Boating in Mystic, Connecticut
A Definitive Maritime Experience
There is but one surviving wooden whaleship on Earth. The full-rigged Charles W. Morgan was launched in New Bedford, Massachusetts on July 21, 1841-the height of the whaling industry. During her 37 voyages she caught and processed more whales than any other vessel, bringing in 54,483 barrels of oil and 152,934 pounds of whalebone, or baleen.
A typical journey would take the Morgan around Cape Horn and into the Pacific and Indian oceans. About 33 men toiled during these voyages, which would last anywhere from nine months to five years. The crew was an amalgam of races and nationalities, a true representation of the melting pot that was the United States.
As the whaling era began to wind down early in the 20th century, the majestic Charles W. Morgan still managed to keep busy: it was featured in several Hollywood movies, including 1922's Down to the Sea in Ships, starring Clara Bow. But the development and refinement of petroleum soon made the whaling industry obsolete.
Of the more than 2,200 Yankee whaling ships that plied the oceans, the Charles W. Morgan is the sole survivor. She now rests in Mystic, within eyeshot of some of the finest modern marine facilities you'll find along Long Island Sound. It is fitting that she rests here, because here is where you will find the confluence of the old and the new, where history shares every street corner with modern-day convenience.
Things to See and Do
It's quality above quantity in downtown Mystic, where waterside streets lined with shops, boutiques, galleries, and restaurants are packed into a small area just west of the bascule bridge. The town is not so big that you'll get lost, but the Chamber of Commerce (860-572-9578) offers local maps (and inexpensive Internet access) at the railroad depot and Bank Square just in case.
The town's most popular attraction is definitely Mystic Seaport (860-572-0711). This "Museum of America and the Sea" captures the very essence of maritime New England with more than 100 buildings on 17 acres. The Seaport preserves the history of wooden sailing ships in the atmosphere of a mid-19th century seaside town. Most of the century-old buildings have been collected from New England ports and moved to Mystic for restoration and display. The Seaport also maintains one of the world's largest collections of wooden boats, ranging from skiffs to the aforementioned three-masted whaleship, Charles W. Morgan. You can expect to see even more wooden boats at the Antique & Classic Boat Rendezvous in mid-July.
Visitors can visit Mystic Seaport's world-class maritime library; an advance call to 860-572-5360 for an appointment is suggested. The planetarium makes for another worthwhile stop. Most exhibits are manned by guides who will show you how figureheads were carved, rigging was maintained, and sails were sewn. Completing the Seaport's commitment to education is a state-of-the art collections research center with additional programs in maritime history, marine biology, sailing, and boatbuilding.
While you're at the Seaport, stop in at the Mystic Seaport Museum Stores (860-572-5386) as they have one of the best nautical bookstores around.
The Mystic Maritime Aquarium (860-572-5955), a short distance north of the Seaport, is another huge draw. The Aquarium features a variety of habitats stocked with more than 1,000 animals indigenous to the Sound, including whale and dolphin demonstrations. From beluga whales and harbor seals to starfish and penguins, you'll find your favorite sea creature here.
Restaurants and Provisions
You'll find quite an array of restaurants in town on either side of the river, out by the Aquarium or even right at your marina. Since the day starts with breakfast, we'll start there too: there's no better place than the tiny but mighty Kitchen Little (860-536-2122). They serve an unbeatable morning meal as well as lunch, all wonderfully steeped in quirkiness. You'll find this local treasure on the water side of Route 27, between the Seaport and the Aquarium.
In town, you'll get great Mexican food that's literally sizzling at Margaritas (860-536-4589), on the west side of the river at Factory Square on Water Street, just south of Route 1. Next door, the Voodoo Grill's (860-572-4422) Cajun, Creole, and Southwestern menu carries some kick and is priced right. They also offer some of the finer local brews to accent the spices. For an Asian flavor, try Zhang's (860-572-5725) for Chinese and Japanese cuisine. There's also a pet "barkery" in the same complex; the Ruff House Neighborhood Dog Bakery (860) 536-9526) has special treats for our four-legged friends.
Closer to the marinas, the Capt. Daniel Packer Inne (860-536-3555) serves fine food in an atmosphere that's truly New England-especially the downstairs tavern. Two blocks away in the opposite direction look for Mystic Pizza (860-536-3700), which inspired the movie of the same name, as well as many delis and pubs.
On the east side of the river you'll find Anthony J's Ristorante (860-536-0448), a reputable Italian bistro. Bravo Bravo (860-536-3228) is another great choice for Italian at the corner of Cottrell and East Main streets; be prepared for a wait at peak times. If you're focused on a waterfront view, go for S & P Oyster House (860-536-2674), near the bridge. At the north end of the Seaport, the Seamen's Inne (860-536-9649) makes a special occasion extra memorable in an elegant, colonial atmosphere. Their excellent-and somewhat pricey-menu covers lunch and dinner.
Near the Brewer Yacht Yard on Route 1, your crew will surely enjoy the continental menu at the Flood Tide Inn (860-536-8140). If the appetites are running toward a more casual answer, cross the Pequotsepos Brook to Angie's Pizza House (860-536-7300).
