Boating in Montauk, New York
The End of the Earth
On a windswept beach not far from Montauk Point, one of the prides of the British fleet met her end during the Revolution. The H.M.S. Culloden, 170 feet long with 74 guns, was launched in May of 1776. She had a beautifully carved stern and figurehead of King George III. Under Captain George Balfour she sailed for America in the summer of 1778 as part of a squadron to counteract a French fleet commanded by Count D'Estaing. While searching for the enemy in a storm, Culloden was dismasted and had to hobble back to England for repair.
In October of 1780 Culloden was assigned to assist Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot, who by then had established an occupation on Gardiners Island, in cruising the area between Nantucket and Montauk. In the winter that followed, the British learned that three French ships were about to leave Newport and run the British blockade in an attempt to reach a convoy. The Culloden, in company with the America and the Bedford, was ordered to capture the French warships. Soon they were underway out of Gardiners Bay. The weather had been fair for some days, but on January 23rd, winter weather lashed at the ships. The shivering lookouts could see nothing, but the pilot assured Captain Balfour that there was no danger. The lead line, cast every half-hour, showed 18 to 20 fathoms.
Just before dawn a sailor spied breakers and solid land beyond the lee bow, but before he could shout it out the ship was aground. The pilot thought they had run onto Block Island, but daybreak revealed the location to be Wills Point, near the eastern edge of Fort Pond Bay. The Culloden was wedged deep into the sand, and although every effort was made to get her free at high water, her planks had sprung and the hold filled rapidly. The crew went ashore, pitched tents, and spent a few weeks making rounds to remove all they could from the vessel. Then they burned the empty hulk to the waterline. In all, they salvaged most of the stores, the rigging, and 46 cannon. A court-martial acquitted the captain of any responsibility for the loss, placing all blame on the pilot for thinking that they had cleared Montauk Point and were free to head due south.
It is no fluke that Montauk is a travel destination today. The groundwork was laid some 18,000 years ago when nomadic glaciers crept south, pushing mineral-rich mounds of rocks and soil with them. Montauk Point, the southern "fluke" of the whale's tail of Long Island's east end, is what geologists call a terminal moraine: a heavy load of sedimentary rock bulldozed by the glaciers.
The melting glaciers deposited layers of fertile soil, which the Native Americans farmed. European settlers also appreciated the point's richness, and the vast meadowlands soon spilled over with flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. In 1658, Deep Hollow Ranch became the birthplace of the American cowboy. Why take that trip to Wyoming? Montauk is where you can visit America's oldest cattle ranch and ride the trails of the pre-Revolutionary War pioneers.
Over the years, the town's center of attention has turned from the fields and the herds to focus on the seas and the schools of fish. In 1926, well-known developer Carl Fisher paid $2.5 million for 9,700 acres of land with nine miles of choice waterfront property. Fisher envisioned this as the next Miami Beach, the most famous of his creations. He planned the golf course, the Montauk Yacht Club, the Manor Hotel, and his high-rise office building in town. His master plan also included cutting a channel from freshwater Lake Montauk to Block Island Sound. This venture would bring boats into Star Island, where he wanted to put a casino, marina, yacht club, and surf club. Fisher's plan was good for the fishermen, but the 1929 stock market crash decimated his development company as well as his dreams. His legacy remains and so do the Manor Hotel (now a private residence), the Fisher Building, and a harbor bursting with marinas and sport fishing boats.
Things to See and Do
Fishing is, of course, synonymous with Montauk. With scores of world-record catches here, this salty town proudly considers itself the sport fishing epicenter of the Northeast. If big game (tuna, marlin, and sharks) grabs your interest, sharpen your haggling skills throughout the marinas, where schools of licensed charter captains set their hooks. For about one-tenth the price of a private charter, try the sport and your luck aboard a party-fishing boat. It can be a little more crowded, but you can swap tales with other fishing enthusiasts on the Viking Fleet (631-668-5700) or Lazy Bones (631-668-5671), which offer full- and half-day ventures.
Angling isn't the only activity available around here. Museums, nature trails, scuba diving, horseback riding, and beachcombing are all easily accessible from the harbor by bus, taxi, rental car, or bicycle.
Those who are into fishing are usually quite passionate about their hobby. Well, lighthouses certainly have their rabid fans as well. Hundreds of years of whaling and fishing history is brought to light at the Montauk Point Lighthouse Museum (631-668-2544 or www.montauklighthouse.com). A keeper's house, old documents and photographs, and an assortment of Fresnel lenses are among the displays. Been on the water too long? Get some exercise by climbing the 130-plus steps (you'll lose count, too!) to the top of the lighthouse, where on a clear day you can see for more than 40 miles.
