Boating in Port Jefferson, New York
No Circus Here
Like its neighbor to the east, Port Jefferson traded in a less-melodic moniker for its present one. Drowned Meadow just didn't roll off the tongue, never mind conjure up images of a successful commercial harbor. So Democrats took it upon themselves in 1835 to change the name to honor the third president.
At that time Port Jeff was already building a strong maritime heritage. The sails for America, the yacht that changed the name of the Louis Vuitton Cup to the "America's Cup," were made here by R.H. Wilson and Sons in 1856. In the mid-1800s, P.T. Barnum helped found a ferry service between Port Jeff and his circus' base of operations 14 miles across the Sound in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Many of the ferries, including the original M/V Park City (1898), were built in Port Jeff. Barnum built a house in town and wanted to expand his property into a place to keep his circus animals for the winter. Alas, the municipality nixed his plan and there was not to be an ark full of elephants disembarking at the wharf.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Port Jeff became more and more industrial and less and less appealing. Today, the massive power plant on the southwest side of the harbor is one of the few reminders of this period. A successful revitalization effort in the 1980s revived the charm of this old fishing village. Interesting shops, excellent restaurants, a first-class hotel and conference center, and easy access to the harbor make Port Jeff a great stopover.
Nearby Setauket, settled in 1655 by a small group of emigres from Connecticut, distinguished itself in the field of espionage. After the execution of Nathan Hale during the American Revolution, the need for better intelligence and surveillance of the British became apparent. Setauket Patriots set up a spy ring right under the noses of a group of local Tories, and longboats made midnight excursions up and down the Sound to check on British troop movements. Messages were signaled to other Patriots by a local woman who strung a certain number and combination of red or black petticoats and white handkerchiefs on a clothesline.
Befitting its location in a secluded cranny of Port Jefferson Harbor, Setauket is a snug, charming little town. Laundry still hangs drying in some backyards on warm, sunny days, signaling not a blessed thing.
Things to See and Do With so many waterfront businesses and the comings and goings of huge ferries at the dock, Port Jeff presents a busy facade. But walk a few blocks inland, and you'll see it's also a quiet and beautiful residential village. Still, Port Jefferson's layout indicates that this place was made with the transient boater in mind. Restaurants, markets, inviting shops and boutiques, art galleries, and antique stores are all within easy walking distance of the docks.
Call the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce (631-473-1414) for a rundown of the latest happenings. Every Memorial Day weekend a street fair brings everyone together to celebrate the coming of summer, with more festivities to follow for July Fourth. Those warm weeks also mean free concerts put on by the recreation department (631-473-4778) every Thursday evening. The chamber, located on West Broadway next to the ferry slips, gives out a free map and brochures for a walking tour.
For a walking tour of old ship captains' houses and the Barnum house, pick up a map at the Historical Society of Greater Port Jefferson (631-473-2665) located at the Mather House, or at the Chamber of Commerce. At the Society's museum on Prospect Street, a few blocks from the harbor, there's a charming collection of paintings by William M. Davis, a 19th-century genre painter from Port Jefferson.
Drama fans, don't miss a performance at Theater Three (631-928-9100), one of Long Island's better-known repertory theaters. This year-round playhouse, founded in 1969, is right on Main Street, and it features a variety of musicals and plays, including educational dramas for children.
P.T. Barnum doesn't have his circus in Bridgeport any longer, but his ferry from Port Jeff to Bridgeport still runs. The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company (631-473-0286) crosses the Sound on a regular basis throughout the year. Best of all, they offer day trips via a ferry/motor coach combo package: you take the ferry from Port Jeff to Bridgeport, then a motor coach takes you to any of a number of New England attractions, including Connecticut casinos, Boston, and the Newport Mansions.
Contact the ferry office's New England Tour Department (631-473-5138) for details, or visit their website (www.bpjferry.com/).