If you venture out to the Aquarium or Old Mystic Village, you can choose from several dining options within the complex and in the immediate vicinity. The Steak Loft (860-536-2661) is a well-known destination for great surf 'n' turf, and The Mooring (860-572-0731) at the Hilton features American cuisine with a creative flair.
Provisioning in Mystic is fairly easy with numerous markets among the downtown shops. A mile east of town, the A & P Super Foodmart (860-536-5813) on Stonington Road can help you more thoroughly restock the larder. For marine supplies, West Marine (860-536-1455) is conveniently located across the street from the Mystic Maritime Aquarium.
Navigation and Anchorages
Use ChartKit Region 3, pages 9, 34A, 34B, and 35; Maptech Waterproof Chartbook Long Island Sound; Maptech Waterproof Chart #17; and Maptech electronic and NOAA paper charts 13214 (1:20,000), 12372 (1:40,000), and 13205 (1:80,000). Use tide tables for New London. High tide at the Mystic River entrance is 22 minutes earlier; low tide is 8 minutes earlier. Multiply height of tide at New London by 0.9 for height of tide at the Mystic River entrance. Mean tidal range is 2.3 feet.
The trip up the Mystic River, if you follow it as far as possible, will take at least an hour. There is a no-wake speed limit for most of the trip, and if you get caught waiting for the bridges your patience will surely be tried. There are many marinas along the river, but you may want to look for space by the mouth and take a taxi from there to save time (although the trip upriver is lovely). The river is also a no-discharge zone, so be sure the head valves are set properly. A free mobile pump-out service is available on weekends during the summer; the boat can be contacted on VHF 68.
The channel up to Mystic begins at Morgan Point in Noank, 2.9nm from the entrance to West Harbor on Fishers Island and 4.5nm from New London Ledge Light. The breakwater at Stonington Harbor is 4.6nm from Morgan Point, while Murphy Point, at the entrance to the Mystic River, is 2.2nm away.
When speaking of Mystic, you must first define your terms. What's charted as "Mystic Harbor" is known locally as "out there where all the boats are moored" and actually lies between Noank and Masons Island. Most people think of Mystic as the area north of Masons Island, around the two bridges, and up to Mystic Seaport.
The channel up to either of these harbors begins at Morgan Point Light (Q G 22ft 8M "5"). Most of the Noank facilities are on the east side of Morgan Point, right off the channel to Mystic, so keep an eye out for boaters coming out of the Noank yards. Entering the channel for the first time can be a daunting experience. The long passage twists and turns through many shoals and reefs, but it proves simple enough if you honor the buoys and stay near the center of the channel.
For detailed information on the approaches to Mystic Harbor from the south or west, see the Noank & the Mystic Harbor Entrance chapter.
From East Harbor on Fishers Island, a course of about 317¡m from R N "2E" for 2.1nm will take you to the main channel entrance buoy G C "1" southwest of Ram Island Shoal. Make sure to pass well west of East Clump G C "19" and well east of Middle Clump G C "21."
CAUTION: Do not attempt to cut through the Special Anchorage between Noank and Masons Island. The number of moorings in this area has steadily increased. There are many obstructions, and the eelgrass on the bottom may give false readings on a depth sounder.
From the west, follow a course from Seaflower Reef (Fl 4s 28ft 7M) to G C "1" southwest of Ram Island Shoal. Pass south and east of G C "1" before turning north and passing between G C "3" Planet Rock and R N "2" Swimming Rock. Pass west and wide of Fl R 4s R "4" Whale Rock as you turn sharply to the east before Morgan Point Light (Q G 22ft 8M "5"). Be sure to pass south then east of the light. It's a short turn around the light, but you won't be able to see R N "6" until it's right in front of you, as it will be blocked by the rip-rap of the light. You may see boaters cutting west of the light on their way south. Don't try this-there is a dangerous rock in the area and local knowledge is required.
From Stonington and other points east, you'll begin your trip at Fl G 4s 31ft 5M "5" on the breakwater off Wamphassuc Point. Keep south of, but pass near to, R N "2" at Red Reef to avoid the unmarked White Rock, so named because gulls visit there frequently. Leave R N "4" and R N "6" at Cormorant Reef to the north and head for G C "7" at the north end of Ram Island. Beware of Enders Island and Mason Point to the north and Ellis Reef to the south, which is marked by W "ER" but still catches a number of boats each year. From Ram Island, you can either follow the channel over to Morgan Point and then up to Mystic, or head for the anchorages on the west side of Masons Island. The channel north of Ram Island is well marked. However, take note of the 6-foot spot at G C "7A."
From Watch Hill, Wicopesset, or any of the other eastern passages into Fishers Island Sound, stay south of Fl 6s 55ft 9M BELL at Latimer Reef. Once you're past Latimer Reef, pass south of Fl R 4s BELL R "20" at Ram Island Reef before heading to G C "1" and the approach to the main channel.
