Saturday, January 10, 2009


Crow Island, Latitude 41.0612081 and Longitude -73.3906734, the epicenter of our boating life. This continues the boating thread that began with the following two entries:

At high tide it’s just a small pile of rocks but at low tide it’s part of the Crow bar, connecting two of the Norwalk, CT islands, Copps Island and Chimon Island. This link shows those two larger islands, with Copps in the foreground. Crow bar can be seen connecting to Chimon.

Aside from the Thimble Islands further east, the Norwalk Islands is one of the largest groups of islands in the Long Island Sound. There are a number of coves and anchorages, which make boating something special there. We called the water to the east of Crow Island “home” for countless weekends. When anchored there one would think you are in a far away place, with few signs of civilization except for the conspicuous presence of the Manresa Island Power Plant on the mainland in Rowayton (see the stack at the lower right of this photo).

Before the GPS became ubiquitous, Crow’s waters were relatively private as Beers Rocks and other assorted rocks loom just beneath the surface making it somewhat treacherous to find one’s way into the area. Many a boat has damaged its running gears in such attempts, and the word spread quickly, keeping other boaters out.

But, with local knowledge, passage is relatively safe, especially when dead low tide is avoided. So, for years friends and we enjoyed the waters as a private enclave. And, as members of the Outboard Cruising Club, an old local club, we even own the deed to that pile of rocks, called Crow. As the tide recedes, a little sandy beach emerges, a great spot our kids went to in our dinghies and where I dutifully walked our little Schnauzers when we had them, first Muffin and then Treat. One could find me there at dawn (my favorite time of the day) as my family and friends slept.

During the summers, Crow was our community, not the towns in which we lived, and our kids became best friends there. The usual routine was to go out to the island on Friday night. Ann would load up the boat, pick up Jonathan at school, and I would meet them Norwalk Cove Marina after work and off we would go in the setting sun to our anchorage
There, we would meet Ray and Sue, John and Cathy, Richard and Marlene, Tony and Betty, Bob and Bev, and Shel and Naomi (the only stalwart sail boaters in the group). Weather cooperating, we would raft together in groups, and dingy back and forth between boats.

We began our voyage to Crow with just a thought: we wanted an activity our family would enjoy doing together, something to get me away from my all-consuming work. We considered a small vacation cottage on Connecticut’s Candlewood Lake, much smaller than Lake George where we had vacationed before, but closer to our home. We began to get serious about that alternative, but the idea of cleaning more gutters and more home repairs were off-putting.
Our home in Weston was only a few miles from the beautiful Long Island Sound, where I had boated as a child, and that is why we began to consider boating. We initially imagined ourselves as sail boaters, quietly gliding upon the waters of the Sound to the coves and towns near its shores but we first needed to learn more about boating in general and the Sound in particular. So in January 1983 we enrolled in a Coast Guard auxiliary course to learn the basics of boating.

Coincidentally, in the summer of 1981 there was a boating tragedy in our nearby waters off of Port Jefferson, the sinking of the ‘Karen E’ – this became the focus of the course as the captain of the ship, a 36’ Trojan, did everything totally wrong causing untold tragedy for his family and friends. He left Port Jefferson as dark was closing in, for a port in Connecticut and failed to recognize the lights of a tugboat with a barge in tow, piloting his boat between the two. The Karen E ran into the steel tow cable and sunk somewhere between Brookhaven, L.I., and Old Saybrook, Connecticut. His wife and daughter were killed in the accident, along with three friends. Miraculously, the Karen E’s captain made it to shore after swimming half the night.

Studying this case made us acutely aware of the gaps in our knowledge, not only about boating, but sailing in particular, which is yet another skill one must master. We therefore decided that once we earned our Coast Guard Power Squadron certificates, that we would buy a powerboat and perhaps work our way up to a sailboat. So, in the spring of 1983, graduation “diplomas” in hand, we looked for a boat.

