Boating in Sag Harbor, New York
Pennywise and Pound-Foolish?
To think that Joshua Penny's mother feared he'd never go anywhere in life. Like many other Long Island boys of the late 18th century, young Joshua went to sea and in Liverpool signed up to work on a slave ship. In Jamaica he was captured by the press gang of a British frigate and forced into service in the Royal Navy. But in Cape Town, South Africa, he managed to escape, and he lived for a year among the Hottentots. After he was caught and returned to the fleet, he received a serious flogging.
On the fourth of June the sailors were allowed to get drunk to celebrate the king's birthday, so when the fourth of July arrived, Penny asked the captain for the same privilege. "I want the liberty," he courageously said, "to rejoice on my nation's birthday." Amused, the captain ordered that two gallons of wine and one of brandy be given to the 30 members of the Yankee mess in the forecastle. They all sang, "Hail Columbia, Happy Land."
Once more Penny escaped and after an absence of 15 years he returned to Orient Point. During the War of 1812 he was the lighthouse keeper at Cedar Island in Northwest Harbor. Eager to get even with the British, he sailed about in a fast sloop trying to blow up Commodore Hardy's flagship with a floating mine, a la David Bushnell. Hardy demanded that a sharp lookout be kept for "these damned Yankee barnacles," and offered a reward of $1,000 for Penny's capture. Penny was eventually captured, and he later wrote, "Someone in Sag Harbor sold a Penny for a thousand dollars." Penny was taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he languished for nine months in a dungeon. He was finally sent home in exchange for a pair of British officers who'd been captured on Gardiners Island.
Things to See and Do
Main Street in Sag Harbor reveals the town's past through Colonial brick buildings that disappear into twisting trees hovering over benches, and tiny, timeworn whalers' homes adorn the side streets. At night, the street brightens with cast-iron gas lamps. There is a persistent sense of elegance and worldliness in the nooks and crannies of Sag Harbor.
Start at the information booth in the photogenic mock windmill just off Long Wharf and get a walker's map of the town, courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce (631-725-0011). The tourist center can also provide you with a list of the historic houses in town that are open to the public.
Whaling's influence on the town has left a few memorable impressions, among them the seasonal Whaling Museum at the Benjamin Hunting House (631-725-0770). After making your entrance through the massive jawbones of a whale that arch over the main door, you will find a collection of flensing knives, blubber spades, harpoons, and "try-works," the huge vats used to boil whale blubber. We whale-lovers hate to think of so many great mammals having met such a violent end, but there's no changing history and that history is fascinating.
The Bay Street Theatre's (631-725-9500) summer season runs Memorial Day through Labor Day; weekend performances are held in the off-season. Rainy day? Head to the Sag Harbor Cinema (631-725-0010), which is noted for its classic movies (not to mention its classic look) and second-runs. If you want to venture away from the harbor area, rent a two-wheeler at Bike Hampton (631-725-7329). Allow extra time if you are traveling by taxi to Noyack Bay or other areas surrounding Sag Harbor. In summer, the cabs are long in demand and short in supply.
Take the kids to Havens Beach, just east of the breakwater. The beachfront park has restrooms, a lifeguard, swing set, and slide. Bay Point Beach Park on Noyack Bay has lots of running room for youngsters and joggers, and is open until 9 p.m. The Morton Wildlife Refuge (631-286-0485) on Jessup Neck is manned full-time by a naturalist from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The Neck has a varied wooded terrain with many kinds of flora and, of course, good beach walking. It's a prime spot for watching warbler migration in the spring when the woods are also beautiful with daffodils.
Restaurants and Provisions
Lovely Sag Harbor may charm you so much that you forget you're hungry. But when those stomach grumbles fall upon deaf ears, the town's fine array of eateries will soon remind you.
Right at the village pier, be sure to try the Southern-influenced wonders of B. Smith's (631-725-5858), named for the culinary queen who owns it. Barbara Smith also hosts a television cooking show, using her Sag Harbor home as the set. Her seafood-heavy menu is enough to make Neptune drool; don't miss the Sunday brunch.
