Who needs Nantucket? Why go to the Vineyard? While these cherished haunts are certainly dear to the hearts of all New Englanders, the truth is they don’t feel especially near to those of us living in Fairfield County, who’d rather be anywhere but I-95 on any given Friday evening. More to the point, by going away you’re driving right past the pleasures and treasures in our own big blue backyard: Long Island Sound. No, the surfing is not totally tubular. And unlike Cape Cod, it offers few opportunities for whale watching.
There is a belief that the Sound’s Gold Coast is mostly privately owned, but that’s simply not true. In fact the Long Island Sound Resource Center has a website listing all public access points for swimming, boating, birding and fishing, from Greenwich Point to the Stonington Fishing Pier. Find it at lisrc.uconn.edu/coastalaccess. And read on for what to do while you’re on the Sound, from sunbathing to kiteboarding.
Sailing can seem like an exclusive club. If you weren’t born into a family of sailors, saltwater coursing through your veins, how do you get started? Fortunately, the Fairfield County coastline offers loads of opportunities for land- lubbers looking to find their sea legs.
Longshore Sailing School
You don’t have to live in town to rent from this Westport institution, with its impressive fleet of sailboats that range from the kid-friendly Escape Mango (at $14 per hour) to the seventeen-foot Vanguard Nomad ($60 per hour), a fast but stable monohull that can accommodate the family. The Hobie Wave ($44 per hour) is the most popular of the catamarans. Easy to sail, it promises a wet and wild ride when the wind starts to whip. While Longshore’s expert staff prefers that you call ahead to reserve, boats are generally available for walk-ins. Either way, your craft will be set up, equipped with life jackets and launched, with tips for its operation divulged. Although all rental boats are monitored from the shore, you will be asked to sign a waiver since once you set sail you’re pretty much on your own.
True to its name, Longshore also offers sailing instruction, with summer camps for kids as young as nine and weekend programs for adults. Log on to the website for a class schedule and more information (longshoresailingschool.com) or call 226-4646.
Junior Sailing Program
This all-volunteer organization open to Darien residents and operating at Weed Beach is tremendously successful at teaching kids to sail, a boon for parents who don’t belong to a yacht club or otherwise own a boat. And while sailing can seem like a cushy sport, the program exposes kids to both its pleasures and hard work, making students fully responsible for rigging, derigging, stacking and maintaining their boats (whether owned or rented). “Character building” is how registrar Peggy O’Halloran describes the transformation she sees among young sailors. “It instills in them competency and confidence,” she adds. “The kids don’t tolerate goofballs. They make each other accountable.”
Summer programs offer four levels of instruction to children ages eight to fourteen, with frequent regattas, thrilling for both young sailors and their parent-spectators. For more information go to sail.darien.org or call Peggy at 656-0616.
The SoundWaters organization, based in Cove Island Park in Stamford, protects Long Island Sound, so the weeklong summer camps offered to children combine sailing with environmental stewardship. The Small Boat Sailing Camp, for grades four to six, has kids sailing Optimist dinghies on Holly Pond; the Schooner Sailing Camp puts kids aboard the eighty-foot schooner SoundWaters for fishing, taking a turn at the helm and enjoying an overnight campout on a local island.
Want to make a big splash? Book a private three-hour sail on SoundWaters. It’s operated by a licensed captain and crew, so you’re free to enjoy the sunset, the company of up to forty-eight friends and whatever food and drink you bring aboard. Call 323-1978 for pricing and availability; for more information log on to soundwaters.org.
Paddle Power: Kayaking, Canoeing and Rowing
A day with a paddle in hand satisfies nearly everyone, offering bird-watching along Five-Mile River, a chance to shell and sunbathe on the Sound’s close-in islands — even the opportunity to ogle the coastal mansions around Bell Island and Tokeneke. The best part? No matter where you go, you’ll get an awesome workout.