Our search ended at Norwest Marine, a small boat yard on the Norwalk River, with a few dozen slips and rack storage. There we bought our first boat, a used 20’ cuddy cabin with a single inboard-outboard engine, which we dubbed the ‘Annie H’ and even ventured to “far off” Eaton’s Neck (only a few miles across the Sound) and to some of the anchorages around the 52 acre Norwalk Island, Sheffield, the only island with a lighthouse, although now deactivated:

After only a few weeks though, coming back from a day on the Sound, the boat began taking on water. Ann was bailing out with a bucket as I tried to get the boat back to our slip. We discovered the block was cracked. We had bought a bumboat.

The owner of the marina agreed to take the boat in on trade for a new boat. We would have been better off doing that in the first place, so we traded for a new 22’ “Holiday Express.” It had a little sleeping area under the rear seats in addition to the cuddy cabin and a tiny stand up head, all in 22’ so the three of us could spend an overnight or even more time on the boat. We anxiously awaited delivery of our new Annie H” which was promised for the 4th of July weekend.

Late in the day on June 28, 1983 Ann was driving back from Greenwich on I95. Several hours later, the Mianus River Bridge on I95 in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich, Connecticut – the very span she had just traversed -- collapsed, killing three people and injuring three. Because of that collapse, the delivery of our boat was delayed as it was on a trailer, scheduled to cross the bridge the following day. It had to be rerouted, as did all truck traffic, north to Route 84 and then south to reconnect with I95. As I recall, our new Annie H did not arrive until after the July 4th holiday.

For the remainder of that summer though we were out on the Annie H every weekend and even ventured to a port that became one of our favorites over the years, Essex, CT, some six miles up the Connecticut River. There we discovered the joys of the famous Griswold Inn one of the oldest continuously operated inns in the country, having opened its doors for business in 1776. The original architecture and the marine art in the main dinning room conveys the sense of embarking in a time machine, transported to the time the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Coming back from Essex we ran along the old QE2, which was taking a “cruise to nowhere” in the Long Island Sound. Ironically, we had crossed the Atlantic in October 1977on the QE2 when Jonathan was still a baby – here dressed in his sailor’s outfit -- and here we were running alongside this leviathan in our little 22 footer. By today’s cruise ship standards, the QE2 would now be considered a small ship.

Most of that summer we spent around Sheffield Island and at Mt. Misery Cove just to the East of the entrance to Port Jefferson harbor, a sandpit with 60 foot high bluffs which we would climb to view the harbor and the Long Island Sound. We even managed to persuade Ann’s Mom to go out with us when she was visiting from California.

But one afternoon we had taken my Dad and our friend, Arlene, out for the day on the south side of Sheffield. We anchored and the current was running strong. Ann and Jonathan were swimming near the boat and the current swept them away to the west (luckily, Jonathan was in a life jacket). Showing my inexperience and my overconfidence in my swimming ability, I tried to swim to them with an extra life jacket, somehow thinking I could bring them back to the anchored boat. I almost drowned and had to be fished out of the water by a passing vessel. The captain NEVER leaves the ship!

Ann had given me an anniversary gift that year, a modest little book by Janet Groene, How to Live Aboard a Boat, which she inscribed as follows: Honey – Here’s to a “dream come true” one day! Happy Anniversary, Love, Ann. Little did we know at that time where our obsession would lead. The following year there would be a new boat and there would be others after that but more on those and our times at Crow and other cruises in another entry.

Meanwhile, as it so neatly merges my publishing and historical interests with information on our home cruising grounds, I am appending a section from the United States Coast Pilot by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, published by the Government Printing Office in 1918. This was scanned as part of the Google Books Library Project from a copy at the University of California library.

This passage, written almost 100 years ago, is very detailed (a disclaimer for anyone not interested in boating or the area). Although some features are antiquated, it captures the essence of the Norwalk Islands and its environs:

NORWALK ISLANDS are a group of islands, rocks, and shoals which extend from 1 to nearly 2 miles off the north shore of Long Island Sound and have a length of 6 miles from Georges Rock to Greens Ledge lighthouse. Cockenoe Island Harbor and Sheffield Island Harbor, good at low water for vessels of about 9 and 12 feet draft, respectively, are available anchorages, and are the approaches to Norwalk River. These anchorages are marked by Pecks Ledge and Greens Ledge lighthouses and are easily made. The bottom is very irregular around the islands and rocks in the Norwalk Islands; and, although the area is well surveyed, vessels should, as a measure of safety, avoid all broken ground and proceed with caution when crossing shoal areas.