The U.S. Coast Guard station (631-668-2773) on Star Island offers tours complete with tales as tall as the cupola, from which you'll enjoy a great view. (Ask the Duty Officer what the "turtle's back" is for, and how it was broken.)
Mosey on over to the oldest cattle ranch in America, Deep Hollow Ranch (631-668-2744), and find your land-legs aboard a beast of burden. This 4,000-acre spread gives you plenty of room to giddy-up on rustic trails, rolling meadows, and the beach, and you can follow it all up with a barbecued dinner. The young'uns will enjoy the small petting zoo. Rita's Stables (631-668-5453) offers similar entertainment: trail rides, pony rides, and a petting zoo.
Got your clubs aboard? Try the 18-hole golf course at Montauk Downs State Park (631-668-1234). If you're better at the short game, try miniature golf at Puff & Putt (631-668-4473) in the village. The "Puff" part rents small sailboats and Hobie Cats (as well as kayaks and pedal boats) on Fort Pond for aspiring skippers.
Shallow areas of Lake Montauk and Napeague Harbor are havens for kayaking and windsurfing. Plaza Surf & Sports (631-668-9300) rents everything you'll need for seaside fun: bicycles, mopeds, kayaks, surfboards, skim boards, beach chairs, and umbrellas. Amagansett Beach & Bicycle (631-267-6325) offers windsurfing lessons and rentals, and the Air & Speed Surf Shop (631-668-0356) gives private lessons to those who want to hang ten. After a day of play, spend your evening enjoying first-run films at Montauk Movie (631-668-2393).
Beachcombers can let it all hang out here. On the north shore, the Block Island Sound beaches are generally rocky, while the Atlantic Ocean beaches on the south side feature smooth, sandy stretches that are fun for walking and swimming. Expect a good number of surfcasters on Montauk Point's rocky beachfront, each of them hoping to pull in a big striper.
Restaurants and Provisions
Although seafood is the obvious focus here, plenty of other mealtime choices are available for those with more land-based taste. You'll find everything from Italian, French, Mexican, and American cuisine to seafood, steaks, and vegetarian favorites. Many locals prefer their fish plain, with a little butter or lemon, but visitors will also find eateries doctoring it up with tropical salsas, spicy sauces, and other secret ingredients.
Inside the harbor, on Star Island, visit the exquisite Il Mare Restaurant at the Montauk Yacht Club (631-668-3100) for elegant Italian entrees, or try their more casual Breezes Cafe for a meal in the fresh air. Another favorite is the casual Star Deck Grill at Star Island Yacht Club (631-668-5052), offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At Offshore Sports Marina, the Liars' Saloon (631-668-9597) offers a friendly, no-nonsense atmosphere.
One of the few places around the harbor that's open early is Montauk Market, across from Viking Dock; it has all your usual provisions plus an ATM. Four Oaks General Store & Bakery (631-668-2534), another early opener, sells fresh bread, pastries, and other baked goodies to take back to the boat. You'll find Four Oaks at West Lake Drive and Flamingo Road, a half-mile from Gosman's Dock.
Some good choices await your appetite closer to the harbor's entrance. At Gosman's Restaurant (631-668-5330) you may nosh on seafood, including shore dinners and sashimi, as well as portabella mushrooms, meat entrees, salads, bisque, and two kinds of chowder. Also in Gosman's complex, The Inlet Cafe (631-668-2549) and Topside Bar offer similar fare, while Gosman's Clam Bar serves steamers, lobster rolls, grilled fish filets, and fried favorites. There's even a fish market/gourmet grocery on site. West Cove Bar & Grill (631-668-2785) offers plenty of fruits de mer, but they also provide an alternative with Mexican apps and entrees-even their clam chowder is Santa Fe-style.
As its name implies, West Lake Clam & Chowder House (631-668-6252) serves up those happy hard-shells and their saltwater cohorts in a variety of ways, while Crow's Nest (631-668-2077) offers a frill-free meal alongside the resident tropical fish housed in the aquarium. For a memorable dinner on the water, head to the Zagat-rated Dave's Grill (631-668-9190). A more casual good time can be had at Lenny's on the Dock (631-668-2500), with the adjacent Johnny Marlin Dock. Salivating mariners can set their sights on Salivar's (631-668-2555) for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a view of the many charter boats.
Over on the east shore of Lake Montauk, Rick's Crabby Cowboy Cafe (631-668-3200), the neighbor to Gone Fishing Marina, is a place that's as fun as its name. They open at noon for soups, sandwiches, and seafood appetizers, with some additional choices available at dinnertime. Gone Fishing Marina also has an on-site restaurant.
