Monday, July 11, 2011

A discovery

Attempting to leave Oyster Bay, I found myself becalmed, as usual on this trip, at the very mouth of the harbor. So I decided to improve the time by exploring a place I have often wondered about: the Sand Hole, on the west side of the outermost part of Lloyd's Neck (which forms the eastern side of the Oyster Bay/Cold Spring Harbor complex.) You can see the Sand Hole in context, a little vermiform appendix of water, bounded by sandbars, at the top of the satellite photo on the previous post. Here's a closeup:

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The chart shows enough water for the Scapegrace (which draws four feet) in most of the Sand Hole, except at the narrowest part of the inlet, just after you round the tip of the long rock jetty on the west and head south for a couple hundred feet. At low tide the chart shows three feet of water just there. High tide, of course, would be no problem -- the tide rises about seven feet in these parts -- but then the jetty would be submerged and invisible, a scary idea.

It was low tide when I decided to do my exploring, so I anchored the Scapegrace in the slightly shallower (lighter-colored) open water you can see to the west of the jetty, and take the dinghy in.

The throat of the inlet was indeed very narrow and very shallow -- certainly no more than three feet, maybe less. The current was still running out of it, creating a pleasant little bumpy rapids over the bar. It's one boat at a time -- if somebody's coming out, you wait before you go in.

Once inside, there's a nice Lost World feel, somewhat impaired by menacing signs around the first (southern) baylet you enter: PRIVATE NO LANDING PRIVATE NO ANCHORING PRIVATE PRIVATE PRIVATE GODDAMMIT HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU. But once you round the point that forms the eastern side of the inlet, and head north into the second baylet, it's all public land, apparently.

This was a Saturday, and the Lost World had apparently been re-found by some denizens of Stamford and such places. But there weren't many -- three or four boats when I came in, and they were all pretty well-behaved. Nobody playing music or shrieking with mirth.

I went to beach the dinghy in the little corner pocket on the west side of the northern baylet, and found to my surprise that you can't. The shore climbs at a forty-five degree angle, or nearly, and the bottom drops off an what appeared to be an even sharper angle below. So you don't slide up onto the sand; you bump into the bank, and your bow is nuzzling it while your stern is in maybe eight feet of water. But there was some kind of wrecked framework of big timbers a few feet up the beach -- the remains of a pier, perhaps? -- and the dinghy's painter extended far enough to secure it to this picturesque ruin.

I walked along the shore toward the east and north, exchanging civilities with a well-spoken small young family -- mom, dad, and tot -- paddling in the water near their motorboat, which they had backed up to the shore; that tells you how fast the bottom falls off. They had brought an anchor twenty feet or so up the shore, buried it in the sandy gravel, and put a big flat rock on top to keep the boat in place. Perhaps there was another anchor out in the water; I didn't notice.

There's a path that leads up into the scrub woods toward the north. Twenty feet from the water and all the smells change: dry, spicy, a little sweet and floral. There were some kind of cactus, or what looked like cactus to me, growing rife in little clearings, with very showy complicated big yellow flowers. Somehow I don't associate cactus with Long Island. I wish I knew the names of plants and birds, but alas, it's a closed book to me.

I wandered up a couple of the little ankle-deep rivulets that drain the big salt marsh to the east; this was really a lost world -- not a human sound; just the distant growl of the surf on the outside of the sandbar, the trickle of the little streams, the various cries of birds, so unintelligible and meaningless to an ornithomoron like me; it was like walking down the sidewalk in some parts of Queens and hearing languages that you can't even begin to identify; couldn't even tell what part of the world they might be from.

Had a quick and refreshing swim in the northern baylet. It was starting to get crowded -- some idiot even had a jet-ski, though he hadn't started using it yet -- and I packed myself into the dinghy and returned to the Scapegrace. I'd like to come back, on a weekday perhaps, after Labor Day, and try to bring the sailboat in -- though that initial entry would have me chewing my knuckles.

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