The summer before I met Margaret, my buddy Jonny and I spent three weeks in the Chesapeake sailing my Catalina 22, Helbent. We had a tremendous time exploring the bay, and, as soon as I got back, I started planning to take Helbent to Long Island Sound the following summer. After I returned to Arkansas for the winter, I pored over the charts of the Sound as I worked my way through a few cruising guides. Then, I met Margaret, and, instead of going to the Sound, we were planning a wedding and selling my boat.
Fast forward two years, and it is increasingly looking like we will be spending the summer on the Sound and on Chesapeake Bay. After we sold Helbent, I never would have expected that we would return to those waters so quickly. A few days ago, I pulled out all the charts again and gathered the cruising guides. I have not started refreshing my memory about the region in earnest yet, but just a glance at the charts reminded me of all the places I had hoped to visit.
I thought I would share a few of the guidebooks and other resources I will be using to prepare for our time on Long Island Sound. Two years ago, it was a bit of a struggle for me to figure out which books I needed, so I thought it might be useful for others to hear what guides we have. Further, being interested in culture and the environment, I tend to have a little different mix of books at hand.
The charts for the Sound are pretty straightforward. Maptech’s Chartkit for Long Island Sound, Region 3, is about as good as it gets. It covers the Jersey coast, New York Harbor, and the entire stretch of water out to southern Cape Cod. Maptech’s chartkits list for about 125 dollars, but I can usually find a new one for sale on the internet for 80 or 90 dollars. There are also numerous older editions available on the internet for, depending on age and condition, anywhere from 15 to 80 dollars. Normally, the chartkit would be more than sufficient, but we happened to see a copy of Embassy’s Complete Waterproof Chart to Long Island Sound, with half the Sound on one side and half on the other, for sale at a marine consignment shop in Florida. We picked it up for a few dollars and will use it for planning purposes both on our kitchen table here in Peoria and on our salon table while on board.
Unfortunately, there is no single comprehensive cruising guide for Long Island Sound like there is for the Chesapeake (Shellenberger’s Cruising the Chesapeake, now in its 4th edition). Instead, I purchased two guides. The first is Duncan, et. al., The Cruising Guide to the New England Coast, which was first published in 1937. Updated a few times since then, it still feels slightly out of date and a bit out of touch. But the guide does provide basic information about anchorages and facilities and offers a nice bit of local history and other yarns. Maptech’s Embassy Cruising Guide – Long Island Sound to Cape May, NJ is the other cruising guide we have purchased. I like to read Duncan’s take on an area while glancing at the charts and then pick up the Maptech guide to get the most updated information. Of course, the most up-to-date material is available free on ActiveCaptain.com, a crowd-sourced cruising guide overlaid on a mix of NOAA charts and Google Earth data. Still, I mainly use ActiveCaptain as a supplement for more local knowledge, such as what conditions are like in an anchorage with wind from a specific direction or whether there is a free dinghy dock. Consequently, I use it more on the boat than I do while getting a sense of the big picture at home.
In addition to the guides listed above, another resource that I have found tremendously useful – maybe more useful than any other single source – while in the planning stages for cruising Long Island Sound is Anthony Bailey’s The Coast of Summer. Bailey is a British professor who, along with his wife, has spent nearly every adult summer of his life sailing on the Sound. The book is not a guide, but instead an eminently readable account of one of their summers, sailing form anchorage to anchorage, visiting old friends, and returning to favorite towns. I read The Coast of Summer while seated at the kitchen table with the charts spread out before me, tracing Bailey’s journey and coming to know the tidal races, rocky shelves, and other navigational hazards that make Long Island Sound a bit of a tricky place to sail through his account. Most importantly though, the book made me long to be out there myself, experiencing the same things that Bailey and his wife were.
Undoubtedly, one would be ready to cruise with the charts and guidebooks above. However, I like to get to know something of the environmental history of a place and have a sense of the way people once made their lives – and in some corners still do – on the cruising grounds I am sailing on. I will not overwhelm you with recommendations along these lines, but I do want to share three books that have shaped how I think about the area.
The first is Peter Matthiessen’s Men’s Lives, which is an insightful examination of the centuries-old community of commercial fishermen on the south fork of Long Island. It delves into the struggles of these fishermen and their families to get by in the face of increasing regulations, diminishing fish stocks, and rising living costs brought on by the influx of wealthier summer people. Matthiessen is a master storyteller and he cares deeply for this community, making it both a lament and a requiem for the disappearing culture. The book also reminds the reader of the human cost of environmental degradation and, with Matthiessen clearly sympathetic to the fishermen’s plight, regulations.
The next work is The Riverkeepers by John Cronin and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Detailing the long history of the environmental organization, the Hudson Riverkeeper, the book explores the ways that individuals – especially those with a deep attachment to place – can successfully challenge corporate polluters, force the government to respond to citizen concerns, and protect a critically important waterway. I really appreciate the way that Riverkeeper brings together recreation, public health, and commercial interests in the struggle for environmental justice. While the book is primarily about the Hudson River, you will quickly see why that waterway is so critical to the health of the Sound and other nearby waters. Over the years, hundreds of waterkeeper organizations have sprung up, modeled on the original Hudson Riverkeeper, to protect the health of our rivers, bays, and other bodies of water around the world.
The final book is a more traditional, but no less enjoyable, environmental history. This Fine Piece of Water: An Environmental History of Long Island Sound is by Tom Andersen and includes a foreward by Robert Kennedy, Jr. The book takes the reader through a history of human interaction with the Sound and the ecosystem it supports. In offering this history, Andersen also details the degradation of that ecosystem and the major threats that it faces today. The book will leave you with a sense of loss and a deep concern for the future of the Sound, its environs, and the people who live and work along and upon it. But the book also provides a glimmer of hope – especially when read alongside The Riverkeepers – that we can all come together to restore our own connection to the environment and, along the way, the the health of the Sound and our entire planet.
Because of this reading, when we see, for instance, people working the shellfish beds of Hempstead Harbor, visit the marsh restoration at Barn Island Wildlife Management Area, or check in with researchers at Woods Hole, we will have a much deeper appreciation for the history and environmental context of these experiences. More generally, we will better understand the ways that out on the water we are part of a long tradition of using and enjoying the Sound, and that that tradition imparts a responsibility to protect that stretch of water, its history, and the culture that both sustains.