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Tag Archives: Cockenoe Island
The other day, Sean van Beever was flying here from Florida, via Bradley Airport Hartford.
Suddenly, the clouds broke. The 3rd-generation Westporter looked out his window. At that very moment, he noticed the unmistakable outlines of Cockenoe Island, Compo Beach, Old Mill and the Sherwood Mill Pond.
Quickly, he pulled out his phone. The result is a remarkable photo, from 36,000 feet in the sky.
The other day, alert — and adventurous — “06880” reader Seth Schachter headed out to Cockenoe Island.
He’d been there often. This time though, he camped out overnight.
The experience was so special, he offered to share it with “06880” readers. He writes:
A few weeks earlier, I had reserved our camping location through the town Conservation Department. There are only 4 spots available. A shout-out to Emily Wadsworth, who was so friendly and helpful at Town Hall.
A Westport friend and I loaded up our kayaks. It was Saturday afternoon, and we headed to the state boat ramp underneath I-95.
My friend had done this once before. His lightweight camping and cooking gear all came in handy.
After our 45-minute paddle, we checked in at the “front desk” (aka unloaded our kayak at the beach), and set up camp.
We then enjoyed the large “swimming pool” in our back yard, and the incredible views and sounds that surrounded us.
The sunset; the constant sounds of wildlife (Cockenoe is a nesting ground and habitat for threatened and endangered birds); the almost full moon; the morning sunrise — it was all amazing.
(We did not get to see a humpback whale, unfortunately!)
The island was beautiful. It was a great time. That Cockenoe could have housed a nuclear power plant — so close to Compo Beach — is hard to fathom. The hard-fought, successful lobbying by Westporters in the late 1960s is very much appreciated.
I hope these photos help recap some of the magic that enveloped us on this 1-night journey so close to mainland Westport.
I look forward to my next overnight experience on Cockenoe. If the opportunity presents itself, others should do the same!
This morning’s sighting of a humpback whale in Long Island Sound between Compo Beach and Cockenoe Island has drawn plenty of attention. (Click here for a great WestportNow video.)
It also brought this email from alert “06880” reader and RTM member Wendy Batteau. She writes:
In another slice of my life, I work with the Maritime Aquarium (and also the Ocean Alliance). Regarding the whale, I received the following email from folks at the Aquarium:
Whales fall under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. There are federal restrictions on how closely you are allowed to approach them.
We do not want everyone in Fairfield and New Haven Counties with a boat to go chasing after this animal. We do not want boaters hurt, and we do not want this whale to be hurt.
One of the 3 humpbacks that turned up in the Sound 2 years ago was killed “by blunt force trauma,” probably in a collision with a sailboat.
If someone has videos or photos, please forward the images to Dave Hudson, John Lenzycki and Dave Sigworth: firstname.lastname@example.org;
Photos or video of the underside of the whale’s tail would be especially helpful. The pattern on the underside of every humpback’s tail is unique, and seeing it may help to identify the whale.
2017 marks the 50th anniversary of some significant events.
1967 was the Summer of Love. Martin Luther King spoke out against the Vietnam War. “Race riots” consumed Detroit, Newark and other cities.
Meanwhile, here in Westport, we debated whether building a 14-story nuclear power plant a mile off Compo Beach was a good idea.
The story is remembered by many — and unknown to many more. It starts with United Illuminating, the statewide utility that in 1965 secretly bought Cockenoe Island, a popular spot for boaters and fishermen.
Another key player was Jo Fox Brosious, editor of the fledgling Westport News. She crusaded tirelessly against the idea.
It was not easy. Although plenty of Westporters opposed the plan, the more established Town Crier was all-in. What a boon for the tax base, the paper said.
Brosious helped rally a coalition of common citizens, conservationists, fishermen, attorneys, Senators Abraham Ribicoff and Lowell Weicker, and Congressman Stewart McKinney.
Local artists Walter and Naiad Einsel created a memorable (and very 1967-ish) poster with the group’s rallying cry:
Under pressure — with national coverage in the New York Times and Sports Illustrated, and thanks to the threat of a bill in the Connecticut legislature that would curb eminent domain requests of power companies — UI agreed to sell Cockenoe.
To the town of Westport.
The deal was struck in 1967. The purchase price was $200,000. When the contract finally closed 2 years later, the Westport News headline read: “Cockenoe Island Safe in Sound.”
That’s the bare-bones, SparkNotes version. You can read more by clicking here.
Or — this being 2017 (not 1967) — you can watch a YouTube video about it.
The 9-minute mini-documentary comes courtesy of Julianna Shmaruk. A Staples High School sophomore, she created it for a National History Day competition.