Maybe you’ve heard the lilting sounds of reggae music coming from — could it be? — under the Rowayton Market. That would be Below Deck, open for business May through October and meeting all of your kayaking needs. If you have a child in tow, rent a double kayak and glide up and down Five-Mile River (two hours costs $35 for a single, $45 for a double, including life jackets and basic instruction). Manager Kim Beaumont keeps things lively with a summer full of programming, from kids’ camps (age five and up) to guided kayak outings before Shakespeare on the Sound performances (with boxed picnics from the market) and private kayaking parties. The latter often end up at Rowayton Seafood Restaurant and
then go over to Brendan’s 101 for ice cream. Oh yes, Kim is the one playing the reggae music. Below Deck is at 157 Rowayton Avenue, (852-0011, ext. 2; coastalprovisions.com/belowdeck.htm).
Norwalk and Westport
You may have seen crews navigating our local rivers in a thrilling display of athleticism and grace. A sport that builds endurance and team skills — not to mention an awesome upper body — rowing has a huge following in these parts, thanks in part to three top-notch training facilities.
The Maritime Rowing Club at the Water Sport Center in Norwalk accepts absolute novices into its Learn-to-Row courses. With basic training under your belt, you can join the club as a junior, adult or senior to take advantage of team programs and competition. The boathouse address is 11 Goldstein Place, Norwalk (854-5492; maritimerowing.com).
The Norwalk River Rowing Association produces high-level teams that compete in national events. But NRRA also offers beginning-level classes and camps, as well as a new program that encourages adults to join or form teams. Log on to norwalkriverrowing.org to access contact names and numbers for the group’s various programs. The boathouse is at 1 Moody’s Lane, Norwalk.
The Saugatuck Rowing Club in Westport has Learn-to-Row summer courses that are open to nonmembers. A wide variety of programs is offered to juniors ages twelve to eighteen, along with one-week and two-week summer camps. Membership in Saugatuck allows you access to the clubhouse and dock as well as a state-of-the-art fitness center and the club’s Riverview restaurant. Saugatuck Rowing Club is at 521 Riverside Avenue, Westport (221-7475; saugatuckrowing.com).
This one-woman organization is a great resource for guided tours, instruction and weekend-long events throughout the summer. For beginners Michele Sorenson offers what she calls a Quick-Start Kayak Class or a Beginner’s Tour, both three and a half hours for $80 (semiprivates are also available). Kayakers with some experience might want to take a Forward-Stroke Clinic. And everyone is welcome to join her three-hour Full Moon Paddle ($50 a picnic) or to try kayak camping on one of the Norwalk islands ($175). Michele has no fixed location, launching her programs at various Sound and river points depending on conditions. For more information visit kayak-adventure.net or call 888-454-0300.
The Small Boat Shop
This shop sells a huge variety of vessels including dinghies, rowboats, canoes, kayaks and sailboats. It also organizes awesome six-hour, four-hour and two-hour kayak tours throughout the summer, including its famous Norwalk Island Tour, with stops at the beaches along Cockenoe, Shea and Chimon Islands — kayaks and basic instruction provided (prices vary). Sea-kayaking instruction is also offered, as are canoe demos and kayak rentals. The Small Boat Shop is at 144 Water Street, Norwalk (854-5223; thesmallboatshop.com).
Here’s the Catch:
Fresh-and Saltwater Fishing
Calf Pasture Beach, Norwalk
Eric Johnson, the new owner of Westport Outfitters, is passionate about getting people onto the Sound, rod in hand. He cites a New Canaan mom who wanted to introduce her son to fishing but had no idea how to go about it. Johnson customized a package to introduce the boy to several freshwater river spots, followed by two hours of fishing from the shore along the Sound. Westport Outfitters also offers everything needed by boating and fishing enthusiasts, whether they’re tying their first fly or looking to buy a boat. On Saturdays in the summer, there are free, in-store casting clinics. Johnson books fishing charters, custom-designed for any skill level and in pursuit of every fish the Sound has to offer. Westport Outfitters also runs workshops and can schedule private instruction if you prefer to fish with a guide (who is willing to divulge the best spots along the coastline). And the 3,000-square-foot tackle shop is an angler’s paradise, with all the basics, as well as garments, gear, books, maps and more. Westport Outfitters is at 44 Calf Pasture Beach Road (831-8036; westportoutfitters.com).
