Q. What if I get stuck on the water?
- TowBoatUS 800-391-4869 is the dispatch number and they are in Norwalk harbor. My member number is 2145006 and it was renewed from May 23, 2018 to May 31, 2019 to include unlimited towing, jump starts, on-the-water re-fueling, and “soft ungroundings”. It covers all my boats and anybody using my boats. I recommend downloading the BOATUS app because there is a Call For a Tow button on the app which will send your GPS coordinates automatically to the dispatch center and makes the call automatically.
Q. How do I start the boat?
- Under the console is a battery switch. It must be in the ALL or 1 position. Flip all the switches on the dash to the up or on position. This includes the MAIN, the lights, the bilge pump, etc. If you need lights then you must insert the stern light post in the starboard rear corner hole and wiggle it to come on. If the bow lights are on it should come on. The tilt is operated from the throttle. Tilt the motor almost all the way down. It should register on the dash when it is in the flat position. The engine oil is located in a sump in the rear (aft) starboard corner cabinet and automatically is added as needed. If there is no oil there is more Evinrude oil in the closet on the island porch. The gas gauge works but is not precise. If turning the key does nothing then most likely you are in gear. Move the throttle up and down out of gear to start the boat.
Q. How do I dock the boat?
- It is ok to dock the boat on either side of the float. If both sides are available get close and have the wind to push you the last few feet into the dock. Don’t jump from boat to dock. If you miss the dock then just back up the boat and try again. Step off the nose of the boat. Secure the boat to the dock with the bow line. Tighten the stern line first, tightly, and then snug up the bow line accordingly. The fenders are on the port side of the boat. Ideally you will dock on the East side of the float with the nose pointing out.
For docking overnight, or in rough seas or strong wind it is preferable to dock the boat with the bow of the boat pointing away from the beach. Years ago a Boston Whaler was docked stern out and water came over the stern and sunk the boat. It happened a second time to a 25’ SeaCraft with twin 200hp outboards. Both of these boats sank while tied to the dock in the middle of the day. Do not underestimate the power of the swells even when the sea looks calm. Passing boats a mile away in Norwalk Harbor channel can create big rolling waves.
Q. How deep is the water at the dock at low and high tide?
- There is 8 feet of water under the float at high tide. At low tide there is as little as 2.5 feet at one end of the float. Best to raise the engine a little if the engine is going to be on the shallow end of the float during low tide.
Q. Are there any rocks to avoid?
- Yes, the most dangerous rock is Christmas Rock, located between the Cotaling’s dock and the mansion on Tavern Island, about 300 yards offshore. Christmas Rock is 1 foot exposed at low tide and covered by 5 feet of water at high tide.
Q. What is the safest path to avoid rocks?
- Either head straight out from the dock in the direction of the dock to the red channel marker. Or, hug the shore of Sheffield Island about 100 yards off the beach. Most often we travel West from the dock parallel to the beach on Sheffield Island until we get to the hotel ruins and then head north for the westernmost point of Tavern Island. There are no rocks around Tavern Island except if you get very close to the Western point (with canon). Give Tavern Island a 50 yard berth. It is important that from Tavern island you go west 100 yards to the limit of the mooring field and follow the line of the mooring field in.
Q. Where else are there rocks?
- Familiarize yourself with the charts. Beside the two rocks listed above there are many others but they are mostly located near the shore at low tide. It is dangerous to approach the mouth of the Five Mile River from our island without respecting the buoys because there is a rock off Bailey Beach. Likewise, there is a sandbar extending west from the westernmost tip of Sheffield Island. A person could wade out from Sheffield Island at least 2 football fields from shore and still only be in chest deep water.
Q. Is it safe to swim?
- Yes, the water is safe for swimming. The State constantly monitors water quality because of the shellfish beds between the island and the coast. The greatest danger is that passing boats will not see a swimmer. It is advisable to keep a lookout. Also, as a boater be conscious of the fact that people are swimming off boats in the area as well as water skiers and tubing behind boats. They tend to favor the flat water between the channel and our island.
