Monday, June 13, 2011

How to Boat "Mystic Style"

by Lisa Saunders

I have never been accused of having style. But I do know how to get on a boat—especially since moving to Mystic. But I never bring the right accessories! Knowing what to wear and bring takes experience. Having been a landlubber until recently, I’m learning the hard way.

My first boat ride in Mystic was on the Sabino, the last wooden coal-fired steamboat still in operation (you can actually watch the coal being shoveled into the furnace the entire trip). It was a cool, breezy day and the ride wasn't too long—so there really wasn’t anything I needed to bring to feel comfortable.

My second trip on the Sabino, however, was a 90-minute evening excursion on a Saturday night with my husband, Jim. This time, I realized I should have brought a full-fledged picnic to enjoy the trip Mystic-style. I looked on in envy as passengers took out bottles of wine, plastic cups, cheese, crackers, and all sorts of delights from their wicker baskets. And there sat Jim and I, with a lousy jar of almonds and some bottled water we pulled from our ratty, old knapsack.

The following March, we took a seal watch cruise from the University of Connecticut's Avery Point Campus in Groton with Project Oceanology (we spotted about 200 seals lying on rocks in Fisher's Island Sound). This time, Jim and I were wet and cold because we disregarded the warning that we might get soaked if we rode on the bow of the re-outfitted offshore lobster boat. At least my feet stayed dry because I wore my thick, water-proof shoes, but poor Jim wore his leather ones (making me think of the stow-a-way sailor on Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic expedition who had his toes amputated because he only had leather boots to wear).

In May, when we booked an evening sail on the schooner, Argia, I vowed things would be different. We would dress properly and bring some elegant snacks and drinks to enjoy. This time, we packed a bottle of wine along with our almonds and bottled water in our old knapsack. We even remembered to bring pretty, blue plastic cups in keeping with the color of the waters we were about to sail.

Well, I knew right away we underpacked when I saw a party of six adults pull out real wine glasses with their bottles of wine. Suddenly, my blue plastic cups seemed so cheesy—so inadequate on this tall, seaworthy sailboat. And when the adults broke out a tray of shrimp cocktail from their large, Mary Poppins-style picnic bag, that was too much. I tried to make friends with them so they’d share their shrimp with me, but they didn't warm up to my advances. Another family with young children also had the better of us. I couldn’t help being envious when they lifted one cheesy pizza slice after another from their Mystic Pizza take-out boxes. They didn't share with us either. Thankfully, the Argia provided cheese and crackers and fruit, so I ate a lot of that, loudly declaring things like, “Yummy!” so the others would think I preferred the Argia’s food to theirs.

My other mistake was that I was underdressed—it got very cold that foggy evening on the Mystic River and the Sound. The Argia did, however, provide blankets. The males on the voyage were too macho to wrap one around themselves, so they shivered like real men or went below decks.

Last weekend, we took another boat ride down the Mystic River—but this time, on a much smaller boat. Operated by Mystic River Tours, we felt completely pampered lounging on their 21-foot electric launch, complete with cup holders and comfy, padded benches. Since it would only be a 40-minute trip, I didn’t pack anything, especially since there was a canopy to keep the rain off. I didn’t even miss having shrimp cocktail because Captain Rick Nestler kept us thoroughly entertained with stories of life along the River, such as why Fort Rachel of the War of 1812 was named after Rachel (it was rumored she provided comfort to the men in more ways than one). This boat can be found at Steamboat Wharf, next to the Mystic River Drawbridge.

Most of my boating time now will be spent on my friend Cindy’s extra kayak. I had always wanted a friend with a boat—but had envisioned the kind where I wouldn’t have to do anything except sit and enjoy the view. At least there is little to pack in preparation for our paddling trips because there simply isn’t room. Since my visor tends to blow off my head when kayaking the Mystic River, I doubt I will even bother packing that anymore.

More info on the boats I’ve ridden:

Argia: 860-536-0416

Cindy’s Kayak: You will have to get to know Cindy in order for her to invite you, but there are places in Mystic where you can rent a kayak, such as Riverdog Kayak Rental. To learn how to launch yourself in a kayak, Cindy teaches you how in my video of  her at:

Project Oceanology: (860) 445-9007, (800) 364-8472.There was a reporter on our seal watch trip, so if you want to see some cold, salty spray, seals, and the back of Jim's head, watch this:

Riverdog Kayak Rental at Seaport Marine: 860-333-3198 (Co-owner, Suzanne Simpson, says she and her husband named their business after their sleepy greyhound you'll see with them under their tent. They offer my dog, Bailey, a treat when we stroll by. Maybe they'll give your dog one too!)

Sabino: 860.572.5351

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