By Nate Bayreuther
I stood on the bank of my parents’ property overlooking the Niantic River and peered once again through binoculars across the river to the launch ramp in Waterford, CT. It was late afternoon on Thursday, August 4, and I had just arrived to start loading my O’Day Mariner, #1922 Orion, with fuel and gear for the weekend-long Rendezvous beginning the next morning.
My first thought, though, was to count how many Mariner masts I could see at the launch ramp and at anchor nearby. While the plan was to leave at 10:30 am Friday morning, I had previously encouraged attendees to come early and rig their boats well ahead of time to beat the Friday rush and avoid a potentially crowded launch ramp. In years past, six or seven boats would usually show up the night before to do just that; this year, though, I counted fourteen boats, only two shy of our registered number of sixteen. Clearly, sailors were anxious to begin the event!
The very first Rendezvous I organized in 2009 was attended by only three boats – including my own – and all were from Connecticut. Over the next twelve years, forty different Mariners under forty different skippers had come from twelve different states. This year, I was pleased to welcome Richard Worsham who came all the way from Goshen, IN with his Spindrift Mariner, #4046 Grebe; his two daughters, Loretta and Eleanor; and friend Jesse Stoltzfus. I was also happy to meet Robert Stelpstra who had driven a whopping ten hours from Quebec City, Canada to join in the fun. The Mariner National Rendezvous had officially become an international gathering!
After a humid and sweltering Thursday night – the Northeast was in the middle of a heat wave that weekend – Friday morning dawned with the promise of a decent breeze with forecasted rain passing us to the south, and before long the launch ramp area was alive with activity. Once we all launched, we hovered around the bridges waiting for the railroad bridge to raise. Harald Hefel’s #1998 Netticks grounded on a nearby sandbar, but he promptly jumped out in the calf-deep water and pushed her back towards the channel before jumping back in.
Thankfully, there weren’t any other mishaps, and we all made it through the bridges and raised our sails at once. The breeze was light for the most part, and the fleet dispersed after tacking out of Niantic Bay with some boats hugging the shoreline and others favoring deeper water. While a few boats headed for the Saybrook Breakwater light to go through the outer bar channel, most cut inside of the breakwater and picked up the channel just north of it. Sailing through the bridges, we arrived at Safe Harbor Essex Island Marina just before 4:00 pm and motored into a small basin where dockhands were waiting to help tie us up at the floating docks.
One by one, all fifteen Mariners tied up at the slips at the marina while sailors relaxing on bigger boats berthed nearby stared inquisitively at the incoming group. After we were safe and secure, sailors went about their business tidying up their boats, erecting awnings and shelters, visiting the heads, stretching their legs, exploring the area, and chatting in a covered deck area specifically rented for us Mariner sailors.
Later that evening, I was pleased to discover Jesse Stoltzfus, crewing with the Worshams from Indiana, had brought his fiddle. With a little encouragement, he treated a number of us to some absolutely fantastic music he had learned in New Orleans when he had lived there. A classically-trained violinist, Jesse had become exceptionally proficient in the Cajun and Zydeco styles, and those of us listening to him were fascinated as he stamped his feet for a percussive effect as he played. It was a wonderful way to end the day as we eventually went back to our boats for the night. I quickly drifted off to sleep with the strains of Zydeco music still in my head.
Traditionally, the Saturday during a Rendezvous is set aside to let people go off on their own and do their own thing for the day. This year, however, I wanted to offer something different by bringing sailors a couple of miles up the Connecticut River to motor through Selden Creek. Reminiscent of something one might find in the Everglades, the creek it is about two miles long and is visually stunning, and I knew it was a place others would enjoy.
The Mariner fleet left promptly at 9:00 am, but the wind was so light and the opposing current so strong that we motored up the river with sails furled. An hour later we reached the entrance to the creek and powered single file up the narrow channel, throttling down to about three knots to fully enjoy the two-mile excursion. Dense marshes lined the creek, with immense trees and imposing rocks towering over us. All sorts of waterfowl and other birds, including a bald eagle, watched curiously as thirteen Mariners slowly threaded their way through the narrows.
Once we reached Selden Cove at the north end and the small cut back out to the Connecticut River was in sight, sailors were on their own to either head back to Essex or continue sailing around the area. A campsite on the island with a small beach near the cove proved irresistible to five Mariners and their crews; they beached their boats alongside each other and had a fabulous time swimming.
