Cruising the Great South Bay on the Moon Chaser

Despite what may be Long Island residents’ roots set in sedentary cement, there is nothing like a cruise on the Great South Bay to offer an aquatic alternative to their view and enable them to briefly adopt a tourist’s perspective of the area they call home. It was this philosophy that lured me from land to sea on the “Moon Chaser” excursion boat from Captree State Park on a recent mid-July day.

“Captree State Park (itself) is located at the eastern tip of the narrow beach known as Jones Beach Island,” according to its self description. “This ideal location, at the intersection of the Fire Island inlet and the State Boat Channel, places it within easy access of some of the finest bay and ocean fishing grounds on the East Coast and provides for an extremely scenic view of the Great South Bay and the western end of Fire Island, including the Fire Island Lighthouse, the Fire Island Coast Guard Station, the Robert Moses State Park Water Tower, and the Inlet Span Bridge.”

The park offers a snack bar, a nautically-themed, full-service restaurant, a bait and tackle shop, and two fishing piers for land-launched lines.

The area on this dry, flawlessly blue, 80-degree day said summer on Long Island. The air was suffused with the sound of seagulls, which flapped, flocked, and flew, and the scent of the sea. The parking lot on the concrete side yielded to the one on the aquatic side, as a line of mostly fishing boats–Long Island’s largest fleet of them, in fact–bowed into the dock, including the “Capt. Eddie B. III,” the “Spectrum,” the “North Star II,” and the “Bay Princess II.”

Water lapped at the deck. The seagulls sang. And fishing rods projected from everyone, as if they constituted their third arms.

Designed and constructed by the Blount Marine Corporation, of Warren, Rhode Island, and launched in 1982, the blue-and-white “Moon Chaser” vessel intended for my own nautical excursion, stretched 65 feet, accommodated up to 220 on two decks, and was tied to the furthest pier from the restaurant complex.

A short line in front of its mobile ticket booth, as occurred every Wednesday and Thursday afternoon in the summer, indicated a complement of about 25 on its trip today.

A laborious engine grind signaled its 13:00 departure and a brief backward jolt preceded a 180-degree turn and trace through the buoy-lined channel, as the Captree Boat Basin receded in the sunlight.

Mimicking the “Moon Chaser’s” course, two other, fishing excursion destined boats trailed it, riding its wake, while two inbound vessels, the “Laura Lee” and the “Captree Princess,” made their approaches.

Settling into a gentle sway, the “Moon Chaser” itself glided over the sun-glinted blue bay, paralleling Fire Island National Seashore.

One of the proverbial bread slices, along with Long Island itself, it ensured that the 45-mile-long Great South Bay remained sandwiched between landmasses and thus protected from the Atlantic, whose access was provided by the inlet between Jones Beach Island’s eastern and Fire Island’s western ends.

Native to the area were the Meroke Tribes, but the earliest settlers were those from Europe, who encountered them in the 17th century, eventually establishing a succession of south shore bay towns, based upon boating and fishing, including Lindenhurst, Babylon, Islip, Oakdale, Sayville, Bayport, Blue Point, Patchogue, Bellport, Shirley, and Mastic Beach.

Managing to pierce the otherwise bright day, the lens atop the black-and-white towered Fire Island Lighthouse blinked at the boat as it inched toward it, abreast of the sand and scrub shoreline off the starboard side.

Appearing like an uninterrupted pattern of projected fishing poles wrapped around its deck, the “Island Princess,” anchored a short distance away, passed off to port.

Established on September 11, 1964, when Congress designated 26 miles of Fire Island as a national seashore, that narrow tract of land today encompasses 17 residential communities, New York’s only federally deemed wilderness, marine and upland habitat, wildlife, beaches, recreational facilities, and several historic sights.

Toting itself, it invites the visitor to “immerse yourself in an enchanting collage of coastal life and history. Rhythmic waves, high dunes, ancient maritime forests, historic landmarks, and glimpses of wildlife, Fire Island has been a special place for diverse plants, animals, and people for centuries. Far from the pressure of big city life, dynamic barrier island beaches offer both solitude and camaraderie, and spiritual renewal.”

While the Statue of Liberty was the symbolic entry to New York Harbor, the Fire Island Lighthouse was the actual one since the 19th century, guiding transatlantic ships and those transporting the millions of European immigrants from the Old World to the new.

