By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina
(click on photos to expand them—they look a lot better when they’re BIGGER!)
At 5:30 AM, the sun rose out of the sea and flooded our campsite at Pleasant Grove with golden light.
For once, we felt virtuous in sleeping in a bit longer. Yesterday was the big day—we’d paddled 35 miles up Long Island’s South Shore and rounded Montauk Point in a thunderstorm. Today we planned to take things easy—a short trip across the “forks” of Eastern Long Island, culminating in an evening in Greenport where we had a reservation at the Harbor Knoll Bed & Breakfast—our first night indoors in five days.
The only challenge today might be in navigation—for once, we’d be crossing open water, rather than simply keeping the coastline to our left. If the day turned out to be hazy, we might even be out of sight of land. But we both had charts, compasses, and GPS units—and how hard could navigation really be? (Famous last words!)
Our campsite, Pleasant Grove, really lived up to its name. There was shade, a gentle breeze (which kept away the biting insects), and plenty of logs on which to sit and trees from which to string dock lines as impromptu clotheslines.
We weren’t stiff or sore, just generally slow and lazy this morning. We didn’t relish having to deal with our gear, which was sitting out in a couple of huge piles where we’d unloaded the boats last night. As we slowly got organized, various people meandered down the beach. There were groups of beachcombers and even a few horseback riders.
We weren’t ready to launch until nearly 11 AM—and then we had a bit of a shock. We’d been planning on a short day, but when we mapped out the distance, it was 20 nautical miles—much of it against the current and the wind. Check-in time at the B&B was supposedly 3 PM to 6 PM—no way would we make 20 miles by then.
I unwrapped the phone and left voice mail for the innkeeper, assuring her we would get in around eight to eight thirty, and that we would not be late. I devoutly hoped that was the truth!
Then we set off. Amazingly, it felt good to be back in the boats! (In fact, one of the pleasant surprises of the trip was that the pleasure of paddling didn’t diminish, no matter how many miles we’d logged.)
We skirted the northern shore of the Montauk peninsula and paddled past the entrance to busy Lake Montauk, where summer activities were in full swing on both land and sea.
Then our course was to the west, across five miles of open water to Gardiners Island. Sure enough, it was a lengthy paddle, with both the wind and current against us, though neither very strongly. It was hot, but a brief rain shower half-way through the crossing cooled us off.
Soon we were off the northern tip of the island. The next leg was an even longer open-water paddle across Gardiners Bay, aiming due west into the gap between the North Fork of Long Island and Shelter Island. We set off, squinting at the various land masses on the horizon in front of us, trying to figure out which was which.
Perfectly on cue, Vlad’s GPS died. More Hollywood choreography! The one time the whole trip that we actually had use for a functional GPS, his went south—after many years of working perfectly.
Fortunately, we had mine. Even more fortunately, I’d kept it turned off to conserve battery power, so it was pretty much fully charged. I handed it over to him (since he’s got more navigational expertise). Quickly we ascertained that the lump ahead and to our left was Shelter Island—so we’d need to stay north of that.
The sun was very low on the horizon when we discerned in its glare, directly in front of us, a lighthouse. It was Bug Light, at the entrance to Greenport. Only another couple of miles to go!
We passed Bug Light and paddled between the wooded shore of Shelter Island, over which a full moon was rising, and Greenport, where the orange sun was just touching the horizon. Once again, we’d managed to time our arrival perfectly at sunset!
We’d worried about how to find the Harbor Knoll Bed & Breakfast, but Vlad located it on the chart to within half a block—and as we paddled up, the dock and beach looked exactly as we’d seen them on the Harbor Knoll website. Impossible to miss!
The next question: Would it be okay to park our kayaks? We hadn’t mentioned them when we made our reservation—on the theory that the innkeepers might be more willing to accommodate us in person, but might have said “no” over the phone.
“You go,” Vlad said, “You’re more charming and presentable than I am.” (He’s wrong, but it got me out of having to lift stuff, so I was happy to comply.)
We needn’t have worried. Mrs. Miller, our hostess, came out as I approached the house. “Are you the lady who called to say you’d be late?” she asked. I confirmed, and told her about the kayaks. She wasn’t fazed at all—just said that we could leave them on the beach, where the high tide wouldn’t reach them. And she said that there were restaurants a short walk away.
What a pleasure to be indoors! And not only were there hot showers to enjoy, but our thoughtful hostess had left a bottle of local wine and some snacks out for us!
By the time we’d showered and were ready to go, it was close to 10 PM. Fortunately, the center of Greenport was, as promised, less than ten minutes away by foot.
Soon after we hit the main street, Vlad stopped in front of a place called “Andy’s Unbelievable Burgers”. “I think we should go here,” he said. I’d been kind of daydreaming about seafood, so I wasn’t initially in love with the idea. But Vlad pointed out that it was past ten, and we weren’t in Manhattan—there was a very good chance we could keep walking and find everything else closed.
So we stopped at Andy’s…. and boy am I glad we did! Andy’s Unbelievable Burger turned out to be two patties of beef, each with
- roasted peppers
- lettuce, tomato, onion
- chili (made properly with meat, no beans)
- and a fried egg!
Wow, was it good. And that wasn’t all. Vlad ordered a beer, but I hesitated, not in the mood somehow. “Would you like to try a wine slushie?” the waitress asked. “They’re really good!”
A what? Wine slushie?
You got that right. Just like the old 7-11 Icees, only made with wine. And amazingly, not too sweet!
Needless to say, we slept very well that night!