Long Island Kayak Circumnavigation: Day 8—Independence Day

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

<— Previous: Day 7

Greenport to Roanoke Point, Riverhead
16 nautical miles (18 land miles)

(click on photos to expand them—they look a lot better when they’re BIGGER!)

Sometimes it’s just not easy to do the right thing—and that was surely the case on the morning of July 4th.

We’d planned to wake up at the crack of dawn, around 5 AM, and launch by seven. The goal was to get as far down the North Shore as we could, leveraging the current that would be with us from 6 AM to about noon.

That was the plan, all right. We just couldn’t do it.

That morning, it was harder than ever to wake up and pack. It didn’t help that an early morning shower was plastering the beach with rain. But for some reason, the two nights of rest had made us more tired, not less. And for the first time, the prospect of getting into our boats didn’t seem appealing. Maybe sleeping indoors really does make you soft?

We finally launched late, around 10:45 AM. And once we were actually in the boats, our spirits picked up. Partly it was the current that carried us along. But we also were looking forward to the cliffs of the North Shore, which we hadn’t seen before. And the prospect of fireworks!

As expected, the current wore off about noon, and then turned against us. We paddled through inches-deep water just a few feet off the beach to keep out of the current streaming against us. Still, for some time it seemed we were barely moving forward.

But the scenery surpassed our expectations. Above the long white beach rose dramatic sandy cliffs topped with dense stands of trees, stretching away into the distance. Headland after headland came into view as we paddled on. So different from the flat, marshy South Shore! If it hadn’t been for the occasional house glimpsed through the trees at the top of the cliff, and here and there a fisherman on the beach, we could have imagined ourselves to be on a deserted, wild coast.

After a few hours’ paddling, we landed on the beach for a late lunch.

After lunch, we continued along the beach, weaving through fields of glacial erratic boulders. They lined the beach and were scattered everywhere in the shallow water, the deeper ones giving away their presence only by the spray of white water that rose up when an especially large wave came along…

We passed boulders occupied by flocks of seabirds…

… and by human fishermen…

Late in the afternoon, a strong westerly wind, stronger than any headwind so far on the trip, rose up against us.  And the light began to acquire that golden end-of-day tinge. Clearly, we weren’t going to get much farther today.

So, even though we hadn’t covered nearly as much distance as we’d intended this day, we headed in to shore.

We paddled through a field of fringing boulders and landed on a broad beach backed by high cliffs. We set up camp as the last sunlight gave way to a quiet blue dusk.

We were determined to get an early start in the morning—this time! So, we decided to test out our bivvy sacks and see if they were faster to deploy, and pack up in the morning, than the tent. We fixed some dinner and then settled into our sacks to watch the fireworks.

It was a hazy, rainy night, so they weren’t quite as dramatic as we expected. Still, just on the other side of the hill at the back of the beach there was evidently a small settlement, where intermittent fireworks soon started popping off, startlingly close. Their flashes illuminated our beach like lightning and clouds of dark sulfurous smoke drifted over our campsite out to sea. And on the horizon in front of us, where we had a 270-degree view thanks to the curvature of the North Shore coastline, we saw tiny fireworks sprout up across the Long Island Sound in Connecticut, and up and down the Long Island shore.

I fell asleep quickly, vowing to wake up in time to see the sunrise.

Next: Day 9 —>

41 responses to “Long Island Kayak Circumnavigation: Day 8—Independence Day

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

  2. breathtaking photography. I bet it was even more amazing to be there!


  3. Green rocks!
    When reading about coping with long paddles (like the MR340, for example), advice and training techniques vary. But there is one thing everybody agrees on: stay in the kayak as much as possible. Apparently, it gets really hard to get back to it the longer you stay out of the boat. Aside from your late morning, have you found this to be true?


    • Johna Till Johnson

      Very much so. By the end of the trip, we were pretty much in two distinct physical states: in the boat (happy, energetic, un-injured) and out of the boat (tired, in pain, injured). The problem is that landing and launching, and even more loading and unloading, generate all kinds of injuries that are cumulative. They don’t seem to bother you much on water, but they quickly become difficult to tolerate on land.

      In fact, you’ll see by the end of the trip the lengths we went to to avoid getting in and out of the boat…!

      Thanks for reading!


  4. I like our photos, for me in Berlin it is so far away and the beaches, the coast and the isles are as if from another world.


    • Johna Till Johnson

      How wonderful that you’re reading from so far away! Hope to visit Berlin one day…. but I won’t look for beaches :-). Thanks for reading!