Q. Is it safe to walk on the surrounding islands?
- Yes. At low tide you can walk across the saddle to the barrier islands, Sheffield and Shea. The interior of Sheffield Island is the Stewart McKinney Nature Preserve and off-limits to tourists. We are supposed to keep to the area below the high-water mark. Sometimes we explore the ruins of the 1930’s hotel on Sheffield Island but it is dangerous so proceed with caution. You can walk all the way around Sheffield Island, to the lighthouse and back. You should take care to check for ticks if you explore the islands through the brush and trees.
Q. Is it safe to eat mussels I found on the beach?
- According to a 1971 Norwalk Ordinance you need a license to take clams, mussels or oysters. You can be fined $50 to $99 for taking shellfish without a license. Is it worth it? The clamming used to be good in the water between El Hammock and Sheffield but my neighbors said not lately. The water is clean and I have grown Oysters in bags on our dock. I have eaten the mussels I find at low tide on the south facing beach of Sheffield Island. If the mussels come from near the lowest tide line, are nearly black in color, are closed tight, unbroken and were attached to rocks before you pulled them off then they should be safe to eat.
Q. Can I explore the interiors of the neighboring islands?
- Technically no, they are wildlife sanctuaries. If you do then you must check yourself for ticks because there are plenty. The best place for sea glass is on the beaches below the Sheffield Island ruins.
Q. Is the water safe?
- Safe drinking water is the bottled drinking water that we bring out in 5 gallon containers and store on the East porch. The TAP water is stored in 4 tanks of 80 gallons each under the West porch. This water is brought in barrels from the shore and pumped through hoses up the dock to the porch tanks. We add a modest amount of Clorox to reduce the amount of algae. You might smell the Clorox depending on when it was added. There is a cistern of rainwater under the house which is accessible through a trap door in the kitchen floor. This water is contaminated with bird poop from the roofs and needs to be chlorinated, circulated and filtered before being pumped to the East tanks but it can be used as-is for gardening or power-washing the house. DO NOT COOK, DRINK OR BRUSH YOUR TEETH WITH THE TAP WATER. Better to use the drinking water.
Q. How do I turn on the water?
- Turn on the Electrical Panel. On the right side of the electrical panel are two switches, one for each pump. The Water Pump switch when activated will light up green and you will hear the pump put pressure in the hoses to the outdoor shower, the kitchen sink, the bathroom sink and the toilet. The Water Pressure switch operates the pump under the kitchen floor which will draw (unclean) water out of the cistern to the garden or it can be diverted to a filter on its way to the West porch water tanks.
Q. How does the refrigerator work?
- The refrigerator is propane-powered. A 20 pound propane tank is what we use for grilling and will power the refrigerator for 2 weeks. A 40 pound tank will power the refrigerator for a month and two 40 pound tanks connected together under the Western porch is the ideal setup and should keep the refrigerator powered continuously for 2 months. However, if the flame goes out the refrigerator will need to be restarted. There is an igniter at the foot of the front of the refrigerator. Keeping the priming button pressed while popping the igniter should start the refrigerator. It should only take a few pops. Sometimes there is air in the line and it takes a few dozen pops at the beginning of the season. You should be able to hear the sound of the flame (similar to a grill) and see the bluish yellow flame faintly in the prism window at the foot of the refrigerator.
Q. Are there any provisions?
- We try and stock the house with paper plates, napkins, plastic cups, forks, knives and spoons. Therefore, You should not have to do any dishes. There is coffee, tea, non-dairy creamer, sugar and honey. For beverages you will find beer, coca cola, ginger ale, tonic water and seltzer. I can leave wine or liquor out if you ask. For snacks we usually leave some popcorn, corn chips, cheese, crackers. There should be ketchup, mustard. There is a coffee/tea press.
Q. How does the stereo work?
- The Sony car stereo and the amplifier work together. You must power BOTH stereo switches ON the panel in order to get any sound. You can press the SOURCE button on the Sony to hear FM radio, play a CD (behind the detachable faceplate) but most often we connect an iPhone to the Lightning Cable hanging below the stereo and play Pandora, Spotify or AppleMusic. The added benefit is the iPhone will charge and if a call comes in the music volume will decrease, signalling its time to come in from outside and take a call. I have been able to listen to the Yankees and the Mets from this stereo.
