Friday, August 14, 2015

Into the mystic

By the time you read this, we will be anchored in the Great Salt Pond on Block Island, Rhose Island (map). As I begin typing, however, we are under way across Block Island Sound, having left Connecticut behind us a short while ago. We had intended to stay another day or so, but it was not to be.

Vector alone in Anchorage A. That's the Electric Boat division of General Dynamics in the background, building and repairing nuclear submarines. If you zoom in, one can be seen in the water and one in the shed.

This morning found us anchored in New London Harbor Anchorage A, near the municipal piers and across the river from Electric Boat (map). Given that this is the height of boating season, I am somewhat surprised that we had this enormous anchorage all to ourselves, and even the municipal docks were devoid of pleasure craft.

Approaching the Thames, with the lighthouse to the left.

The remainder of our crossing of Long Island Sound yesterday was uneventful, and we enjoyed the approach and short cruise up the Thames. About halfway across the sound we noticed the US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle anchored in the sound, but we did not pass close enough to get a good photo. The Eagle is a three-masted training barque that was seized as a war prize from the Third Reich, and has been training generations of coast guard officers ever since.

The New London waterfront from our deck. A tall ship is at left and the Fisher Island ferry to the right; we ate at a joint somewhere in the middle.

Shortly after we had the hook down we splashed the tender for the short ride to the nice new floating docks at the city pier, where we met up with Eric for a nice evening. We strolled the waterfront down to the Hot Rod Cafe for drafts and dinner on the deck overlooking the river. The view consisted principally of Electric Boat and Vector.

Eric snapped this pic of us at dinner, with Vector and Electric Boat in the background.

After dinner we strolled around town some more, taking in many of the sights of downtown New London, before heading back to the dock. It was a great evening with our friend, and we enjoyed the town, but we then felt like we had mostly seen it and did not feel the need to return.

What I was more interested in seeing was across the river in Groton, just south of the submarine base. There one can find the Submarine Force Library and Museum, where the first nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN 571) can be toured. The museum and submarine are free and open to the public.

Approaching USS Nautilus and the sub museum.

That's great, but there's no reasonable way to get there. While the New London city pier is extremely convenient to the Amtrak station, making this a great place for jumping off to New York or Boston, there does not seem to be any kind of comprehensive local transit system. The only way to cross the river is on the Interstate highway bridge, and the only way to get to the museum seems to be to drive there. The Navy frowns on rafting your dinghy to the submarine.

A closer view of Nautilus. The boarding ladder was tempting, but the signs say Navy Property and No Trespassing.

With no transit options and Uber estimating $30 round trip -- more than I wanted to pay to see a submarine -- we decided to skip it. Instead this morning we decided to deck the tender and just do a sightseeing cruise up the river past the Nautilus and the submarine base, turning around when the Harvard and Yale boathouses came into sight. We'd then continue all the way back downriver into the Sound.

Passing Fort Trumbull on our way downriver.

Shortly after we returned to the boat from dinner last night, I got a phone call from our friend Brad, who, along with his wife Lorraine, cruises aboard their Nordhavn 55, appropriately named Adventure. He had noticed we were in New London and reminded me that this area is really their home town, so he wanted to pass along some pointers and offer any information we might need. I had forgotten completely that they have a house here; we think of them as being from Cape Coral, Florida, where we met them at their home dock in January.

Brad suggested that the submarine museum was a good stop, but confirmed that I'd need a ride there. He also suggested that we cruise up the Mystic River to the town of that name, and stop at the Mystic Seaport museum. That sounded great to us -- I haven't been to Mystic Seaport since I was a kid -- and that's the course I set before weighing anchor for our sightseeing cruise up the Thames.

A tiny tug boat heading downriver to assist Eagle.

Before we even had the tender on deck, I heard on the radio that Eagle was coming into port, headed for the very same pier where we had tied up last night. I suspect that if we had been willing to stay through the weekend, that Eagle, too, would be open for tours. With little else calling us, though, we decided to continue preparations to move along, but at least we got to see her come into port and tie up to the dock, with an assist from a pair of small but classic tugs. When the tugs left I snapped today's cover photo of her at the pier.

An even smaller tug, heading home from the assist.

We weighed the anchor just as Eagle was finishing docking. I lowered the SSB antennas and we squeaked under the Amtrak bridge without an opening, heading upriver past the United States Coast Guard Academy and the naval submarine base.

US Coast Guard Academy. Crewing on the Eagle is part of the Academy experience.

I snapped a few shots of the half dozen or so "attack boats" in port, under the watchful eyes of the "Subase Police" -- complete with hot 50-caliber machine gun on the deck. No word on why there is only one "B" in "Subase."

Subase Police, looking bored. That's a live 50-cal machine gun on deck.

