What’s in Oyster Bay Harbor? Lots!
The Oyster Bay Civic Association seems to be making a difference. Oyster Bay Hamlet on Oyster Bay in Long Island Sound has made visible improvements without losing its character and small town appeal. And what potential this little waterfront gem has. With a President (Teddy Roosevelt), a rock star (Billy Joel) and plenty of entrepreneurs and tycoons as favorite sons, a waterfront setting unlike many others, and an abundance of protected water, Oyster Bay could easily assume the role of the Newport of LIS. Even the stately Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club is in a position to play the role of host. Look out Narragansett Bay, Oyster Bay is poised to rock.
How to get there
Situated between Huntington Bay to the East and Hempstead to the West, Oyster Bay is a beautiful wide body of water that is easily navigated, leading to Cold Spring Harbor straight in and Oyster Bay Harbor to starboard. While Cold Spring is relatively exposed to the North, Oyster Bay Harbor is snug as a bug in a rug, with hilly protective shores all around, anchorage room aplenty, and moorings to your heart’s content.
As you sail into the Bay, keep in mind that the tidal variation here is about 7 feet. So at high tide, much of the Bay is navigable for almost any vessel, while at low tide you may choose to round the light tower at the bight that cuts Lloyd Harbor on Bay off from Oyster Bay. As you ogle the impressive estates high on the hills overlooking the Bay (one of them reportedly belonged to John Gotti), don’t forget to observe the osprey who nests on top of the tower. She’s hard to miss as she tends to be very protective of her babies when boaters encroach.
Turn right after the light to head into Oyster Bay Harbor. The house on the point is the one I covet and Alex has promised to buy it for me but I haven’t been able to get him to commit to a time frame. I love the stone folly (Irish term for a lovely structure with no apparently useful function) on the beach. As you enter Oyster Bay Harbor from Oyster Bay, just past the point to starboard is the beautifully situated Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club, one of the first on the Sound and home to some quite spectacular yachts. Seawanhaka has guest moorings available, and members of reciprocal clubs are welcome to use the facilities. It is wise to call ahead though (516-922-6200, harbor: 516-922-6305), to find out if the restaurant is open for guests, which it may not be if a private function is underway. At the end of their mooring field is the first of the nice anchorages in OB. This is the best place in a northerly. Continuing past this channel, the Harbor opens up to the Cove to port which is an ideal anchorage for just about any vessel, and you will often find large cruising yachts at anchor after trans oceanic passages. The Knickerbocker, a 95' S&S owned by Charles Dolan who founded HBO and sold it to Time Warner before starting Cablevision, now has a mooring there. The Cove is wonderful and carries good depth almost all the way in but a little of a hike into town by dinghy. Just East of the mooring field just off Cove Neck is an area where many day-trippers anchor, as well as a few overnighters. Check the tides as the variation here is pretty significant (>7 feet). Holding is pretty good here. However there are patches where a fortress type anchor will get clogged by clumps of mud and oyster shells (I suppose that’s why it is called Oyster Bay!). Once it sets, however, it can be very hard to extract again. We have also used our Delta here, but without a windlass, we have to rely on a trip line to get it back out. When it sets in to the hard mud, it really goes in!
Continuing on to the town of Oyster Bay, bear south carefully following the channel and avoiding the oyster stakes, markers for the local oysterman’s holdings. The mooring field extends from the Cove all the way to the end of town. The best way to get your bearings is to note the oil tanks on shore. Past the oil tanks are Oyster Bay Marine Center and Knickerbocker Yacht Club. You can rent a mooring from Oyster Bay Marine Center, which also provides a launch service. If you choose to anchor, it is a short dinghy ride to OB Marine Center where for about $5.00 you may tie up and go ashore. You can reach Oyster Bay Marine Center on Channel 71 or at 516-922-6331. One note of caution: when we last brought our dinghy in here, we decided to tie it up securely as close to shore as possible. When we returned at low tide, the dinghy was high and dry, and we found ourselves portaging along the docks to find some water. KYC extends privileges to visiting yachtsmen and provides a welcoming reception. Their deck and bar overlooking the harbor provides a nice location for watching the world go by. Next after KYC is the municipal marina. It is a lovely facility with docks, a parking lot, and toilets but no showers. Here is the first of the public docks. Despite proclaiming 20 minute tie up, our dinghy spent a couple of hours there while we walked the town.