Cockenoe Island, at the eastern end of Norwalk Islands, is marked on its south side by two knolls, the rest of the island being low and level. A bar, dry in places at low water but with general depths of 1 to 2 feet, connects the island with the north shore at Seymours Point. Cockenoe Island Shoal is an extensive and dangerous area which extends 1.5 miles eastward and east-southeastward and .5 mile southward from Cockenoe Island. The least depths found are shown on the chart, but the entire area is exceedingly broken with boulders and should be avoided by strangers, even in small craft.

Georges Rock, awash at lowest tides, is at the eastern end of the shoal, and is marked off its northeast side by a black buoy. A gas and bell buoy marks the southeast end of the shoal. Vessels rounding the eastern end of Cockenoe Island Shoal should give the buoys a good berth.

Channel Rock, with 2 feet over it, lies 400 yards southwestward of Cockenoe Island, and is marked by a red buoy placed 300 yards south- westward of the rock.

Cockenoe Island Harbor lies westward of Cockenoe Island, and is marked by Pecks Ledge lighthouse. It has anchorage for vessels of less than 9 feet draft, and is also an entrance from eastward to Norwalk River. The best anchorage for vessels is in the deeper part of the harbor, depths 12 to 25 feet, lying northward and northwestward of the lighthouse. Vessels should proceed with caution at low water when crossing the shoal with 12 to 15 feet lying southward and westward of Channel Rock buoy.

Directions, Cockenoe Island Harbor. — From eastward pass southward of Cockenoe Island Shoal gas and bell buoy, steer 254° true (W % S mag.) until Pecks Ledge lighthouse bears northward of 285° true (NW by W % W mag.), then steer for the lighthouse until up with Channel Rock buoy, and then pass eastward and northward of the lighthouse at a distance of 200 to 300 yards. From westward give the edge of the shoals a good berth until Pecks Ledge lighthouse bears westward of 350° true (N mag.), and then steer this course with the lighthouse on the port, bow, passing preferably eastward of the 12-foot spot lying 250 yards southeastward of the lighthouse.

The following islands and rocks are on the northwest side of Cockenoe Island Harbor : Sprite Island is high and has some trees. Calfpasture Island has several houses and a few trees. The island eastward of Calfpasture Island is low and covered with boulders. Sheep Rocks are covered at half tide. East White Rock is a high, white rock. Grassy Hammock Rocks are bare at half tide; the rock at the south end of the group is awash at high water, and is marked by Grassy Hammock light.

Pecks Ledge lighthouse, on the west side at the entrance of Cockenoe Island Harbor, is a white conical tower, middle part brown, on a pier.

Goose Island and Grassy Island are low. The rest of the Norwalk Islands are hilly and are partly settled. Chimons Island is marked by a windmill and water tank. Copps Island has a prominent survey signal. Sheffield Island, the westernmost of the Norwalk Islands, is marked by a disused lighthouse tower (granite building). There is a boat landing on the north side of Sheffield Island.

Great Reef, lying 14 mile southward of the western end of Sheffield Island, is covered at half tide and marked by a spindle. Hiding Eocks, Old Baldy, and Old Pelt, lying northwestward of Great Reef, are bare at low water.

Greens Ledge is a rocky ridge extending from Sheffield Island to Greens Ledge lighthouse. There is little depth and rocks bare at low water in places for a distance of nearly % mile from the island, and thence to the lighthouse there is a depth of about 7 feet on the ledge. Depths of 10 to 15 feet extend about 400 yards westward and southwestward from the lighthouse, and this part of the ledge is marked at its southwest end by a red buoy. A rocky ledge, on which the least depth found is 22 feet, extends 1 mile west-southwestward from the lighthouse.

Greens Ledge lighthouse is a conical tower, lower half brown, upper half white, on a pier. Budd Reef, a small ledge with a least depth of 25 feet, lies % mile south-southeastward of Greens Ledge lighthouse. The bottom is very broken on the south side of Greens Ledge, and deep-draft vessels should pass southward of Budd Reef and the ledge with a least found depth of 22 feet lying % mile south-southwestward of Copps Island.

