbar was posted as well and smelled like the many birds who make their home there so I decided to cross the wind and head to the nearest beach to the southeast on the Long Island “south fork”. GPS and compass were helpful here as it was hard to see the low lying beach in the distance over the waves though I could see vegetation and embankments up beyond it. The seas got pretty rough and I tried to hurry before it got any worse. Finally I arrived at a nice public beach not too far from Montauk where I could sleep for the night.
Day 13 – Sep 23
I got up late after having to deal with tarp pitching and bug netting in the middle of the night. I tried to find a place between that spot and Montauk where I could setup my hammock. On the way I saw 3 loons in the water. I found a road where vehicles reach the beach through a forest which was very wet and full of mosquitoes and undergrowth between sinisterly twisted little oak trees growing out of some very uneven ground: not a great place to hang a hammock. I kept going all the way to the bay near Montauk and entered it to find an open area on the right where there were tents, port a potties and a big teepee! I decided to investigate and found a floating dock on the side of long peer leading to a large lawn with trees and a hill beyond. There I was told they were setting up for a weekend boy scout jamboree or whatever they call those things. With that I left the bay and went back out to the west to camp on the sand near the embankments just north of the Hither Woods.
Day 14 – Sep 24
I headed back to the bay and found the beach closest to the railway station. There was a lobster joint with a nice little lawn beyond their garages where I could disassemble and pack the boat. Some of the aluminum tubes would not separate and had to be left protruding from the boat package. I hoped for the best at the train platform. I found the handicapped compartment where large items can be loaded and the conductor didn’t seem to mind it. I had to change trains at Jamaica, Queens but the next train arrived on the same platform so that was easy enough. At East New York I tried to walk everything home but it was rough going and after 2 blocks I found a smart young car service driver who figured out how to the get the awkward package into his back seat and drove me the few remaining blocks to the edge of Bushwick for $7.
So then boat worked well enough, I’ll post a full review of it soon. The dried food was pretty good. I think dehydrating and freeze drying produce better results with more flavor than freezing or canning but of course fresh is always the best! Long Island is kind of a suburban wilderness where there are many marinas you can stop at but few places where you can buy real fresh food near the water with the noted exception of West Hampton Beach. After 2 weeks though I was getting kind of tired of that dried stuff. The simpler recipes with fewer ingredients seemed to work better than the other times when I threw too many different kinds of veggies into the soup. I may or may not get around to posting some recipes here some day after I’ve had a chance to experiment some more.