Boaters tell us they love destination cruising and each season we seek out diverse and interesting places to visit. A weekend on the Thames River in Connecticut offers something for everyone’s taste. On this cruise we took our boat to a Santana concert, visited nautical and historical museums, did walking tours to see and hear about pre and post-revolutionary homes along with some American history.
The Thames River is located between the Connecticut River and Mystic Harbor. Boaters can spot the entrance from a distance by looking for the Ledge Lighthouse or the ferries to Block Island, Fishers Island or Orient Point entering or leaving the mouth. Just up the river to starboard is the General Dynamics buildings where you may see submarines under construction.
Our first two nights on the Thames were at the City Pier in New London. This dock is opposite the train station and next to the ferry terminals. Being here we have enjoyed the sights and bustle of the location which included the comings and goings of the trains, ferries, tall ships, various boats and even a submarine. City Pier’s advantage is its location that is walking distance to everything and that it does get very quiet at night.
New London was settled in 1646 by the British for its deep water harbor. During the Revolutionary War, many buildings were burned by the turncoat General Benedict Arnold due to locals involved in privateering British ships. His soldiers across the river massacred colonial soldiers who surrendered. During the War of 1812, it was blockaded and an attempt was used to sink British ships with a submarine and torpedoes. The British declared this type of warfare “cruel and un-heard of” and stated any further attempt would have every house along the water destroyed (again). After the war, the town’s economy boomed with a thriving whaling business that made it second to New Bedford in wealth. This money built much of the town as you see it today. A submarine base was established across the river in Groton in 1872 with Electric Boat Works establishing a place there in 1899 to build them.
To get familiar with New London’s history and post revolution structures we took a walking tour with www.newlondonlandmarks.org. Our guide Tom Couser led us through several streets in downtown telling us about the history and architecture. He showed us the life like depression era whaling murals in the post office and the bar Eugene O’Neil over frequented. We walked Bank Street and viewed buildings as old as 200 years until we reached the one pre-revolutionary home that survived because it was made of stone. On Banks Street we witnessed well needed revitalization of an old hotel and the Capital Theater where George Burns met Gracie Allen. Our walk took us to Starr Street which is the prettiest block in New London. Here you will find small beautifully restored homes from the early 1800’s. We ended at the town square where the relocated red school house that patriot Nathan Hale taught. This was opposite the 1887 built red brick rail station that was across from the water flowing life size whale tale sculpture. For walking tours call 860-442-0003 two weeks in advance.
For our next destination, we Ubered a couple of miles to the United States Coast Guard Museum. There campus above the river is open to the public with a valid ID. We started our visit in the large one room museum. Here you will find a time line that goes through out the room. The exhibits show how the Coast Guard was formed from many different water based government entities. On display are different artifacts, photos and paintings. While most boaters know and depend on them for watching our back while on the water, this museum shows how much more they serve our country. From the museum, we recommend spending a little time strolling the campus down to the waterfront ending at Johnson Hall’s exchange store. For information go to www.cga.edu
With two tours down it was time to fuel up. Bank Street has many places to eat and drink but the one fun place recommended for a snack was Hot Rods for its many flavors of wings and taps of beer. We almost finished a plate of 25 that were flavored five ways. They went well with my beer flight of four craft brew tastes.
After stuffing ourselves we walked down the block to the U.S. Customs House where a kindly retired professor named Bill served as our docent. We opted for his long tour being in no rush. The U.S. Custom House was built in 1834 and was designed by Robert Mills. He is also known for the Washington Monument and Treasury Building, The front doors at the Customs House are made of wood from the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides, built in 1794, is docked in Boston). Bill explained everything in the “knot” room, the lighthouse room, the library, and the still used on occasion customs office. We ended in a large room dedicated to the 1839 Cuban slave ship mutiny on the schooner Amistad. In some of the rooms, he had us sit down and told us a story about what we were seeing in more detail. The U.S. Customs House is worth a stop whether to wonder about or take the docent tour. Go to www.nlmaritimesociety.org/for times and information.
