Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Case Of Gansett

Good ideas on the drafting table don't always succeed in actuality.
Gansett, a converted and restored 50 foot lobster hull, plied the waters last summer between the harbors of Stonington and Watch Hill. Part-ferry service and part-tour guide, the 25 minute narrated trips served up such local favorites as Narragansett Beer and Del's Lemonade, while transporting passengers to-and-from Dodsons Boatyard and the Watch Hill Docks.

Upon first learning of this last year, I thought it was a wonderful idea. Though separated by just three miles of water, a trip by land between the two villages is nearly 12 miles, and includes the added hassles of beach traffic and parking. Arriving by car, day trippers and weekenders were likely to stay put.
Also, many travelling yachtsmen with a limited schedule visit one of the harbors, but rarely the two; preferring not to waste a day of travel on another nearby port. The Gansett provided the opportunity to visit both towns, regardless of where you dropped anchor.

So, I was saddened last week when I learned the Gansett has moved her operations back to Newport, Rhode Island for 2011. Disappointed, but not entirely surprised. With tickets priced at $25, the fares were too expensive for a short ferry ride.* 
As a tour boat, the trip seemed too limited in scope to draw mass appeal. While Gansett was the only excursion boat serving Watch Hill and Stonington, nearby Mystic offers a slew of choices ranging from schooners to 19th-century steamboats. It is a competitive field.  
Hopefully the waters of Newport provide a more lucrative home for Gansett this season. She is a pretty boat which has been meticulously restored, and I can't help but think she'll strike gold somewhere. 
As for a ferry serving Watch Hill and Stonington....I still think it's a good idea...at least on paper!  

New London Day: New Ferry Service (June 2010)
Grab A Gansett: Vintage Beer Ads

*Since each excursion/ferry boat offers something unique, prices alone are not always a fair comparison. Still, I thought they were worth noting. A one-hour tour of the Thimble Islands is priced at $10; a round-trip ticket on the North Ferry, connecting Shelter Island with Greenport costs $8; and a 2.5-hour sail on the schooner Argia costs $42. Of course, none of these boats serve Narragansett Beer.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mystic Drawbridge 7:45 A.M.

The lobsters will have to wait!
At 20-minutes before-the-hour, a whistle blows in downtown Mystic, and a pair of crossing gates stop traffic on Route 1. Moments later, the Mystic Drawbridge begins to rise.

A fixture in town since 1920, this counter-weighted, bascule bridge provides clearance for the ships of Mystic Seaport, as well as creating a spectacle for tourists walking the main street. On busy weekends, visitors with ice-cream cones and shopping bags stop what they are doing, to watch the drawbridge open for ships named Sabino and Argia.  The ships pass, the bridge is then lowered, and vacation-life resumes.
For the residents of Mystic, it is a more complicated relationship. There's an internal clock attached to every errand planned. You always seem to arrive someplace twenty-minutes early, or ten-minutes late. When you find yourself in an absolute hurry, the bridge will be open - guaranteed.
But these inconveniences have their sweet rewards. No matter the circumstance, and regardless of the true reason, residents all carry a solid, ace-in-the-hole alibi for when they are not on-time:
"Sorry I'm late, boss (honey, Mom, Your Honor, etc)...... the bridge was up".

Wikipedia: Mystic River Bascule Bridge
WTNH: Renovations for Mystic Drawbridge
New England Traveler: Mystic Bridge is a Real Draw

Friday, June 24, 2011

Beach Scene, New London

Beach Scene, New London, 1918
William J Glackens

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mill Dam Bridge in Centerport

Spanning the tidal-flats of Centerport Harbor, the Mill Dam Bridge has a history as old as our country itself. A tide-mill and dam were constructed here in 1774, which replaced an earlier mill built just south of this site in 1674.  Although the mill is long gone, the bridge and dam have been reincarnated several times in the last century. 
Its most recent form, built in 2005, may be the most inviting. Designed with accessibility and aesthetics in mind, there is stonework and detail often not found in public works today. At several points, the sidewalks widen to create viewing areas of both the harbor and the sluice gates below. Both ends of the bridge have small pocket-parks with benches, and various bric-a-brac. 

It's not just a utilitarian bridge and dam - it's a place to spend a little time. It's the Camden Yards of Long Island Sound bridges.

I suppose Centerport Harbor is one of those settings that would be beautiful regardless of the bridge which was built. Still, it is nice to see structures which compliment the surroundings, rather than detract. And it's especially heartening to see city fathers and planners trying to appeal to public-access kooks like me. 

Jarvis House: Mill Dam Bridge (Lori put together a collection of wintertime photos)
Boating Times: Centerport Harbor

photo credit: Wikipedia

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Quinnipiac River Park

North of Interstate-95, above the Ferry Street Bridge, the decaying industry along New Haven's Quinnipiac River gives way to this historic stretch of waterfront. With a high concentration of 19th-century homes, the neighborhoods of Fair Haven, and Fair Haven Heights are a modern day reminder of New Haven's maritime past.  
This was once a prominent oyster port, with wharves and sheds lining both sides of the river. Related industries, such as shipbuilding and barrel making, thrived as well. By the 1840's, the neighborhood became a leading center for processing and trading, as oysters arrived from as far away as the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. 
Today, things are a bit quieter here, but the oystering lives on, albeit on a lesser scale. Taking in the view from Quinnipiac River Park, I could see an oyster boat quietly at rest, with a tell-tale pile of shells rising behind her. A limited and diminished reminder of a once dominant past.

New Haven Preservation Trust: Quinnipiac Historic District 
CT Coastal Access Guide: Quinnipiac River Park
Mystic Seaport: New Haven Sharpie

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Connecticut River Shad

Did you know there is a commercial fishery for shad on the Connecticut River? Seasonal, small-scale, and often hidden from view, the fishery goes largely unnoticed with the exception of a random shad bake. American shad normally return to the Connecticut River sometime in late April and continue through June. Once the river warms up, the shad spawn, and the season comes to an end.

Tucked away on the river's bank near the Rocky Hill Ferry is Hale's Shad. It's an unassuming type of place,to say the least: just a bare counter-top, a list of prices, and some photocopied recipes taped to the wall. Hale's stays open during the spring run, selling nothing but shad, roe, and something called shad milt.
"Marketed" as an aphrodisiac, every customer at Hale's got a sales pitch for shad milt while I was there. Having already eaten six oysters for lunch, I didn't want to get carried away, so I politely said "no thanks".

Wikipedia: American Shad
UMassEdu: Poor Man's Salmon
Map: Hale's Shad