If you’re planning your cruises for this coming season, don’t overlook Connecticut. It has more than 600 miles of coastline, approximately 5,828 miles of rivers and 3,000 lakes, ponds and reservoirs, all of which offer boaters many ways to explore and enjoy the water. While it can get crowded out there in high season, there are a few places along the coast that are less traveled yet interesting in their own right. Consider dropping the hook or pulling into a slip near one of these locations this summer.
Selden Creek Preserve, Connecticut River
During the Revolutionary War, Selden Creek was used by American boats as a hiding place from the marauding British. Today, it’s a quiet oasis away from the busier Connecticut River. Larger boats can enter via the south entrance, approximately 1 nautical mile past Hamburg Cove heading north, and raft up or drop anchor and go for a swim in this secluded creek filled with beavers and birds of prey. It is possible, especially during the week, to be the only boat among the tidal wetlands and rock ledges surrounding this narrow waterway. It’s never overcrowded because the water depth ranges from 4 feet to 13 feet, so navigate carefully, stay in the center and watch out for logs. Note, there are no moorings in the creek.
Selden Creek winds its way around Selden Neck State Park, which is an island that was severed from the mainland in the 1850s. It was named after John Selden, whose family and descendants occupied the 607-acre property for 170 years until the 1860s. There are a few trails on the island with commanding views of the Connecticut River along the west side and Selden Creek to the east. The north entrance is located directly across from Chester Point Marina in Chester, Connecticut. Here, you can beach a boat up to 30 feet on a spit of sand and then explore the island on foot. There is a campsite here, one of four on the island, and it may be reserved, so landfall may not be possible, but on weekdays it is usually vacant. There’s also an old quarry located in the southeast section of the island that you can tour, too.
Esker Point Beach, Groton Long Point
A great way to enjoy the sounds of summer is to catch a free concert at Esker Point Beach as part of its Summer SoundWaves Concert Series on Thursday nights. It’s a hot spot for locals and transient boaters, with lots of rafting up, picnicking and dancing. Esker Bay is a beautiful little anchorage. There is no development or industry, and only a few houses dot the shoreline. If you come early, you can head over for a meal at Costello’s Clam Shack located in Noank Shipyard, where there are transient slips. Or, you can walk to Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough for a traditional New England lobster bake. Then, explore this tiny, picturesque fishing village on foot. You can also pass a lazy day at Flat Hammock, near South Dumpling Island, located approximately 3/4 mile north of Fishers Island’s West Harbor. Flat Hammock is a nesting spot for the great black-backed gull, so try not to disturb them while swimming near this narrow bit of land.
Ford’s Lobster, Noank Harbor
Connecticut is chock full of waterside food shacks, but not all deliver to your boat. Then there’s Ford’s Lobster in Noank. Boaters can order dockside or disembark and eat at the restaurant on the pier. Ford’s has created numerous dishes around lobster, including BLTs, tacos, risotto, thermidor, scampi and just plain boiled. There’s a market that sells uncooked lobsters. While the food is a draw, so is the atmosphere. Noank Harbor is pristine and commerce-free. It overlooks Mason, Fishers and Enders islands, and it is a good stopping off point for those en route to Watch Hill or Block Island in Rhode Island, and beyond.
Swallow Remuneration, Connecticut River
Every year in late August through September, something wondrous occurs on Goose Island in Old Lyme near the mouth of the Connecticut River. Hundreds of thousands of tree swallows converge at dusk to roost in the phragmites overnight. As if on cue, they form a large funnel and plummet downward into the reeds. How they orchestrate this so precisely night after night remains a mystery, but it is truly a sight to see. Vessels of all sizes—including tour boats, powered by motor and hand—gather to witness this phenomenon. There are no moorings and no options for going ashore. Most boaters drift or motor about quietly rather than drop anchor. Stay in the well-marked channel to approach and exit.
Captain’s Cove seaport, Black Rock Harbor
Captain’s Cove Seaport at Black Rock Harbor in Bridgeport is like a mini resort for boaters. It’s a very active marina with a lot to do. There’s a boardwalk with wooden shacks, where locals sell food, confections and gifts/souvenirs. An onsite restaurant with upper and lower decks overlooks the harbor and its Tug Boat Bar features signature cocktails to be enjoyed at stools set around the bow of a 19th-century tugboat. The restaurant features live music and an escape room, and it hosts fishing tournaments every August in conjunction with The Greatest Bluefish Tournament on Earth. There are a few transient slips that can accommodate boats 50 feet and under. It’s best to reserve ahead.
Thimble Islands, Long Island Sound, Stony Creek
The Thimble Islands comprise more than a hundred inhabited and uninhabited islands. It’s fun to take a boat tour out of Stony Creek to learn the history and lore about Captain Kidd burying treasure on Money Island, or President William Taft’s summer residence on Davis Island, or the newlyweds who acquired Mother-in-Law Island to sequester the bride’s mother. But it’s also a great place to raft up on your own boat, or to explore by jet ski or paddle board, or throw an anchor in the waters between High Island and Pot Island, or just north of the Cut-In-Two Islands. Do watch out for underwater cables, pipelines and rocks, though. There are moorings, but all are private.
Clinton Harbor, Clinton
This harbor is tucked away on Long Island Sound near Cedar Island, yet it’s a surprisingly lively spot. The views of Cedar Island, along with the tranquil beauty of marshes at nearby Hammonasset Beach State Park, gives this harbor a certain serenity. There are three eateries on the water, all within walking distance to each other, the town dock and Cedar Island Marina. Lobster Landing is housed in a shack and has the good lobster rolls. Shanks has live music and more food options, which are ordered from an old boat beached in the parking lot. Rocky’s Aqua also has live music and is the most upscale dining spot of the three with a larger menu. Transient slips are available at Cedar Island Marina which has a pool, snack bar, adult lounge room and a free shuttle to take you into town.
The Norwalk Islands, Norwalk
The Norwalk Islands are located 1 mile off the coast of Norwalk and Westport. They are comprised of more than 25 small islands along a 6-mile stretch in Long Island Sound. While they are great for camping, birdwatching, kayaking and swimming, not all are public, and some are off limits due to nesting bird populations. Chimon Island has a designated public beach area, but camping is not permitted, nor is access to the island’s interior. Grassy Island and Shea Island also have a beach area but do allow overnight camping. Cockenoe Island has a protected inner harbor with safe anchorage. Sprite Island has a small yacht club and picnic facilities. Goose Island has a good beach as does Sheffield Island, which also has a historic lighthouse. Sheffield Island is looked after by the Norwalk Seaport Association, and they offer island clambakes in the summer.
Milford River, Milford
While there are several marinas in Milford Harbor (Milford Harbor, Port Milford and Spencer’s), Milford Landing Marina has advantages over the others. It’s located at the head of the Milford River, so it’s protected, and it’s walking distance to Milford’s historic downtown, which is filled with eateries, shops and bars. The marina only takes transient boats up to 65 feet, and has 40 slips on the west side and 120 feet of linear dock to the east. On summer weekends the place is packed. Everyone hangs out in beach chairs on the floating docks, cooking, eating and relaxing. It’s one big party. But there is opportunity to be more active, if you are so inclined. There are public tennis courts across the river that can be accessed by a foot bridge. Or rent a bicycle and peddle over to Silver Sands State Park, just 2.5 miles away. It has a sandy beach with views of Charles Island, which was once a summer resort in the mid-1800s—it closed after the Civil War. Twice a day, when the tide ebbs, the island can be reached by foot via sandbar. It is possible to find a safe anchorage off the island’s west side, where there are public shellfishing beds that don’t require a permit. Once the hook is down, lunch is served.
This article was originally published in the March 2022 issue.