On a fair summer day, what could be nicer than a scenic cruise, the chance to climb a historic lighthouse, feel the wind on a windjammer sail, get acquainted with some denizens of the deep, or simply to savor the sunset over the water? In Connecticut's Fairfield County, several unique excursions on Long Island Sound make it easy to go to sea.
Lighthouse tours, picnicking, shell hunting along the beach, and walks to view wildlife in their natural habitat at the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge are all part of the fun of a trip to Sheffield Island, the destination of cruises from Norwalk aboard the 45-foot catamaran C.J. Toth. The Norwalk Seaport Association, the organization responsible for restoring and maintaining the 142-year-old lighthouse on the island, runs these popular cruises and tours daily from Norwalk. The lighthouse tower offers magnificent views of the Sound, and on a clear day, you can even see the New York City skyline from late May through September. Wednesday evening Sunset Harbor Cruises are added to the schedule from June to September and special early morning Bird Watcher cruises are slated on selected dates from June through August. You can also enjoy Thursday evening clambakes on Sheffield Island. For details, see www.seaport.org or phone 203-838-9444.
Meeting Sea Creatures
Also in Norwalk, the Maritime Aquarium offers one of the most interesting cruises, a chance to learn more about the Sound aboard the research vessel, the Oceanic. The Aquarium's marine science educators are on hand on these 2 and a half hour cruises to tell all about life along the shoreline and below the surface of Long Island Sound. Participants can help to collect marine life and inspect the trawl net's harvest, usually a variety of crabs, fish and lobster, and often a few surprises, as well. An on-board video microscope gives a closer look at the inhabitants of the Sound. Cruises are offered at 1 p.m. every Saturday through June 25 and daily in July and August. More information is available online at www.maritimeaquarium.org or by phoning 203-852-0700.
Anyone who has ever dreamed about gliding full sail on a classic schooner should visit SoundWaters, an environmental education organization located in Cove Island Park in Stamford. They offer regular sails on the SoundWaters, an 80-foot three-masted replica of a 19th Century sharpie schooner, which leaves from Brewer Yacht Haven Marina in Stamford. Afternoon sails from 3 to 5 p.m. on selected dates from June to October are great for families with children age 5 and up, offering the chance to help hoist the sails and raise the trawl to discover who lives underwater. Sunset Sails on selected weekends and weeknights from June to September are intended for adults, who are invited to bring dinner and favorite beverages and relax while watching the sun go down. A fireworks cruise is scheduled for July 2. For exact dates and prices, see soundwaters.org or call 203-406-3335. For directions to the dock and more information visit www.soundwaters.org.
Harbor ViewsBridgeport's Captain's Cove offers a guided tour of Black Rock Harbor aboard the "Chief" a 40 ft. navy launch. The cruise includes stunning views of the restored Black Rock Lighthouse built in 1823 and the Penfield Lighthouse, said to be haunted by the ghost of a former keeper, along with the old Fayerweather Lighthouse, and other historic sites. Tours are given weekends from May through September. For schedules, call the Seaport Office, 203-335-1433.
For more information on cruises on Long Island Sound, including where to rent a kayak or canoe to explore Norwalk's necklace of islands on your own, contact the Western Connecticut Convention and Visitors Bureau, PO Box 968, Litchfield, CT 06759, (860) 567-4506, www.visitwesternct.com. The Bureau also offers a free color guide to attractions, lodging and dining in Fairfield County.