We left Stamford around 6:30am, as planned, for a cruise to Westbrook, CT. We had hoped to leave a bit later, but the forecast for the day was southwest winds 5-10 kts, increasing to 10-15 kts with 20 kt gusts and seas 1 ft, increasing to 2 ft in the afternoon. We knew it would take us about 6 hours to get to Westbrook, CT, our next destination, so we decided to go with the early departure to avoid the high winds and potential thunderstorms in the afternoon.
The seas and winds were behind us during the entire cruise, and we arrived in Westbrook around 12:30pm without incident. We saw very few lobster pots, always a good thing, and only had to dodge one ferry. The seas and winds remained calm, so all in all, it was a very pleasant cruise. Leaving early, although painful, was the right decision.
We docked at the Brewer’s Pilots Point Marina, which we had never been to before. It was excellent. There was plenty of deep water on the approach and at the dock. Well, except for a shoal that extended out from a beach directly across from our slip. The shoal made for a somewhat tricky docking situation, but Jim guided us past the shoal and into the slip without any trouble. Apart from the shoal, the marina had well maintained floating docks, a restaurant, club house and pool on site, and a knowledgeable and friendly staff. We’ll definitely come back.
Once docked, we started on our usual boat chores, rinsing the boat, chamoising the teak and bright work, tidying the helm, washing dishes, etc. We also attended to some emails and financial stuff. Once that was out of the way we contacted Anne, my college roommate, who summers with her husband in Old Saybrook, a mere 15 minutes east of Westbrook. They swung by the marina and picked us up for day and a half stay at their cottage, which is less than a block from the beach. Perfect!
We settled in and caught up on each other’s news since our last get together. The afternoon was getting a bit overcast and windy, but we took advantage of the breeze by repairing to their second story balcony for drinks and cheese and crackers. It was delightfully cool up there, but as we were nearing 5:30pm, I could see the sky darkening to the west and a line of thunderstorms, which was quite visible, moving east. We sensibly decided to move cocktail hour indoors. Although the sky and wind suggested a major storm, the reality was much tamer. The storm blew through in about a half hour and dropped a minor amount of rain, not enough to interfere with our dinner of grilled jumbo shrimp, corn and tomato pasta salad, grilled swordfish and cherry clafouti. Delicious!
The next day Anne suggested we visit the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, which is just across the Connecticut River from Old Saybrook. Our brief storm from the previous day had ushered in a beautiful summer day. The sun was out, the temperature was in the low 80s and the humidity was low. We couldn’t have ordered a better day if we had tried. The trip to Old Lyme was an excellent activity because the museum is situated on a beautiful location, surrounded by gardens and backing up to the Lieutenant River, a tributary of the Connecticut.
The Florence Griswold Museum is said to be the home of American Impressionism. Florence Griswold was the youngest daughter of a sea captain who built a well-appointed home in Old Lyme for his family. By the late 1890s, Florence, who by then was about 50, unmarried and childless, had lost her parents and older sisters. Although once prosperous, her family had encountered financial difficulties after her father died, and by the time Florence had lost the remaining members of her family, she needed money to make ends meet. She decided to convert her home to a boarding house. In the summer of 1899, Henry Ward Ranger, an American artist, visited Old Lyme. He was looking for a place to establish an artist’s colony and found it in Florence’s family home. From then until about the early 1930s, Florence Griswold’s home became a summer retreat for many American artists who were important in bringing Impressionism to U.S. shores.
One of the things that so attracted Ranger to Florence’s home was her gardens, which at the time were in disarray, but clearly had been an important aspect of the home. Over the years, Florence worked on the gardens and they featured prominently in the plein air work of many of the artists. The museum restored many of the gardens, which are today impeccably maintained and lush with a wide variety of flowers, vegetables and herbs.
The museum consists of a modern structure that houses much of the artwork, a café, and the original home. We toured the modern structure and were treated to a wide variety of paintings and sculptures by numerous artists who were residents of the artist’s colony. Most of the work would fall into the American Impressionist category, but not all of it. We took our time wandering through the rooms and learning about the individual artists.
We then toured the Florence Griswold House, which was built in 1817 in the Late Georgian style. The house is furnished as it would have appeared in about 1920, with some of the original pieces that Florence and her borders used. The bottom and second floors of the home contain many more paintings by the colony artists, but the really fascinating thing about the home is the painted panels. The artists decided to paint the inset panels on the doors and walls of the home. This took place over a number of years, and the artists decided among themselves who would paint what. Some of the panels, especially in the dining room, were collaborations by two or more artists. These panels are stunning, mostly landscapes of scenes at the colony, in Old Lyme and elsewhere. Any one of them would be a beautiful painting if framed, yet they grace the interior of the home in a surprising and original way. There was much to see and appreciate at this small museum, but the panels were the highlight.
After touring the house we wandered to the waterfront. It was easy to see why this location was a favorite subject of many of the artists who came here. The Lieutenant River is a small, winding body of water lined with marshy wetlands and overhanging trees. It was fun to imagine that it looked much the same today as it did back in the early 20th century.
We returned to Anne’s and Henry’s cottage for lunch, and then Henry shuttled us back to the boat. We would be leaving the following morning and needed to do an engine check, review our route, check the weather and then get ready for the evening. We had invited Anne, Henry and Ellen, another college friend of mine who was coming to visit Anne that afternoon, for cocktails on the boat before we all had dinner at Café Routier in Westbrook.
The weather, although breezy, was beautiful. We opened up the flybridge and moved us up there for cocktail hour once everyone arrived. I hadn’t seen Ellen in many years, and it was so much fun to catch up with her. Our only regret was that her husband, whom we have never met, was unable to come. That pesky thing called work got in the way. But we will make sure there is a next time and that her husband can be with us.
It was a short drive to the restaurant, which served, as the name implies, French inspired food. And it was delicious. I had a pan seared trout with Lyonnaise potatoes. Jim and Henry had miso ginger-glazed duck and Anne and Ellen had pan seared scallops. All the dishes were very tasty and well-prepared. But the most enjoyable part of the evening was sharing good food and excellent wine with old friends.
Tomorrow we head to Newport.