Paddling With The Tall Ships

Photography and Text By Mel Tulin © All rights reserved.

I awoke on Wednesday, July 12, 2000 with mixed feelings. I was so excited about OpSailCT 2000 and the prospect of witnessing the Parade of Tall Ships from the proximity of our kayaks. But there was a persistent element that marred our expectations. Would we be able to see the tall ships at all? Would we be turned away? We had decided to go out with ConnYak, our kayaking club. There were 29 of us in all, so we had our own little parade. We all met in Groton at Bluff Point, still not able to let our elation take over... still unsure. Little did we know that we would have the "best seats in the house" to view this historic day. As we paddled out and we saw what lay ahead, I felt a rush.... a feeling I had been holding back, a real anticipation of what was to come, for the Coast Guard had placed yellow channel markers on either side of the route, no more than 100 yards away from where the magnificent ships were to pass. We were able to kayak within a yard or two of these buoys and then wait for the spectacle to begin. There was no one in front of us. The armada of pleasure boats would not intrude.
As I had frequently sailed in the Thames River from the Thames Yacht Club Invitationals when I was a child, being in the river brought back many lost memories. I was very young when the sea became my first great love. My parents had a vacation house at the shore in South Lyme, CT where I spent my childhood summers. When I was about seven years old, I started sailing lessons at Niantic Bay Yacht Club. I was trapped forever. My brother also loved to sail, so my parents bought us a fourteen foot Blue Jay to sail in the weekly races at the Club and many other yacht clubs in the area. He was the skipper and I was the crew. We raced for four summers. I was only ten years old and my brother was fourteen, so naturally my parents had to drive us everywhere. I remember we had to stuff our foul weather gear pockets with sodas so that we would weigh in at the minimum of 250 lbs. which would allow us to compete. During the next four years, we won the Club championship as well as placing 9th in the nationals which were held on Long Island. It was an unforgettable time in my life. But then my brother went to college, I started to work in the summers and we ended up selling the boat. Of course I missed sailing, cruising the water with the wind blowing in my face.
Four years ago, I met my future husband who also has a passion for the sea that stemmed from many years of surfing . We started out by canoeing, sailing in his Monocat and even surfing at the Cape. I had been kayaking a few times and was really drawn to it. He had always wanted to. So, we went to one of the "demo days" at a local kayak shop and we tried out some of the new kayaks. It was instant bonding. Then it was time to decide. Sitting next to the Farmington River, eating a tuna fish sandwich, we decided to take the plunge and bought two kayaks..... and one rack! We knew this was now a long-term commitment. (Who would get the rack?!) We spent the next 3 years exploring the Connecticut shore and Cape Cod in our kayaks. Again, we fell in love with the sea but in a different way. We were more in touch with nature and the wildlife which displayed itself. At times it was breathtaking… Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets. To paddle out with the seals at Monomoy Island off of Chatham was an experience we'll never forget.
Last year, we decided to elope and get married at sunset, barefoot on the beach, in Maui. Again, it was awesome! We spent our honeymoon kayaking with the humpback whales and six foot sea turtles in Maui. We also kayaked along the shores of Kauai where only kayaks can go because of the shallow waters and reefs that won't allow other boats in. It was paradise.
So here we were, all 29 of us on the Thames River waiting for the parade to unfold. We weren't talking much, our eyes steady on the horizon. And finally, like apparitions, we saw the tall ships starting to assemble. One by one, led by the United States Coast Guard Eagle, each was saluted by the U.S. Coast Guard Orchestra as it entered the Thames River. In the background, were thousands of spectator boats, many with binoculars, to witness this incredible spectacle. Each tall ship, whether it was 371 feet or 40 feet long was dignified with its own special song played from the floating bandstand at the mouth of the river. When The Star Spangled Banner, in honor of the Eagle, burst through the air, it brought chills. I sat in my kayak. the wind blowing in the sea air, watching them take their places, one by one, and almost float down the river. Most were in full sail, their crew standing in formation when they sailed by. The Amistad brought tears to my eyes, as I recalled kayaking at the Mystic launching in March. That story alone was worth the wait. The Esmeralda from Chile was the largest at 371 feet and the most spectacular. The Gloria made its debut by answering the orchestra with a song of its own which the crew sang loud and clear as they stood perched proudly on the 10 huge booms, locked arm in arm, dressed in red shirts and white slacks. It was an impressive sight.... and one I'll never forget. The Guayas from Ecuador sailed by majestically while the Sagres from Portugal was distinctive with red crosses on its sails. As the parade was winding down, many spectator boats began to leave due to the strong winds and a potentially congested harbor. I made the decision to stay. One of the best of the tall ships was saved for last and I didn‘t want to miss it! The HMS Rose, from the United States, approached with its brilliantly painted hull and sails in full regalia. As it swept by, I couldn't help but think, "OpSailCT 2000 did exceed my wildest expectations." The grandeur was all mixed up with memories of sailing on the Thames with my brother in our little Blue Jay so many years ago. Was it still being loved and used? As we landed on shore, ready to fight the long lines of traffic to go home, I could hardly wait until tomorrow so that I could come back to New London and see the tall ships up close and be able to go on board... a whole new experience.

© 2000-2024 Outdoor Eyes   All rights reserved.