Past the municipal marina is a waterfront park with Teddy Roosevelt’s life story written in rocks (it’s hard to explain, you’ll have to see it yourself), a ball field, a beautiful long beach with lifeguard, a boat ramp, and transient docks. The transient docks don’t say anything about tying up so we assume this is another good place to tie up your dinghy when visiting. There is plenty of activity here with people launching boats and jet skis at all hours. The walk into town is a little longer from here as you have to walk around the ball field to get across the train tracks near the center of town, but there was plenty of room when we checked it out.
Past this recreational area is a working dock where the retired lightship Nantucket is resting. It’s really cool to imagine her directing safe passage to ships in storms in times past. The anchorage past that at the end of the mooring field is closer to Oyster Bay town than the Cove and provides convenient access by dinghy.
If you’re looking for an anchorage away from it all, West Harbor, at the Northwestern end of Oyster Bay is your place. It’s a wide open body of water with reasonably good depth and protection all around that has few moorings, lots of beaches, little development and plenty of wildlife. Check the charts for depth as the Western end tends to get shallower. You can anchor pretty much anywhere here. Check the depth on the charts carefully especially if you draw more than 6 feet. We tend to pick somewhere closer (but not too close) to one of the shores, so that the occasional speedboat or fisherman does not disturb our serenity. Aleria draws over eight feet, and except for the northern third of the bay we always have plenty of water under our keel. This is a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery, the wildlife, and an evening cocktail under a spectacular sunset.
If you anchor closer to the head of the harbor, you can take your dinghy past the drawbridge in the Northwest corner of West Harbor. Here you will find a small marina and a small clam shack restaurant with a funky waterfront bar, which is a great place for lunch of fried seafood and watching the antics associated with launching power boats in every way imaginable. The town of Bayville is apparently a choice location on LIS per a July 20, 2007 article in the New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B02E7D8153DF931A35756C0A96F958260
Where to go
Access to town is good from the municipal marina. The trick is to cross the railroad tracks and there are only a couple of places to do that. The first is to walk around past the fuel tanks to the left and around the end of the rail line. The second is to walk across the park to the crossing just at the edge of the ballfield. If you walk up the street to the left, you’ll be right in the center of town, with cannons, town hall, statue of Teddy, and all. Turn left on Audrey and you’ll get to the action.
As you enter town, there are plenty of pubs and restaurants in which to down a cold one or a hot one, including the Canterbury Inn (comfy bar stocked with Teddy memorabilia and good food) and Jack Halyards (a topnotch seafood restaurant).
In town, there are several good restaurants, quite a few antique shops, and some interesting historical destinations. Just keep in mind that the hours are limited. On a Saturday evening in July, almost all the shops except a handful closed their doors at 5 pm , just as we were arriving off the water in our boat. The ones that stayed open till 6 got our business, and believe it or not, we found plenty to buy. Interesting gifts for friends and family, a hand embroidered bag, inventive costume jewelry, and of course beer and oysters.
The town also offers relatively easy provisioning with a liquor store, several delis and convenience stores and a Laundromat all right there within about a three block radius. There’s an ice machine (really important if you want that sunset cocktail in the middle of the summer) at the liquor store.
Among the more unusual shops are a coin store (yep they have piles of coins, antique toy banks, and strange currencies from around the world.), a couple of hardware stores, an upscale appliance shop, jewelry stores, and plenty of real estate brokers and insurance brokers. The boutiques offer truly unusual finds from far and near.
Eateries here tend to come and go but one that has stayed for a long time is Canterbury Ales, a beer and oyster bar and restaurant serving mostly fish fare. It is a lively place with a nice selection or microbrews and world-famous beers on tap. It also has a plethora of Teddy memorabilia including a giant buffalo head mounted at the edge of the bar which always draws wide-eyed stares from the kids. They always have a good selection of oysters and offer a sampler not cheap but fabulous if you’re an oyster lover. This day’s selection included oysters from Long Island, Chesapeake Bay, Prince Edward Island and from British Columbia. We both agreed on the order of tastiness and discovered that the price per oyster reflected our preferences exactly the most expensive turned out to be the tastiest by eons, well worth the difference.
A new restaurant which used to be a book shop café opened up in a really interesting historical building at the main crossroad. Wild Honey under executive chef Zane Smith has a really great looking menu which we can’t wait to sample on our next trip. With entrees like Thai Style Snapper, Ocean Bouillabaisse Grilled Hangar Steak, and Chicken and Wild Mushroom Pasta that complement inventive starters like iron skillet mussels, sake steamed clams and duck spring roll, it looks like a winner. Of course, the address of 1 East Main Street makes it easy to find (516-922-4690). The Carvel ice cream store is right across the street.
