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The Mast-Head: On an Empty Bay

Wed, 09/14/2022 - 13:12

There were no other boats that I could see other than two commercial draggers in the distance. It was Monday morning, and it had been lonely on the bay since leaving Three Mile Harbor the previous afternoon to sail to near Gardiner’s Island, to anchor overnight.

For all the boats kept around here, most are idle most of the time. An old-timer I met this summer had a name for them: dock queens. Business had not been good, he said, because boats not going anywhere tend not to need fuel or ice.

It is a little difficult to talk about this subject without sounding like I am bragging; the kids these days called it “flexing,” that is, flaunting something, for example, tied to money or strength. My point is that of being puzzled as to why I am nearly always the only one out on the water, other than one or the other of the Gardiner’s Island boats making a run in one direction or another along the usual heading.

There are about 16,000 registered boats in Suffolk, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and over 375,000 in the state as a whole. The East Hampton ZIP code alone has 943, but this obviously does not count vessels from out of state that spend the summer months here, nor does it include the various superyachts with flags from the Cayman Islands or some other haven from otherwise costly legal obligations.

The dataset is part of New York State’s open information system, available at I found my boat, a 1979 Cape Dory, within a minute or two. Incidentally, the oldest boat registered here is a 1939 Elco. Boston Whaler is the most popular make. There are six Cape Dorys.

I don’t see any single factor to explain that of the thousands of boats that could possibly be being used on any given day, there are so few. Perhaps it has to do with how regimented most people’s time has become, or even that breaking away from the online stream for a few hours is a disincentive. But people seem to use their boats more elsewhere, as in Marblehead, Mass., where I bought Cerberus and had its rigging replaced. Maybe it’s just a Long Island thing, to own a boat but rarely actually use it — flexing, as it were.

Not that I mind the lack of other boats. I enjoy the solitude of the bay and the quiet timelessness of being alone on the water.

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