My interest in the nautical began in early childhood with a reading of Men, Ships, and the Sea. I built a lot of ship models in those years. In 1968, my family took a vacation trip to the east coast, and one of the stops was Mystic. I don't remember much about the trip, which is to be expected because I was only eight at the time. (though I was surprised to recognize the parking lot when I got there this time-go figure) Now, as then, my sole reason for being there was the Seaport and Museum. I could only spare a day this time, so I was restricted to the more public aspects of the place. Had I a week to spare, the "backstage"-not on display collections- is where I'd be. Even so, for a "history theme park", Mystic is a cut above in my estimation.
The most obvious difference is that Mystic lacks the feel of something "encased in Lucite". By comparison, Detroit's Greenfield Village feels more like a Disney theme park. Sure, there is stuff going on, but it all feels like actors on a stage with any real work being done behind the scenes. Wandering through the boatyard at Mystic, I had to step around piles of cedar and live oak that were actually going to be made into boats-not just set dressing. (I also wondered if anyone would notice if I just backed my truck up to one of those piles)
I concentrated on the boatshed, the boatyard, and the construction details on the small boats. Of course I also went aboard the tall ships, but in light of my ongoing small boat project they were of less immediate interest. It was a lot more important to me that I spent time with the boats on the waterfront than in the buildings. I had the good fortune to catch the tail end of the 75th anniversary Sparkman and Stephens get-together. Among other things this meant that Brilliant was in port.
Two of the buildings-more correctly their contents-stood out on this trip. The ropewalk exhibit made me appreciate easily available high-quality rope. For the first time I understood the magnitude of such an undertaking in the earliest part of the industrial age. A thousand foot plus long building put up by hand is pretty impressive. (though Mystic only has 250 feet of it) The sail loft was particularly appealing. Though it was a weekend, there were clear signs of recent use and a sail in progress laid out on the floor. I wouldn't mind having this as a place to work.
Finally, the river was full of small boats-rentals and sailing classes, and boats being sailed by the staff. I got a lovely ride on the Breck Marshall, a 20 foot Crosby Catboat built in 1988. That may have been the best $4.50 I ever spent.
For a lot more information, visit the Mystic Seaport website.
Some More photographs.
Some Construction details.
Some Where is Mystic located?.
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008