Over the course of the afternoon, Mariner sailors returned and walked around the town. While the rest of the day was spent on our own, at 5:00 pm everyone returned to the docks for our “Open Boat” time where everyone got together to share snacks and check out each other’s boats for hints, tips and ideas. Coolers were pulled out of cabins, folding chairs and trays were set up, and an array of cheese platters and charcuterie boards were offered for people to sample. Sailors swarmed the docks sharing stories and taking pictures, and the sound of laughter echoed around the small basin.
In fact, a few well-dressed sailors from other, larger boats nearby, perhaps slightly envious of our humble, blue-collar Mariners, couldn’t help but step off their boats – quite literally coming down to our level – to timidly approach the docks to see if they could join in the camaraderie. I couldn’t help but smile when one sailor came up to me and enthusiastically exclaimed, “This is the best part of the Rendezvous!” After a group picture was taken in front of our boats, people split up once again to find dinner and eventually went to bed for the night.
When I awoke Sunday morning, I saw the marine forecast was predicting sustained winds of 15 knots gusting to 20 all day long. I met with the other skippers later on and suggested reefing early, and if conditions became intimidating for some folks, I encouraged them to take their sails down and use their motor. Safety is a priority for these events, and there’s no shame in resorting to the “iron wind” if skippers or crew feel more comfortable doing so. Lastly, I thanked everyone for coming to the event, and we returned to the docks to prepare for our departure. As I started tying in a reef in my mainsail I looked up to see almost everyone else doing the same. One at a time, outboards roared to life, docklines were cast off, and we said goodbye to Essex as we motored through the mooring field into the channel. There was enough wind to allow us to tilt up our motors and raise our sails, setting a course on a beam reach down the river.
The wind slackened as we passed Lord Cove and Goose Island, and I briefly entertained the thought of shaking the reef out of the mainsail. Once we approached Calves Island and came out of the lee of Ferry Point, however, the wind increased substantially and very quickly. Boats heeled over to their gunwales and accelerated through the water as we neared the lofty highway bridge, and I suddenly became very grateful my mainsail remained reefed.
With whitecaps on the water and the stiff wind now on our nose, we had to tack between the enormous bridge supports. This proved to be a bit of a challenge as the wind buffeted the supports, whipping around from all different directions, while the strong outgoing current threatened to push an unwary Mariner into one of the concrete foundations. We made it through – but not without a few close calls – and continued tacking down the river, sails flapping wildly through the tacks and our boats bucking up and down through the steep chop.
The Old Lyme railroad bridge was down, and as we zoomed back and forth waiting for it to open. Once through, we tacked a few more times as we made our way past the shores of Old Lyme to the east and Old Saybrook to the west. The sun was hot, but the breeze helped keep us comfortable. A few boats touched bottom with their centerboards during some particularly wide tacks outside the channel, but there were no serious incidents, and we continued sailing in lively conditions while avoiding powerboats plowing up the river toward the bridges.
Bearing a couple of points off to port just before the breakwaters, the wind came abeam of us and began to moderate. As we passed the mouth of the river, we turned even farther off the wind to head to Black Point, and the wind slackened considerably. Reefs were shaken out with the breeze now on our starboard quarter, and although the sea was very lumpy and the wind had become quite light, we made fine progress and arrived back in Niantic around 2:00 pm. It had been yet another incredibly successful event, and while I was sad it was over, I was grateful everybody had a good and safe time.
As always, I am incredibly thankful that so many people attended. Forty-one sailors and guests came from Connecticut, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and even Quebec. It has been a pleasure for me to organize these Rendezvous for thirteen years, and I cannot express enough how appreciative I am of the effort everyone makes to show up. It’s a lot of work to pack up a boat, haul it for sometimes many hours down the highway, rig it, and then have to reverse the whole process a few days later, many times fighting traffic and fatigue on the way back. But when we all get together the fellowship of kindred minds is something pretty exceptional, and I cannot wait to sail with the Mariner Rendezvous “family” again next year. ■
Nate Bayreuther has owned his 1970 O’Day Mariner Orion since 2007 and is currently the President of the Mariner Class Association. A professional organist and licensed captain, 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. Visit mariner1922.com for more about his Mariner and usmariner.org for the Mariner Class Association.