Camping by Boat

I always loved the smell of the ocean. It’s not a simple odor, but one rife with salt, fish, rotting vegetation, minerals, and lord knows what all. Still, the smell of the ocean is a distinct thing and it smells more or less the same no matter what ocean. The Great Lakes are a total non-sequitor. I think if I spent any real time near them I’d go insane. Here’s all this water, replete with tidal movements, waves and weather but it doesn’t smell right. You can’t have that much water and have it not smell like the ocean. It’s just wrong.

But out on my Whaler and making way to the northeast along the Connecticut coast, no such conflict existed. Long Island Sound looked and smelled like the ocean and I was pleased as punch to be out there.  I was on one of my camping excursions and had rounded the point into the Thames River. The water, which had repetitious chop to it thanks to the wind coming straight at my bow, mellowed out as I rode the brackish water up towards Groton to the Naval Base there.  Groton was pretty much a Navy town at the time, but while there was tight security, the country wasn’t aflame with the paranoia that spawned Homeland Security. As long as you kept a respectful distance from the vessels, sightseers like me rated a friendly wave or occasional salute. There were areas marked as restricted and everyone respected the boundaries as far as I knew.

A few times as I made forays up to Groton I had a navy launch hail me to heave to. I would, immediately, and each time was a friendly inquiry about my business and often a number of suggestions about things I might find interesting. Today was one of those days when I was asked to stop and I wound up getting a tour of a submarine out of it. The sub was the Triton and I got the tour because my uncle had been her namesake’s commanding officer and won the Distinguished Service Cross as her captain.  This was a newer Triton but still a thrill to be able to see up close. My tour was short, I was allowed to enter through a deck hatch (not through the dorsal) and got to see the wardroom, the command stations and crew bunking areas. Man, those guys were packed in like sardines with only about three feet between the bunks. I was hustled back off the ship quickly, my tour lasting about fifteen minutes. Still, it was quite a privilege for me to be treated that well. When I hopped back into my Whaler, which was tied to a pier about 300 yards away from the Triton, I was escorted by launch a full half mile down river before the launch peeled away and returned to its schedule.

I learned quite a bit in my few minutes. I learned that the Navy had three different boats registered as the Triton. The submarine, a tug boat and a service boat all bore the moniker. The original Triton, which my uncle served on, was lost in April of 1943, My uncle was not her captain at the time, but had been reassigned and promoted for multiple gallant and heroic acts.

Admiral Charles C. Kirkpatrick Watching GameAs I steered my little Whaler for the coast to turn back towards home, I felt a sense of pride and my imagination worked overtime putting imagery to the many stories passed through the family or told by family friends. The navy is a family of sorts, and my uncle was friends with a number of naval officers who achieved note in one way or another. I got to meet Roger Staubach as he was the quarterback for the navy’s football team, meeting him after the navy beat army by six points. In the photo, that’s my uncle Charlie rooting on navy as he sat beside then Senator Jack Kennedy.

It wasn’t difficult to ply out adventures on the seas, using my Boston Whaler as a vehicle to sail me lands away.  I set off Ocean Beach Park to spend the night, close enough that if a squall erupted I could get into the lee of the coast easily to ride it out. The day faded to darkness and the stars came out and I fell asleep listening to a dance band playing some event on the shore.

I woke up around 6 in the morning and set course for home, only two stops for gasoline away.