  5. Beautiful beyond words… Thank you!


  6. I can imagine the luxury of a hot shower, and cool, crisp sheets, but I wonder how much you missed the magical hours – dawn and dusk – those two nights of living it up? I sure missed the shots – though this stunning north shore wilderness adds to the beauty … :)


  7. what a world of changing colours and scenery you paddle through – mesmerising. Such sweet dreams to carry you through old age!


  8. Gorgeous pics….putting me in the mood for….. a spot of afternoon daydreaming ^-^


  9. one word – ‘amazing’


  10. i love that you are treating us to those great photos of your trip, thanks MJ


  11. Amazing photos! I enjoyed your story of perseverance. We rented some double kayaks yesterday and as I’m getting splashed by my 12 year old son in front of me and we struggled to paddle in tandem, I couldn’t help but wonder about the adventurous kayakers like yourself who paddle through rough waters and storms….your post came at the perfect moment.


    • Fortunately, we’ve never attempted to paddle a double kayak together—you are ahead of us there!

      But seriously, if you like kayaking, even those struggles at the beginning are worthwhile. In retrospect, you’ll find that you got the same satisfaction from dealing with little waves and wind when you were first starting out as later from more serious conditions—so every trip is a memorable experience :-)


  12. Gorgeous. I know the south fork quite well, but the north fork only slightly – and the coastline not at all. I had no idea it was so dramatic & protected. Love those glacial boulders strewn about.


    • We didn’t know the North Shore coastline before this trip, either. We’d seen some cliffs and boulders on day trips out of NYC into the western Long Island Sound, but we didn’t realize that they continued all along the North Shore and in fact became much more dramatic farther east. Whereas the South Shore of Long Island is low and flat, the North Shore is distinctly high and cliffy…


  13. What a gorgeous landscape and seascape, but then again, I had no idea that Long Island had such a rugged coast. I know so little about the East Coast. But I think I’m about to start learning.

    What type of camera are you using? Your photographs are stunning.


    • It’s not exactly a rugged coast by the standards of the Pacific Northwest (for example), but it’s a lot wilder than one would expect given that Long Island is home to millions of people…

      All my Long Island circumnavigation photos were taken with a Pentax Optio W90, which is basically just a fancy, but most importantly waterproof, point-and-shoot camera.


  14. Really beautiful shots… ;-)


  15. Beautiful pictures, what a wonderful trip, will definitely put it on my to do list. Finding places to camp was not a problem?


    • We were a bit worried before the trip about finding places to camp, but it turned out to be no problem at all, even in mid-summer. Long Island is one giant beach, on which we camped more or less at will. Having said that, we were careful before the trip to note places—odd corners of public parks, scraps of land under bridges, isolated sandbars—where we would probably not be bothered by anyone in authority, and we never were. (Google Maps was great for spotting such places.) We avoided camping where houses were close by. All this was pretty easy to do on Long Island, unlike, for instance, the shore of western Connecticut, where every foot of shoreline is built up or is a jealously guarded town park.


  16. Wow, your kayaking is taking you to some incredible natural sights :) Beautifully taken photographs!


  17. I didn’t know the NE end of the states was so pretty! It kinda looks like North CA. Nice pics! I’m not sure if you know this, but if you scout out trips beforehand on googlemaps, you can right click a spot and click “what’s here?” and it will give you gps coordinates. Sometimes it will default to the nearest road, but it’s still useful from the water. Thx for posting :D


    • Thanks for that trick—I didn’t know about it. But actually we rarely use exact coordinates (except sometimes out on the open ocean, or in poor visibility) because the coastline around here has so many distinguishing features that it’s fairly easy to orient oneself on the marine chart using them.

      I enjoyed your description of your boat and your adventures with it in the PNW!


  18. Thanks, here’s to more adventures *clink*


  19. Pingback: Long Island Kayak Circumnavigation: Day 9—High Water Beach | Wind Against Current

  20. I truly enjoyed reading the full account of this 9day22hour trip. Well written with great photography everywhere. It IS amazing how kayaking can bring you to places so idealic, even in an unfamiliar sense even very close to metropolitan areas. Its a phenomenon I havent seen as readily biking. I too would like to do at least some LI shore kayaking too. As it is I am “across the pond” in connecticut.

    Beautifully told.


    • Thank you!! It sounds like you are just the kind of person we had in mind when we wrote these posts. And CT is not so far from Long Island’s North Shore… you just have to paddle across the Sound :-)


  21. Bravo for your efforts and relaying the experience so well… and colorfully.


  22. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Our 2012 in Pictures | Wind Against Current

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