For another way to relax on the Sound, take a cruise on the Martha Jefferson (631-331-3333), a Mississippi River paddleboat. For great eats and photo ops try a lunch, brunch, or dinner outing, or take a sightseeing tour to learn a bit more about the Port Jefferson area.
Restaurants and Provisions
When you make landfall, several restaurants will be staring right at you. Choose from among them, or stretch your sea legs with a walk up the hill, where many other choices await.
Sunday brunch reigns supreme at 25 East American Bistro, which sits quite literally on the water at Danfords (631-928-5200, ext. 170), next to the ferry landing. Their lunch and dinnertime specialties include local shellfish, Long Island duck, rack of lamb, and original pasta creations. Docking is available for patrons at the marina.
Right across the street from the ferry terminal is the Steamroom (631-928-6690), where you can get chowder and bisque, fried seafood, steamers, and boiled lobsters. Head next door for dessert in the form of all kinds of candy, ice cream, and coffee at Port Jefferson Frigate (631-474-8888). Also facing the waterfront is Papa Joe's (631-473-5656).
Cut through the municipal lot to get to the Tiger Lily Cafe (631-476-7080), where you may be lucky enough, as we were, to happen upon some live music. At this "alternative eatery," as it bills itself, you can choose from a variety of soups and sandwiches made from whole grains, vegetables, lean meats, and tofu, then top it all off with a fruit smoothie, espresso, or soy shake.
Is it a special occasion? If not, you can make it one by heading to Costa de Espana (631-331-5363), where seafood (including octopus), veal, pork, and vegetarian paella, to name a few choices, are all elegantly served.
Pub fans should take a walk up Main and down Wynn Lane to The Printer's Devil (631-928-7171), offering live music Thursday through Saturday nights and brunch on Sunday. Here's another idea for a casual meal: get a hearty handful of brick-oven pizza at The Pie Napoletana Pizzeria (631-331-4646).
The Village Way (631-928-3395), on Main Street, features a selection of American favorites, as does Tommy's Place (631-473-8778). Folks also flock to the Elk Street Grille (631-331-0960), where the more unusual menu items are kielbasa and sauerkraut, bison chili, and smoked salmon salad.
For quick and easy eats, pull up a stool, sip on a longneck, and munch a burrito at the popular Salsa Salsa (631-473-9700). You can also double your pleasure at Pasta Pasta (631-331-5335), a Zagat-rated lunch-and-dinner spot on East Main. Steps away, Toast (631-331-6860) will honor your taste buds with coffee drinks, breakfast burritos, omelets, and panini sandwiches in a fun setting.
Those of you with a sweet tooth can grab a treat at La Bonne Boulangerie (631-473-7900), a bakery on Broadway, or go for an egg cream, ice cream, chocolates, or an espresso at the previously-mentioned Port Jefferson Frigate (631-474-8888). Several other cafes and ice cream parlors dot the business district.
Main and East Main streets, both of which run perpendicular to the waterfront, will supply all of your other needs. For provisions, try Village Grocery & Deli (631-928-3036) on the corner of Maple Place and Main. Moore's Gourmet Market & Deli (631-928-1443) on Main Street offers take-out items for planning a picnic that will impress the most sophisticated ants.
Navigation and Anchorages
Use ChartKit Region 3, pages 24 and 25; Maptech Waterproof Chartbook Long Island Sound; Maptech Waterproof Charts #1 and 16; and Maptech electronic and NOAA paper charts 12362 (1:10,000), 12364 (1:40,000 and 1:10,000) and 12354 (1:80,000). Use tide tables for Bridgeport. High tide at Port Jefferson is 4 minutes later; low tide is 5 minutes later. Use height of tide at Bridgeport for height of tide at Port Jefferson. Mean tidal range is 6.6 feet.
The entrance to Port Jefferson Harbor is 8.1nm from Stony Brook Harbor and 4nm from Mount Sinai Harbor. From Fl R 4s BELL R "2" south of Middle Ground (Stratford Shoal), a course of about 190°m for 4.7nm takes you to the entrance channel for Port Jefferson Harbor.