Fishermen (and women) love to talk. At the Orvis shop in Darien you can always get an earful on where to go, how to cast and — always — the one that got away. Specializing in fly-fishing, Orvis sells everything from a single Hot Butt fly to guided trips to New Zealand (at orvis.com). Year-round the Darien store offers free seminars on topics ranging from the irresistible (Local Freshwater Fishing Spots…Revealed!) to the fascinatingly specific (Tying Productive Nymphs). On summer weekends one-day, on-water courses are also offered, a great first step for beginners, with gear, instruction and transportation provided. For more information call 662-0844 or stop by the store at 432 Boston Post Road.
The Compleat Angler
In business for more than twenty years, the Compleat Angler is another area “fly-fishing central.” Stop in most Saturdays for free, in-store fly-fishing lessons for newbies, and any day of the week to ask about local fishing hot spots. “The fish tend to move around a little bit, so a hot spot one day might yield nothing the next,” says the shop’s Scott Bennett, who can sell anglers a map and tide chart but will also give tips on where the fish are biting, depending on the weather, water temperature and moon cycle. The Compleat Angler not only advises about freshwater fishing spots (along the Mianus, Five-Mile and Saugatuck Rivers) but can also counsel on how to kayak to Sheffield Island, rod on board. Stop in at 72 Heights Road, check out store events online at compleat-angler.com or call 655-9400.
River Ramble July 15
Pinkney Park, Rowayton.
Benefiting local community projects, this daylong family event features kayak races where winners are crowned king, queen, prince and princess of the river. See rowaytoncurrents/riverramble.html.
Kayak For a Cause July 29
This cross-Sound adventure drew 200-plus paddlers last year, raising more than $260,000 for various charities, most of them benefiting the Sound. Preregistration is required and kayaks are provided. If you’ve yet to earn the requisite chops to navigate the Sound, you can always hoist a Red Stripe at the after-paddle BBQ, starting at 6 p.m. For information go to kfac.kintera.org.
Beach and Pool Logistics
Weed Beach and Pear Tree Point
Both beaches require a sticker for your car, available to Darien residents and taxpayers. It costs $35 for the season, with proof of residency required, including a registration for a motor vehicle to a Darien address. Visit or call the Parks and Recreation offices at town hall, room 110, 656-7325. For more info and online applications go to ci.darien.ct.us/parkrec. If you’re renting a house in Darien, beach stickers cost $100 for the season, with a copy of the lease required for the purchase. Also, nonresidents may purchase a day
pass at the beach gates for $40 per car.
Free to Norwalk residents, beach stickers are obtained at the Norwalk Recreation and Parks office, Norwalk City Hall (854-7807). You must bring proof of residency, including a registration for a motor vehicle to a Norwalk address. For information go to norwalkct.org/parksrec/beachstickers/ 2006BeachStickers.htm.
Nonresidents may purchase a day pass at the beach gates for $15 per car on weekdays, $20 on the weekends and $5 after 5 p.m. on any day.
Part of Neville Bayley Park, Bayley Beach is owned and maintained by Norwalk’s Sixth Taxing District for use by its residents and property owners. Beach stickers for residents cost $10 for the season; go to rowaytonct.com/bayleybeach to download the application (where you will also find rules about proof of residency and instructions on how to mail it to Rowayton’s district clerk). To park a car, people without a valid beach pass are charged a daily rate of $15 on weekdays; $20 on weekends and holidays. Pedestrians and cyclists are charged $10.
Season passes may be purchased by New Canaan residents at the Recreation Department office at Waveny House. Proof of residency (a driver’s license or utility bill) is required. There is a sliding scale of fees from $350 for a family to $50 for a senior citizen. Non–New Canaan resident guests may come with pass holders, paying $10 per adult ($5 per person under seventeen). For more information go to newcanaan.info/recdept_facilities_wavenyswim.html.
Board Sports: Windsurfing, Wakeboarding and Kiteboarding
Just as kids have ditched their snow skis for snowboards, so are youth jettisoning water skis for new ways to catch the wind and a thrill. Of course, windsurfing has been popular for decades; now the West Coast’s passion for wake- and kiteboards is at full tilt. (Fine print: These sports are not for the timid, and the Sound’s refreshing — read chilling — water temperatures usually necessitate a wet suit.)