Sen (631-725-1774) will satisfy your yen for Japanese food; start out with a sushi roll, move on to an exquisite entree, and wrap up the experience with a scoop of green tea ice cream. At the American Hotel (631-725-3535), you can dress up and dine (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) in a perfectly classic setting, often accompanied by piano music. Menu offerings include caviar, escargots, Long Island duckling, rack of lamb, and various unparalleled desserts. Il Capuccino Ristorante (631-725-2747) is your best bet for Northern Italian cuisine and a robust Chianti; it's only open for dinner.
The Dockside Bar & Grill (631-725-7100), across from the docks at the American Legion Post, is relaxing, friendly and affordable. At the head of Main Street, the Corner Bar and Restaurant (631-725-9760) is a local watering hole offering moderately-priced lunch and dinner in a good ol' saloon atmosphere. At Jeff & Eddy's (631-725-0055) you can sit down for a meal or buy some fresh seafood to prepare in your galley; they also offer a self-service soup bar. Around the corner, opposite the municipal dock, try Bagel Buoy (631-725-8103).
On Main Street, perpendicular to the waterfront, you'll find antique shops, boutiques, and art galleries. Conveniences such as a liquor and grocery store, laundromat, pharmacy, bookstore, hardware store, banks, and ATMs lie before your eyes. The name says it all at Provisions Natural Food Market & Organic Cafe (631-725-3636), where you can get earth-friendly groceries, toiletries, sandwiches, burritos, soups, and smoothies. Its convenient location on the corner of Bay Street and Division makes waterborne visitors extra happy.
Provisioning in Mill Creek is limited. The Mill Creek Marina (631-725-1351) has seafood for sale, but you'll have to walk a half-mile south to the corner of Harry's Lane and Noyack Road to find a deli. For nautical provisions, try Sag Harbor Yacht Yard's ship's store. Also, Henry Persan & Sons (631-725-1900) helps with all your hardware needs.
Navigation and Anchorages
Use ChartKit Region 3, pages 8 and 38; Maptech Waterproof Chartbook Long Island Sound; Maptech Waterproof Charts #1 and 6; and Maptech electronic and NOAA paper charts 12358 (1:40,000) and 12354 (1:80,000). Use tide tables for New London. High tide at Sag Harbor is 1 hour later; low tide is 48 minutes later. Use height of tide at New London for height of tide at Sag Harbor. Mean tidal range is 2.5 feet.
High tide at Noyack Bay is 2 hours 6 minutes later; low tide is 1 hour 44 minutes later. Multiply height of tide at New London by 0.9 for height of tide at Noyack Bay. Mean tidal range is 2.3 feet.
Sag Harbor is 4.2nm south-southeast of West Neck Harbor on Shelter Island, and 2.5nm southwest of the light at Cedar Point, where a picturesque abandoned lighthouse guards the approach.
When a northeast wind blows across Gardiners Bay, very rough seas can build up around Cedar Point as the waves converge on the shallower and more constricted passage.
If you're headed past Sag Harbor toward Smith Cove or West Neck Harbor on Shelter Island, you can stay to the north of the charted sand spit. Keep at least 350 yards off Mashomack Point. Leave R N "8" and W Or C "S" well to the south and head directly for Fl G 4s G "15"off Tyndal Point on North Haven. Three ferries run back and forth across the channel between the North Haven Peninsula and South Ferry Hills on Shelter Island, and they don't give way for recreational boaters.
CAUTION: Pay careful attention to your charts and course when entering Sag Harbor. The harbormaster tells us that many inattentive boaters end up on the rocks.
From the east, round south of R N "8" and the Sand Spit Light (Fl R 4s 10ft 4M "10A"), both south of Mashomack Point on Shelter Island, in order to avoid the sand spit, rocks, and shoals that they mark. There is very shallow water south of G C "9" and G C "9A," so honor the markers and keep your boat in the channel.
From the north and west, keep Fl G 4s G "15" off the northeast tip of North Haven Peninsula to the south and west when rounding Tyndal Point, and then keep west of R N "14" and R N "12" as you head southeast.
None of these passages should be attempted in the dark, and even in daytime you must steer carefully between the markers. Whichever way you are approaching Sag Harbor, look for Fl G 4s G "11," 0.4nm northeast of the Sag Harbor breakwater, and GR C "SH," the mid-channel marker 200 yards to the west. Between these buoys lies the only safe approach to the harbor. Trying to save time by cutting buoys, especially if you're coming from the east, is not useful because you'll lose even more time waiting for your hull or prop repairs at a local boatyard.
