We're soon passing Essex, which is illuminated in the early-morning light.
Essex has a long maritime and shipbuilding history, and it was from here that
the Oliver Cromwell, the first warship built for the American Revolution,
was launched in 1776. Schooners that traded with the Indies and Central America
were launched here, and later steamships stopped here on the way between
Hartford and New York.
Railroads and then highways eventually put the steamships out of business,
and it isn't long before we reach the I-95 bridge between Old Saybrook and Old
Lyme, and then and the Old Lyme Drawbridge.
The I-95 bridge has a virtual clearance of 81 feet, and our mast is 50 feet
high, but we always worry with the optical illusion that the mast is about to
hit the bridge. There's a sigh of relief after we pass under
"Seemed awfully close -- perilously close," the helmsman says. "Why is that? A trick of the eye,
or have the bridge supports sunk a little since we were last here?"
"It really looked like the mast was going to hit," the first mate says. "And
yet we pass under it safely in the same place every year."
The Old Lyme Drawbridge is open in the distance, but it has a knack of
closing just before we reach it. It never fails, it seems. But it does reopen in
a few minutes, after an Amtrak train passes, and here's a view of it after we
passed through. Spooked by the I-95 bridge, the helmsman always stays well to
the west side of the channel, out of the way of the raised drawbridge.
We motor past Dock & Dine in Old Saybrook and then past Lynde
Point Inner Light and the houses on the shore in Fenwick.
Katharine Hepburn, who died in June 2003, lived in her family's summer house
in Fenwick. The nine-bedroom, 8,300-square-foot house is made of
white-washed brick and is easy enough to see from the river, everyone says, but
we've never been able to say with certainty which one it is.
Here's a photo of Hepburn's house:
"Is that it over there, Cap?" the first mate asks.
"I just can't say," the helmsman replies, "It's one of the darndest things. Is
it that one, or is it that one over there, behind the lighthouse?"
"Beats me," says the useless first mate.
The house went on the market in the fall of 2003 for $12 million, but by the spring of 2004 the price had
been dropped to $7.95 million. It sold in the summer of 2004 to a neighbor for $6
'Ellsworth Grant, a historian, said in a New York Times story after
the sale, 'It floods every time
there is a classic so'wester.''
We're still looking back toward Fenwick as we approach the Saybrook Outer Bar
Channel and the Saybrook Breakwater Light.
The current can be swift here and the seas choppy, so the first mate tells
the helmsman, "Put your camera away. You're going to want to keep your eye on
where you're going."
The helmsman manages to get in one last shaky picture of the lighthouse.
"We've got to get those sails up," the first mate says. "We're out in the Sound."
"So we are," says the helmsman. "Yahoo!! We're there!"
"I'll raise the main," the first mate says.
"Let's just get by that buoy out there, so we don't run aground to the east,"
the helmsman replies, veering briefly off course to the east while fiddling with
The boat ahead of us has already raised the main and spinnaker, and it's time
for us to start working on the mainsail.
We head up into the wind and winch up the main, then fall off the wind, heel
over and set a course to the southeast.
"Ready to unfurl the genny?" the first mate asks, and they let all of it out
and shut off the motor.
As usually happens, the fine breeze lasts about 15 minutes before it settles
back into its usual 5 knots from the southwest.
"1.5 knots," the helmsman says. "1.3 .... 1.2."
"Turn the motor back on?" asks the first mate and engineer, who has a
particular fondness for the iron sail.
"Yeah," says the discouraged helmsman. "Same old same. When NOAA says 5 to 10
knots from the southwest, it always means the same thing: No wind."
We turn east after passing the No. 8 bell buoy south of Saybrook Breakwater,
and plot a course for the No. 4 bell buoy southwest of the mouth of the Thames
River. In about two and a half hours, after motorsailing to the south of
Hatchett Point, Black Rock Point, Bartlett Reef, and Goshen Point, we start to
spot all the landmarks indicating we're near our summer mooring. Fishers Island
comes into view, and then the old lighthouse, now a home, and re-creation of the
Stonehenge monument on North Dumpling Island.
North Dumpling is owned by Dean Kamen, inventor of the
Segway. It's said that Kamen has created a
Constitution, flag and anthem for his island stronghold, and that he's been
known to refer to himself as Lord Dumpling. He also has a "navy": a gray
amphibious vehicle often seen parked on a beach.
We pass Seaflower Reef and Intrepid Rock south of Groton Long Point, turn to
the northeast toward Mouse Island and the Morgan Point Lighthouse, and we're at
The boat looks trim and polished that first day in Noank, after many weeks of
work on land at Portland Riverside Marina.
Later in the afternoon, we see our friend Capt. John arriving from Portland
Riverside on his Nauticat. He tells us he made the trip in one day, leaving
Portland early in the morning.
While the sun sets, we have the season before us to think about: trips to
Watch Hill, Block Island, Newport, Cuttyhunk, Edgartown and Nantucket, and
across the Sound to harbors such Sag Harbor and Coecles at Shelter Island.
Guy Bernardin, a French racing sailor, circumnavigator and author, says the
most beautiful sunsets he's seen have been in the Northeast United States.
The sailing season in the Northeast goes quickly -- too quickly it often
seems -- and it won't be long before fall arrives and we're heading upriver
again, back to Portland Riverside Marina.