Hackensack River Canoe & Kayak Club

paddling for over a third of a century

The Norwalk Islands
by Betty Wiest

July 11, 2004

It may sound odd, but the first question many people ask is, “Where are the Norwalk Islands?” It’s not so silly. They could be off the coast of Maine or Nova Scotia, or even Massachusetts—but, yes, they are off the coast of Connecticut—Norwalk, to be precise. Exit 16 off I-95. A mere half-hour from the Tappan Zee Bridge.

On the most glorious sunny day in July (the 11th), eight club members rendezvoused early in the day at the Palisades Center in Nyack. It’s probably the only time of day when there are no other cars in this mega-parking lot. After handing out directions and some information on our destination, a quick phone call to one of our participants who was “missing”, and any last-minute decisions to car pool or caravan, we were off!

There were four vehicles in our group consisting of six paddlers—Frank Gillen, Virginia and Jim Magee, Richard Whitby, and Bob May and the writer. The other two paddlers—Fred Cohane and Ed Snutes connected later on and joined us on the water.

Early Sunday morning is the best time to travel—probably anywhere, but especially on I-95. The trip went smoothly. We got off the exit and I saw a sign with an arrow for a triathlon. I didn’t give it another thought—until we got to the Calf Pasture Park where the launch site was located. Cars. People. Lots of them. And policemen giving directions. We lost two cars from our caravan in the parking lot. Ah, but it was easy to distinguish bike racks from boat racks. We managed to get fairly close to the launch site, but still had to portage the boats to the ramp.

The tide was at its mid-point but going out. Fred and Ed were lazily “hanging out” while our gang outfitted our kayaks and applied a healthy dose of suntan lotion. Finally! We were all in the waters of the Sheffield Harbor. Destination—Sheffield Island—the furthest point of our trip.

Sea kayaks or a similar recreational boat is best for the open water. You need a “fast” moving boat in these waters. Why? The toughest challenge is to navigate our small craft in the busy channel. Most motorboat pilots are courteous, but there are always a few who do not slow down for us “small guys”. Even with extending our paddles and waving them in the air, they paid us no heed. Whew! We made it.

There is nothing quite like a luxurious, lazy paddle on summer Sunday morning. The water was calm. It was exquisite.

We all pretty much stayed together taking in the sights on the shoreline…a few snowy egrets, lots of sea gulls, and one very protective osprey in her nest atop a pole. Her shrill voice announced we had gotten too close for her comfort.

We lost (we’ll actually they departed) two of our paddlers who needed to return home. The rest of us continued on to the historic Sheffield Lighthouse. Here we ate our lunch and enjoyed the mid-day sun. While most of the island is set aside as part of a wildlife management area, a small portion of the island falls under the auspices of a public/private organization. The “ranger” approached us for a $5 per person fee for landing. After a short discussion, he waived the fee advising us “please don’t tell any other kayakers.” I slipped him a five anyway just so we could at least use the bathroom facilities. A few “Kodak” moments and we were off again.

We rounded the tip of Sheffield Island and found ourselves in the Long Island Sound. The water changed slightly with gentle swells. Cormorants were seen spreading their wings perched on mossy rocks.

Our second stop of the day was made at a beach on Shea Island where overnight camping is allowed. Mostly we saw pleasure craft anchored and their passengers enjoying the beach and all its related activities, like walking on the mega-seashell border between the water and the brush. We had a few energetic paddlers ourselves with Virginia and Jim taking a dip.

Before we shoved off for the last leg of our journey, we took a quick look at the map to determine our route.

We paddled near another “day beach” with lots of motorboats and people on Chimon Island, then past Betts Island with a like number of people and boats. It seemed to be the favorite spot for clamming!

On the very final run for home, I’m sad to say, I missed the one that got away. With my camera tucked in my deck-bag and my sight set for Calf Pasture Point, a sea gull swooped down in ten feet from the bow of my boat and plucked a giant crab from the sea.
Too late, it will always be a memory of the “one that got away”.

It was low tide, by the time we got to shore. Sand bars with people casting their rods were visible where there were none before. Lots of people were getting set to enjoy a late afternoon paddle. We were ready for a beer.

Things you should know: The entrance fee to Calf Pasture Park on weekends for non-residents is $20 per car. It pays to carpool.

Directions: I-95 to Exit 16, South on East Avenue, past two traffic lights, under railroad bridge. Bear left after third traffic light to Cemetery Street, bear right onto Gregory Blvd., south to traffic circle; bear left and follow Calf Pasture Beach Road to parking area. You can usually off-load your kayaks and then re-park your car very nearby.