Shagwong (631-668-3050), a popular seafood restaurant that's been in business for more than a quarter-century, is a fine choice for when you get into town. They serve the requisite seafood-cooked and on the half-shell-as well as steaks, chops, and rack of lamb. We also recommend Oyster Pond Restaurant & Bar (631-668-4200) and Hewitt's Main Street Cafe (631-668-2727) for chicken, burgers (including veggie), New England clam chowder, steak, pasta, pizza, and, naturally, seafood.
Late risers don't have to worry about missing breakfast, because it's served all day at a few fixtures in town, including Anthony's Pancake & Waffle House (631-668-9705), which has been in business for more than half a century. In addition to an eye-popping array of pancakes, John's Pancake House (631-668-2383) serves exceptional doughnuts, huge omelets, burgers, chowder, and regional favorites such as lox and bagels. The Plaza Restaurant (631-668-9500) also has no problem flipping eggs for you while the rest of the world is going for the soup-and-sandwich combo.
It's easy to find supplies in the village, where numerous banks, pharmacies, markets, clothing boutiques, and specialty stores just a short taxi or bus ride from the harbor. Try Ronnie's Deli & Grocery (631-668-2757) on Main Street, Herb's Market (631-668-2335) or the IGA (631-668-4929) on Montauk Highway. Gaviola's Montauk Market (631-668-1031) has groceries, deli items, baked goods, produce, and prepared foods-ask about delivery.
Navigation and Anchorages
Use ChartKit Region 3, pages 9 and 37; Maptech Waterproof Chartbook Long Island Sound; Maptech Waterproof Charts #1 and 6; and Maptech electronic and NOAA paper charts 13209 (1:40,000 and 1:7,500) and 13205 (1:80,000). Use tide tables for New London. High tide at the Montauk Harbor entrance is 24 minutes earlier; low tide is 16 minutes earlier. Multiply height of tide at New London by 0.8 for height of tide at the Montauk Harbor entrance. Mean tidal range is 1.9 feet.
High tide at Promised Land, 1.4nm from the entrance to Napeague Harbor, is 13 minutes earlier, and low tide is 8 minutes earlier. Multiply height of tide at New London by 0.9 for height of tide at Promised Land. Mean tidal range is 2.3 feet.
The entrance to Montauk Harbor is 17.3nm from the entrance to Great Salt Pond on Block Island, 13.8nm from Plum Gut and Orient Point, and 14nm from Watch Hill Point, Rhode Island. The entrance to Napeague Harbor lies 6.5nm from Montauk Harbor and 7.4nm from Three Mile Harbor.
From Fl G 2.5s BELL G "7SR," marking Shagwong Reef, a southwesterly course of about 225°m will take you to Mo(A) BELL RW "M" just off the entrance to Montauk Harbor. If you have a deep-draft vessel, swing wide of Shagwong Reef before heading for the entrance.
Do yourself a favor and reserve a slip or mooring, especially on a weekend; Lake Montauk is quite often a mob scene on summer weekends. It's an awfully long trip to get there, so be sure you have a place to dock, anchor, or moor.
Montauk Point Light (Fl 5s 168ft 18M HORN), a white and brown stucture on the eastern end of Montauk Point, stands beside a simple, white building and a two-story, shingled keeper's house, plus a World War II machine gun tower. If you're coming in from the east at sunrise, notice that the cliffs that come down from the point take on a bright, reddish hue due to their high iron content.
On the north side of the point is a shoal area that extends about 4nm to the northwest, on which tidal rips develop and waves break. In an ebb current, westbound sailors heading for Montauk Harbor may find the going slow, as they will be fighting the current and waves.
The entrance to Montauk Harbor is between two stone breakwaters marked by Fl R 2.5s 36ft 5M HORN "2" on the west breakwater and Fl G 4s 33ft 4M "1" on the east breakwater. While the current at the harbor entrance is evident-generally 1 to 2 knots-it diminishes dramatically inside. The channel carries a reported depth of 10 feet.
Since Montauk is a busy fishing town, watch out for local fishing boats. The 5-mph harbor speed limit is strictly enforced. With all of the fishing docks jutting in and out, a boat can jump out at you. These boats also tend to kick up a good wake, so it's even more important that you keep a slow and steady pace.
After passing through the breakwaters, you'll see Star Island dead ahead, connected to the mainland by a causeway. The Coast Guard station is on the northern end of the island, next to a town dock where commercial fishing boats tie up.
On the mainland to the west you'll find a heavy concentration of marinas, restaurants, motels, and charter boats. Follow the privately marked channel, which has a reported depth of 8 feet at mlw. From north to south, transients can choose from among Montauk Marine Basin, which offers gas and diesel as well as a stocked ship's store that even sells cold cuts, bagels, and milk; Snug Harbor Motel and Marina, featuring a swimming pool and playground; and Diamond Cove Marina, where you can refuel your vessel as well as refueling your crew at their Dockside Cafe. Across the channel, on the west side of Star Island is Star Island Yacht Club, offering repairs and other services, including a restaurant, pool, and live music on Saturday nights.