For day two we recommend visiting the other side of the river by taking the water taxi to Groton that runs Friday to Sunday (www.thamesriverheritagepark.org/water-taxi/) Doing this will allow you to walk up to Fort Trumbull and the Groton Monument dedicated to the massacred colonial soldiers. In Groton, you can visit the Ebenezer Avery House built in the mid-1700’s as well as the pretty yellow Avery Copp House built around 1800. (www.averycopphouse.org/)
The main draw for us on this side of the river was to see the Submarine Force Library and Museum next to the Naval Submarine Base of New London that we Ubered to. This museum is dedicated to the history of the Submarine Force. There are models, tributes, artifacts, video and walls displaying everything submarine related. A highlight of the museum is going aboard the retired nuclear submarine USS Nautilus. This was the first submarine to travel under the ice to the North Pole. During our visit, a loud dive-dive-dive horn went off followed by an announcement that a submarine was about to cruise by the museum. Seeing a modern submarine with its machine gun toting RIB escorts pass the 1954 made Nautilus was impressive. Information can be found at www.ussnautilus.org.
After a long day and some rest back on board we recommend strolling Bank Street at night. Here you will find galleries, food and music. Hygienic Art (www.hygienic.org) is the largest and frequently has events on weekends The Credabel Coral Laboratory & Gallery is worth a look because it has art on the walls and grows coral in tanks on the floor. We ended our night at the Social Club listening to a band and enjoying a few of their many craft beers on tap.
Norwich is a pleasant one hour cruise up the Thames. To get there you pass the Coast Guard Academy on your portside. A few minutes later you will pass the submarine base on starboard where we saw four submarines protected in a pen. Odds are you will be met and escorted by a submarine police boat until you pass. You can pass here at cruising speed but there is a no wake sign just north of the base at a small marina. Heading up river is a simple matter of following your reds and greens carefully. Eventually, you will see the Mohegan Sun Casino on your portside and Norwich just ahead.
The American Wharf Marina dominates (www.americanwharf.com/ ) the quiet waterfront of Norwich. After hailing the marina we were directed to an area where two dock hands met us, then tied and connected us down within minutes. At check in we were advised that shuttle service in the area can take us anywhere locally and that the last casino run back was 11:30 PM.
To explore the area we took the manager up on his offer to drive us two miles north to the Norwich Heritage & Regional Visitors’ Center (www.norwichhistoricalsociety.org) at 69 East Town Street. The center in a restored 18th-century building with historical displays and self-guided walking maps. After picking up the Benedict Arnold Trail map we strolled the area viewing more than a dozen pre-colonial homes as well as the church where Benedict Arnold worshipped and the tavern where he had to take his intoxicated father home from. These homes were in excellent shape and lived in. We ended the historical tour at the 1675 Leffingwell House Museum. Here you will find pre-revolutionary to Civil War furniture, weapons and silver in several rooms. From the historical area, we walked back to the dock via the Uncas Leap Trail along the river. With the American Wharf having a pool we cooled off until it was time to be ready for the evening.
The main reason for us coming to Norwich is was to see a Santana concert at the Mohegan Sun Casino ten minutes away. The Mohegan Sun is a large Las Vegas style themed casino and hotel with shops and restaurants to cover any taste and budget. The casino is Native American themed and was teeming with action. After dinner, we entered the 10,000 seat area to learn there was not a bad seat in the house. Carlos Santana led his band nonstop for over two hours leaving the fans dancing at their seats. For events and information about the casino go to www.mohegansun.com
The next morning before departing we took advantage of the shuttle service to get provisions. Once unpacked the marina pump out boat was dispatched to our dock to take care of business and we were off to a quiet cove for two pleasant nights on the hook at Coecles Bay.
Docking: The City Pier is located between the Fisher Island Ferry and Orient Point / Block Island Ferry. Space can be reserved by calling the Dockmaster Barbara Neff at 860.443.3786. Ms. Neff runs events in town so ask her if anything is happening the time you are there.
Provisioning: Fiddleheads Foods Co-op is a small supermarket that reminded me of a laid back Wholefoods. We enjoyed the classical duet volunteers playing in the back.
Food and Entertainment: Most places are on Bank Street a three minute walk from the dock. We recommend Muddy Waters for Lunch, Hot Rods for Wings, Fat Daddy’s for dinner, Sweeties for their extra special weekend breakfast menu and the Social Club for music and drinks.
Go to http://www.ci.new-london.ct.us/content/7437/ or https://newenglandtravelplanner.com/go/ct/ct_shore/new_london/index.html, for all things New London.
The American Wharf (www.americanwharf.com) is the only marina in town and is a class act.
Info on Norwich can be found at http://www.norwichct.org/index.aspx?NID=9
Mohegan Sun: www.mohegansun.com
When taking an extended cruise in this part of Connecticut consider a visit to Essex and Mystic. These two nautical towns are about two hours cruising distance. For my previous Boating World stories on them email me at email@example.com.