August 14, 2015
NEBO TV Report from the Field: Northport, NY
We get some odd looks when we tell people we’re filming an episode on Long Island. Not exactly New England, eh? Well, that may be so, but plenty of Connecticut boaters visit the North Shore of Long Island, as it’s within easy daytrip distance and offers so many interesting harbors. Like Northport.
That’s where the New England Boating TV crew headed this past week, starting on Monday, when we launched the Pursuit C260 at the state ramp on the Saugatuck River in Westport. This free ramp is has a good amount of parking and is accessible at low tide. However, there is no tie-up float, so the launch is only useful for small boats, kayaks and such, as the shore is quite rocky. Luckily, we were keeping our vehicles and the trailer at All Seasons Marine, the local Pursuit dealer, across the river, so this wasn’t a problem. We simply launched the Pursuit C260 then docked at All Seasons so the rest of the crew could hop aboard after parking.
Thanks to ideal conditions, we made the relatively short run across Long Island Sound in less than 30 minutes and arrived at the sprawling Britannia Yachting Center around 2:30. We filmed our arrival then conducted an interview marina president Peter Houmere, who listed all of the marina’s amenities, which include a fuel dock, Travelift, floating slips with water and electric, a pool, laundry, showers, service, and a variety of on-site shops, including a dive service, ship’s store, kayak rental and tackle shop. Whatever your needs, Britannia has you covered, plus it’s situated in a natural hurricane hole.
With the Pursuit secured, we picked up our rental van and headed for what is surely one of the most unique places we’ve ever stayed: Oheka Castle. Oheka is the former mansion of Otto Kahn, a Gilded Age banker who created a sprawling estate on a hill above Cold Spring Harbor in 1914. After Kahn’s death in 1939, the estate was used as a code-training base during World War II and then as a military academy. It was then abandoned and all but destroyed by vandals until Gary Melius purchased the estate in 1984 and set about a $30 million restoration. Today the Castle is a fine hotel and restaurant, and also hosts numerous weddings and other events. It has also appeared in films and video, most recently the Taylor Swift music video for her song Blank Space.
Oheka’s Director of Marketing and Design, Nancy Melius, welcomed us and gave Parker a tour of the castle grounds, including the beautiful gardens and reflecting pools. As evening fell, we settled into our comfortable rooms, then enjoyed a 5-star meal in the castle’s courtyard. A film crew could get used to this kind of living!
We get some odd looks when we tell people we’re filming an episode on Long Island. Not exactly New England, eh?
Day 2: Washout. That’s pretty much what we faced on Tuesday as a storm moved over Long Island bringing heavy rain and wind. We spend the day roaming about the castle and tending to correspondence on our laptops while the camera crew filmed indoor footage. Just as castle fever was setting in, the skies began to clear. A quick call to our local fishing guide Captain Stu Paterson confirmed that conditions would hold, so we hopped in the van and raced to Britannia and met Patterson at the Pursuit. Fifteen minutes later we arrived in Lloyd Harbor, on the western end of the harbor, where we found a big blitz occurring, with small bluefish chasing peanut bunker out of the water all over the quiet cove. We caught several blues on topwater plugs in short order, then headed toward the mouth of the bay to see if we could pick up some larger fish. We found school after school of menhaden (bunker) and snagged a few for bait. Then we anchored over a nearby reef system and sent down a couple of chunks. Just as the orange sun began to sink behind the Connecticut shore, one of the rods went off and we landed a 9-pound bluefish—just in time! That fish may very well have salvaged what had been very frustrating day.
Day 3: No such problem on Wednesday, which dawned bright and sunny. After a big breakfast at Oheka, we piled into the NEBO van and drove to the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport. Here we were met by Director of Curatorial Services Stephanie Gress, who gave us a tour of the museum and told us all about its fascinating history. The museum occupies the former mansion and estate of William K. Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt, or “Willy K.” as he was known, was an avid collector of fish and animals from around the world, and he created elaborate museum-quality dioramas in the lower floor of the mansion. He also built a separate building to house his thousands of fish specimens. It really is an incredible museum and well worth a visit if you travel to the Northport area.
After our tour, we headed into downtown Northport for a lunch at Rockin Fish Restaurant, a short walk from the harbor. The Rockin Fish staff treated us to a feast, as well as a sampling of the wide selection of microbrews they have on tap. The dishes were creative and delicious, and we can see why it has become a popular spot among locals and visitors alike. Indeed, while we were there we met some folks who had brought their boat over from Norwalk to dine at the restaurant.
Next we headed back to Britannia for a harbor tour with Peter Houmere, who grew up in the area and has spend his entire life boating the local waters. We couldn’t have asked for a more qualified guide, and Houmere didn’t disappoint as he dished out info on everything from the Sand City mining operations on Eaton’s Neck to the former seaplane hangar built by Willy K. Vanderbillt. Along the way he also pointed out the public pier where daytrippers can tie up for a few hours while they visit the village.
After returning to Britannia, we again packed into the van and drove to nearby Cold Spring Harbor for a chat with Captain Gary Cassidy, a local boater who told us a bit about Otto Kahn, the boater. Kahn wasn’t a boater per se, but he did commission and maintain a luxurious commuter yacht called the Oheka II, which was presumably berthed in Cold Spring Harbor. No one is sure what became of the boat, but we’re hoping one of our readers or viewers may know!
To wrap up our full and exhausting day, we returned to Britannia once again, this time for a sunset meal and drinks at the Whale’s Tale Restaurant and Bar. The evening had a tropical feel as we devoured about 50 of the restaurant’s signature soft tacos, which feature every kind of filling imaginable, including fish, shrimp, beef, pork, fried onions and all kinds of delicious sauces. We can’t recommend them highly enough—just as we can’t recommend Northport highly enough. It really is a great boating destination, especially for those in Connecticut. And despite a few jabs about the Patriots and Red Sox, the locals were quite welcoming to us New Englanders!