We have loved this summer on the fresh water of the Hudson River, Champlain Canal and Lake Champlain, but it’s time to get back to the salt water! We will NOT miss the spiders, so prevalent on fresh water. They were driving us (Rob)crazy!
So what exactly is the “Down East Loop”? This loop is a variation of “America’s Great Loop”, which we will begin in earnest in the spring. The “Down East” takes the Champlain Canal rather than the Erie Canal, to Lake Champlain, to the Richeleau River, Chambley Canal to the St. Lawrence, over to Nova Scotia, then down to Maine, Boston, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and down from there back to New York, where routes vary. Well, we did the first part up to Champlain, and the end part from Nantucket south!
The Down East Loop Route
We ended up staying an extra day at Liberty Landing due to heavy rain early on Monday morning, August 13th. The sky was black and heavy, and it felt like nightfall at 7:30 am, so we decided to postpone our trip over to City Island in the Bronx until the next day.
We had a good day to head up the East River, through Hell’s Gate to Long Island Sound the next day. It’s an interesting trip, going up the East River under the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, Queensboro (Ed Koch, also known as the 59th Street Bridge) and RFK Triborough bridges, past Rikers Island, and sailing under the planes landing and taking off from LaGuardia Airport. It’s a thrill, and allows you to see things you will never see from land. Having spent most of her career working on the East Side of Manhattan, it’s an especially meaningful trip for Nancy.
Traveling up the East River, passing Nancy’s old work neighborhood
Riker’s Island Prison is sprawling. It has overflowed from the island itself, already a pretty sizable piece of real estate, to a floating barge across the channel.
Opened as a jail in 1932, Riker’s Island houses 10,000 inmates on a 413 acre island nestled between LaGuardia Airport in Queens and the Bronx. Rikers is the worlds largest correctional and mental health facility, with a long history of inmate abuse and neglect. Due to high costs to run the facility, along with facility violations and increased inmate violence, NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio announced in 2017 that Riker’s would close no later that 2027.
As you approach Riker’s, you’ll start to see the planes landing and taking off from LaGuardia Airport. This is fearful flyer Nancy’s least favorite NYC airport, having had to fly for business out of one metropolitan airport or another for 35+ years of business travel. One of the major runways is literally built over the water (pictured below). It’s not fun to land or take off on it. Believe me (Nancy).
Nancy’s “favorite” runway at LaGuardia Airport.
Our destination was Minneford’s Marina in City Island, Bronx, NY. It’s been years since we’ve been to City Island, and we needed a full service marina to look at our ever troublesome water pump. We had lovely views, the dock hand was great, facilities were better than average…but the service department? Due to their miscommunication and a faulty replacement pump, we were stuck there for 3 nights. And, we left without a new water pump, so problem not resolved. We did have fun exploring on our bikes, provisioned as best as we could, and had a great dinner at Artie’s, for super delicious Italian/Seafood (thanks to Marilyn Armbruster and George Conk for steering us in the right direction for marina and food on City Island!). Since this is becoming a tradition, what would a stop be without another summer storm? This one was a doozy!! We didn’t think it would hit us at first, but within seconds it hit, and it hit hard. Five lines, four fenders, and lots of rocking later, we had a spectacular evening!
One thing we did accomplish…Rob was able to replace the anchor light. Oh, did I forget to mention that it got knocked off by a bridge on the Champlain Canal? Yup, think I did.
We left City Island early, at 6:15 am, heading to Essex, CT, with a break in the trip at Branford, CT. We arrived in Branford at noon.
Sunrise leaving City Island
Rob was lucky enough to be a crew member on our friends Doug and Diane Desaulniers new 36′ Hunter sailboat, Reverie, when she was moved from Connecticut to Raritan Bay, N.J. a couple of years ago. They had stopped at Brewer’s Marina there, and liked it, so we decided to make that our stop. We were thrilled that we did, as it’s a lovely marina, and it was brutally hot, so their pool was delightful! Getting into the harbor is skinny and rocky, and there is a ton of activity on the water: recreational motor and sail boats approaching on several intersecting channels, along with paddle boards, kayaks, and even a swimming race! We arrived on a hot, sunny Saturday…enough said. Fortunately, the channels are extremely well marked, and it’s a beautiful harbor.
