Boating in Manhasset Bay and Port Washington, NY
The Adventure Awaits
This bay has long been one of the Sound’s favorite destinations. Indeed, the “courtesy bay” Fitzgerald mentioned in the passage above was, in fact, Manhasset, and the “eggs,” were the two heads of land on either side of it. Great Neck, where Fitzgerald was living when he penned his classic novel, was west egg. East egg, was Sands Point at the tip of the Port Washington peninsula.
Both day-trippers and longer distance cruisers still fl ock to this port. The fi rst come to admire the boats in the harbor, have lunch or dinner at one of several restaurants that offer dock-and-dine, and perhaps browse local shops. Long distance cruisers come for the same reasons, plus the good marinas, excellent marine services and proximity to New York City. There’s a train station within walking distance of the waterfront, and the harbor is a great place to wait for the right tide for a voyage to New York Harbor.
Manhasset Bay was once called Cow Bay, and its main town, Port Washington, bore the moniker Cow Neck, in honor of the rich pastures where 17th-century settlers grazed their bovines. By 1857 residents were looking for a more appealing name and opted to honor our first president, although there is no record of his having slept (or even been) here.
The Manhasset Bay area is also known for its exceptional fine-grained sand. Beginning in 1865—to the dismay of many residents— Cow Bay sand was mined for cement, shipped to New York City and used in skyscrapers. You can see a great spit of that sand at Plum Point as you sail into the harbor, and in the bluffs at Sands Point. Here the very, very rich once showed the nation how to live well in Irish castles and Norman mansions built atop imposing hills. One of the mansions, owned by Harry Guggenheim, sheltered young Charles Lindbergh from the press after his famous 1927 flight across the Atlantic.
Things to See and Do
Manhasset Bay is one of the premier yacht-racing centers on the Sound with each of the three yacht clubs—Manhasset Bay, North Shore and Port Washington—sponsoring individual races and joining forces for a weeknight beer-can series dubbed “Thirsty Thursdays.” (It’s fun to watch, and you might be able to find a berth on a boat if you drop by one of the clubs.)
Of special note is the annual Knickerbocker Cup, the East Coast’s answer to Long Beach, California’s prestigious Congressional Cup. World-class racers and America’s Cup sailor converge on Manhasset Bay every summer for this multi-day match-racing meet. And the racing doesn’t stop in winter either. Hardy sailors keep their skills sharp by racing around the buoys year round—even in the coldest weather. After all, frostbiting got its start in Manhasset Bay in the early 1930s. The first race, we hear, had something to do with a bet about a bottle of bathtub gin. To learn more about yachting and local history, visit the Port Washington Public Library (516-883-4400), which has an excellent nautical collection.
The bay’s busy waterfront and commercial districts are surrounded by quiet residential neighborhoods, ranging from middle-class to affluent, and while several communities border the bay, Port Washington is the center of the action. It has more marinas, yacht clubs, restaurants and fine shopping than almost anywhere else on the Sound.
Gatsby fans may want to visit the Sands Point Preserve (516-571-7902), a short cab ride from the marinas, where you can envision the east egg lifestyle. Now a Nassau County park, the preserve includes self-guided nature trails with views of the Sound as well as restored Guggenheim family homes and a 209-acre forest. Castlegould, built in 1902, is a huge stone castle (the Irish one) that once served as a stable.
Falaise, built by Captain Harry F. Guggenheim in 1923, is an elegant manor house (the Norman one) with original furnishings and the owner’s aeronautical memorabilia. House tours are by escort only, so be sure to call ahead. Hempstead House (it’s tudor) is the former main residence.
If your crew needs a break from one another, the spenders can indulge in sport-shopping at Americana Manhasset (a.k.a. the Miracle Mile), a high-end mall that’s a three-mile cab ride from the waterfront, where the luxury stores and designer boutiques rival those of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Those who’d prefer to skip the taxi and designers can find treasures in the antiques shops, jewelry stores and boutiques
on Main Street, Port Washington.
Anglers, meanwhile, can enjoy some of Long Island Sound’s best fishing grounds. Execution Rocks is a prime area, but the strong current there can set you onto those rocks if you’re not careful, and there’s a good deal of commercial traffic. To anchor and fish, come in close on the south side. Don’t try the west side, especially at low tide when you’re likely to hit the rocks.
The Port Washington Water Taxi (516-767-1691, VHF channel 9) is a boon to cruisers who’d rather not bother
with a dinghy. This launch service picks up from anchored and moored boats, marinas, restaurants and the town dock, and will take you pretty much where you want to go.
Restaurants and Provisions
Ask western Long Island Sound boaters why Manhasset Bay is a frequent destination, and they are likely to reply with a single word: “Louie’s.” This waterfront restaurant, now called Louie’s Oyster Bar and Grille (516-883-4242), has been a Port Washington fixture for more than 100 years. To the relief of almost everyone, it has continued to be so since new owners took over and spiffed up the place a decade ago. While some people miss its funky old-time atmosphere, most concede the food is better, the views are nicer since windows replaced walls, and the outdoor deck and raw bar can’t be beat. Try the linguine and clam sauce or the uptown macaroni and cheese (no kidding!). Dockage is free, and while it can be shallow close in, the dockmaster has been there 20 years and is a pro at juggling boats. (Tips welcome!)
