Long Island Kayak Circumnavigation: Day 6—Across the Forks

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

<— Previous: Day 5

Montauk Point to Greenport
22 nautical miles (25 land miles)


(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.

We skipped lunch, and by mid-afternoon we were paddling along the eastern side of Gardiners Island, a desolate island fringed by high brown sandy cliffs.

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.

We paddled on and on to the west, directly into the declining sun. The sea became mirror-smooth as the wind died down toward evening…

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!

We paddled up to beach and landed in the lavender evening light.

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)
  • cheese
  • bacon
  • 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!

Next: Day 7 —>

30 responses to “Long Island Kayak Circumnavigation: Day 6—Across the Forks

  1. Pingback: Long Island Kayak Circumnavigation: Day 5—Around Montauk Point | Wind Against Current

  2. amazingly beautiful shots of the still water !


  3. Fabulous! I spent the day out in the bay in a fishing boat with a small cabin. There was a bit of a swell and it was a little squally at times and I thought of you. I really would have liked to swap the fishing boat for a kayak.


    • Johna Till Johnson

      Which bay? And yes, it’s really wonderful to be out on the water—at any time, for any reason. Storm or calm, hot or cold, wet or dry… there’s nothing like being on the water…..!


      • Don’t you mean: “… there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats”?

        And the rest of the passage explains why: “Simply messing…about in boats—or with boats… In or out of ’em it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you’d much better not.”


        • Johna Till Johnson

          Ha! Points to anyone who recognizes the reference. (Hint: If I call you a toad, it won’t be an insult….)


  4. Your map showing Gardner’s Island I pinned on Pinterest on my map board.http://pinterest.com/gaylealstrom/maps. I hope you don’t mind.


  5. Cool as sea cucumbers, both of you – late start, GPS on the blink, paddling through violet sunsets … gorgeous day, messing around on boats :)


    • Johna Till Johnson

      Well, we left out all the parts where we worried about getting in after dark! But that wouldn’t have been so awful, truly–theere was a full moon that night. It was more that we didn’t want to inconvenience Mrs. Miller, or miss out on dinner! :-). Thanks for reading!


  6. What a wonderful adventure to share – the photos and the narrative make me feel as if I were paddling along with you :-)


    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks, Composer! Wish I could capture the smell, and the feeling of the blood singing in your veins—you just feel so alive on the water!


  7. What a wonderful post; there are so many great images that I lost track of which one trumped the other! This post also reflects a lot of juggling words with images, and the end result is a work of art!. Thanks, great job! Z


  8. Great story, and loved the photos!!


  9. Pingback: White Noise | honiebriggs

  10. Pingback: Long Island Kayak Circumnavigation: Day 7—Around Orient Point | Wind Against Current

  11. Some really nice images from the water.


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  15. Wow, I never would have imagined such beauty there. Typical westerner, I am, I suppose. Thank you SO much for sharing. I love the images. I plan to forward this to hubby. . . maybe we can paddle it in our cedar strip kayak some day!


    • Go for it!

      Yes, we were surprised by how beautiful, and how wild, Long Island was! That’s because everyone normally sees it only from the inside, where many (not all) parts of it are just suburbs, traffic jams along the Long Island Expressway, expanses of hot tarmac… whereas we saw the converse—the fringes of Long Island from the outside, where there are marshes and deserted sandy beaches, cool water, beautiful sunsets and sunrises… the way Long Island must have been before it was ever settled…


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