Q. How do I hook up the hammock in the yard?
- The hammock stretches between the mulberry tree in our yard and the pine tree in our neighbor’s yard. The mulberry tree has a fixed hook. The pine tree has a rope with a boat shackle that can be opened, secured on the hammock chain, and twisted close. You can add chain as needed to adjust the height.
Q. How do I use the stove?
- Presently 3 of the 4 burners are working on the stove. The front left burner will not stay lit. To light a burner press down on the knob and rotate 90 degrees while lighting with a match. Wait a few seconds and release the knob. Adjust the flame. DO NOT LEAVE THE STOVE UNATTENDED AT ANY TIME. There is no fan, no heat shield, no protection of the cabinets above from the open flame. Therefore, we rarely use the stove. We prefer to cook on the grill away from the house and use the burner on the grill. However, if you must boil water or cook inside because of the weather please DO NOT LEAVE THE STOVE UNATTENDED. Please make sure you have a fire extinguisher handy.
Q. What happens if the stove or the grill does not light?
- It is possible that the propane is out. The propane for the grill is located under the grill. The propane for the stove is located in the propane storage under the West porch. It may be necessary to switch tanks with a fresh tank from the porch. It is also possible that the in-line valve is in the OFF position underneath the stove or under the porch. Open the cabinet and make sure that the handle is parallel to the line. Open the porch door and make sure that the valve on top of the tank has been twisted to the open position AND that the in-line valve (yellow) is parallel to the line.
Toilet and Waste Water:
Q. How do I turn on the toilet?
- The toilet is a normal house toilet. The water valve under the toilet tank should be open so the tank fills with fresh water. The electrical panel should be “on” and the WATER PUMP switch on the panel must be on to fill the tank. There are two buttons on the top of the tank, one for #1 and the other for #2. All waste water goes to a 300 gallon holding tank buried under ground, partly under the deck in the southwest corner of the house. You can see the straw with valve we use to pump out that tank. It is sticking out of the ground and is able to move. Please do not use an excessive amount of toilet paper because clogging the system, while rare, is not easily remedied during your stay.
Q. How do I turn on the sinks?
- Turn on the electrical panel. Turn on the WATER PUMP switch. You should hear the pump under the western porch operate a few seconds, priming the line, and then stop. When you open the tap the pump will start pumping automatically.
Solar Panels, Batteries and the Electrical Panel:
Q. How do I turn on the lights?
- Each of the batteries has its own round switch, in red, on the outside wall of the closet. They are never turned to the off position but it is possible. The second problem could be the circuit breaker on the North wall of the closet. It has a red button which breaks the circuit. If a toolbox presses against the red button it could break the circuit. Above the electrical panel is the main switch. It should be twisted to the green position. Each room has its own switch on the panel. They should be switched on. And finally there are wall switches for the deck lights, the kitchen, counter, and three bathroom lights.
Q. How do I check the health of the electrical system?
- Behind the electrical switch panel is the electrical control panel which regulates the power. It tells us when electricity is flowing from the solar panels to the batteries and when the electricity is flowing from the batteries to the lights and stereo. You can use the left button on the panel to cycle through the different screens. On a sunny day you will probably see 13 volts and 3 amps of electricity coming from the panel and if the stereo and amp are playing you will see 13 volts and 2.2 amps of electricity going to the load. You can see the battery level. It is usually full because the solar panels provide more power than we can consume with the stereo and lights.
Q. Why is the inverter beeping at me?
- The house is wired for 12 volts powered by three truck batteries located in the exterior closet on the West porch. While we can use the inverter to support some 120v appliances the inverter is not strong enough for curling irons and hairdryers. The inverter is located under the stereo and is rated for 1000 watts peak power. I find that it will power most modest 120v appliances but anything over 1000 watts it will flash Overload Protection (OLP) and beep. Press the button to silence the alarm. Press it again to start the inverter. The Electrolux vacuum works rarely with the inverter. The Toro electric blower seems to have no problem. Charging a cell phone will not be a problem but anything with a powerful motor or a heat coil will need a bigger inverter.
