September 17, 2011

Whale of a Day: East End Saturday

Montauk Point Lighthouse, the first ever built in the state of New York, was commissioned by the Second Congress under President George Washington in 1792. From that time until the present, mariners have been sailing the waters off of the easternmost tip of Long Island under the safety and navigational aid of the tower. In order to insure the preservation of this historic landmark, ownership was transferred from the Coast Guard to the Montauk Historical Society in 1996. Since then, it has been functioning as both a lighthouse and a museum.

Once inside, one finds many nautical exhibits, the most fascinating for me being the early examples of Fresnel lenses, which are capable of refracting light from simple whale oil lamps miles out to sea. I had to stop a few times to catch my breath as I ascended the 137 spiraling steps that lead up to the tower. It was well worth the climb as the vantage rewards the eye with unparalleled ocean and beach scenery. On this crystal clear morning with the Atlantic breeze caressing my cheeks, I stood at the lighthouse's pinnacle for several minutes to allow the sheer beauty of the surroundings to seep into my heart and mind. It was a feeling of absolute freedom...

Also on site is the Fisherman's Memorial, a bronze statue on a granite base with an inscription that reads, "In Remembrance of Those Lost at Sea While Fishing These Waters." When viewing a dedication such as this, I almost always get caught up in a moment of solemnity.

From the lighthouse, I traveled to Sag Harbor, a whaling village settled sometime between 1707 and 1730. It is a place with many defining landmarks, the first of which I visited being the Custom House. This dwelling was the residence and office of U. S. Custom Master Henry Packer Dering. It gives a glimpse into the lifestyle of affluent Long Island circa 1790. In the living room, I found the ceiling cut out to house an antique grandfather clock. In the pantry resides a jar of 100-year old peaches. In one of the bedrooms, there is a rope bed complete with tightening key; such beds spawned the old adage "Sleep tight."

Next door to the Custom House is the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum. As I stepped through a pair of whale jawbones into the building's foyer, I found myself in a place that was full to the gunwales with Old-World navigational tools and maps, wooden ship models, fishing implements, and all things cetological.

One gallery showcases the work of Cappy Hjalmar Amundsen, a well-known artist and Sag Harbor legend. His paintings depict vibrant scenes of seafaring adventure and whaling expeditions. This year marks the one-hundreth anniversary of his birth.

Out of Sag Harbor, I took the South Ferry over to Shelter Island where I played a round of mini golf at a small, local amusement park called the "Whale's Tale." Speaking of which, if you're interested in reading a great whale tale, I recommend the book "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex" by Nathaniel Philbrick. It is an intense historical account and I'm currently reading it for the second time. Also, to hear a more heart-warming whale story, click HERE.

Then, as evening began to settle, I sailed on the North Ferry to Greenport, where I ended my East End Saturday with dinner at the restaurant called "The Loft." It was truly a "whale of a day" and I was feeling great. Cheers!!!

"Before his downfall a man's heart is proud,
but humility comes before honor."

~Proverbs 18:12