The harbor at Branford
There was a lot of activity at Branford, including this sailboat crew who were busy all day getting ready for their departure the next day.
Super glad not to have this guys job!
And in the slip next to ours…
Our next stop was beautiful Essex, CT. Essex is a special place for Nancy, as her Dad’s first cousin, Marian Van DeWater Dock, and her husband Al, retired and bought a beautiful historic home in Essex (the house was used in the Underground Railroad during the Civil War), with a cottage on the property that became their antique store, Our Forefather’s Shoppe. Aunt Marian was an artist, both professionally and personally, and Uncle Al was a woodworker. They were both avid collectors, and visiting their home was like stepping into a museum. In fact, when they sold the house and the business, Sotheby’s came in to evaluate, and eventually auction their collections. Uncle Al’s antique duck decoy collection was one of the largest and most impressive private collections of decoy ducks in the country. We are fortunate to have several of Aunt Marian’s paintings, along with a beautiful brass bowl and a couple of ducks crafted by Uncle Al.
Essex is a charming little river town, nestled approximately 5 miles up the Connecticut River from the Long Island Sound. Essex is filled with charming homes and shops, and the famed Griswold Inn holds court on Main Street. We had a great time exploring the neighborhoods around town on our bikes, as there are so many winding streets and beautiful old homes.
The historic Griswold Inn
The Griswold (AKA “The Gris”) is an institution in Essex. It’s where the locals and tourists alike hang out in a space filled with amazing nautical artifacts and artwork. Nancy has spent a lot of time enjoying delicious meals at The Gris over the years with her family when visiting Essex. They have now opened the Griswold Wine Bar, offering a smaller, quieter dining room next door to the Inn, and they focus on small plates. We had an outstanding meal, and Nancy will be replicating their edamame with garlic and parmesan…delicious!
We love Essex Island Marina! We limped into this marina 14 years ago on one engine, on our first trip aboard our first boat, Misty VI. The service team at Essex Island went above and beyond to take care of our mechanical problems then and they were the same now. They quickly diagnosed our water pump problem, fixed it, and made the entire experience easy, unlike our previous service encounters with this pump!
Essex Island Marina
The marina is a little old fashioned, which frankly, it’s what makes it so charming! While the facilities are basic, they are meticulously maintained, clean, with bathrooms, barbecues, and tables and chairs scattered all over the property, a beautiful pool, shuffleboard and a giant checkers set. There’s even a BBQ food truck with a deck and picnic tables on the island that opens at 8 am with delicious breakfast sandwiches (we had them…yum!), and stays open through dinner. It really does sit on an island, and you take an adorable little 2 minute ferry ride to and from town.
The Essex Island Marina Ferry
Essex Island Marina BBQ Truck
Walking downtown Essex is beautiful both during the day and night. One historic home is more beautiful than the next, all incredibly restored and maintained.
Nancy’s Aunt Marian and Uncle Al were extremely active in the Essex community, and were key members of the team of residents who established the charming River Museum at the end of Main Street.
Albert Dock & Marian Van DeWater Dock noted on the plaque at The River Museum
There are some fun shops in town to wander in and out of, including a great ice cream store and a store devoted entirely to Rubber Ducks!
Shops in downtown Essex
And what would our travels be this summer without a crazy thunder storm? Here’s our Essex storm, another big one!
Before leaving Essex and the Connecticut River, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the railroad bridge. While it’s largely open, it was closed on our first trip up the river 14 years ago. Back then, we waited, aboard a disabled vessel (one engine out), for the bridge opening for an hour. And, the gentleman at the bridge was less than pleasant. This year, we were thrilled to find the bridge open on the way to and from Essex. Happy boaters!
