First and Last
Jun 27, 2008
|A visit to Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine, and Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling vessel - Friday, June 27
Before leaving Rocky Neck State Park we took a drive down to see the beach. We parked and followed a short trail that led through a tunnel under a RR bridge and out onto a nice sandy beach on Long Island Sound. The sound is so wide here that in the early morning haze we couldn’t see Long Island. People were arriving with kids and umbrellas and it looked like a nice place to spend the day with your family.
Back on the road we returned to the interstate and continued east toward Rhode Island. We soon came to the exit we were looking for, Exit 86 where the old bus driver had told us to look for the Nautilus. It was easy to find, as there were many signs to point the way. The Groton Connecticut Submarine Base is here, and the Nautilus is moored at a dock adjacent to their excellent Submarine Museum.
Outside the museum two black steel rings show the difference in size between a nuclear sub’s hull and a cross section of an old diesel submarine hull. It’s an amazing difference. Inside we went through the museum fairly quickly, not because it isn’t interesting, but because we also wanted to stop in Mystic Seaport to see the whaler Charles Morgan. And we don’t have all that much time on our way to Rhode Island.
We came to see the Nautilus, and there it was tied up and waiting for us. Nautilus was the first nuclear powered submarine in the world, and it is the one that first ventured under the polar ice cap. You can go aboard it, and as you do a sailor hands you a listening device that guides you through the boat and tells about the passageways and compartments you are traveling through.
Despite it’s size, everything is surprisingly tight and compact, and while the quality of life aboard a nuclear sub is certainly superior to life aboard an old WW2 diesel sub, it is still very cramped and definitely not for the claustrophobic. The tour takes you through everything but the reactor compartment and the engine room, but it is enough to give you a good feel for what it must be like to live in such a confined space for months at a time.
From Groton it was less than ten miles to Mystic Seaport on the Mystic River. This is a famous repository of tall ships, and the one I’d come to see was Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship of it’s kind. In the ‘60’s I carved a model of the Charles W. Morgan and put it in a half gallon wine bottle. It had three masts, 14 sails, two whale boats, and even had the brick ‘try works’ on the deck. I did it from photographs, and have never seen the ship itself. Today I will.
A ‘Wooden Boat Show’ was in progress and the seaport was crowded. We had to walk the entire park because the Morgan was at the opposite end from where we entered, but there was a lot to look at, including many beautiful wooden boats of various types, and a fine model of a mile of the Mystic River as it looked back in the last century.
The Charles W. Morgan is a classic square rigger with a black hull and decking painted in a dark mustard color. We were able to go aboard, and it was a real thrill to finally see it at last. We toured the main deck and then went below to the cargo hold where they stored the casks of whale oil. I went down to the ballast hold below that, and by the time we disembarked we had a good feel for the rigors of whaling too.
We were ready for lunch, and we had a good one at a seafood restaurant on the premises. I had grilled New England Cod for the first time and it was superb. From the restaurant it was a long walk back to the RV, and when we got to it there was a message waiting for us from Marcia Herron, the friends we are going to visit in Rhode Island. We returned the call and Marcia said they wanted to let us know they were going down to their boat for a while but they would probably be home when we got there. We told them not to hurry, and said we’d see them soon.
The drive was less than an hour, even taking the scenic route, and when we pulled into their driveway they were just getting home. Rand and Marcia Herron are a couple who were kind enough to buy many of my paintings over the years, and it was so nice to see them again. They let us park in a shady spot in their driveway, and even gave us an electric hookup.
They were invited to a marina party that night so we got settled while they went to meet the neighbors at their new marina, and when they came home their two daughters, Caroline and Elizabeth, and their grandson Jared arrived and we all went to dinner. We had a great dinner and a nice visit with their two remarkable daughters. Their grandson is an avid hockey player and had a karate event the next day, so we broke up early and returned to their house. They invited us to stay in the house, but it is easier to stay in the RV and not have to move things, so we said ‘good night’ and all turned in. How fortunate we are to have such nice friends!