Just east of the Coast Guard station on Star Island is the East Hampton Town Pumpout Station. The free pumpout, available April to November, is self-service. Boats nearing 40 feet long and drawing 4 feet or more should steer in bow first at the end of the floating dock, where the depth is 10 feet. Where the floating dock meets a fixed dock the depth shoals up to a range of 3 to 4 feet.
The most conspicuous landmark on the eastern side of Star Island is the lighthouse tower of the Montauk Yacht Club. This well-appointed facility includes among its amenities a pool and tennis courts. If you're heading for one of the marinas on the eastern side of Lake Montauk or the designated anchorage area, pass on the east side of Star Island. Stay close to the island to avoid the sandbar (marked by G C "3," G C "5," and G C "7") that reaches out from the eastern shore of the mainland. Another shoal area looms southeast of G C "7."
Be aware that part of Lake Montauk south of Star Island is a popular area for waterskiing, so keep your eye out for fast-moving vessels and fallen skiers. The channel to the anchorage area is clearly marked. Stay in the middle of it, as there are some shallow spots-as low as 3 feet-just off the buoys. The East Hampton Bay Constable reports that the channel has more than the reported 4 feet of water on the chart, but if you have any doubts, hail him on VHF 16.
CAUTION: The southern half of Lake Montauk, south of G C "7," has shoaled up to less than the 8 feet reported on the NOAA chart. The harbormaster warns against anchoring in this shallow area unless your draft is minimal or your keel is strong, or you do your scouting by dinghy.
If you are looking for a quiet and deep anchorage, head for Fort Pond Bay, 3nm west of Montauk Harbor. From Fl G 2.5s BELL G "7SR," take a southwesterly course of 240¡m. Swing wide of Shagwong Reef and Culloden Point before turning south into the bay. The original Montauk Village was located here before being destroyed in the 1938 hurricane. Much of the area is private property. The beach is small, and there are no lifeguards or any services here. Montauk Village is approximately 1.5 miles south by foot or taxi.
In contrast to Montauk, Napeague Harbor is not marked at all, save for misleading trout stakes and "Tick Infested Area" signs, and there is no anchoring allowed. The approaches are extremely shallow and tight.
When visiting Napeague Harbor, come only in a small boat or dinghy, and only on a rising tide.
If you're coming from the west, follow the Promised Land Channel, the buoyed passage south of Gardiners and Cartwright islands. Tidal velocity in the channel averages 1.5 knots.
Approaching from the east or west, wait until you're at least 400 yards southwest of R N "2" before heading toward the entrance. It is very shallow off Goff Point, so don't enter from the north. The harbor's mouth is marked by a large sign that reads "No Anchoring" in no uncertain terms.
CAUTION: The currents in and out of this harbor are quite strong and should not be underestimated; in an opposing wind they can be downright hellacious. Be ready to compensate quickly when making the turn.
If your boat draws less than 4 feet, you can enter on a rising tide, but keep at least 125 feet from shore and follow the shore's curve. Even under the best conditions, the channel is less than 12 feet wide, so don't be a cowboy. You'll know you've successfully reached this secluded site when you see the markers for shellfish hatcheries.
Keep your speed way down when entering the harbor, and cautiously feel your way through the 4-foot deep channel, turning hard to the east when going around the bar.
There's another entrance on the west side of Hicks Island, which has shoaled to a depth of less than 4 feet. The channel is very narrow and, as the tides change, the current is swift. The entrance is mainly for local boaters who use the town ramp on Lazy Point. It is best to enter here at half or full tide.
The bottom contours on the chart for Napeague Harbor are not entirely in accordance with the actual depth, so if you have a depth sounder on board or a spare hand to watch the bottom at the bow, use them. This is a great place to swing the lead line.
Once inside, you'll find shoals and marsh to the west. Stay at least 200 yards off the eastern shore for plenty of deep water.
Acabonack Harbor, just west of Cartwright Island, has a narrow channel with privately maintained markers. You'll be making your turn from the Promised Land Channel about 800 yards northwest of R N "8," taking care to watch for the rock on the south side of the entrance. The channel is 2.5 feet deep, but there is more water inside.
Shoreside and Emergency Services
Hampton Jitney (631-283-4600)
Montauk (631-668-2773) or VHF 16
Viking Line (to RI and CT: 631-668-5700)
Cross Sound Ferry (to New London, 631-323-2525)
Police, Fire, Ambulance:
Celtic Cab (631-668-4747)
Sea Tow 800-4SEATOW or VHF 16
TowBoatU.S 800-391-4869 or VHF 16
Long Island Railroad (631-231-5477)