Bob Allen's great grandfather was the lighthouse keeper at Long Beach Bar "Bug" Lighthouse from 1934 to 1940. Great Grandpa was trapped in Bug Light during the Hurricane of 1938 - along with Allen's father, who was helping out - when the waves off the North Fork were so fierce that their crashing knocked out the light in the tower. "That's how high the waves were breaking during the Hurricane of '38," Allen says.
Allen tells these kinds of anecdotes from his family history to the 110 passengers aboard the Peconic Star II as the Victorian lighthouse, on its own island off Orient Beach State Park, looms ahead of the boat like an iceberg.
Today Allen, who lives in Greenport, is director of the not-for-profit East End Lighthouses, dedicated to preserving and restoring local lighthouses, and he narrates the group's summer lighthouse boat tours. The lighthouses are only reachable by water, and the tour is a coveted chance to see several far-flung lighthouses up close.
Who's on board
The Peconic Star II is normally a party-fishing boat. Seats are along benches or on one of the dozen or so plastic chairs. This is the third such trip for Tom Garrity, 55, a retired police officer from Islip, who came with his two sisters and their spouses.
"I'm intrigued by lighthouses," he says as he snaps photographs. Every tour gives him a different perspective. "The sea is constantly changing."
Around 5:30, a buffet dinner of cold-cut wraps - ham, turkey, corned beef - fried chicken, corn-and-black-bean salad, tomato-and-mozzarella salad, and gourmet cookies - chocolate chip filled with chocolate, a white cookie stuffed with raspberry filling - is laid out. Passengers eat on paper plates balanced on their laps as the boat chugs along.
Harbor seals popped up in the water near Little Gull Light during the July cruise, and the boat lingered so everyone had a chance to see and photograph the whiskered creatures. The public address system was sometimes garbled, but Allen walked around the boat constantly to fill in any missed information. While it was blazing hot during the afternoon hours, by the trip back at 8 p.m., it was cold enough for sweatshirts and windbreakers. Advertised as four to five hours, the July trip was closer to six.
2010 East End Lighthouses Cruises
WHEN | WHERE 3:30 p.m. Aug. 21 and Sept. 11 (weather permitting) aboard the Peconic Star II, adjacent to the North Shelter Island Ferry Dock, Greenport. Cruise lasts four to five hours.
INFO 631-406-6180, eastendlighthouses.org
COST $95 ($41.25 ages 13-18), includes buffet dinner. Reservations required.
OFFSHORE LIGHTHOUSES VIEWED
Long Beach Bar ("Bug"), Orient Point, Plum Island, Little Gull and Race Rock
The East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation
INFO 631-477-2100, eastendseaport.org
ADMISSION $2 (free younger than 6)
While waiting to board the Peconic Star II, check out the East End Seaport Museum, inside a historic Long Island Railroad station adjacent to the dock. It houses the original lens from the Little Gull Light and a lens from the Plum Island Lighthouse, among other historical lighthouse paraphernalia.