24th Jul 2012 - 29th Jul 2012 - Canada to New England 2012
Mystic and west to Cape Cod
The following morning we set off by dinghy for the one mile trip up the mystic river to Mystic Seaport, a museum of the sea, ships and ship building and restoration. It is a world famous site and a typical early nineteenth century coastal village has been recreated and fully stocked with contemporary artefacts. There are a multitude of sailing vessels on display, some in the water and some in museum sheds. Most are in excellent condition although one, The Australia’ is in a sorry state with missing hull planks and rotten decks. It is hoped she may at some stage be restored but at present is simply being protected from the elements. One can visit a New England fishing schooner and marvel at the skill of the dory men who, two to a sixteen to twenty foot rowing boat were launched at first light over the Grand Banks of Newfoundland to ‘long line’ for cod, halibut and hake. The lines could be fifteen hundred feet long with a hook every six feet or so. This meant that, with the average cod being around fifty pounds in those days and about one hook in five would hold a fish, when pulling the line from the sea bottom three hundred feet below there could easily be two to three hundred pounds of fish on the line. Once the boat was full, this would necessitate lowering the line back to the seabed with a marker buoy attached to where the crew had reached and then rowing up to a mile in heavy seas back to the schooner to transfer the catch. Then rowing back to the buoy to haul the line back up again. They would do this from dawn till dusk in most weather conditions and summer and winter alike! The crews might be away from port for weeks at a time and would only get a few days at home before they would need to be off again. Although paid by the amount of their catch, it was measured by weight but by number so those who caught the best fish would rarely make the most money and there was much ill-feeling.
In the Restoration Yard there was a deep sea whaler in for repair and restoration. Built of wood she was being re-planked with one and a half to two inch thick pine while we watched and once the planks had been secured they were being caulked with tarred wool and a caulking iron hit by a mallet to drive the wool home between the planks. She is due to be re-launched next spring for an appearance at a boat festival in 2013.
The visit took most of the day and after a quick tour round Mystic village we returned to Mous’le to get ready for the trip to Block Island that marks the official end of Long Island Sound and the beginning of the Atlantic.
The trip to Block Island was another motoring exercise and after a few hours we were entering the harbour known as ‘The Great Salt Pond’ These salt ponds were used for salt making in the early days but with the cost of salt falling many have been fully opened to the sea to provide sheltered anchorages for the increasing number of pleasure craft that frequent these waters today. Block Island is a small low island which lives mainly off its day trippers brought by ferry from the New England Coast. We spent just one night there before leaving the next morning for Newport, Rhode Island. This town is the famed centre of US yachting and was home to many America’s Cup races over the century and a half that ‘The Auld Mug’ has been being competed for. After a trip that began under engine but was completed under sail we dropped anchor in Brenton Bay just off the Ida Lewis Yacht Club and a stone’s throw from the New York Yacht Club’s palatial premises in a mansion whose green manicured lawns sweep regally down to the water’s edge. Newport is perhaps the closest thing to an English yachting town in the USA as the marinas and docks have taken over the foreshore and the town is a network of little streets and little buildings that surround Thames Street the narrow thoroughfare that is the main shopping street. We arranged to hire a car for the weekend to allow us to visit Cape Cod and Providence RI with our travelling companion, Richard.
Saturday dawned overcast and we collected the car and set off to drive the one hundred miles or so to Provincetown, on the tip of the northern hook of the cape. All of us had expected a windswept landscape with only coastal grasses and coarse shrubs able to survive the elements. Instead we found that the only part of the cape with these features was a narrow coastal strip with the whole of the rest consisting of leafy woodland, pastures and villages aplenty all decked out with the various types of accessory required for modern beach life on a twenty first century summer’s day. In other words it was a profligate panoply of pumped-up plastic paraphernalia perched on parts of the purveying premises to promote purchase to plenty of passer’s-by!
Passing round the top of the hook we did find a more exposed terrain for the last mile or two before entering Provincetown, claimed to be the first landing point of the Founding Fathers before they moved on to New Plymouth, thirty miles further west. Today it is one of the ‘gay’ capitals of the US as well as being a popular holiday destination. It has quality shops and restaurants and we strolled quickly around the town, buying a few things, before heading for a beachfront seafood restaurant for lunch. After lunch and exploring the pier and some more shops, it was time to head back to Newport. The skies, which had been overcast all day but had not produced any rain so far, had second thoughts and we soon had the wipers going. Despite this, the drive, off the main roads until we reached the Cape Cod Canal bridge, was through pretty, well kept villages reminiscent of the south of England and it was a pleasure to pass through them. From the Canal to Newport it was another story as the skies opened and the road surface would disappear into its bouncing waterfall.
We made it safely home and the rain even relented for the dinghy ride out to Mous’le much to the two members of the crew who had not taken any waterproofs.
On Sunday we went down to Providence, Rhode Island, the state capital, by crossing the two high level bridges onto the Western shore of the Naragansset Bay and then up to the Providence River where the town is located.
Providence boasts more original eighteenth and nineteenth century houses than anywhere else in New England. While this claim cannot be confirmed by our experience, they do have a fascinating old part around Benefit Street in the Art and Design College area. After a sandwich lunch we went off and did some provisioning for the next part of our trip to The Cape Cod Islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket