Cruising the Great South Bay on the Lauren Kristy

Long Island’s summertime heart is pumped by its beaches, bays, and boats, and during a cruise on its Great South Bay, I was able to take its pulse.

Area activity, as evidenced by the parking lot overflow at the Bay Shore Marina on a hot, crystal blue Saturday in late-June, had taken root on both land and sea. A family dragged a cooler from their car to the sand. The occasional wave of a colorful beach towel hinted at the red, white, and blue threads stitching the country together and the soon-to-be-celebrated Fourth of July. Sweet scents of suntan lotion rode the airwaves like olfactory surfers.

The silver silhouette of the Robert Moses Causeway, spanning the Great South Bay with its characteristic camel’s hump bridge, retained its tether from Long Island proper to Jones Beach. Ivory white wakes, like powerful fountains, sprang from the myriad of motor and fishing boats plying summer’s “expressway.”

By 16:30, the brisk breeze crossing the parking lot from the dark blue and navy gray water to the boat bobbing marina tamed the otherwise sultry, 91-degree temperature with its wind-filled whip.

Bay Shore itself was both created and defined by the waters that provided its very name. Harvesting fish, oysters, and salt hay, its early colonists earned their living by capitalizing on its very treasures, and by 1776, its artisans had equally earned a reputation-in this case, for their small boat-building skills. The fruits of their labor had played their own part in the Revolutionary War against the British.

But it took connections to put the town on the map, and those connections-to other areas-had both aquatic and land chains. In the former case, scheduled service to Fire Island, now a narrow ribbon of mostly summer communities, commenced in 1862, and a Long Island Railroad link with Manhattan cultivated a continual crop of city-escaping tourists whose sprout to this seaside resort some two decades later took form as business: people lined its gas-lit streets, stayed in its hotels and summer estates, and took to the water in its sailing boats. The community quickly earned the reputation as the “garden spot of Long Island.”

After World War II, permanent residents replaced temporary tourists, as they disconnected from mounting Manhattan and formed seaside suburbia.

Located on the widest point of the Great South Bay, Bay Shore today preserves both its architectural and maritime heritage.

Centerpiecing its marina, and appearing out-of-place, is a torpedo dedicated to the memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice in the US Submarine Service during the Second World War.

Also appearing out-of-place (and era) amidst the otherwise ubiquitous fiberglass expressions of sleek, motor-propelled speed of the slip-tucked boats, was the 65-foot, dual-decked, turn-of-the-century wooden riverboat sporting a wind-nudged paddlewheel on its stern and designated the “Lauren Kristy.” It was on this vessel that I would feel the rhythm of Long Island’s summer beat and, by the collecting crowd, I would not be alone in my quest.

A check next to my name on the clipboard-attached reservation list, South Bay Paddle Wheel Cruises’ mobile office, preceded my step aboard and step up the wooden steps to my assigned, “starboard Home painting South Shore MA two” table for the three-hour cruise-the table itself only one removed from the upper deck’s highly polished Paddlewheel Bar and a magnet for the boat’s passengers, whose party mood settled on to the boat as quickly as I had settled into my seat.

As DJ-provided music-albeit initially with a soft beat-pumped its way across the deck, the entangle of octopus tentacles stretched from the dozens surrounding the bar reached for the raw vegetables, dips, cheeses, pepperoni, and crackers long before the engine was pumped with fuel. Wafts of alcohol rode the refreshing breeze all the way to the door-accessed, although narrow, outside deck at the stern.

Released from its mooring restraints and imperceptibly inching away from the dock at 18:00, the “Lauren Kristy,” displaying its third-deck wheel house, dual stacks, and surrounding lattice window frames, seamlessly merged into the marina’s departure channel like an aircraft converging on a single runway at JFK during its evening departure peak.

Trailing a Fire Island ferry into the gray, corrugated Great South Bay, it rode its wake, laterally rocking, as the open water’s cool breeze wrestled for dominance with the music’s audible waves.

Maintaining a southwesterly heading beneath the early-evening’s dirty-white and metallic-gray quilt, which was penetrated by an orange ooze on its western horizon, the “Lauren Kristy” bit into the Great South Bay with its bow, inching toward the Robert Moses Causeway.

Sandwiched between Long Island’s south shore and Fire Island National Seashore, the Great South Bay itself, with a 26-mile length, three-mile width, and 151-square-mile area, is both the area’s largest south shore bay and New York State’s largest shallow saltwater bay. Injected with 5,231 gallons of water per second, it has an average 4.3-, but maximum 20-, foot depth, and provides a habitat for up to 85 species of fish.



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