Louie’s is certainly not the only game in town. The chamberof commerce website (www.pwguide.com) lists some 48 local restaurants from delis to French bistros, many of whichare within easy walking distance of the town dock. Others are on the water and offer places to tie up. Among these are the Waterview Restaurant (516-944-5900) at Brewer Capri East, known for Italian-influenced seafood. LaMotta’s Waterside Restaurant (516-944-7900) at Manhasset Bay Marina is known for fine American cuisine and live music on Friday nights.
Take care of your provisioning needs at the Stop & Shop (516-767-6910) or King Kullen (516-833-9733), each within walking distance of the harbor (provided you don’t have too much to carry), or ask the water-taxi to bring you nearby and pick you up.
Navigation and Anchorages
Use tide tables for Kings Point. High tide and low tide at Port Washington are both 12 minutes earlier. Mean tidal range is 7.3 feet. Barker Point, marking the east entrance to Manhasset Bay, is 5.5 miles from the Glen Cove breakwater in Hempstead Harbor, and four miles from the Throgs Neck Bridge. City Island is two miles away, and Mamaroneck Harbor is four miles away.
From the east, to reach Barker Point stay north of G “23” Fl G 4s GONG at Prospect Point, as the shoal extends about a half-mile north of the point and then falls off quickly to a depth of 60 feet. Pass north and then west of G Fl G 2.5s “25,” off Sands Point. A reef marked by GW Bn extends about a third of a mile off Sands Point, and at low water the boulders show for some 300 yards. You can’t miss the brownstone tower of the old Sands Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1809.
In the bight between Sands Point and Barker Point is Half Moon Beach, one of the best on the Sound. Although the area is too exposed for a night anchorage, you can sail in, drop a hook, and swim or take your dinghy to shore. Since the current runs across the two points, the bight is also a good area to tack into to avoid the tides. Currents in this area generally run light and the bottom holds well.
From the west, the approach to Manhasset Bay from Stepping Stones Light (Oc G 4s 46ft 8M) is straightforward. Always stay well to the north and west of the light. Pass north of G “29” Fl G 4s off Hewlett Point. (There is an inside route on the east side of Stepping Stones, south of RN “4” and RN “2” off Kings Point, but this is not recommended for boaters new to the area.)
In the summer, when the prevailing winds are southwesterly, Manhasset Bay is well protected and easy to enter by day or night. However, if you’re hardy enough or crazy enough (as we were one year) to go in during November, you’ll find that the prevailing northerlies and shallow water may conspire to make you question your sanity. In a good blow, the vicious chop can make the bay even more uncomfortable than the Sound itself.
The depths in the northern part of Manhasset Bay range from 12 to 20 feet, and 7 to 12 feet in the southern part, with little current. The extreme south end is shallow and riddled with extensive mudflats, although two to six feet of water can be carried in the natural channel almost to the head of the bay.
About a mile in you will pass Plum Point, marked by G “1” Fl G 4s, about 150 yards southwest of the point. If you’re entering after dark, keep an eye out for the large, unlighted, speed-limit sign off the point. Running into it will surely slow you down.
To the east of Plum Point, Manorhaven is home to the well-appointed Brewer Capri Marinas East and West (516- 883-7800) yards, which welcome transients to enjoy amenities that include restaurants, a swimming pool, and repair service seven days a week.
Less than a mile east of Plum Point, Toms Point guards the entrance to Port Washington. There is an eight-foot channel to the town docks, and another channel running into a bight northeast of the point.
Port Washington offers an array of facilities for boaters. Manhasset Bay Marina (516-883-8411) welcomes transients to their fine facility, which offers full repair services. They also feature laundry facilities, a ship’s store, and a restaurant
and snack bar.
You may tie up on the west and south sides of the town dock for a half-hour with permission from the harbor patrol. The Port Washington Water Taxi provides transportation around the harbor as well as to City Island and Mamaroneck; they also do harbor tours and provide on-demand launch service from 8 a.m. to midnight in season.
The harbor gets a little quieter as you head south, where you will find Brewer Capri Marina at Inspiration Wharf (516-883-7800), located in a complex with residential, retail, office and restaurant space, and within easy reach of downtown’s shops. The neighbors here on Manhasset Neck also include several yacht clubs and a shipyard.
The least crowded anchorages are at the south end of the bay and on the west side off Great Neck, which has several yacht clubs lying at the feet of impressive estates. The anchorage between Plum Point and Toms Point is a good one, although most of the space is taken up with moorings. The bay’s soft bottom affords good holding ground.
Shoreside and Emergency Services
Coast Guard: Eatons Neck 631-261-6959 or VHF 16
Taxi: Deluxe Transportation (Port Washington) 516-883-1900
—Sea Tow 800-4SEATOW or VHF 16
—TowBoatU.S. 800-391-4869 or VHF 16
Train: Long Island Railroad 516-822-5477 F