Next to the liquor store down the street from Carvel is another fish specialty restaurant, Jack Halyards. In an upscale modern style setting, the menu is varied and satisfying.
There are also plenty of small restaurants and take out shops, including a pizza shop, Chinese take out, two delis, a Subway, and a Spanish bodega. You won’t go hungry and can easily provide fare for a hungry crew.
Of course, if you come here in mid-October for the Oyster festival (October 13 & 14 in 2007), you’ll find the streets closed to automobile traffic, while "Lon geilanders" consume massive quantities of oysters and beer. You can also buy all matter of crafts, collectibles, and other memorabilia from street vendors that you’ll later have to figure how to get to your boat. Antique furniture is available but may be too big to bring home in a boat.
What to do
Aside from eating and shopping in town, there are several really great fun things to do within the environs of the town and not far afield. In town are the Raynham Hall Museum (20 West Main St) open 12 to 5 pm Tuesday through Sunday from July 1 through Labor Day. It was the home of the Townsend Family and served as the British Revolutionary War headquarters, while the Townsends’ son Robert served as a spy for General George Washington. The OB Historical Society is located in Earle Wrightman House built in 1720 at 20 Summit Street. This one room house illustrates the life of a tradesman and his family in colonial times. It is open Tues through Fri 10 am to 2 pm, Sat 9 am to 1 pm, and Sunday 1-4 pm. Raynham Hall also offers a unique self-guided walking tour of the town presented by the Main Street Association. Digital wands and tour maps are available at the museum.
The folding bikes we carry onboard have extended our shore leave range considerably. One of the best places to visit in Oyster Bay is Sagamore, Teddy Roosevelt’s place, which is about a 40-minute ride by bike UP the mountain from town. Here you see his trophy animals, hunting memorabilia, and gifts from heads of state, as well as fabulous gardens in the process of being restored. It’s a fascinating, and well-preserved look into the past of America and one of its more colorful leaders. It is well worth the ride, especially knowing that the return trip is all down hill!
The Waterfront Center at One West End Avenue is a not-for-profit educational center that makes it easy for people to get out on the water and learn about this town’s most important asset. They rent boats, give lessons, and conduct charters on the historic oyster sloop Christeen. It’s fun to see all the people line up on deck to hoist the sails, calling out “Sweet Sixteen, pull,” in unison as in days of old. (516-922-SAIL).
Our two favorite things to do are however outside of town. The first is a visit to Sagamore Hill, home of Teddy Roosevelt, and the second is a visit to Planting Fields Arboretum. Both are a bike ride or cab ride from town.
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site and the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center are a very special destination that children and adults both will enjoy. The home is open for guided tours only to groups of no more than 14 and is operated by the National Park Service. Although we tend to hate guided tours, this one is a must, not just because it’s required but because you would never get all the details nor as entertainingly as you get from the guides, who get into Rough Rider character and tell the story of Teddy’s Presidency with great color. You learn about the gifts from statesmen around the world, about the life of the President’s family when residing there as their summer Whitehouse, and about the speeches delivered from the porch. You can imagine the coaches arriving to deliver important visitors, and the bigger than life characters that passed through.
The grounds are open daily from dawn to dusk but the tours are available only 10 am to 4 pm. The Old Orchard Museum on the grounds is open 10 am to 4 pm as well. July Fourth is a special treat at Sagamore Hill, with a traditional celebration including reenactments of Rough Rider crusades. Sagamore Hill is accessible from the harbor by hiking trail but we’ve heard it’s strenuous and have not done it ourselves. If anyone has details, we’d love to post them here.
The Sanctuary and Audubon Center offers marked trails for hiking, and nature programs featuring live animals. President and Mrs. Roosevelt are buried in the adjacent Youngs Memorial Cemetery.
Planting Fields Arboretum is an altogether different experience. More than 400 acres of gardens, woodlands, and lawns surround a stately Tudor Revival mansion, Coe Hall. The mansion is open to visitors, but that’s not the real attraction. The amazing attraction, aside from the grounds are the greenhouses. Miles of them. Each one dedicated to a different species. One for example hosts only orchids. They are spectacular. The garden shop offers seeds and seedlings from the varieties propagated on the estate. Moreoever, in the summer the gardens are host to concerts on the lawn. How cool. There was a Beethoven festival mid-June, Peter Frampton at the end of June, Randy Newman and Dave Brubeck concerts in July. Check the website for additional details.
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