The liveaboard life, Old Lyme

Infinite Improbability, the author’s home, on her summer mooring at the south end of Calves Island. Photo by Mike Camarata.

June 2021

By Michael Camarata
For Points East

My wife Carol and I have been living aboard our 44-foot catamaran, Infinite Improbability, full-time for more than a decade. Part-time before that. Our boats have been based in Mystic, Conn., since the mid-2000s, and we travel south with this boat each year. We’ve completed 10 round trips to southern Florida (and beyond) and back.

As snowbirds, we’re working on trip No. 11 for 2020 into 2021. This means our home is mobile. Very mobile. Constantly mobile, in fact.

For a number of reasons, we decided to mobilize our home to a new location in Connecticut for the summer season of 2020. We were lucky to find a mooring at a marina just north of the I-95 Baldwin Bridge in Old Lyme, Conn. We are now on the eastern shore of the Connecticut River, just south of Calves Island. As with any new situation, we had a few concerns. Would we have too many river wakes? Would there be too much traffic noise from the highway? What about summer storms or other serious weather? How about insects from the wetlands on the island?

And would we develop a positive relationship with the marina management? The marina was not used to full-time liveaboards, and 2020 was the first, and hopefully last, season of COVID-19. A lot of unknowns for seniors set in their ways.

Wait, you say: How could people living an adventure aboard a boat 24/7, and traveling a few thousand miles on the boat each year, not like unknowns? Well, we don’t consider how we live to be an adventure. No more than any life is an adventure. Anyway, I am fond of quoting Bilbo Baggins: “We are plain, quiet folk, and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner. I can’t think what anybody sees in them.”

Our life is not an adventure. It’s just our life. You read about adventures in books; I just tell stories. Badly.

So, with the unknowns about life on the river, how did it go? In a word or two, just fine. First of all, it is very beautiful there. Lots of birdlife is always around us. Several osprey nests are on Calves Island. There are too many turkey vultures (buzzards) to count, and we do not know enough about birds to get into the swallows and starlings. We know the egrets and herons, and see plenty of those. Then there are the uncountable LBJs – Little Brown Jobs – which are the small feathered friends we non-birders just lump together.

An interesting fact about the buzzards living close to us on the river: They arrive in the Florida Keys on their annual migration about the same time that we do. I wonder if some individual birds are with us in both locations. No way to tell. They are not saying.

We know as little about the fish life beneath the surface as we know about the birds. Maybe less. We see the bunker (menhaden), and the blues and stripers feasting on them, but that’s about the depth of our knowledge. Between the bridges and along the west side of Calves Island, we see a lot of boats with fishermen aboard. A lot of these. And we figure there are likely lots of fish. Sometimes I surprise myself with my deductive brilliance.

We do know a little more about the rest of nature around us: the weather. It’s around us. We’re in it. Always. We were concerned about possible weather issues when choosing this marina location. We have exposure to the northwest and to the southwest. Due west is the western shore of the river, so there is not quite the fetch. In case of really severe weather, we have a nearby place to run to: Hamburg Cove.

Hamburg Cove is about four miles north of us; about a mile and a half north of Essex. It is a landlocked cove that is totally filled with moorings. Totally. No room to anchor. There is a small marina up the Eightmile River, but it takes a bit of skill to get there. It has a good reputation, but it doesn’t cater to transients much.

Fortunately, a very long tradition in Hamburg Cove is to pick up a private mooring for the night. Should the owner come along, there will not be an issue; you will just be asked to move. And you will. It’s just polite. This is unlikely to happen during a weekday, but it can. The weekends in the busy part of the summer season can get very crowded. Many boats will be on someone else’s mooring, but you never know.

The other interesting Hamburg phenomenon is that people there have other docking or mooring spots for their boats and do not hang out in Hamburg Cove when the weather is bad. They stay at their primary docking/mooring locations. Only a few of the moorings have boats on them most of the time. This means that early or late in the season, or during bad weather, plenty of moorings should be available to borrow. That’s where we come in.

If it is going to be bad at our mooring in Old Lyme, we can run up to Hamburg Cove in Lyme. We did that once in June for a strong cold front with thunderstorms, and once for Hurricane Isaias. We sat out Hurricane Irene there in 2011. The cove has hills around it, with tall trees on those hills. We can tell if the storm is bad when the power goes out in the expensive homes surrounding the cove. Otherwise, we can’t always tell how bad it is.