This looked to be a crew muster for one of the boats. You can just see the fairwater (aka sail or conning tower) of a boat sticking up in the background, and the tail and rudder of another boat to the left.

This early 688-class boat (from when they still made them with fairwater planes) was next to the crew meeting, and it looks mostly ready-to-go.

We had a nice push with the tide back downriver, and along the shore of Long Island Sound to the Mystic River inlet. Once we turned upriver, though, we had a knot or so against us for the mile and a half run to the one and only spot we could find on the chart to anchor.

Approaching Noank and Mystic Harbor.

I can say without equivocation that Mystic Harbor is the busiest and most crowded pleasure-boat harbor we have ever seen. We passed a dozen or so boats in the narrow, winding channel, and the harbor was full of moorings as far as the eye could see in every direction. Unsurprisingly, the one spot on the chart with enough depth for us had no room in which to anchor before running up against mooring balls.

This picture does not do justice to the sea of moored boats. Only a fraction shown here. We could have anchored in the foreground, but with a half-hour, wet dinghy ride to town.

Most of the moorings were either in water too shallow for us, or were restricted to boats shorter than us. On top of that, they cost $1.50 per foot, and that did not even include launch service. We could have found dockage, perhaps even at the Seaport museum, but that goes for $3.50 per foot, plus utilities, in most of the marinas in Mystic or across the river in Noank. We decided there was nothing in Mystic worth seeing for over $200 per night (or even half that), and so, reluctantly, we turned around and headed back downriver. At least I could rip off Van Morrison for today's post title.

Unfortunately, I had not thought far enough ahead here, and my plotted route only ran as far as Mystic. After reaching the Mystic Harbor junction beacon, I turned left into unplotted territory and had to drive the old-fashioned way, navigating the markers by sight with occasional glances at the plotter until we were out in open water and I could set a heading on the autopilot, at least for a few minutes at a time.

Once back in the Sound, we spent about fifteen minutes noodling on our next anchorage, all the while dodging lobster floats and sailboats out enjoying the weather. It finally occurred to us that we had plenty of daylight left to make Block Island, our next scheduled stop, and the current behind us to boot, and so we set a course out of Long Island Sound via Sugar Reef Passage and into Block Island Sound. Then we had a straight shot of about an hour and a half in deep water all the way to the Salt Pond sea buoy.

One of the reasons we decided to press on directly to Block Island was that we were afraid it might be too crowded to anchor if we arrived tomorrow instead. That reckoning proved correct -- the anchorage was thick with boats already when we arrived after 4pm, and we made a circuit, weaving in and out of anchored boats, looking for a spot where we might fit. We counted ourselves lucky to find one where we could set 4:1 scope in 35' of water, and yet boats have been coming in one after another all evening since.

A small fraction of the boats around us here at Block Island.

Much of the harbor is taken up with mooring balls, and several parts of the harbor, including the mooring fields, have prohibitions on anchoring. We listened in on the harbormaster's channel as the last dozen or so balls were parceled out, first-come, first-served -- the harbor is full. It is vaguely reminiscent of our stay in Georgetown, BS, except even more crowded.

We enjoyed a nice dinner on the aft deck as we watched the comedy of another several dozen boats trying to squeeze in to an already crowded anchorage. Tomorrow's festivities ought to be more of the same, and a forecast for 20-knot winds tomorrow evening should add to the chaos. We're not worried -- the 55-ton steel boat almost always wins, although there is one other boat nearby who has even less to worry about than us.

This retired tug, apparently now a private yacht, is anchored nearby. It gives us perspective on our rust, and our draft (she draws over eight feet).

I expect we'll be here to at least Sunday; now that the weekend has started, we can hardly expect to get in anyplace else along our route, and we want to sit out the wind. If the chaos subsides a little, we'll drop the tender and go at least as far as the beach bar in the harbor, or perhaps even load up the bicycles and ride the other half mile into town, on the other side of the island.

Tonight's sunset over the coast guard station.

Our next stop from here will likely be Newport, so now that we're here we'll probably be in Rhode Island a few days. Connecticut, it seems, was destined for just one.


  1. You probably know Newpoort well but just in case I recommend two anchorages. One is in Dutch harbor on the west side of Conanicut Island. If you can find a place to dinghy into the docks at the baotyard, it is a doable walk into Jamestown where there are several pretty ggod restaurants. There is also a nice market within walking distance called McQuade's.

    Second anchorage is further north in Narragansett Bay and is called Potter's Cove. It is at the northen end of Prudence Island on the east side. Very popular, but it is big and quite sheltered from usual southerlies. No shoreside facilities but it is pretty and peaceful.

    1. Thanks for the pointers. I'm still working on route planning.


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