The initial, 74-foot-high structure serving this purpose, a cream colored octagonal pyramid of Connecticut River blue split stone constructed in 1826 at the island’s end, certainly marked the inlet, but did not necessarily serve the purpose. Too short, in fact, to do so, it was dismantled when Congress appropriated $40,000 in 1857 for a 168-foot, creamy yellow replacement that sported a red brick tower and was first lit on November 1 of the following year, although stone from the original was incorporated in its terrace.

Reflecting technological advancement, it employed several methods, including whale oil, land oil, mineral oil, kerosene, and, finally, electricity, as of September 20, 1938, to fuel its four concentric Funk lamps housed in its First Order Fresnel lens to produce one-minute interval flashes.

Like many devices in history, however, it entered a period that would later see it coming full cycle.

Decommissioned as a navigation aid on December 31, 1973, it was replaced by an inadequate facsimile-a small flash tube optic installed on top of the Robert Moses State Park Water Tower. But its singular, seaward-direction shine failed to serve any purpose for Great South Bay plying vessels, and private citizen support, gaining momentum during the second half of the 1970s, led to the formation of the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society in 1982.

After significant fund collections facilitated its restoration to its 1939 appearance, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and, completing its cycle, was reinstated as an official navigation aid two years later, on Memorial Day, casting its guiding light onto the bay when it was relit.

Today, two 1,000-watt, counter-clockwise rotating bulbs provide flashes every 7.5 seconds and are visible up to 24 miles away.

Separate from, but complementary to, the United States Lighthouse Service, the Lifesaving Service established its own station, which was constructed in 1848 on the island’s west end, not far from the location of the original lighthouse itself. Both were created to patrol the coastline for watercraft stormed, stranded, or stuck, and facilitate rescues, the latter by mostly volunteer baymen and farmers between October and May.

Seven such stations eventually lined Fire Island by 1854.

Their value was not to be underestimated, however: between 1871 and 1915, more than 7,000 people were rescued from 721 ships.

Dipping deeper into the now darker blue surface, the “Moon Chaser” spit foamy white reactions from its sides each time its bow plunged into the water for a gulp. A wisp of thin cloud, like whipped cream, hung across the eastern sky.

Continuing to parallel Fire Island, the boat cruised past its communities, as if they were notches that silently ticked by. From Robert Moses State Park, it moved past Kismet, Saltair, and Fair Harbor.

Those wishing to have lunch on board had several options, including doing so before sailing at Captree’s lower snack bar; upper level, nautically-themed restaurant, the Captree Cove; having either prepare something to be taken away; or bringing a box lunch of the passenger’s own. Choosing the latter and maintaining the cruise’s natural sea-and-air theme, I took a vegetarian approach, enjoying cream cheese on date nut bread, honey roasted almonds, and cheese puffs at one of the main deck tables. Chips, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages were purchasable from the bar, located on the same level, although many elected to take them to the upper canopied sun deck.

The Fire Island communities continued to slip by off the starboard side: Ocean Beach, Seaview, Ocean Bay Park.

Envisioned as a community for retired New York City police- and firemen, the latter pursued a divergent path when World War II-necessitated gas rationing and international travel restrictions prompted residents to seek “area-backyard” alternatives-in this case, Point O’ Woods domestic servants planted the first seeds of this eventual vacation resort when they used it as an after-work gathering place.

Partly employing its already established foundation, the community transformed the existing Coast Guard stations into the present-day Fire Island Hotel and Flynn’s Restaurant, re-purposing them and reflecting its accurate self-description.

“The architecture of Ocean Bay Park tends to be modest, but with character,” it says.

All its residential streets were named after lakes.

Considering its compact, 350-home encompassment, it is particularly rich in services, including a grocery store, a bicycle shop, a tennis court, two hotels, and several restaurants. Flynn’s, of the latter type, has its own 50-slip marine and is the destination of the “Moon Chaser” on select weekday evenings for a package that includes a lobster buffet dinner.

Again according to its own description, “Ocean Bay Park is a small town with a big personality. Largely populated by share houses, it knows how to throw a beach barbecue blowout. The riotous weekend warrior reputation is reinforced by the serious drinking and all-night dancing at Flynn’s, Schooner, and The Inn Between. The town’s laid back, nonrestrictive lifestyle is especially appreciated by the waves of young renters seeking a beach party environment. However, Ocean Bay Park also has its share of longtime seasonal residents.”

Serving as the halfway point, it marked the “Moon Chaser’s” 180-degree arc to port, swaying, like a seesaw, as it negotiated the wake of passing speedboats. A Bay Shore originating ferry passed astern and tucked itself into its Ocean Bay Park dock.

