A river runs through it

A bird’s-eye view of Essex Harbor. It’s amazing how different a familiar stretch of water looks from the air. Photo courtesy marinas.com

June 2021

By Bob Muggleston

Last Friday, anticipating the weekend’s Connecticut Spring Boat Show at Essex Island Marina in Essex, Connecticut, a local news station flew a drone over Essex Harbor during their morning broadcast. Now, I’ve seen overhead shots of the area before – check out Jerry Roberts’ fine “The Connecticut River from the Air: An Intimate Perspective of New England’s Historic Waterway” for a comprehensive treatment – but the TV footage that morning stopped me in my tracks. The drone was more or less hovering over Nott Island, and before it was Essex Harbor and its charming waterfront. I was, to put it mildly, transfixed.

I know I’m not the only one who attaches sentimental value to a beloved waterway. And why shouldn’t I? So many hours on the Connecticut River on so many different kinds of vessels, the prime directive always being as long as it floats.

A few of my “greatest hits” within VHF hailing distance of Essex: To the north of the drone shots Pettipaug Sailing Academy (PSA), where long ago a battered fleet of Blue Jays kindled a lifetime obsession with sailing; further north the entrance to Selden Creek, the domain of bald eagles, great blue herons, egrets and kingfishers (and where one half-expects to bump into the steam launch African Queen); across from PSA, Hamburg Cove, which is about as good a place as any to overnight or kill a summer afternoon with the kids swimming; just south of Essex Harbor the old submerged fishing piers built by early inhabitants of the area, many of which I’ve “discovered” for myself; and finally the harbor itself and the many stripers, blues, river cats and blue crabs caught, the south end of the mooring field being where my 1966 Pearson Commander, Good Buddy, lived for a short and glorious time.

The drone shots also trigger some “deep thoughts.” I’ve done a bit of research over the years, and in black-and-white photos of Essex the landscape is devoid of trees – stone walls and open fields are the dominant features – and the waterfront itself is unrecognizable. Paintings depict an even stranger reality: There was once an incredible amount of shipbuilding that took place in Essex, much of it in coves that today are navigable only by kayak. During the War of 1812 the British sent six boats of marines to deliver a clear “message” to the industrious residents of Essex (then known as Potopaug). Twenty-eight ships were burned to the waterline while delivering it.

Why such a deep dive from watching some silly drone footage?

Call me sentimental. This is my last issue as the editor of this magazine. Rivers don’t change much, but life certainly does; I’ve been offered the helm of a different “ship.” While preparing to write this, and wishing not to be overly maudlin, I stumbled across the sentiments expressed by former Points East columnist Tom Snyder on his way out: “Finally, the real coup de bonus would be to discover a counter-culture magazine like Points East that prides itself on not being mainstream, a magazine that is loyal and generous to the friendly community it serves, and a magazine that would allow a screw-up like me to make potshots from the only partially informed sidelines. That would be heaven.” I wish I’d written this myself, of course, but would replace the words “potshots” with “observations,” and “sidelines” with “helm.” I’d also like to add that if any issues of the magazine were exceptional during my reign, it was because of the amazing cast of characters around me who in lieu of monetary gain wanted to contribute to a good cause. And, make no mistake, Points East is a good cause. The best of causes.

Taking my place is one Ali Wisch. Ali lives aboard a 1981 Catalina 30 in Boston Harbor, and magazine- and writing-wise she has plenty of experience, having been managing editor at “SAIL” magazine for a few years and also having had gigs with “Sports Illustrated” and “The Huffington Post.” She’s lived aboard and restored a bunch of boats, and has a boat-maintenance business. In short: She’s way more qualified for this job than I ever was. I bet she has great stories, too. I know you’ll welcome her into the family.

Thank-you, Points East.

It sure has been fun.