As media liaison for the MTA, Aaron Donovan is intimately familiar with New York’s trains, subways, buses, tunnels and bridges.
Its waterways — not so much.
But the 1994 Staples grad’s parents needed their garage space back. They no longer had room for the 18-foot hybrid vessel — part kayak, part pedal boat, part sailboat — that Aaron and his wife Susan bought from the Boat Locker, and had been storing there.
Aaron knew that New York City’s Parks Department has a small kayak storage area on West 79th Street. But he knew better than most that trailering the vessel on I-95 and into the city was no easy task.
So Aaron and Susan decided to sail. They spent the winter finding locations where they could stay during the 5-day, 4-night August adventure.
Aaron researched sunrises and sunsets, high and low tides, and ebb and flow currents. He could not, however, predict the wind.
After multiple stops at EMS, REI and Stop & Shop, the couple was ready. Launch date was Wednesday, August 6.
The house where Aaron grew up abuts the tidal estuary of Sasco Creek. He’d seen a few kayakers and canoeists on it, but it was certainly an underutilized resource.
Aaron and Susan planned to wait till shortly after high tide, when the current headed into the Sound. But — trips never go according to plan — they left a bit behind schedule, at 2:30 p.m. The current was against them, the water level low.
They walked the boat over sand, mud and gravel in waist-deep water. It was an inauspicious start.
They could not set up the mast until they’d cleared the bridge that carries Beachside Avenue into Pequot Avenue over Sasco Creek at Southport Beach. In tall sea grass they let out the sails, shoved off into waist-high waves of the incoming tide, unfurled the sails, and were off into a headwind.
Tacking a few times, they cleared Frost Point and Sherwood Point, en route to their 1st campsite in the Norwalk Islands. The winds shifted, the waves diminished and they arrived at 6 p.m. They beached the boat in tall sea grases, and hoped it would still be afloat — not way up a hill — at low tide.
For $35, Norwalk allows overnight camping on 2 of its dozen beautiful, sparsely or uninhabited island a couple of miles offshore. Aaron and Susan chose Shea Island — not Westport’s Cockenoe ($20) — because Shea offers rudimentary restrooms.
Aaron — whose words I am using throughout this report — calls the camping experience “amazing. So close to civilization, you can see the beautiful waterfront estates, shore lights and beaches, and hear occasional train horns and powerboat engines.
“But mostly you feel utterly surrounded by nature. As night falls, as the wind diminishes and the last rays of the sun taper off in pink and orange hues toward the west, you hear the calls of seagulls, and waves gently lapping on the rocky shorelines. It is like a hidden Eden, just 2 miles offshore.”
From their campsite atop a bluff, they had great views of the Sound. Long Island seemed close. Manhattan’s towers beckoned in the distance.
They were alone on the isle — though there are 16 campsites — except for a deer and 2 babies, who wandered over from Sheffield Island on a sandbar at low tide. Spooked, they (the deer) left.
After Susan made breakfast (eggs and beans), they loaded up their non-beached boat, and were off again.
(Next: Days 2-3)
(For an interactive view of the map above, click here.)