This Long Island, New York, stopover is a must for summertime cruisers exploring the Northeast.
If you’re cruising east of New York City this summer, think about a stopover at Port Washington on Long Island’s North Shore. With its large marinas and mooring fields, waterfront restaurants and marine services, “Port,” as locals know it, is one of the major boating destinations on the East Coast. It’s worth a visit whether just for an overnight if you’re heading farther east, say to Newport, or even up to Maine, or as a destination in its own right. And it’s easy to get to. In fact, Port Washington is only about four miles east of the Throgs Neck Bridge, marking the entrance to Long Island Sound. “We like to say we’re Exit One on the Sound,” says Steve Wachter, the general manager of Brewer Capri Marina, a massive full-service waterfront complex in Port Washington.
An affluent, commuter suburb, Port Washington has a lot going for it. For openers, it’s a pretty spot where stately waterfront homes with long, sloping greenswards grace the shoreline, particularly on the western—or Great Neck—shoreline. When I lived there many years ago, we used to enjoy sailing by one that had his-and-hers seaplanes out in front. If Gatsby comes to mind, there’s a reason. Indeed, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his classic while staying in Great Neck, which he called West Egg, looking across the bay to Sands Point—the most affluent section of Port Washington—where his Daisy was staying in East Egg. If you want to indulge your Gatsby-type impulses today, there’s Rodeo Drive-type shopping only 15 minutes away by car, while Manhattan itself is only 36 minutes away by train.
The Port Washington peninsula was settled in the 17th century by Dutch traders and English farmers who originally called it Cow Bay, a name that didn’t sit well with residents as the town morphed into one of the most desirable sections of Long Island’s Gold Coast. Cow Bay became Manhasset Bay long ago, the entrance of which is wide, well-marked and easy to find. After cruising under the Throgs Neck Bridge, stay in the ship channel but keep an eye out for commercial traffic; there are a lot of large tugs and barges. Leave City Island on your port side and Stepping Stones light (46-feet-high) to starboard; in fact, stay well north and west of the light. Then pass north of G29 off Hewlett Point (it marks the tip of Great Neck), make a wide turn south and you’ll be the middle of the channel for Manhasset Bay. After about a mile you’ll pass G1, the entrance to Manhasset Bay, with Plum Point on your port side; that’s the tip of Sands Point (Gatsby’s East Egg). The waterfront section of Port Washington will now stretch out on your left side; the right side is Great Neck, and is almost all residential. Downtown Port Washington is straight ahead, with an eight-foot channel carrying all the way up to the large Town Dock.
The Brewer Capri Marinas, East and West, come first, and they form one of the largest waterfront facilities on the Sound. The two adjoining Capri East and West marinas have a total of 350 slips and welcome transients up to 175 feet. For information, call them on Channel 9 or 71. These are first-class, full-service marinas with high-speed fuel pumps for gas and diesel, four Travelifts, pump-out facilities, showers and laundry, and mechanics for all types of repairs. For casual dining, Capri West has Butler’s Clam Shack and a snack bar by the pool; Capri East offers waterfront dining on the pier at Marino’s, one of the best restaurants in port. They also offer golf carts and limo and car rentals for guests.
Heading farther into the bay, as you approach Toms Point watch for seaplanes; their landing area is clearly marked on charts. On summer weekends they come in low and often. Just past Toms Point you’ll see Manhasset Bay Marina, another large full-service facility with 285 slips; it too, welcomes transients and can handle yachts up to 110 feet. Contact them on Channel 9. Manhasset Bay Marina has a 75-ton Travelift and offers all repair services; it has the only other gas and diesel fuel dock on the bay, plus showers, laundry, pump-out, a ship’s store, and 24-hour security. Overlooking the marina is LaMotta’s Waterfront Restaurant for lunch and dinner, with live music on Friday nights during the summer and free dockage if you’re dining there.
Across from Toms Point is downtown Port Washington, with the large town dock. The water taxi is based there; call it on Channel 9 or (516) 767-1691. It offers launch service throughout the bay; one way costs $5 or $8 roundtrip from 8AM to midnight in season. In addition to a fleet of launches, the water taxi has a 47-foot Crosby for sunset or lighthouse cruises. If you’re in Port on a Saturday morning, check out the Farmers’ Market at the Town Dock from 8AM to noon for fresh organic foods, baked goods, flowers, and whatever else turns up.
Just south of the Town Dock is Louie’s Oyster Bar and Grille, one of the best-known waterfront restaurants (seafood specialties, but everything else, too) on Long Island. Louie’s opened in 1905 on a barge accessible only by boat under the name “Kare Killer.” Louie’s also has its own dock and can hold boats up to 50 feet with free dockage while dining there. Plan at least one lunch or dinner there, either inside or on the deck. Call on Channel 68.
Inspiration Wharf is just south of Louie’s, with some transient slips and moorings. You can rent kayaks there at Atlantic outfitters, pick up some handmade ice cream at Douglas & James, or enjoy a fine Chinese lunch or dinner at Dynasty. The Manhasset Bay Shipyard and the Manhasset Bay and Port Washington Yacht Clubs are a bit farther south.
If you just want to relax on shore, take in a free summer concert at the John Philip Sousa (a Port native) bandstand in Sunset Park on the waterfront downtown. Or visit the Sands Point Preserve, a 209-acre county park with nature trails and views of the Sound. Not to be missed is Falaise, which Harry Guggenheim (the philanthropist and former publisher of Newsday) built in 1923 based on a 13th-century French manor house.
There are small shops all along Main Street in Port, but if you’re a serious shopper get a cab and head for the Americana Mall—“The Miracle Mile”—just 15 minutes away in Manhasset. Think high-end Cartier, Dior, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany, among many others. Gatsby would feel right at home.
Brewer Capri Marina
(516) 883-7800 • byy.com
Manhasset Bay Marina
(516) 883-8411 manhassetbaymarina.com
Manhasset Bay Shipyard
(516) 767-7447 767ship • 767ship.com
Louie’s Oyster Bar & Grille
(516) 883-4242 • louiesoysterbarandgrille.com
Wild Honey on Main
(516) 439-5324 • wildhoneyonmain.com
LaMotta’s Waterside Restaurant
LaMotta’s on Facebook
Marino’s on the Bay
Marino’s -Open Table
(516) 883-4227 • harborq.com
La Piccola Liguria
By Peter A. Janssen, Southern Boating Magazine June 2014