Approaching Port Jefferson, stay well offshore to clear the rocks and shoals off Old Field and Mount Misery points. The current runs quickly past both points and has scooped away the sand, leaving large and dangerous piles of boulders. Mount Misery Shoal shows a charted depth of 7 feet, but the depth can be less. Depending on your course, your landmark may be Old Field Point Light (Al RG 24s 74ft 14M) or RW "PJ" Mo (A) WHIS.
From the east or northeast, other landmarks are the 60-foot-high sand bluffs of Mount Misery to the east of the entrance jetties. Also clearly visible are the two smokestacks of the Long Island Lighting Company power plant at the south end of Port Jefferson Harbor.
CAUTION: Be careful not to confuse these 2 stacks with the 4 stacks of the power plant at Northport, 12 miles to the west. If the tide is ebbing and the winds are out of the north (prevailing summer winds are from the southwest), rough seas can build up outside the jetties, with strong currents. Sailboats are best off motoring in.
Once inside Port Jefferson Harbor, you'll be in a well-protected, deep-water harbor; you may drop your anchor anywhere outside the channel. There's a 12-mph speed limit to the first charted mooring, then a 5-mph limit down to Port Jefferson.
Inside the entrance to the west is a very popular anchorage behind Old Field Point and Old Field Beach, but don't look at the chart and think there's plenty of water right off Old Field Beach at the entrance; many boats get hung up here. Make your turn to the west on either side of RG N "CN" but be sure to make it sharp to avoid the shoal about 400 yards south of the grassy point. You can go westward all the way up to the entrance of the grass-filled Conscience Bay at the Narrows. The "CN" series of buoys mark the channel all the way to The Narrows. You'll be well-protected except in a southeasterly, due to the fetch across the harbor.
On the east side of the harbor entrance is another popular anchorage, Mount Misery Cove, offering good all-around protection and adequate hold. Although the chart doesn't give any soundings, this manmade cove (charted as a spoil area) has an average depth of 11 to 15 feet (mlw). If you draw more than 4 feet, your best route in is to round Fl G 4s BELL G "5" and approach from the south to avoid the shoals between the jetty and the buoy. You'll see boats anchored just 100 yards east of the channel, but there's probably shoaling between them and the channel, so make sure you pass south of Fl G 4s BELL G "5" before making your turn.
If you are not interested in beaches or birds and just want to get out of a blow, anchor anywhere out of the channel. There's deep water in the "Upper Landing" section of Port Jefferson Harbor. If you'd rather tie up to a cleat than drop anchor, several marinas, including Danfords on the Sound, await in Port Jefferson Harbor. There are also some moorings in the harbor, provided by Port Jefferson Launch Service.
CAUTION: Don't go near the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry slip. While it may look tempting for a quick run into town when the ferry is away, you'll have a horde of angry crewmen yelling at you and risk having your boat crushed when the ferry comes back.
On the subject of ferries, give them and the tugs and barges a wide berth. They aren't double-ended, so they must turn around inside the harbor before heading out.
Setauket Harbor is a snug, but shallow, anchorage on the southeast side of Strongs Neck. The harbor is apt to be crowded with moored boats, including quite a few flat-decked clammers. The channel into Setauket Harbor is marked by the "S" series of buoys. When entering and exiting the harbor, follow the channel closely as it gets shallow quickly to the north. Boats drawing more than 5 feet should enter only at high tide.
If you decide to sample Setauket Harbor, you'll be pleased with the water's calmness and cleanliness. Keep an eye open for commercial traffic and the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry, especially when you're leaving the harbor.
Shoreside and Emergency Services
Suffolk County Transit 631-852-5200
Eatons Neck 631-261-6959 or VHF 16
Police, Fire, Ambulance:
Sea Tow 800-4SEATOW or VHF 16
TowBoatU.S 800-391-4869 or VHF 16
Long Island Railroad 631-231-5477