Connecticut Waters

Connecticut Waters
Review by Wick Griswold

To those fond of the aqueous parts of the Constitution State, Connecticut Waters is a deep treat for the eyes and mind. The dazzling clarity of Caryn B. Davis’s photography and Eric D. Lehman’s insightful prose, create a vivid panorama of the state’s fresh and saltwater places, people, and things. The book weaves images and stories of maritime and riverine locations and activities that reflect and enlighten life on and by the water in the third decade of the twenty first century. It details Long Island Sound, the Mystic River, lakes, ponds, and streams in its 225 pages. Of course, the state’s premier watercourse, the Connecticut River, features prominently throughout its pictures and narrative.

Davis and Lehman artfully capture the spirit of the Mighty Connecticut. Their work weaves a tapestry of visual impressions and wise words. Their river tales begin with “Vintage Treasures,” the annual display of old-time boats at the Connecticut River Museum. The event is sponsored by the Antique and Classic Boat Society. According to the author, “It is more than an exercise in nostalgia…it is about our human love for life on the water, a love that never seems to die.” The text also pays homage to Valentine, the 1928 50' Elko cruiser that graces the lower river every summer with her elegant lines and a dinghy named Cupid.

Working boats on the Connecticut are also honored in photographs and words. Dan Russel’s Rocky Hill-based shad fishing operation is shown both on the water and at the boning table, where the delicious shad filets (called “sides” on the Connecticut) are separated from the 1,500 or so bones that prompted the river’s Indigenous People to designate them “inside out porcupines.” Tour boats such as the Connecticut River Museum’s replica of Adriaen Block’s Onrust, Captain Mark Yuknat’s vessels RiverQuest and Adventure, and the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat are highlighted. The two historic ferries—the tug Hollister and the barge Cumberland at Rocky Hill and the 9-car carrying Selden III at Chester, that still cross dutifully from side to side—are also showcased.

Some of the iconic buildings that give river towns character can be found on the pages of Connecticut Waters. The venerable Haddam Shad Shack is there, and that town’s seasonal Shad Museum, as well. The photographs articulate the maritime aesthetic of the Griswold Inn with its world-class collection of steamboat art displayed in its 18th century taproom. Maggie P, the houseboat that washed up on Fenwick at the turn of the 20th century and is now a most quaint cottage, is shown in contrast with the nautical elegance of Sally and George Mayer’s Essex boat-themed home. The Blue Oar sits at riverside inviting boaters and food lovers to enjoy a feast by the water.

The people who call the river home and who follow its currents out to the oceans of the world are integral parts of the book. Fishermen, artists, sailmakers, writers, drifters, boatbuilders, ship model makers, blacksmiths, America’s Cup winners, fife and drummers, innkeepers, shad bakers, shantymen, campers, shellfish harvesters, explorers, chefs, revelers, students, and more grace its pages as they earn their living, or just enjoy some relaxation in relationship with water. The ritual celebrations that bring people to the river each year, such as Essex’s “Burning of the Ships” parade and its Lion’s Club Annual Shad Bake delineate ways in which people can turn the river into meaningful fun.

The book ultimately takes us out the mouth of the river past the Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse and up and down Long Island and Fishers Island Sounds. Many of the state’s other lighthouses can be found in its pages: Stonington Harbor Light, Race Rock Light Station, New London Ledge Light, among several others, are beautifully presented. Mystic Seaport and the Charles W. Morgan are noted for their special place in Connecticut’s maritime history. Restaurants, snack shacks, festivals, and fun-in-the sun are pictured. Some of our most cherished “Salty Dogs”—renowned watermen such as Bob Ballard, Stephen Jones, Tom Whidden, David Hays, and Arthur Medeiros—are rightly recognized and profiled.

Connecticut Waters is about the all-important relationship between people and place. It shows us how rivers, lakes, streams, and salt water shape our personal, social, and cultural identities. It reinforces the idea that water is life. This book should grace coffee tables; and it should occupy pride of place on the shelves of many boats sailing and motoring up and down the state’s rivers and sounds. There is much to be enjoyed and reflected upon here, both for the casual reader and those intimately familiar with the subject matter. It will truly provide a bon voyage that will spark memories and enhance imaginations. As Eric Lehman says in his conclusion, it allows us to “dream the dreams of Connecticut’s life-giving waters.”

Connecticut Waters: Celebrating Our Coastline & Waterways was published April 9, 2021, by Globe Pequot, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.

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