New Charter Destinations
By Land or By Sea
For centuries the charming Mystic, Connecticut, area has drawn sailors and landlubbers alike
Aug. 14, 2008 03:20 PM
Picturesque villages, rocky shores and activities galore combine for an ideal summer getaway that’s perfect for the whole family
Sure you can reach Mystic, Connecticut, by taking Interstate 95 to Exit 90. But as long as you’re heading for one of the great maritime capitals of the Northeast, why not consider arriving by boat—via the Mystic River? Navigating the twists and turns as you make your way up the winding waterway from the Long Island Sound will set the mood for your visit. After all, seafaring folk have sailed in and out of the area for hundreds of years—way before the advent of highways. And Mystic’s still very much a maritime town, with much of present day life focused on the river.
Marinas dot the riverbanks, making it easy to dock and access the many historical, educational, and fun attractions Mystic has to offer. In fact there are even dockage packages that include admission to the major sites. And since the main shopping and dining areas center around the quaint, steel-gray Mystic River Bascule Drawbridge that spans the river at Main Street, you can easily disembark and walk into town to grab a lobster roll, nautical gear, a designer sweater or a handmade copper lamp embedded with crystal nougats. Mystic’s shops and restaurants accommodate nearly everyone’s tastes—and the overall blend is delightful.
Get oriented by staking out a spot on the historic drawbridge—an attraction, itself, as it was built in 1922 and operates using two cement counterweights. Just be prepared for the loud whistle that blows at 40 minutes past every hour in summer. The blast signals that the span is about to be raised so sailing vessels with large masts can pass through. Wander over to Mystic River Park, which provides the perfect spot to sit and relax and take in life on the river. Or opt for one of the water-view restaurants where you can linger over a bite to eat while people-watching. You’ll have a deck-side seat from which to observe the many vessels that dock alongside the banks near the Main Street bridge.
Walking history tour
For a calmer respite, head away from Main Street and amble over to Mystic’s scenic Gravel Street, which fronts the west bank of the Mystic River, just north of town.. This primo address once belonged to many of Mystic’s 18th and 19th century sea captains who, even when ashore, wished to retain contact with the river that would take them out to sea and away to other lands. Today, some of Mystic’s more prosperous residents call these properties home. Historical plaques on the white clapboard houses identify previous dwellers and provide a glimpse into the past. One example is the marker on the Captain Avery Brown house, which dates the dwelling as circa 1812, and identifies Brown as the captain of the “Minerva,” as well as bos’n on the privateer “Hero.”
From this sweeping vantage point, you’ll have a bird’s-eye view across the river to the world-famous Mystic Seaport Museum with its replicated 18th century maritime village and collection of more than 500 vessels, including the restored 1841 triple-masted “Charles Morgan,” the oldest surviving wooden whaling ship. Go aboard—and climb the masts—and you’ll feel almost as if you’re on the trail of one of the large mammals. Descend the narrow stairway and enter the ship’s blubber room for a sensory experience in which you can almost see and smell the whale blubber being heated and turned into oil in days long ago. You may even hear the echo of a sea chantey or two, and picture the sailors heaving the ship’s large anchors to the rhythm of the strong words of song. Or perhaps you’ll catch a glimpse of the ghost of a departed sailor who’s said to roam the decks at night.