Keep west of the rocks as you make your way to the breakwater. Fl G 2.5s 12ft 4M "3SH," on the northwest end of the long breakwater, marks the harbor entrance.
It's tight and busy inside Sag Harbor, so it's a good idea to know ahead of time where you are going. Call the marinas first (or the harbormaster) for assistance. In addition, an ordinance requires sailboats with engines to be under power within harbor limits.
When coming into the harbor, do not round the breakwater too closely-keep 10 to 15 feet away-as the water is only about 6 feet deep near its end, though the main channel has 8 to 10 feet of water. Dead ahead you'll see Long Wharf, between you and the windmill.
Part of the town marina stretches east from Long Wharf. Transient slips are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The harbormaster can be reached on VHF 9 to find out if space is available. (Since there are no finger piers, and the ladders from the water up to the main pier are built into the bulkhead, be sure to back into the berth.) The Sag Harbor Yacht Club offers transient slips, not to mention fuel.
No anchoring is allowed inside the harbor. Anchoring outside of the breakwater, to the south and east of the harbor entrance, is recommended in the high season. For a small fee, you can use the marina facilities (showers/laundry) even if you anchor out. Be aware of the charted rock less than 1500 feet southeast of the entrance, just off the breakwater. The gap in the breakwater is wide and deep enough for dinghies to sneak through.
The town of Southampton, of which Sag Harbor is a part, offers free pump-out. Just call them on VHF 73, and they'll come to you. As you might expect in the Hamptons, it's a spotless operation.
Sag Harbor Yacht Yard does not offer transient berths, but they perform all aspects of yacht maintenance, specializing in restoration and conversion. Their location ahead of the 21-foot-high fixed bridge is convenient for sailboats and tall, tuna-towered sportfishers.
Sag Harbor Cove, to the west of Long Wharf, is fine for power boats that can go under the fixed bridge. Follow the privately maintained buoys to the marinas inside. There's another section of the town marina here, 300 yards inside of the bridge.
Just past the bridge, the Town of Southampton allows free anchoring for the first 72 hours, after which you'll be charged $25 for each additional 72 hours. The speed limit inside the cove is 5 mph. Most of the property surrounding the cove is private, and the only place you can land is on the eastern shore of Long Beach.
Ship Ashore Marina offers haul-out in the cove, but sailboats will have to be met outside the fixed bridge, where they will have their masts stepped. A barge used for this procedure also provides towing into the cove.
Noyack Bay, on the western side of North Haven Peninsula, provides unobstructed deep water as long as you stay a half mile from shore. The northwest corner of Noyack Bay is marked with Fl G 4s G "17" off Jessup Neck.
Noyack Bay provides no protection in a northerly wind, but there is plenty of room to escape from a southerly. With only a few rocks and a slightly muddy bottom, the anchorage is highly recommended by readers. If you've been dying to take a dip, here's your chance; the water quality is very good.
Mill Creek, at the southern end of Noyack Bay, is a cozy anchorage with several marine facilities. The approach is a straight shot south from Shelter Island Sound. Don't cut too close to Gleason Point if you're coming from the east, or too close to Jessup Neck from the west.
Mill Creek is entered by a 6-foot-deep channel marked by private (but charted), seasonal lights and buoys. Inside is a town dock and ramp, on the east side directly opposite Fl G "5." Transients may tie up for 2 hours, but a permit is needed to use the ramp. Call the Southampton Town Hall (631-283-6000) for permit information.
The shell fishing is good in Noyack Creek at the base of the point, but no facilities will be found. Shell fishing permits are available at the Southampton Town Hall. Anchoring in Noyack Creek is for residents only, with a town permit.
Shoreside and Emergency Services
East Hampton (631-537-1130)
Suffolk County Transit (631-852-5200)
Montauk (631-668-2773) or VHF 16
to North Haven Peninsula (631-749-1200)
Police, Fire, Ambulance:
Ocean Limousine & Taxi (631-324-0077)
Midway Limo & Taxi (631-537-1800)
Sea Tow 800-4SEATOW
Long Island Railroad (631-231-5477)