After 3 wonderful nights in Essex, we set off for Mystic, CT. at 8:38 am, arriving in Mystic at 1 pm. Mystic, interestingly, doesn’t really exist as a town. Rather, it’s Stonington, CT, but everyone still refers to it as Mystic. And yes, there really is a Mystic Pizza!
Mystic Seaport, established in 1929, is the largest maritime museum in the U.S. The Seaport is known for their collection of sailing ships and boats, and for the re-creation of the crafts and fabric of an entire 19th Century sea-faring village. There are more than 60 historic buildings, most are commercial structures moved to the 19 acre site and meticulously restored.
The ride up the Mystic River (which is actually an estuary) is just beautiful, but you do need to be aware of the bridge openings for both the railroad bridge, which opens on signal (we were lucky that it was open) and the Mystic Highway Bridge, which only opens 40 minutes past the hour. Since this bridge goes through the center of town, it’s a bit of a tourist attraction to watch the bridge open and the boats go by.
The Mystic River
The most incredible thing about Mystic? You can stay in Mystic Seaport’s marina, which gives you access to the park at no charge, and you are free to wander the grounds of the Seaport after hours, when all of the tourists and staff are gone for the day. It’s absolutely magical! Your boat is truly in the center of the seaport. So much so, that they give you this sign to display in your window:
Enjoying the Seaport after hours
While in Mystic, we celebrated Rob’s birthday (number to be withheld) with a delicious grilled, spiced rib-eye with home-made pico de gallo, corn and garlic mashed potatoes. Yum!
Yummy Celebration for Rob’s birthday
Taking the suggestion of our friends Ami Weiners and Dave New, we enjoyed a wonderful meal at S & P Oyster Company, sitting on the patio overlooking the river and the bridge traffic. We had a lovely table in the garden, and the food was delicious!
S & P Oyster Company
We left Mystic Seaport at 8:20 am, and headed straight across Long Island Sound to Fisher Island, arriving at 11:15 am. It was a beautiful day, and it was nice to have a short ride to enjoy this peaceful anchorage in East Harbor. While Fisher is part of Southold Township on Long Island (New York), the island is only accessible from Connecticut ferries. The island is home to the Fishers Island Club, long considered one of the top 100 golf courses in the United States. Beautiful homes dot the shore line, and peace and quiet is the order of the day. We enjoyed a beautiful afternoon on the water, kayaking closer to shore to explore.
Fischer Island anchorage
A beautiful day was capped off by a beautiful evening and sunset.
Our next goal was to reach Newport, but given the fact that we were in the countdown to the end of summer, we knew that marinas would be crowded, most especially on weekends. We were also learning that after Labor Day, the New England marinas raise their rates on Fridays and Saturdays, and come back down to “lower” rates on Sunday. So, we went to an anchorage off of Dutch Island, just outside of Newport, RI. to await cheaper dock fees the next day.
Dutch Harbor sits on the west side of Conanicut Island, and is protected on the west by Dutch Island. The 102 acre island is uninhabited, but was the home to Fort Greble, built in 1865. Dutch Island served as a prisoner of war camp in WWII, and has since been uninhabited and undeveloped. There are ruins of a few military buildings and a light house, but the state owned island is used largely as a wildlife refuge, and occasionally used by the RI National Guard for training. The anchorage is large, not crowded, and very quiet. A beautiful spot to spend the night. You can see the top of the Claiborn Pell (Newport) Bridge from the anchorage, and we were treated to a fireworks display over the bridge that evening!
Dutch Island Anchorage
Fireworks over the Claiborn Pell Bridge
The next morning, Sunday, August 26, we only needed to get around the point to Newport, so we took a bit of a detour around the neck to check out the Newport mansions from the water. Unbelievable! Not bad for a “summer cottage”!
A few of the mansions of Newport
We entered Newport Harbor and headed for Newport Harbor Hotel and Marina. It’s was a busy Sunday afternoon, and there was a regatta going on, and while it was spectacular to watch, it made for a crazy, nail biting entry to the harbor! And, yes, those sailboats really did get that close to us!
Entering Newport Harbor
Since we spent 3 days in Newport, we were fortunate to see a lot!