5 Great Labor Day Boating Destinations
For many folks, Labor Day marks the end of summer, so be sure to make the most of it by getting on the water. Here are some ideas for the coming weekend!
Daytrippers who want to visit Newport for a few hours can dock at the Newport Maritime Center, just off Thames Street at the Ann Street Pier. The center is staffed by helpful attendants and can accommodate vessels up to 40’ for a fee of 50 cents a foot per hour. It also has plenty of free dinghy space, and boaters can also beach their dinghy in front of the center. There is no tie-up limit, although all boats must be removed by 10:00 p.m. Tip: on summer weekends the docks can fill up fast, especially around mid-day, so get there early or try to plan your visit during a weekday.
Inside the Maritime Center you’ll find free WiFi, laundry, showers, vending machines, ice, a TV, lockers and a reading library. It’s a wonderful resource for boaters.
Perhaps best of all, the center is located right off Thames Street, providing quick access to many shops, boutiques and restaurants.
VHF: Channel 09
There is something magical about Menemsha Harbor on Martha’s Vineyard. A thriving commercial fishing village from the late 1600s through the 1970s, Menemsha still hosts a small working fleet of commercial boats. The harbor was once famous for its landings of harpoon-caught swordfish, which could be found in relative abundance in the nearshore waters off the Vineyard. A large, bronze statue near the harbor entrance pays homage to the harpoon swordfishery and its fishermen.
Today, Menemsha still exudes a quiet, laidback atmosphere. It’s the perfect place for independent, nature-loving boaters seeking escape from the crowds. Protected Menemsha Pond, accessible via Menemsha Creek, is a wonderful spot to explore in a kayak or dinghy. Do not try to access the pond in any vessel drawing more than 3’, however, as the creek is extremely shallow.
The harbor basin is confined, yet can accommodate surprisingly large commercial vessels. Anchoring inside the basin is prohibited, but the town reserves 16 slips and 2 guest moorings for transient vessels up to 40’, available on a first-come, first-served basis. Good holding ground and more public moorings are available for larger vessels outside the harbor in Menemsha Bight. This area is exposed to winds from the north and west, but makes an ideal location during prevailing summer southwesterlies. Beachgoers can dinghy, swim or wade ashore and enjoy the wonderful beaches east and west of the inlet.
As mentioned, the delights of Menemsha are mostly of the laidback kind. Small-boaters may be able to arrange short-term tie-up along Dutcher Dock or the bulkhead near the fuel dock (check with the harbormaster first) and enjoy a cup of chowder, steamers, clam cakes or a lobster roll at Larsen’s Fish Market, or some grilled fare, fries and ice cream at The Bite or the Menemsha Galley. A short stroll brings you to several interesting shops and boutiques, including Menemsha Blues, Pandora’s Box and Copperworks. If you need provisions, the Menemsha Market carries basic groceries in-season.
Norwalk Islands, CT
Boaters in central Connecticut are blessed with an amazing natural resource: the Norwalk Islands. This archipelago of some 25 low-lying islands not only protect the harbor from high seas, they also provide a natural playground for boaters, birders, beachgoers, clammers and campers.
Cockenoe (pronounced “Kah-kee-nee”) island is owned by the town of Westport, and public access is allowed. The island features a nifty little cove and beach that’s perfect for kids and is filled with snapper bluefish by late summer. Overnight camping is allowed by the Westport Conservation Department, but for only 4 parties per night.
The Norwalk Recreation & Parks Department manages Shea Island and smaller Grassy Island to the east. Both are stony, scrub-covered tracts of land. Seasonal camping is allowed on these islands by permit from the Norwalk Recreation & Parks Department. Two solar-powered restrooms are available in season, and there are 16 campsites. The shoreline is strewn with boulders, making it a somewhat difficult place to approach by boat.
Copps and Betts islands are privately owned, as is Tavern Island, which was reputedly used as a depot for rumrunners in the 1920s.
Chimon (Chimmons), Goose and Sheffield islands are part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge system. While boaters can land and play on the beach at Chimon, access to its interior is prohibited from April until mid-August.
At 57 acres, Sheffield features hiking trails and a lighthouse built in 1868 that’s now maintained by the Norwalk Seaport Association. Visitors can drop off and pick up passengers at the dock on the island’s northwest tip, for a nominal fee. It can be a busy place on weekends, when numerous people come to picnic on the island and visit the famous lighthouse.
Thanks to their close proximity to the mainland, the Norwalk Islands are very popular among kayakers, many of who launch from Calf Pasture Beach, on the eastern side of Norwalk Harbor. From there it’s a relatively short paddle to the islands.
Trailer-boaters will find an excellent launch ramp with ample parking and floats at the Visitors Dock in East Norwalk. There is a $20 daily fee to launch and park.
Boaters on the Connecticut side of Long Island Sound have a multitude of day- and weekend trips available to them on the North Shore of Long Island. Among the best and most scenic are Mattituck Creek and Mattituck Village, on the North Fork.
Some 15 nautical miles from Westbrook and Clinton (the latter boasting a public ramp with overnight parking), Mattituck Inlet is easily reachable in seaworthy small and mid-sized boats. Once inside the jetties, you’ll enter tranquil Mattituck Creek, which winds through low-lying marshland filled with osprey, egrets and heron. Pay attention to the buoys, as the channel is narrow and surrounded by shoalwater. Several headboats, along with working lobster boats and weathered trawlers, make Mattituck their homeport, giving the place a tidal North Carolina feel.
