See You on the River

Seascapes: Winter 2009

Steve WhiteVisitors come to Mystic Seaport for numerous reasons — to research in the Collections Research Center, to spend quality time with family, to view a new exhibit on a favorite topic, to be part of an engaging, authentic community — but many are unsure just what to expect from this must-see national treasure. After all, Mystic Seaport isn’t a typical museum.

The entrance to the Museum grounds is deceiving and, in fact, keeps the first-time visitor guessing until arriving at the observation deck or emerging from the Visitor Reception Center when they enter an unanticipated new world. Just 70 yards (I measured!) from busy Greenmanville Avenue, they come upon the unexpected — a serene river, an estuary really, that borders the entire length of the Museum campus. It’s there and then that the visitor begins to understand just what makes Mystic Seaport atypical.

The late Waldo Howland, a great friend of the Museum, knew well the river’s educational and emotional power and wrote, in addition to all his wonderful books, an enduring paper for the Museum’s leadership, “The River, The River, The River.” He felt that it was essential that visitors, no matter what their maritime knowledge might be, experience the river in some personal manner during their visit and that the Museum should bring greater focus to bear on its natural asset. In essence, he felt that as rich and deep as the Museum’s maritime resources are, it is the river that contributes mightily to defining what the Mystic Seaport experience is.

Today, we strive to honor Waldo’s vision and directive. Some visitors arrive on weekends by water taxi aboard Liberty from the drawbridge, while others take advantage of Necessity to shuttle between the south and north ends, and Sabino gives her passengers a special feeling of the river in her own unique manner. When Breck Marshall glides by it’s all one can do to refrain from leaping aboard! But it’s the little boats — the small craft — that truly bring life to the river through the boat livery at the Boathouse. Mothers and fathers have a chance to introduce their children to a new experience on the water through rowing or sailing, and they patiently help their “crew” overcome any fears they may have. Our sailing camp, of course, brings color and drama to the river in the summer months, as only Dyer Dhows can, as our future’s next great captains learn the skills to navigate and to avoid potential calamity. Finally, there is nothing quite like the dramatic activity during the WoodenBoat Show and the Antique & Classic Boat Rendezvous to take us all back to a different era.

Being a seaport, it’s important for us to be as active as possible, for as ships and boats come and go important stories are told of where they’ve been and what the crew has learned, even if it may be just a cruise around the river between the bridges. One can almost hear the stories that children are telling back home or in school about their experiences “at sea,” for there is nothing better than a well-told sea story. Speaking of which, did you catch the Moby-Dick Marathon?

It was indeed a busy summer on the river…..when the sun shone. I think Waldo would be proud.

See you on the river,

Steve White



Stephen C. White