FISHERS ISLAND, New York (but shouldn’t it belong to Connecticut?????)

It’s been a very long time since I wrote a blog post, over a year. I made a conscious decision to only blog when there was something new or different to describe. That certainly doesn’t mean that there has been nothing new or different in our lives, it only means that I couldn’t necessarily relate it to boating or travel (and life often gets in the way of writing blogs.)

We had a long stretch of rainy and chilly weather here in New England which made it feel as though our boating season would never begin. But by late June we were ready to begin our summer cruising with Magnolia who arrived here to join us. Magnolia sat on our mooring ball out at Avery Point while her crew took a road trip to a family event in Michigan. 

Magnolia sitting peacefully on our mooring ball and awaiting her crew’s return (under our watchful eye.)

Upon their return and after both a cookout with friends at Shennecossett and a get-together on Magnolia (and why did we all forget to take photos of that???), our boats were ready to get underway. We had to make it a short and interrupted beginning to the longer cruise due to a commitment back at home, so we chose West Harbor on Fishers Island as a first stop. 

Fishers Island is sooo close to us — less than 5 miles from our dock to West Harbor. An easy and quick overnight or day trip when you don’t have much time. And yet when you return, you really do feel like you have been away.

We decided that West Harbor would actually be a good destination given the July 4th holiday craziness on the water as well as our time/distance constraints. And Magnolia had never been there.

The Dumplings are two tiny islands just outside of West Harbor, Fishers Island. North Dumpling is owned by Dean Kamen, an inventor whose projects include the insulin pump, an all-terrain wheelchair, portable water purification systems and robotic prosthetic limbs……and the Segway, a self-balancing electric scooter. Kamen and North Dumpling’s quirky story has been featured in an article, “Welcome to the Secret Island of an Eccentric Genius.”

North Dumpling

South Dumpling is uninhabited, but has a little history of its own, as described by Robert Anderson, Jr. whose family owned the island from 1964 -1980. South Dumpling is now held in a land trust, the Avalonia Land Conservancy, Inc.

South Dumpling

For the 15 years that we have made the 5 mile trip, the one thing I always look for is the sea wall painted with the words, “Where the Wild Things Are.”  I ponder about what prompted the idea and imagine the laughter and enjoyment that the family must have had as they engaged in the project.

The view of “Where the Wild Things Are” from the boat as we enter the harbor. Love the book!
A closer look at the wall. Top photo is 2015; bottom photo is 2019. I wonder if there are plans to repaint any time soon?
Kindred Spirit anchored
Magnolia anchored with a sailing race in the background.

After settling in, the warm July 4th weather called for a dinghy ride around the harbor to check out the sights and see what’s new. For a small harbor there is a lot to see.

A very busy little beach on the harbor.
Double POPEYEs or POPEYE squared? Combo ferry/charter boats that run from Noank, CT to Fishers Island, NY.

The harbor is lined with lovely old family homes, docks, and boats.

BD Remodeling & Restoration. The boat in front is named “Baby Doll”. Could that be the “BD”?
Pirates Cove Marina
Back at the boat, the 68 degree water actually felt ok in the July heat.
The crews of Kindred Spirit and Magnolia enjoy dinner together at the end of our first day.
Good night, Fishers Island

We slept well and awoke to……………… uh oh… The next day didn’t “dawn” at all until very late in the morning. This thick fog overlaid West Harbor and well across the southern New England islands.

That is all I could see of the harbor edge.
Magnolia is shrouded in a wet foggy blanket.

The fog departed very slowly, and by early afternoon we were rewarded with a sunny warm day – the four of us jumped into the dink for a visit to the island.

The fireworks barge arrived for the evening’s display. We were stopped just as we left the boat by the local patrol boat to inform us that Kindred Spirit “might” be a little too close to those festivities for comfort. OK, then! Back onboard for a quick repositioning farther out in the harbor.

Fishers Island provides a dinghy dock right at the yacht club for people to use and come ashore (take the hint, SYC?)

Fishers Island dinghy dock (in May, not July.)
Fishers Island Yacht Club decked out for the 4th of July. Awesomely decorated corn hole games on the lawn, too.

A few geographic facts about Fishers Island:

  • about 9 miles long and 1 mile wide, located at the eastern end of Long Island Sound
  • 2 miles off the southeastern coast of Connecticut across Fishers Island Sound.
  • 11 miles from the tip of Orient Point, Long Island
  • 2 miles from Napatree Point, Rhode Island

And yet the island is part of the town of Southold in Suffolk County in the state of New York. 

About 250 people live year-round on the island but the population swells to about 2,000 during peak summer weekends. In 1930 the population reached a peak of 1500, split between year-round residents and Fort Wright personnel. The closure of the last hotel in 1941 and of Fort Wright in the late 1940’s resulted in a dramatic decrease in year-round residents.

Fishers is a quiet place. The wealthy families that have spent generations summering here and the year-round residents want to keep it that way. There are no hotels, only one restaurant and one small cafe, one liquor store, two gift shops, an ice cream store and a grocery store. There are two private clubs, Hay Harbor and Fishers Island Club, that provide a social life for members and offer world class golf. I read an article that Fishers Island is known as the “anti-Hamptons” and is proud of it.

This small stretch is literally the “center”.

Our primary goal for the afternoon was to enjoy ice cream. Al and Anthony need regular infusions. “Toppers” is the little ice cream shop with a dog theme. Yes, a dog theme. It’s a cute idea, but the flavors all have clever names that make it a little hard to know what you are getting without a closer look.

Eager ice cream buyers! Annette made a thoughtful observation that having your ice cream in a cone is better for the environment, better than single-use plastic cups.
Flavors such as “Dobermint”, “Killer Canine”, “Mound Hound”, “Milkbone”, “Pedigree Paws”, “Muddy Dawg”, “Puppucino”
Toppers 2015 on the left and Toppers 2019 on the right, with a fresh paint job.
The Beach Plum is a charming gift shop in the old firehouse building. Lots of lovely (and expensive) items and many with a Fishers Island motif.
It’s nice of the Beach Plum to provide comfortable chairs for the guys while Annette and I checked out the merchandise.

We walked up the road to The Henry L. Ferguson Museum. After wandering around the displays of photos and artifacts from Fishers Island history, we found ourselves conversing with the director, Pierce Reynolds. This man knows his island history and is very adept at sharing the facts and fables of Fishers.

The Henry L. Ferguson Museum and Director Pierce Reynolds.

Here was my chance! Why, why is Fishers Island part of New York and not Connecticut?????? The question has bothered me for years. What’s the story, Pierce?
Here is the short version —

The Pequot Indians called Fishers Island “Munnawtawkit.” In 1614, the Dutch explorer, Adrian Block, discovered the island and named it Visher’s Island. 

In 1640, John Winthrop, Jr. son of the famous Governor Winthrop, the founder of Boston, obtained grants for Fishers Island from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Connecticut General Court in 1641. Winthrop hoped to secure his rights to the island by applying to both colonies because the boundaries of these new colonies were somewhat fluid and had not been fixed yet.

In 1657, when Winthrop became governor of Connecticut, he had included Fishers Island, where he owned the land. But, in 1664 a land patent granted to the Duke of York, brother of King Charles II, included all islands in Long Island Sound — apparently giving Fishers Island to the Province of New York. 

Fishers Island remained in the Winthrop family of Connecticut until 1863, in spite of the change from Connecticut to New York, when ownership passed to Robert R. Fox, and then to Edmund and Walton Ferguson, also of Connecticut.

In 1879, a joint commission from Connecticut and New York officially settled the CT-NY dispute by affirming that New York would have legal title to Fishers Island. In return, Connecticut then received full title to the Fairfield County panhandle, which intrudes into New York’s Westchester County.

And yet, and yet…..Fishers Island’s zip code is 06390, corresponding to Connecticut zip codes that begin with “06”, while other residential zip codes in New York State begin with “1”. Hmmmm. Pierce says that is for expediency since the mail is contracted to come from the Connecticut coast because there is no public transportation from anywhere else.

So there you have it.

Behind the museum is a path that leads to a Wildlife Sanctuary.
The museum hosts many activities and learning opportunities. A children’s session created “fairy houses” which we noticed as we walked down to the wild life sanctuary. Cute, but the fairies must have been hiding or napping.
Tunnel-like passages created from overhanging branches
A quiet pond, still and blanketed by a covering of algae.
Beside the algae pond is a statue of a mama heron and two babies. The only statue in the sanctuary.
Very cool tree. And a cool guy, too. 😉

We walked around a small section of the western end of the island, the only really public part of Fishers. Some of the sights —

First home on the road up from the docks.
The double Adirondack chair always looks inviting (except for that splat of bird doo on the top edge…..)
Over all the years of walking up this road past the ball field, there has never been a game in progress.
The doctor’s office
I’ve always loved the way this white house sits and overlooks the field.
Typical Fisher Island homes with lots of old charm.
The Red Barn Art Gallery. It has never been open when we walk past.
The Pequot Inn, the only restaurant on the island. We really wanted to have pizza and a cold beer, but it was 4 pm and the Inn doesn’t open until 5 pm. We will keep this on our future to-do list!
St. John’s Episcopal Church, one of the four island churches.
Honeysuckle, day lilies, a sculpted duck, and a severed tree limb that left a heart in its place.
This is an image you see EVERYWHERE on Fishers – on clothing, dishware, placemats, jewelry, and yes, on cars. Fisherites clearly identify with their island and are proud to say so.
The Fishers Island decal is on 90% of the cars on the island. If you just glance at it, it can appear to be a spot of peeling paint.
This pink stretch limo was an unusual sight as it pulled up in front of The News Cafe.
How did it fit on a ferry???

The Fishers Island fireworks were Friday evening’s entertainment. A boat is the best place to watch a fireworks’ display. Especially after you re-anchor farther away.

As the sky darkened we could see the barge just over the sailboat.
They might be a bit too close……
The only two respectable photos I took of the show. If you are a fan of fireworks and can’t get enough, here is a link to a short video of that evening. Video seems to be a better way to capture the movement, the explosions, and the sounds of a fireworks display.

Sailing races are frequently held in West Harbor as part of the Fishers Island Yacht Club activities. We had great spectator seats from our boat as racers passed by, sometimes quite closely. We may have gone to the “dark side” but we still appreciate sails filled with wind, silently propelling a boat across the water.

Sometimes the moments before sunset are just as lovely as the sunset.

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