At the head of the creek is the transient-friendly Strong’s Marina and Waterclub, where you can usually find a slip or mooring, although it’s always best to call ahead. The cove in front of the marina is also a federal anchorage with excellent holding ground, although you’ll have to find your own way ashore.
Strong’s sells fuel and ice, and is home to a resort-like facility with a pool, a manmade beach and a lively tiki bar. If you’re hungry, the on-site Pace’s restaurant offers delicious sandwiches, salads and dinner entrees.
Boaters who want to see more of Mattituck can bike to Mattituck Village, although we recommend hiring Scott Hill of Casual Pointe Transportation. We used Scott’s service on our TV shoot, and can’t recommend him highly enough. He is friendly, punctual and a font of local information.
In the heart of the village is Love Lane, home to numerous interesting shops and restaurants. We recommend the Mattituck Kitchen, the Village Cheese Shop and the Love Lane Sweet Shop. And if you’re looking for good deli sandwiches and breakfast items, stop by Ammirati’s Cafe.
The Mattituck area is also home to several wineries, including the award-winning Macari Vineyards and Shinn Estates. Casual Pointe will be happy to shuttle you to and from these places—so you can relax and sample the wines without worrying about driving.
Lake Champlain’s Inland Sea
The islands of northern Lake Champlain are Vermont’s version of the Bahamas—an emerald archipelago boasting well-protected harbors, stellar fishing, rural landscapes and a laid back vibe. They even have a famous reef, though it’s no risk to mariners; the Chazy Fossil Reef on Isle LaMotte is a reminder of the shallow sea that once covered much of Vermont and New York.
While a visit to the 27-mile-long Inland Sea is a treat at any time of year, fall is extraordinary—a fireworks display of reds, oranges and yellows set against the distant heights of the Green Mountains and Adirondacks. Better still for boaters, they can have the waters all to themselves.
The shoreline remains largely pristine, he points out, and the area is popular among sailors because of its deep, clear water and good holding ground. Anglers from hardcore to not-so-serious appreciate the Inland Sea for its world-class bass and pike fishing, while watersports enthusiasts can find plenty of protected spots for tubing, wakeboarding and waterskiing. There’s plenty of water to go around for all comers.The Inland Sea is bounded by the eastern shore of the islands and the western shore of Vermont. The epicenter of the 3 main islands—South Hero/Grand Isle, North Hero and Isle LaMotte—is the picturesque village of North Hero in City Bay. (North and South Hero were named in honor of Vermont’s revolutionary war heroes, Ira and Ethan Allen.)
Hero’s Welcome, a sprawling, century-old general store, humorously reflects its central status with four wall clocks that show the time for each of the islands. Its docks and picnic tables bustle with boaters and even seaplane pilots who tie up to visit the bakery or deli, which serves salads and a variety of delicious gourmet sandwiches. The well-stocked store also sells soda, wine and beer, ice cream, children’s toys, kayaks, water toys, gifts, clothing, souvenirs, kitchen items, candy by the pound and just about anything else you can imagine. There’s a launch ramp across the street, and you can fuel up at the dock. Talk about a boater’s “convenience store!”
City Bay is also home to the elegant, 26-room North Hero House, a historic inn known for its fine dining and cozy pub (try the fish and chips with ale-battered haddock and hand-cut fries). Many locals come here just for the breakfast buffet. The inn also maintains boat slips for its guests and a grassy picnic area on the water. Another major attraction is the trio of state parks on Knight Island, Woods Island and Burton Island, the latter home to a large, ranger-staffed campground with a swimming beach, hiking trails, snack bar, canoe and rowboat rentals and a 100-slip marina. Knight and Woods islands offer a more rustic camping experience, with wilderness sites and no rangers. While all 3 campgrounds officially close on Labor Day, they continue to draw many daytrippers in the fall.
Boaters looking for a higher level of creature comforts will find them at the Shore Acres Inn, which has 23 rooms on an east-facing bluff overlooking the lake. Guests also have free use of the inn’s fleet of kayaks. The food is good, too, but many locals simply like to tie up along the inn’s long pier in the afternoon to enjoy a cocktail at the bar, a tradition dating back more than 50 years.
Speaking of libations, what group of exotic islands would be complete without a Tiki bar? You’ll find one at the North Hero Marina at Pelot’s Point on Carry Bay. Owner Jim Blandino claims one of the best protected harbors on the lake and a full-service marina that draws mariners from Quebec and the city of Burlington, just 10 miles to the south.
Two other full-service marinas bracket the northern and southern ends of the Inland Sea. Ladd’s Landing (open through September) occupies a protected cove just above the Grand Isle drawbridge and maintains 6 transient slips. New England Powerboat Service (open through October), by the causeway to Alburgh, also has transient slips, along with a snack bar next door. You’ll find overnight accommodations around the corner at West Shore Cabins, whose quaint lodgings include porches and decks that are perfect for taking in the spectacular sunsets.
A bit farther south, on the west-facing Alburg Passage of North Hero, is Batchelder’s Holiday Harbor Lodge, which has downhome lakeside efficiencies, motel units and protected dock space for its boating guests. It’s frequented by avid fishermen, who come from all over the country to fish for Champlain’s salmon, trout, bass and pike.
While no one makes rum on these islands, there’s plenty of wine to keep the crew happy. Snow Farm Vineyard offers tours, music and wine at its tasting room in South Hero.
Fresh local provisions, sparkling waters, friendly folk and protected waters: It all adds up to a boater’s paradise, right here in New England.