These seasonal operations rent boards:
Darien Windsurfing, Weed Beach. Call for information and board availability (655-6757).
Gone With the Wind Surfing, Weed Beach, Darien. Classes and windsurfing races held throughout July and August (852-1857).
Norwalk Sailing School, Calf Pasture Beach. Rents equipment and offers one-on-one instruction (852-1857, norwalksailingschool.org).
To date, Orbit Marine Sports Center in Bridgeport is the only local source for instructors teaching this gonzo sport that was invented in Hawaii, or so legend has it. The kite’s advantage over windsurfing is that its compact, ultralight gear is easily toted around and, once on the Sound, you rip across the water, even with the kind of gentle wind that would stall a windsurfer. Depending on availability of instructors for this specialized sport, Orbit offers three levels of instruction, starting with a three-hour ground school teaching kite safety and technique ($160) and progressing to a three-hour Ripp session ($320), where experienced kiters learn jumping techniques. Orbit Marine Sports Center is at 3273 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport (800-395-3483; orbitmarine.com).
Got your own kiteboard? Weather permitting, Norwalk’s Calf Pasture Beach is a hot spot for kiteboarders — winds gust around its point, plus the public is welcome, paying a nominal fee for parking.
Like waterskiing but on a board, this sport requires both a motorboat and the derring-do to jump, cut and — not that we’ve tried it — rip backflips in its wake. In our area you can hire a motorboat and driver at Below Deck in Rowayton (bring your own board and call ahead, 852-0011 ext. 12). Boat drivers will also pull tubes (which are provided) and can be hired for fishing excursions. To buy a board, go to Outdoor Traders in Greenwich (55 Arch Street, 862-9696; outdoortraders.com).
Charters, Ferries and Guided Sails
From a $5 (child’s) ferry ticket to a wallet-slimming private yacht to take your party on a cruise down to the Statue of Liberty and back, there are all sorts of ways to let someone else captain your ship.
Sheffield Island Sails
An easy, family-friendly way to ferry over to Sheffield Island is provided by the Norwalk Seaport Association, departing from the Maritime Center in South Norwalk. Daily sails are scheduled and you can spend hours on the island, hiking trails, exploring the historic lighthouse and beachcombing. Evening sails are also offered, including a lobster bake every Thursday night, rain or shine: $60 per person buys a dinner of Maine lobster, mussels, steamers and all the fixings served on the island, with a twilight cruise back into port (call ahead for reservations, 838-9444; for more information visit seaport.org/sheffield_island.htm). Think sharing is, well, overrated? Want to book the entire boat and island for an evening? That’s possible too. Check out seaport.org/island_rental.htm.
The Island Princess
Operating out of Norwalk Cove Marina, this authentic side-wheeler looks like the old-fashioned paddleboats that ply the Mississippi — and, in fact, is the only vessel of its kind in the Northeast. It’s available for private charters, accommodating 140 passengers, from about $2,000 for three hours (call 852-7241 or go to islandprincess.com).
Westcott Cove, Stamford
New this spring, Sound Navigation offers sunset cruises to Sheffield Island Lighthouse and back, departing from Stamford’s Westcott Cove ($35 per person). There’s also a Sunday morning five-lighthouse cruise ($65 per person), with both trips conducted aboard a zippy Thrasher, which makes for a fun and exciting ride. Call 866-461-9686 or go to soundnavigation.com.
If you can dream it up, this well-regarded broker can arrange for virtually any sort of vessel, with catering available. The Southern Stars fourteen-foot Boston Whaler, for instance, comes equipped with waterskiing and snorkeling gear. The ninety-five-foot Cloud Nine accommodates 149 passengers and is often used for wedding parties, which enjoy its popular dance floor as well as views around New York Harbor from the upper deck. Not nearly big enough? How about the four-level Lady Windridge, approved for 500 passengers? For more information call Norwalk Yacht Charters at 838-2326 or visit norwalkcove.com/charters.htm.