Q. What do I need to know?
- We have over a dozen fire extinguishers in the house. We have never needed to use one because the best strategy is not to start a fire in the first place. Keeping the grill away from the house is important. NO SMOKING is the most important rule. Do not leave the stove or the grill unattended.
Q. What about open flames on the beach?
- No open flames on the beach. Years ago we watched the embers from a campfire on Sheffield island float through the air with the wind and land near our island. Open campfires are not allowed for this reason. Because we have a grill and the island is windy it is really important to be aware of the wind direction when cooking.
Q. What about smoking?
- We can’t allow smoking. There is nobody out there to put out the fire.
Q. What Fire Department can I call?
- The Norwalk Fire Department Marine Unit has two boats and a jetski and operates year round. Their phone number is (203) 854-3077 and email@example.com The Norwalk Police Department has a marine unit. Their number is 203-854-3076
Q. What kind of wildlife can I expect?
- Raccoons. Deer. An occasional owl. Jellyfish only in August. Raccoons are nocturnal creatures and they will look for garbage if you leave any food or waste outside overnight. During the day it is possible to see deer crossing from Sheffield Island to Shea Island to the south, but it is rare. There are deer in those woods. How did they get there? Deer can swim and there are no predators.
Q. Are there bugs?
- Generally there is enough wind on the island that bugs are not a problem. In the Spring you might encounter Noseeums (Sand Fleas) which are no bigger than the head of a pin and prick the skin. In the Summer mosquitos can be a problem so the 3 houses get together and have the entire island sprayed professionally which generally takes care of the problem. We have citronella candles and bug spray if you need it. Generally, you will only need to ward off mosquitos if you are outside at dusk on an evening where there is no wind. You may see carpenter bees on the southwest corner of the house over the closet. They are not interested in people, only burrowing into the eaves of the house above. You can swat these slow moving bees with a flyswatter if they bother you. Or spray them. I have set a carpenter bee trap to see if we can eliminate the problem so maybe they are gone.
Q. What about cell service?
- Cell service is excellent with AT&T and Verizon. However, it is rare but possible to drop a call if you walk from the North porch to the South porch because I think the call wants to transfer to the Long Island towers. My advice is to stay on the same side of the house where the call originated. There is no WIFI but the 4G data coverage is good enough to stream video on an iPhone.
Q. What restaurants can I get to by boat.
- To the West you can find the Five Mile River. Consider docking at Rowayton Seafood where you will also find The Bait Shop, The 101 (ice cream) and Rowayton Pizza. Further up the river you will find the Rowayton Market and across the street is a second sit-down restaurant, Sails.
Q. What provisions will be on the island?
- Beer, water, Coke, ginger ale, tonic water,, coffee, tea, sugar, honey, non-dairy creamer. Corn chips, other chips, crackers, cheese, cereal. Ketchup, mustard. Paper plates, plastic forks, knives, spoons and cups. There is a fridge and small freezer with room for food but we bring meals each time.
Q. Where can I buy gasoline on the water?
- Norwalk Cove Marina is the closest gas dock at the mouth of Norwalk harbor, east bank. Rex Marina also sells gas further up the river on the West Bank. There is no gas dock on the Five Mile River or in Wilson Cove.
Q. Where do they sell bait?
- By water, in Rowayton at the Bait Shop next to Rowayton Seafood.
- By water, on the west side of Norwalk Harbor at Hiller Bros. Pull up to Ischoda YC docks and walk through their parking lot.
- By water, on the east side of Norwalk Harbor at Fisherman’s World. Pull up at Veteran’s Park docks.
Q. Are there emergency contacts? Yes, depending on the emergency. Call us for most things but if you are stuck a few hundred feet from the island and see the neighbors are present it might be easier to call them. If you can’t get out of the marina perhaps call the head of the marina...
- John Engel (203) 247-4700
- Norwalk Fire Department Harbor Division (203) 854-3077 and firstname.lastname@example.org
- Norwalk Police Department Marine Unit is 203-854-3076
- TowBoatUS 800-391-4869 is the dispatch number and they are in Norwalk harbor. My member number is 2145006 and both of my boats are covered with any operator.