by Jon Persson
Daysailing is usually a genteel affair, perhaps intermixed with moments of excitement, but mostly a picnic in motion with a water view on all sides. Sailing for a day on the schooner Mystic, however, comes with added perks; room for 150 on deck, a chef and steward, dining cabin and lounge. One may even explore among the 18 double-cabins, wood-trimmed and reminiscent of staterooms on a luxury yacht.
The last day in August dawns overcast with a fresh sou’westerly breeze. An 11 a.m. departure is scheduled, the time determined in part by the regular opening set for the Mystic River bascule bridge. While waiting, a passenger is overheard commenting on the elegant view of the far river bank, lined with well-appointed houses; but the view from the o the r side must be even better, given the ir view of Mystic Seaport, the Charles W. Morgan, and Mystic herself.
The run down the river is accomplished smoothly, powered by the ship’s 500- horsepower Lugger engine. Angie Smith, Citizen of the Year for Westerly, Rhode Island, asks “Will we be going out on the open ocean?” She continues, “I am the leader for river-boat cruises all over the place, France, Germany, Belgium, Amsterdam,” on boats which carry 120 to 150 passengers. But, she adds, “the rivers are absolutely flat water,” without the waves and rolling seas of Fishers Island Sound and beyond.
Since her first voyage of the year in June, Mystic has gone through much refurbishing, the varnishwork brought up to a high polish, her squaresails bent on. There is cohesion among her crew, which numbers ten in all including several new faces. Captain Geoffrey Jones remains at the forefront, always intent on the duties of keeping a large vessel safe at sea.
The schooner Mystic, 127 feet on deck, 170 feet sparred, is owned by the Mystic Nautical Heritage Society. This nonprofit organization, celebrating its 20th anniversary on September 4 of this year, has a dual mission; sail training, and the preservation of historic vessels. Geoff Jones is the founder, and he explains that a “crew is receiving sail training” every time they set sail on Mystic. The schooner is manned by a combination of paid and trainee crew members. “We have a focus on maneuvering under sail,” Geoff continues, which can only be taught on board a vessel and is “passed along from generation to generation. This is in our original mission statement,” he adds.
As land is cleared, the sails are set one-by-one, until Mystic heels slightly and boils along at a decent clip. She feels livelier now, her hull having recently been cleared of encumbering marine growth. Finally the bosun goes aloft, near the top of her 110-foot-tall spars, and the
squaresails are set for a spell of near-full-sail majesty.
Amid the bustle and labors of captain, crew, and intrepid reporter, a birthday celebration unfolds for Resident senior photographer Bob O’Shaughnessy. Alexis Ann arranged for a toast of Champagne and birthday cake, the occasion made all the more festive by the setting under sail at sea.
Also on board is a pre-wedding party for Katherine French and Taylor Lynn. They have brought an entourage of their youthful friends along: it’s a reunion of course, and a celebration of two lives set to embark on their matrimonial voyage. They have chosen their celebratory stage well aboard the Mystic, but the formal wedding rehearsal draws near, and the schooner makes a fast passage back to port.
While the Mystic’s departure schedule is regulated by the famous Mystic River bridge, return passages up the river are a more complicated version of the same equation. Often Capt. Geoffrey Jones will make contact with the bridgetenders while still offshore. Wind, tide, and emergency vehicles can alter the timing of reaching the bridge. On this day, a brief layover at the public pier is all that is needed to time the pass through open draw.
After the day’s sail has ended, those who were the re take away an experience that will live in memory for years to come.
“What a fun experience going sailing on a big boat,” exclaims Alex Holder. “What I liked about it was going on a long-distance sail for the first time, and getting to see the inside of the boat.” Adds his Dad, John Holder, “The whole day was perfect; you could see everyone was having a great time. I also met a lot of very nice people. What an experience for my boys to have!” JoAnn Cornell says, “Thank you for a wonderful day aboard the Schooner Mystic,” and her husband John continues, “I helped raise the sails, even asked if I could man the helm, which I did.” Back at dockside Dave Cornell looks back at the schooner and says, “Wow! I’ll do that again anytime. Even at my age I’d like to be part of the crew!”
A daysail: it’s indeed something that must be experienced to be understood.
Captain Geoffrey Jones and the Schooner Mystic will be at the Connecticut Schooner Festival in Mystic and New London, September 11 to 13 and 13 to 15, respectively. Opportunities to go on a daysail aboard the schooner are still available at 860.536.0002.
To post your comments, visit www.theresident.com or follow us on twitter@Resident_News. For more photos visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/theresident/