Maintaining a westerly heading and leaving its own white and dark green churn behind its stern, it inched toward the erector set resembling Robert Moses Bridge that spanned the bay and now loomed in the distance. Subjected to nature’s silent tug-of-war, upper deck passengers witnessed the hot sun’s competition with the breeze’s cooling cut.

Gliding over the dull blue, glass-resembling surface, the “Moon Chaser” passed to the left of East and West Fire islands, before reducing speed and entering the buoy-lined channel, abreast of the intensely green, seemingly floating patches of shellfish dependent eelgrass.

Now down to only a few knots per hour, it initiated its left arc into the basin and made contact with the Captree dock from which it had departed an hour and a half before.

Stepping off the boat, I had, in many ways, been refreshed by the air, the sun, the sea, the breeze, and the view-especially the view-by rediscovering, as a temporary tourist, a lifetime resident’s own backyard during a season that defined it-summer on the Long Island’s Great South Bay.

Five Sins Of Cruising

While going on a cruise is definitely an angelic experience, we all know that sometimes when we’re on vacation we let some our normal inhibitions go, which can lead to some “sinful” behavior. As they say, what happens at sea stays at sea. Don’t worry though, a cruise is meant for you to loosen up and let go of your inhibitions. See how many of these “sins” sound familiar to you.

Sloth

If sloth is your favorite cruising sin, you will relish the chance to lie by the pool all day waiting for the waiters to come around with those fun and flirty drinks, enjoy a full body massage plus a mani and pedi, or just lounge on your balcony all day with room service stopping by for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And if you tire of being a sloth, plenty of onboard activities and adventure await you.

Gltuttony

Cruising is your chance to indulge in some of the world’s best cuisine, from the chocolate buffet and extensive wine menu to the steakhouse’s perfectly cooked New York strip and the sushi bar serving fresh tuna rolls. It’s all so good you might forget to leave room for desert! Consider it fuel for more fun.

Greed

Don’t feel guilty about chasing your every desire on a cruise, that’s what the ships are designed for You might find James Bond impersonators hanging out at the casino betting it all on red at the roulette wheel or holding a hot hand in a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament You might also notice cruisers with hoards of duty-free goods. Hey, where else can you get such a great deal on that diamond bracelet you’ve been dreaming of?

Wrath

It’s really hard to get this angry when cruising, but there are some situations that might stir up a little wrath. Remember our dear friend at the casino? Watch out when they bet it all on red and it lands on black. And if you spend too much time lounging on your deck chair you could feel the wrath of the sun, which can leave you with a fierce and fiery sunburn. Good thing cruise ships offer many fun distractions so it’s impossible to stay angry long.

Envy

When cruising it’s easy to become envious if you peer into a better suite, fail to reserve a spot on the sold-out shore excursion or hear how friends were treated like royalty on their last luxury cruise. Beat the envy by contacting your cruise line and they will get you exactly what your friends had, and more.

Luxury Cruising Offers Advantages for Many Celebrations

This new trend taking hold in the elite industry of luxury small ship cruising is being taken up by some big corporate companies as well as individuals who are looking for an event offering something with a difference that will have their guests talking about it for a long time after.

Small intimate motor yachts are now being hired for private functions, such as weddings, honeymoons, birthday parties, family celebrations, anniversaries and company meetings or social events.

These yachts make the perfect venue for a small intimate event as they are equipped with a full friendly professional crew, fully furnished, have an open bar and onboard chef to cater for any event or function.

Yacht charters are available all over the world for the pleasure seekers and there are many fabulous famous vacation islands to choose from.

Having a celebration for your child’s sixteenth birthday on board one of these beautiful floating hotels will be an unforgettable experience for him or her and their guests.

You may choose to party on the boat, or cruise to a specific destination, such as a private island, and drop anchor and start your celebrations there. Either way you and your guests are sure to have a memorable event that they will talk about for years to come.

Couples are choosing to get married on a cruise ship as you can reserve a small, fully crewed, private luxury small ship just for you, your wedding party and your guests. Very intimate and very fabulous!

Some couples are even choosing to stay on and honeymoon with their guests. This is a perfect situation for those couples who would love to have their friends and family join them on their honeymoon. And some couples even arrange to have a double wedding and honeymoon together!

While it can be a lot of fun to have others along you are provided with you own private quarters for your more intimate moments, while choosing to celebrate this momentous occasion with your closest friends as well.

Many companies are beginning to reserve these small yachts for corporate events as well, such as company dinner parties and award banquets for employees.

Consider having your next boardroom meeting on a small luxury cruise ship that offers you absolute privacy away from everything.

With full internet services available and a full suite of technology that includes a large flat screen for presentations it is the most luxurious floating office around. A helipad will easily accommodate an out-of-town executive who wants to join the meeting once the ship has sailed.

After the business is completed it’s time to adjourn to the bar, kick back and enjoy the pleasure of some good team building and serious fun.

These small cruise yachts come equipped with everything you need for your corporate events from an open bar to a fully staffed kitchen. If you want live music to entertain your guests, this can also be arranged.

They also offer glamour and exclusivity as well as a range of adventures such as heli-golf excursions, deep-sea fishing, beach and exercise activities, wine trails, bush and island walks to give different choices to your guests on board.

Whether it’s shopping for souvenirs at the local village markets, swimming or sun bathing on the beautiful island beaches, heading off with the guys for some serious big game fishing or heli-golf, you won’t be disappointed with the style and luxurious offerings on a luxury small ship cruse.

Cruising the French Riviera on a Shoestring Budget: Cannes to Menton

When you find an area you like and you feel relaxed in, it’s hard to imagine moving on to explore further afield. The Iles de Lerins just off Cannes are one of those places. With so much to do – visit and attend a service in the monastery on Saint Honorat, sample the famous wine made by the monks from grapes grown on the island, climb the ancient tower for spectacular views over all the islands and across to Cannes, stroll along the tree-covered paths of each island, take a dip in a private cove, watch the boats coming and going, explore the fort on Sainte Marguerite where the man in the iron mask was locked up for many years, try some wild blackberries – it really is hard to leave! But the time will come, usually with a strong wind forecast or a big swell, and you’ll decide to move on. So here’s the east Riviera on a shoestring…

Best Value Marinas (prices based on a 15 metre sailing yacht)

  • Nice Port – reservations available by email, excellent shelter, friendly service, shower facilities, wifi, excellent provisions, daily market, restaurants surrounding the port and in the old town, beach clubs, easy access to the old town of Nice and further afield by bus and train, about £50 per night in peak season.
  • Villefranche-sur-Mer – reservations available by email and telephone, very helpful and friendy staff, excellent shelter, some provisions, lots of restaurants, pretty town with access to cliff walks, about £60 per night in peak season.
  • Port de Beaulieu – an excellent alternative to the exceptionally expensive port in St-Jean, reservations by email and telephone, helpful and friendly staff, excellent shelter, good provisions in town, easy access to trains to Monaco, buses to Eze, about £55 per night in peak season.
  • Fontvieille – although cheaper than Monaco Port, it is still expensive but one that provides excellent service and value for money. Explore Monaco and Monte Carlo on foot from the marina, enjoy the hustle and bustle of the Principality but know that you have a peaceful marina for the night. Very friendly and helpful staff, reservations available, heliport, roughly £80 per night in peak season.
  • Menton Old Port – very friendly and helpful, provisions in town, willing to help in bad weather although the visitor quay has poor shelter from the swell. Wifi, water and electricity all available for about £50 per night in peak season.

Safe Anchorages

  • Juan les Pins – known in its heyday for its hedonisitc tendencies, this lively town with beautiful beaches has long attracted the rich and famous. The whole bay between Cannes and Juan les Pins is the anchorage of choice for many huge superyachts but the more modest-sized yachts head to the east of the bay and tuck in under the Cap d’Antibes between the Hotel Eden Roc and the small Port du Crouton. You’ll hold well and will be very well sheltered from any wind and swell with east in it. You can leave the dinghy on the visitor quay at Port du Crouton and wander into the town for excellent provisions, restaurants and the Petit Train to Antibes.
  • Cap d’Antibes – a number of small anchorages provide pretty lunch stops but are not particularly well protected. Try Anse de l’Aregnt Faux on the southerly tip of the Cap, the bay off La Garoupe for beach clubs and beach restaurants and the large anchorage east of Antibes for lovely views of the old town.
  • Rade de Villefranche-sur-Mer – anchor at the head of the bay outside the yellow buoys, take care to stay out of the no anchor zone as there can be up to 3 cruise ships a day anchored here. Take the dinghy onto the town quay and tie up with the others. A lovely anchorage, very popular in the summer during the day, quiet at night, but you may need to make use of a stern anchor to keep the boat into the prevalent swell which comes straight in from the sea.
  • Anse de la Scaletta – tucked into the Cap Ferrat and well protected from anything with south in it, this shallow anchorage is another one of those places you can stay for days. Paloma Beach on the shore provides watersports in the day time and romantic summer beach-side evening meals. Easy dinghy access to the port of St-Jean for provisions and a variety of restaurants as well as access to the popular walk along the coast between Villefranche and Beaulieu.
  • Baie de Roquebrune – anchor in good holding under the town of Roquebrune. Good shelter from east but open to the sea swells from the south. Good walk up to the ancient town, stunning views across the riviera and sandy beach with good snorkelling.
  • Cap Martin – the east side of the Cap is a good anchorage for lunch and can be used in very settled weather for overnight stays. Sandy bottom with good holding although quite deep as restricted by protected swimming area.

