When I was about 12 years old, my parents along with myself and two younger sisters, swam ashore at Eatons Neck Basin and took an informal tour of the Coast Guard station. I don't think we entered any of the buildings, but instead just walked around the grounds and got a close-up view of the lighthouse and station. It was early on a Sunday morning and so long as we stayed out of their way, the Coast Guard crew did not seem to mind our visit. Some other people anchored nearby had the same idea, and like us, they were on their way about 40 minutes later.
When I anchored here last summer, the station was off-limits to visitors. This was really no surprise as many stations began restricting access as early as the 1980's. Those that continued an open-door policy, soon changed following September 11, 2001.
There are four Coast Guard stations presently located within Long Island Sound: Kings Point, Eatons Neck, New Haven, and New London. Just beyond the Sound are the New York Harbor and Montauk stations, while the Block Island station is now closed.
Coast Guard Station Eatons Neck is the only local station to have a lighthouse on its grounds. The lighthouse was built in 1799 and is the second oldest in the State of New York (Montauk Point is the oldest). A life saving station has existed here since the early 19th century, while the present Coast Guard station was built around 1875.
With a few exceptions, I have found the stations to be very attractive. Many of the buildings are from the late 19th century, and often look like some waterfront prep school high upon a hill. The white clapboard siding, red shingled roof, and large flagpole are a sure giveaway however, that this is a Coast Guard station (or once was).
In recent years I have noticed that many of the boathouses appear to be falling into disrepair. My guess is that as boat technology has advanced, the boathouses have become obsolete. Today, many of them seem to be used as a storage facilty or repair shop. If you look closely at the photos above, you can see holes in the roof.
Last week while I was preoccupied with the grounding of the Alabama, a fire broke out at the Coast Guard station in Menemsha, on Martha's Vineyard. According to reports, the boathouse and docks were destroyed by the blaze. I have yet to hear whether or not they plan to rebuild. Whatever they decide, it seems unlikely a new structure will match the character and charm of these oldred headed ladies by the sea.
Last I heard, the Alabama had arrived home safely in Vineyard Haven. I thought I would end this series with a tip-of-the-hat to the tugboat Gwendolyn. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find much information on her.
I have learned she was built in 1975 and is owned by Gwenmor Marine of Mystic. She is 50 feet long, and is the only working tug in operation along the Mystic River that I am aware of.
If you are as fascinated by tugs as I am, be sure to visit Tugster; a New York Harbor waterblog! Will does an excellent job covering New York's sixth borough, along with other ports of call.
Following several days of treating her like some tabloid starlet who slept in a ditch, I guess it is only fair that I give the Alabama her proper due. I must say, she looks much more attractive afloat than she does aground.
According to the website, she was designed by Robert F. McManus, a highly regarded architect of many Gloucester fishing schooners. Built in 1926, she served the Mobile, Alabama Bar Pilots until her retirement in 1966. She was brought to Vineyard Haven in 1967, but it was not until a 1990's rebuild that she was fitted for sail.
While I am no fan of the Black Dog Tourist Empire (you won't catch me wearing a Black Dog T-Shirt), I do appreciate their fleet of ships. Along with the Alabama, the Shenandoah and Chantey offer charters, excursions, as well as youth and educational programs.
She is free! Armed with stronger towlines and a high tide, the tugboat Gwendolyn pulled the Alabama into deeper water on Thursday evening.
I'm guessing we won't see the Alabama back in these waters for quite some time. As for me? I know I will never look at a Black Dog T-Shirt quite the same way ever again.
With daylight and high tide quickly disappearing, it looked as if the Alabama would remain stuck until the following day. Just as I was about to leave, the tugboat Gwendolyn arrived, providing hope that the schooner would be freed shortly. When all else fails, bring in the big guns.
I was certain this was the solution; the tug had more than enough strength to pull the ship free. But the brute force of the tug could not overpower its weakest link. Three times, a towline was attached and the Gwendolyn dug in hard with all its might. Like the sound of a whip cracking, the towline broke all three times. The optimism was short lived.
The sun was down; the tide was ebbing; and the tug was out of rope. It was time to call it a day.
Anybody have any ideas? No, letting the air out of the tires isn't an option.
The first boat on the scene was the Mystic Whaler. The big, heavy, tallship replica, based out of New London, tried to tow the Alabama free using her auxilary engine. She made several attempts without a budge.
The local SeaTow and Towboat US boats then gave it a try. While these are powerful boats, they are more designed to assist smaller and lighter vessels. Working in unison however, seemed like a good idea. One boat attached a line to the mast of the Alabama, while the other rigged a more tradition towline from the stern. The Alabama listed over as the two boats worked in tandem. Watching this, I thought she was going to be pulled free, but after numerous attempts, the schooner was still aground.
By this time, a large crowd had gathered along the shore, and a fleet of small boats circled nearby to watch. It was a hot, windless night and this was turning into a sideshow. Out of respect for the crews and a concern for safety, I kept a good distance away and watched the events from afar, relying on a zoom lense to view the action. Sure, it was interesting to watch, but it was also important to stay out of the way.
What really struck me funny was the number of self-proclaimed experts commenting on what the towboats were doing wrong. Sound can travel a great distance over the water and I could hear the manager of a nearby marina calling them "Dumb &Dumber" along with a few other unprintable words. Everybody is an expert these days.
It has been a busy week in Noank. The excitement from the recent Michael Steele incident at a local lobster restaurant was simmering down when the Schooner Alabama of Vineyard Haven ran aground in the Mystic River on Wednesday.
This is a ship I know very little about. Two years ago, on a sail to Martha's Vineyard, I had spotted her anchored in her home port. I took a few photos, and looked up some information online, but that has been the extent of my knowledge of her. It's unfortunate to see her in my local waters under such poor circumstances.
There is a saying that states 50% of all sailors have run aground, and the other 50% are liars. Like all good quotes, there is a certain element of truth to that phrase. There are however, different degrees of running aground. Sometimes a boat can be freed by simply putting the engine hard in reverse. Other times, a rising tide will lift the hull off the bottom and provide clearance. These scenarios did not work for Alabama; she was hard aground, and would require a tow.
The Mystic River is fairly shallow and causes difficulty for the large ships at Mystic Seaport. Many of them draw too much depth to navigate the river. Alabama was no exception: she ran aground within the channel, with almost a full tide. The one positive is the river bottom is mostly mud, and damage to her keel from rocks, seems unlikely.