The drive through Old Mystic and down River Road is scenic and relaxing. It takes less than five minutes to unload my kayak and launch into the river. A Stonington crew boat zips past me accompanied by the coach’s motorized skiff but we have this part of the river to ourselves. Traffic sounds from the highway above are less distracting than expected. Nearby fisherman adjust the lines on the fishing poles propped into the soft embankment. My heart leaps joyfully to be back on the river I love so dearly. It only feels as though I’ve been gone a long time.
When the crew boat passes by a few minutes later I smile to count 8 women easily outperforming me. What a great way to enjoy fresh air, exercise, and learn teamwork. The Stonington men’s and women’s teams launch from Mystic Seaport but will have a new home next door when the Mystic River Boathouse Park is completed. Public access to that beautiful property will allow non-motorized boat launching. For now, I press forward with a steady rhythm of paddle strokes against a light current and enjoy the sun on my face.
I thrill to see the steam-powered Sabino chugging up the river. This fine riverboat provides comfortable tours of the river. She was missing on the water last year as her antique steam engine was replaced. For such a wide girl, she glides beautifully and quietly through the shallow water while carefully avoiding small boats. Her deck is packed with passengers whose excited voices stretch across the water. I felt a bit awestruck my first time, too.
The vivid green, red and yellow stripes of the Viking long ship Draken Harald Hårfagre draw my attention. Its dramatic curving bow and stern thrust upward and an onboard Norwegian flag flutters gently. It must have struck fear in the hearts of crew members who witnessed the approach of these fierce ships. Battles were deadly and survivors became slaves. The Mayflower II is under cover during restoration work at the hands of master craftsmen. Temporary exhibits like this are a treat for both repeat and first-time visitors and one of the best reasons to have a season pass.
The massive hull of the Charles W. Morgan looms high above me as I paddle close enough to touch. It was only three summers ago that I tearfully witnessed her magnificent return to the ocean after a five-year intensive restoration. In dry dock at the Seaport for almost 80 years, it took herculean fundraising and dedicated work to accomplish. As the last remaining wooden whaling ship, she stands as a unique representation of history and is the crown jewel of Mystic Seaport.
So much natural and man-made beauty is packed into the three mile long Mystic River. Kayaking allows leisurely enjoyment of the quiet Northern estuary. Beautiful sea captain homes line the banks. Paddling past the Seaport, through downtown and out to the harbor can be exciting. The iconic bascule drawbridge opens at 40 past the hour and kids of all ages enjoy the engineering brilliance of the railroad swing bridge. It works just like a toy train set. If you wait until it swings wide open for boats and then closes again, a train is likely to come soon after. Have you seen it? Viewing from the water as each bridge opens and closes creates wonderful memories and fun photo opportunities. I highly recommend it. Kayak and paddleboard rentals are available downtown.
After passing under the iconic bascule drawbridge I return to the boat launch on River Road. A smiling man wearing orange Grundén overalls and carrying a bucket is at the water’s edge as I slide onto dry land. “Are you fishing or catching crabs?” I ask. He identifies himself as “Mickey” and is part of Project Oceanography at the Avery Point Campus of U-Conn. He studies blue crabs who have paddle fins which allow them to swim into the shallow Northern section of the Mystic River estuary. “After mating”, he says with a smile, “the females go back to the ocean but the males stay behind to die.” This man holding a bucket of stinky bait is obviously enjoying his work and doesn’t seem to mind my questions. I instantly like him and respect his work. I know little about the Mystic River and Long Island Sound but they provide endless enjoyment. It takes education and dedication to preserve gorgeous waterways but most of that hard work goes unnoticed. So, thank you, Mickey, for all you do.