The contest theme was “Taking a Stand” — which is exactly what Westporters did.
Julianna tracked down old newspaper clippings. She interviewed 91-year-old Joe Schachter (a boater involved in the battle), and got vintage home movie footage from Ed Stalling (a then 11-year-old who wrote a postcard decrying the sale).
Julianna’s video offers vivid evidence that — as Stalling says — “the people can win.” And that newspapers can rally public opinion.
Those lessons are just as important today as they were half a century ago.
To see Julianna’s video, click below:
Yesterday’s post about the “Save Cockenoe Now” posters at Walter and Naiad Einsel’s estate sale reminded readers of a past political battle: When Westporters saved Cockenoe Island from becoming the site of a nuclear power plant.
Everyone who was here then also remembers the Einsels’ iconic artwork.
But alert “06880” reader Jeff Manchester went over to the sale, and found other posters that never gained that cult-status attention. It’s kind of like finding unreleased Beatles tapes, nearly 50 years later.
Here, in all their late-’60s, trippy glory, are 3 of those “unreleased” posters. I particularly like the “Fishin’, Not Fission'” one.
Thankfully — with a big boost from the Einsels — we’re here today to tell that tale.
Last month, “06880” previewed Walter and Naiad Einsel’s estate sale. I don’t usually promote that stuff — but the longtime local artists’ Victorian farmhouse was filled with thousands of pieces of folk art, antiques, paintings, prints and advertising items. It seemed like a great Westport tale.
Andrew Bentley was one of the many art lovers who was there. He says it was “more like a folk art museum than a house.”
Andrew wandered past mechanical toys, kinetic sculptures and books of illustrations, on into Naiad’s studio. Magic markers, colored pencils and scissors were all in place, as if she had gone downstairs for coffee.
Thumbing through a stack of posters, he spotted a large envelope. Inside was a shimmer of gold and bronze. Removing it, he discovered a beautiful metallic silk-screened “Save Cockenoe Now” poster.
Bentley knew it was from the late 1960s, when Westporters opposed a plan to build a nuclear power plant on the island just a mile off Compo Beach. (Click here for that full, crazy story.)
But he’d only seen a black-and-white thumbnail-sized image of the poster, in Woody Klein’s book on the history of Westport.
Suddenly, he held an original. After nearly 50 years, he says, “the colors were still electric.”
Andrew turned to the stranger beside him. He explained that the poster represented a perfect confluence of Westport’s artistic heritage, revolutionary spirit and environmental priorities.
Then, in another Westport tradition, he gathered up as many posters as he could find, negotiated a bulk discount, and made a list of friends in town who deserved a gift.
In 1967, Westporters saved Cockenoe.
In 2016, Andrew saved its posters.
Both stories are worth telling.
(PS: Andrew Bentley designed the logo for The Flat — the new Railroad Place spot that mixes design, art and objects with contemporary lighting, accessories and jewelry. Owner Becky Goss has a few framed Save Cockenoe Now posters there, ready for sale.)
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.)
No — just the south side of Cockenoe Island.
But alert “06880” reader JP Vellotti guesses this is a view most Westporters never see. So he sent it along:
He took the shot yesterday from the oyster boat Grace Lowndes. Jimmy Bloom was at the helm.
It’s been decades since Bill Whitbeck lived in Westport. (Westport, Connecticut, that is. He’s now in the beautiful seaside town of Westport, Washington.)
But he remembers fondly his days on Cockenoe. That’s the island a mile off Compo. (Which Westport now owns, having bought it in 1968 to save it — and us — from a proposal to build a nuclear power plant there. Click here for that unbelievable story.)
Still, he did not realize how many times his family visited Cockenoe until his father died, and the Whitbecks examined thousands of old 35mm slides.
It seemed like every other roll of film taken during the summers showed camping on the island.
The other day, Bill sent some of the images, from 1958 to ’60.
“We brought tents, camping gear and food for the weekend,” Bill recalls. “We’d camp on the western side’s long sandbar. From current photos I’ve seen, it’s almost gone from erosion.”
Other prime campsites were nestled in the trees on the southern side of the island, on higher ground with little trails leading to them. Those sites were usually snatched up first. But if Bill’s family got there early enough on Friday afternoon, they snagged a site for the weekend.
I was struck by the quality of the colors, and composition of the photos. I told Bill that they seemed like a Life magazine spread on the Kennedys at Cape Cod.
“The colors haven’t faded after almost 60 years,” he agrees.
“Kodachrome film used layers of dyes, as opposed to silver halide crystals found in other transparency films, like Ektachrome of Fujichrome. The silver crystals give most film their ‘grain’.”
In 1994, Bill took his dad for one more walk around the island. He died a few years later.