Sheffield Island Harbor, also known as Norwalk Harbor, is formed by the western Norwalk Islands. It is frequently used in the fall and winter, and by tows. The depths at the anchorage northwestward of Sheffield Island range from 12 to 16 feet. The directions from westward for Norwalk River lead through the harbor. The shoal flats on the north side of the harbor have rocks and boulders in places. A black buoy and a horizontally striped buoy mark the edge of the shoals with depths less than 10 feet on the north side of the harbor southwestward of Tavern Island.

Tavern Island has a number of houses. Little Tavern Island is marked by a prominent, high water tank. A row of piles extends from Tavern Island to Little Tavern Island. A rock covered at half tide lies 250 yards northeastward of Little Tavern Island. A bare rock, marked by telegraph poles, lies westward of Little Tavern Island. A shoal with little depth over it extends 250 yards south-westward of Tavern Island. A rock bare at low water lies about half-way between the southwest end of Tavern Island and the wharf at Wilson Point.

The following are objects near the channel leading from Sheffield Island Harbor to Norwalk River. White Rock shows above high water. White Rock Reef light, northward of White Rock, is located in a depth of about 9 feet on the southeast edge of the channel. Long Beach light is on the east side of the channel, near the end of the reef extending northwestward from Long Beach. Round Beach light is on the northwest side of the channel at the entrance of Norwalk River, and lies 400 yards westward of Hound Beach. The latter is a grassy shoal awash at high water, and is marked on its western side by a private spindle with cask.

NORWALK RIVER is on the north side of Long Island Sound northward of Norwalk
Islands, and is important commercially. The river has been improved by dredging a channel 150 feet wide and 10 feet deep to South Norwalk, and 100 feet wide and 8 feet deep to Norwalk. The principal entrance to the river is from westward, through Sheffield Island Harbor, and is good for a depth of 10 feet at low water. The entrance from eastward, through Cockenoe Island Harbor, is good for a depth of about 7 feet at low water. The deepest draft of vessels going up to South Norwalk and Norwalk is about 14 feet at high water.

Dorlons Point, marked by a clubhouse and wharf, is on the east side of Norwalk River 1/2 mile above the entrance. On the west side of the river abreast Dorlons Point is a shallow creek, crossed by a lift bridge with an opening 30 feet wide, above which are several marine railways to which a draft of 3 feet can be taken at high water.

South Norwalk is an important commercial and manufacturing city on the west bank of Norwalk River about 1% miles above its mouth. The depths at the wharves below the bridges range from about 5 to 12 feet.

East Norwalk, opposite South Norwalk, is reached through a channel dredged 75 feet wide and 6 feet deep, which is used mainly by small pleasure craft. In 1917 the channel had shoaled to a depth of 2.2 feet, and at low water is marked by the flats. Fitchs Point light marks the entrance of the channel at the junction with the main channel leading to South Norwalk. A stake and flag marks the southeast point of the entrance and another stake the turn abreast the lower wharves. The upper section of the channel is marked on both sides by stakes, to which small craft moor. The yacht club is at the head of navigation.

Norwalk is a city on both banks of Norwalk River at the head of navigation 1.1 miles above South Norwalk. There is a depth of about 10 feet at the wharves. The channel from South Norwalk to Norwalk is winding, with extensive flats on both sides, and requires local knowledge, even at low water, to follow it. Bridges. — Two bridges cross the river at South Norwalk. The lower one is a double-leaf lift, with an opening 70 feet wide. The second, or railroad bridge, is a center pier draw, with an opening 60 feet wide on either side…..Freight steamers make regular trips to New York from Norwalk and South Norwalk. The latter is on the main line of the N. Y., N. H. & H. R. R. Supplies. — Coal and water can be had at the wharves of South Norwalk and Norwalk. Provisions, gasoline, and other supplies can be obtained. Ice forms in the river and usually obstructs navigation for about six weeks in winter. Tides. — The mean rise and fall of tides is 6.9 feet. Some local knowledge is required to follow the best water in Norwalk River and approaches. Proceed with caution and preferably on a rising tide.