Helpful Hints:

  • Stock up on provisions at the big supermarkets when you can as small town supermarkets can be extremely expensive. Local bakeries however are excellent value for morning croissants and afternoon pastries!
  • Keep your eye on the weather, check it every day on the radio and again with a local port as local winds can be missed by national forecasts.
  • Book ahead in bad weather. If bad weather is on the way, plan ahead and get yourself into a good harbour. Remember, the less pricey ones fill up first so make sure you’ve got your space.
  • Be safe in the sun. Always wear a hat and suncream and drink plenty of water to keep hydrated and energy levels up.

The French Riviera is truly beautiful all year round. Although the best weather is during the summer months, May and October can be the perfect time to cruise, with lower marina fees, quieter anchorages and warm sun.

The Cruising Kitty – Working As You Go

In my second phase as a first mate, I took a pretty big risk. When my husband, Jim, and I left San Diego harbor for points south, we had $250 in cash. That was the extent of our financial holdings.

Ciao Bella was well outfitted and provisioned. We were going into Mexico, and we planned to cruise very much on the cheap. No marinas, no shoreside restaurants, lots of fishing to feed ourselves. Sure, we knew that $250 wasn’t going to get us very far, but it would get us where we wanted to go, and we planned to work on the way to add to the coffers.

Actually, Jim planned to work. He was, and I assume still is, a master of anything mechanical or electrical. He had marinized and installed our Perkins 4-108 engine, had rewired the entire electrical system, installed our windlass, and done all sorts of amazing things to Ciao to get her ready for sea. We both figured that his skills would be easily marketable to other cruisers, and that our cruising funds would be regularly fed by his work on boats in the places we visited.

We were right. Jim kept busy through our whole three years of cruising in Latin America. He rebuilt alternators, troubleshot electronics, fixed air conditioners and engines, and sold or bartered all kinds of things. Ciao became something of a floating warehouse, and the cruising fleet got in the habit of checking with us when they needed parts or services. In Balboa, Panama, he was contracted by Panamanians to service the state-of-the-art electronics aboard their megayachts.

Though my skills tend more toward computer-related talents like writing and graphic design, I was able to add my bit to the finances. We had a sewing machine and rolls of boat canvas on board. I provided canvas services along the way, ranging from quick rip fixes to full on awnings. I even upholstered cushions for “outside seating” on one of the large yachts we encountered.

The bottom line is that we were never broke, and in fact, never had less than the $250 we started with.

Entrepreneurship on the waves is not at all uncommon. We met many folks who ran businesses from their boats in order to feed the cruising kitty. Most of them, like us, were providing mechanical/electronic services or were doing canvas work. We were in a location where there was a lack of shoreside businesses offering that sort of expertise, so the choice of métier was a good one.

This isn’t the only way to make money as you go. Other folks worked on land, either locally or back in the States, for some part of the year in order to remain solvent. One couple I knew in Mexico hailed from Alaska, where he ran a carpentry business that subcontracted to residential developers. With the Alaskan building season active only during the summer, this couple spent three or four of the hottest Baja months working in Alaska, then rejoined their boat for the rest of the year to enjoy the cruising life. Not a bad deal!

Know how in carpentry, mechanics, and electrical systems-especially as it relates to boats-can translate into work almost anywhere. Healthcare practitioners, particularly nurses, seem to be able to pick up work as they cruise domestic waters. When we made our passage down the ICW from the Chesapeake to Charleston, we met a couple, both emergency room nurses, who put into port from time to time to get contract work at local hospitals. In the Caribbean we met folks who were bartending, waitering, clerking, boat washing, word processing-all kinds of jobs that were easily gotten for short periods of time.

Filling the cruising kitty while you’re on the move is certainly doable. Having the right skills, the willingness to work, and an ear for opportunity will go a long way toward creating income. And once you’ve got what you need, you can set sail again!