By the way, I mentioned Hamburg Cove is in Lyme. The village of Hamburg is part of the Town of Lyme. So is Old Lyme. There is also East Lyme. Confused? Me, too. I do not pretend to know the political divisions, or which part is a subset of which town. All I know is that there is no New Lyme – or Lyme-ade.

So what it is like living on the Connecticut River? There is beauty; there are downsides. There are risks; there are rewards. They are all part of our living on the river. We have a little too much highway noise, and there are occasional violations of the no-wake zones, but all-in-all we are happy with our move.

If you do not plan to live on the river, or anywhere else, on your boat, you can still visit the area. It’s a nice place to cruise to. You can start with internet research, but I always recommend printed guides because you can flip through the pages easily. I know, I’m admitting to being old. There are two major guides. My favorite author (that would be me) contributes to the better of the guides. Of course, that is subjective and, perhaps, even biased. Perhaps.

Approaching the Connecticut River from Long Island Sound is pretty straightforward. The breakwater entrance is a little narrow, but, since commercial traffic is rare, it is not too tricky if you are alert. It can get choppy, and the current can move you around unexpectedly. Mixed boat speeds and operator skills in a narrow area can be a worry, but it is only on weekends, or with weather issues, that this really becomes a concern. Also, this is just a short section.

Two lighthouses mark the entrance. The outer light (Saybrook Breakwater Light) comes first. Note: Sometimes, from a distance, it looks you should be heading for the inner Lynde Point Light. Don’t! That would be bad. You may see some boats heading in or out, not following the breakwater channel. Do not follow them. Their skippers may have hundreds of passes through the area. After the entrance, the channel is well marked, if not straight. The curves are wide and gentle, but, unless you have a very shoal draft, you must not stray.

You can choose from two high-end marinas in Old Saybrook, or you could head into North Cove, just north of Saybrook Point, and borrow a mooring in there. The locals leave a yellow tag or streamer on their moorings to let you know they are away and their moorings are free to borrow for the short-term. Be courteous and respectful of their property.

Next to come is the bascule railroad bridge that is more than 150 years old. Although it is not their official name, they respond to Old Lyme Draw on VHF Channel 13. Openings are on request – if there is no train traffic. There will be traffic. A lot of it. Be patient. The next bridge, the Baldwin Bridge, carries I-95 road traffic but has at least 81 feet of air clearance, so no issues there for most of us. Between the bridges is a busy launch ramp as well as a couple of marina options.

After the Route 95 bridge, there are marina choices on both sides of the river, including the one I am at. From there, it is several beautiful miles to Essex, perhaps the gem of the Connecticut River. This historic town has transient moorings and slips at several marinas for vessels of all sizes and lifestyles. Do not miss the Connecticut River Museum. A nice anchorage is across the river at Nott Island.

As beautiful as your cruise has been so far, the river is even more so as you go farther north. About a mile or so after Essex is Eightmile River, which leads into Hamburg Cove. On a busy summer weekend, the beauty here may be obscured by crowds and party noise, but it is worth the trip, especially during the week. Keep an eye out for bald eagles and ospreys.

Some marinas are on the west shore, in the Chester area, just upriver from Deep River, and you can stop at one of these to arrange transportation to Gillette Castle, which you may have seen high above you, on the hills on the east side. It’s an amazing sight.

We’re going to end this cruise at East Haddam, which has marinas to stop at overnight, as well as day tie-ups to go to the Goodspeed Opera House. The river doesn’t end here; its source is near the Canadian border in New Hampshire. So you can continue your cruise to Portland or Middletown, or even to Hartford if you choose. Plenty of boating is available in those areas, but not too many cruisers go that far up the river. The urban areas are not particularly attractive, but the ride up to them is beautiful, if slightly challenging.

So come visit me on the river, even if you are not a full-time liveaboard. Enjoy a beauty that is unique among United States rivers. Oh, and when I say come visit me, I don’t mean come knock on my hull. Just wave as you go by.

Michael Camarata and his wife and co-captain Carol Zipke are full-time liveaboard cruisers, mostly snowbirds, whose home is the 44-foot catamaran, Infinite Improbability. They have been boating for close to 40 years, and, Mike says, “No longer do we own any dirt-based property.” They are both Senior Navigators and Past Commanders of the Waterbury (Conn.) Power Squadron of the USPS. Mike is also one of Waterway Guide’s (Northern Edition) Cruising Editors.