By Nate Bayreuther (#1922 Orion)
Maybe it was because Orion had such a late launching last spring due to school and work commitments. Maybe it was because I’d recently been reading a number of sailing narratives. Or maybe it was simply the excitement of returning to a familiar yet exciting destination…an because so many new people were coming. Whatever the reason, I was itching to get to the Niantic River launch ramp on Thursday, August 1 to meet up with other Mariner sailors and officially begin the 2019 Mariner National Rendezvous. I had packed some gear and the sailing rig for my nine-foot Dyer Dhow True Love in Orion’s cabin the previous week, so upon arriving in Niantic, CT that evening I quickly rowed out to Orion, stowed a few extra belongings, and motored over to the launch ramp to see who was there.
Since 2009, I have organized rendezvous for the Mariner Class Association, an organization dedicated to encouraging and promoting the use of the 19-foot Mariner sailboat. Designed by the legendary Philip Rhodes and originally manufactured by O’Day from 1963 to ‘79, it was briefly produced by Rebel/Spindrift before Stuart Marine took over in the early 1980s. Remarkably, production continues to this day. With over 4,000 Mariners made, they remain extremely popular as racers, pocket cruisers and daysailers. The Mariner’s built for family fun, and it’s a blast to get together with other Mariner sailors. Various rendezvous have taken us to Mystic Seaport Museum, Essex, New London, Groton, Fishers Island, and Stonington, with sailors trailering Mariners from all across the country over the years. This year, ten boats and 25 sailors registered, including four new skippers and their families. It was shaping up to be another great event, and I was anxious to meet the new folks and reconnect with rendezvous veterans.
I anchored in the shallow mooring field near the ramp and rowed True Love to the ramp’s floating docks. In short order I met up with fellow Connecticut sailors Alan Schaeffer (#2470 Sialia) and his children Joseph and Lydia, and Chris Albert (#2714 Flotsam). Bruce Robbins (#3200 Nora Rose) with friend and crewmate Mural Rao had arrived from New Jersey, and Eric Flower’s boat, #1871 SeaFlower, was there and fully rigged, but he and his wife Joanne had gone home for the night since they live only a few miles away, in East Lyme. Later that evening, Dave Oatley (#2186 Nantucket) arrived with his two young sons Jackson and Bennett from New Jersey, and after chatting with them for a while, I left Orion at anchor and rowed across the river to spend the night at my parents’ house. I was looking forward to seeing the other sailors in the morning.
Sure enough, when I returned on Friday morning the ramp was alive with activity. Steve Creighton (#629 Blind Squirrel) and Joanne McCarthy from New Jersey were launching their boat, and Andy Stotz (#3223 Sheldon Jones) with wife Bonny and son Andy had just arrived from Maine. Dan Meaney (#2024 Clew Sea Nuf) showed up with daughter Madeline from Ellington, Connecticut, and a phone call from Pennsylvania sailors Ed Wise (#2862 Christina T) and crew Steve Hock reassured me that despite trailer troubles, they were only a couple hours behind schedule and would meet us later at the Seaport.
With all accounted for, we left at 11:00 am to take advantage of the tide and allow for the wind to build, since it’s typically light in the morning. After we motored underneath the highway and railroad bridges the wind was still rather faint, but we were able to easily get around Millstone Point and head east. Unfortunately, after only a short time, the wind dropped off almost completely, and the only headway we had left was with what little air remained in our sails and the outgoing current. Occasionally, a powerboat would roar by, rocking the fleet with its wake and temporarily halting momentum. A number of us started telling jokes on the VHF, and, as I was just about in the middle of the group at that time, I found it very amusing to hear the various laughs and groans as punchlines were delivered. (How much does it cost a pirate to pierce his ears? A “buck-an-ear.”)
Although progress was slow, it was a beautiful day and there was plenty to look at. We took pictures of each other’s boats, observed a wooden schooner plodding along on the horizon, waved at passengers on the Orient Point Ferry, and saw two nuclear submarines, one entering the Thames River and one headed out to sea. Both were escorted by heavily armed patrol boats and tugs, and it was quite something to witness. At this point, we decided to motor with sails up for about a half hour before the wind picked up off Ledge Light and we were able to do some honest-to-goodness sailing.
We had an easy passage to Noank before the wind died again, but we simply took our sails down and motored up the Mystic River, passing through the mooring field and gathering below the railroad bridge. It opened for us at the bottom of the hour and we made our way to the Mystic Highway bridge, which opened ten minutes later. It’s always a wonderful experience to make the approach to the Seaport and see the empty floating docks waiting for us. Having radioed the Seaport dock office after going through the bridges, a number of dockhands were waiting to help us tie up. One by one, Mariners made their way into slips, motors were shut off, awnings erected, and cockpits and cabins tidied – we had officially arrived.
For the rest of the afternoon and evening, sailors walked around the Seaport, made their way downtown for dinner and generally hung around the docks. Only a couple of hours after everyone had tied up, we welcomed Ed Wise and Steve Hock. I spent a good deal of time laying back in Orion’s cockpit, watching the sun go down and chatting with fellow sailors. A tasty meal at the nearby Latitude 41° Restaurant & Tavern was most enjoyable, and an evening beer with Steve, Chris Albert and Dan Meaney on Orion was a great end to the day. It was late by the time I walked with my gear bag to the north end of the Seaport to take a quick shower, and although it was a bit of a hike from our berths at the south end, the heads were clean and no one else was around. I returned to Orion where I read a few chapters of a book, listened to a little Vivaldi, and turned in exhausted yet happy.