Along with its many marinas, Mystic also lays claim to a number of anchorages. There is a nice, quiet spot on the east side of Ram Island that is protected from prevailing southwest winds. The island is low in the middle, so this area gets enough breeze to cool things off but not enough to rock the boat. The island has a house, a barn, and a lot of sheep-from which the name may have come-and it is right in the middle of a high-traffic area, so you can get a good rocking from the wakes of passing powerboats. The weedy grass bottom will give a decent hold for your hook. Anglers will find many blues and weakfish in this area, as the current is quite strong.
The east side of Masons Island also has some nice anchorages, particularly between Masons Point and the monastery on Enders Island. This area is somewhat exposed to the weather, particularly from the south, but it offers a nice break from the hectic main anchorage on the west side of the island. Please note that this is a shell fishing/no-discharge area.
You may want to have a picnic at Dodges Island, but don't take your boat in close to shore. There's deep water all around but it's dotted with rocks, so stay at least 200 yards offshore and take a dinghy to the beach.
The primary anchorage is located between Noank and Masons Island. There are usually many boats here and a number of permanent moorings; finding a spot may be difficult, especially on a busy weekend. Due to heavy traffic in the channel, you should drop your hook as far east as possible to get away from the wakes. The closer you are to shore, the better view you'll have of the wildlife. There is also an anchorage on the north side of Masons Island, northeast of R N "30," but the depth in this area-3 to 5 feet-is too shallow for many boats at low tide.
CAUTION: You may see boats anchored south of Sixpenny Island, but you should be cautious about using this area in anything other than a shallow-draft boat. The harbormaster warns us that large boats often go aground here. The 3.2nm course upriver to the Mystic Downtown Marina and Mystic Seaport runs approximately north by northeast. The deeper water is usually on the Noank side. Don't cut too close to the buoys, as the channel tends to silt up on the edges, particularly around Sixpenny Island where the bottom seems to grab someone every weekend.
CAUTION: Proceed with caution in the area between G C "21" and G C "23." It's very shallow just outside of the channel.
The tidal range here is 2.3 feet, so don't expect much help if you stick your keel in the mud. While there are many boats in the area, you'll find surprisingly little dock space for transients. Our best advice is to make reservations well in advance; if you haven't made reservations, call the marinas before you head upriver. Most of the marinas have very good facilities, but it's a long ride back down if you get there and find out there's no space.
On the east side of the Mystic Harbor, the first facility you'll see is Mystic River Marina. Once north of Pine Point, you'll be able to access Masons Island Marina as well as several other facilities. Over on the west shore, at Willow's Point, is Mystic Shipyard. To the east is Brewer Yacht Yard at Mystic.
About a half-mile north of Masons Island, you'll come to the Amtrak railroad bridge at Fort Rachel. The fort has long since disappeared and the old rotting barges that once choked this area are going the same way. The railroad swing bridge is usually open to river traffic but it closes well in advance of approaching trains. Contact the bridgetender at 860-444-4908 or on VHF 13, or let him know of your approach with one long and one short blast of the horn.
Just north of the railroad bridge you'll find several marine facilities including Fort Rachel Marine Service and Bayside Diesel Service on the west shore.
North of these facilities is the bascule bridge in downtown Mystic. In summer, this bascule bridge opens at 40 minutes past every hour from 7:15 a.m. to 7:15 p.m.; it should open on demand at other times in season. From November 1 to April 30, the bridgetender will require 6 hours' advance notice to open, between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., except for emergencies. There's often a lot of traffic on the bridge, so call in advance (860-536-7070 or on VHF 13) to tell them when you'll need the bridge to be opened. Remember that the boat moving with the tide has the right-of-way going through the bridge.
Since there are two Mystic River bridgetenders within a very short distance of each other, it is important to identify which bridge you want when calling on VHF 13. Ask for either the Mystic River Bascule Bridge or the Mystic River Railroad Bridge. When the bascule bridge is closed the channel can become crowded: some boats raft up, others motor in place, and still others circle around while waiting. While docking is not allowed at the adjacent Mystic River Park boardwalk, boats waiting for the bridge opening may hold to the dock for up to 15 minutes. There is also a free dinghy dock at the south end of the boardwalk with a maximum vessel length of 14 feet.
Mystic Seaport beckons from above the bascule bridge. You can stay right at the Mystic Seaport docks, but this is a popular spot so it's a good idea to make reservations, even several months in advance. Be careful when approaching the docks here-it's especially embarrassing to crash in front of a crowd of camera-carrying tourists. The docking fee includes free entrance to the museum, and you can walk around at night when the grounds are empty.
The east side of the river is well-dredged, but the other side is shallow-don't wander from the channel. Although the charts end just above the Interstate-95 bridges, shallow-draft vessels with less than 25 feet clearance can pass under the bridges and continue up the river to a quiet anchorage near the village of Old Mystic. The channel is poorly marked and, until you've made it once, the experience can be nerve-wracking-but the quiet is worth the journey.
Shoreside and Emergency Services
New London (860-442-4471) or VHF 16
Police, Fire, Ambulance:
Yellow Cab (860-536-8888)
Sea Tow 800-4SEATOW or VHF 16
Eastern Connecticut (860-572-9090)
TowBoatU.S (800-391-4869) or VHF 16
Southeastern Marine Towing (860-536-3128)