I woke up the next morning to find us completely immersed in fog. Everything in the cockpit was dripping wet when I crawled out of the cabin, but the rising sun quickly dissipated the fog and eventually dried our boats. Other sailors were also stretching their legs, but a few were still appreciating the chance to sleep in. Some walked to the Seaport’s bakery to find breakfast while others walked downtown; a number of sailors simply made their own meals onboard their Mariners. The rest of the morning was taken up by two excellent tours provided by the Seaport exclusively for our group. We enjoyed an in-depth tour of the Henry B. du Pont Shipyard where the multi-year restoration of the Mayflower II, owned by Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, was coming to a successful conclusion. Later, we toured the Watercraft Hall across the street where more than 450 small boats are stored, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed both tours.
The rest of the day was spent visiting the Seaport exhibits, touring the historic ships, shopping downtown, and enjoying our incomparable surroundings. I sailed around in True Love and Steve Creighton and Joanne McCarthy hopped in #629 Blind Squirrel, sailing close by the docks and being photographed by curious museum visitors. That afternoon everybody gathered for “open boat” time, where sailors can tour all the Mariners and chat about new ideas and interesting tips. This year, I encouraged everyone to bring snacks to share, and everyone did. Eric and Joanne Flower’s boat was the most popular; Eric spent a tremendous amount of time restoring and upgrading #1871 SeaFlower and she’s a sight to see. The cabin, complete with a premium sound system, electrical panel, lighting, bedding, window shades, cushions and more, looks like it could comfortably sustain a cruising couple for a month or more. The exterior was just as elaborate with immaculate wood trim, a new forward hatch, cockpit speakers, stanchions with lifelines, and a beautiful paint job. They also won everyone over with their “snacks” – a cooler of beer.
After visiting and taking pictures, we gathered for a group picture before dispersing to find our own dinners. I ended up joining some friends at the famed Mystic Pizza, and afterward we moseyed back to the docks. I took the opportunity to walk around alone a bit and take some pictures as the sun was setting. All who visit Mystic Seaport Museum by boat and rent dock space are welcome to explore the grounds at night, and it’s completely different after the gates are closed and the place is seemingly all yours. Everything’s very quiet, and you start to sense the history all around you. Once a busy shipyard in the mid-1800s, the Seaport embraces its past, and it’s a unique experience to be there after hours.
Sunday morning dawned with bright sun and clear skies, and sailors emerged from their cabins and went for breakfast and coffee. Most awnings were left up for the sun to dry them, but eventually those were stowed as preparations were made to depart the Seaport and make the 9:40 am highway bridge opening. I de-rigged True Love, securing spars and oars and putting her sail in Orion’s cabin. A few last-minute purchases were made, and after a short meeting on the docks for some final instructions, we all cast off at the bottom of the hour, waiting for the bridge to open, which it did, right on schedule.
We powered down the river until we reached open water off Noank. A decent breeze greeted us, and we happily raised our sails and headed west to Niantic. Although the wind was on our nose, the current was with us, and we had a fine time tacking through Fishers Island Sound. As each boat entered Niantic Bay, sails were lowered and outboards started to get through the Niantic railroad bridge. Everyone was on their own to haul out as promptly as possible to make way for other boats coming in, but unlike last year, the ramp was not overcrowded. I tied up on a floating dock and went ashore to assist with de-rigging boats and take some pictures. Motoring Orion back to her mooring, I cleaned out her cabin and rowed True Love to the beach. It was another successful event that I’ll be thinking about for a long time.
A number of Rendezvous veterans were unfortunately unable to attend. One had sold his boat, while others had prior commitments, work and health issues. Their presence was greatly missed, and I hope they’ll be back this year. I was thrilled, however, that four new Rendezvous skippers with crews were able to participate. Dave Oatley came with his sons in #2186 Nantucket, herself a Rendezvous veteran, participating with then-owner Bill Collins in 2012 and ‘14 as Gypsy Rose. Bruce Robbins (#3200 Nora Rose) came with friend Mural Rao; Bruce actually worked at Mystic Seaport 40 years ago and this was his first time back. Andy Stotz (#3223 Sheldon Jones) and his family had a fantastic time, and promised they’d be back. Although Eric Flower (#1871 SeaFlower) has lived in East Lyme for a number of years, this was the first time he and his wife Joanne were able to make the Rendezvous, and it was great to finally sail with them.
One memory that particularly stands out is when I was simply walking around the Seaport grounds, relishing the sunshine and watching all the visitors taking in all the sights. I would frequently see a Mariner sailor, and we’d exchange smiles and waves before continuing on our way. This happened all weekend long, and it was nice to be surrounded by our own little Mariner “community” enjoying each other’s company. We’re a tightly knit bunch, us Mariner sailors, and I look forward to this gathering every year.
Driving home that evening, I saw a Mariner at a rest stop on Interstate 95. I pulled in, and immediately recognized #2862 Christina T. Ed and Steve were getting a bite to eat, and I surprised them before continuing home. It was a great little postscript to the whole Rendezvous, and plans for the 2020 event are already in the works. You’ll come, now, won’t you? ■
Nate Bayreuther has owned his 1970 O’Day Mariner Orion since 2007 and is the webmaster of the Mariner Class Association. A professional organist, he grew up next door to his family’s marina, Bayreuther Boat Yard, in Niantic, CT. He lives with his wife and son in Northford and can frequently be found sailing the waters of Long Island Sound. To learn more, visit mariner1922.com and usmariner.org.