Insider’s View: Visiting Mystic Seaport By Water

There are few family boating experiences that capture the imagination and engage the body and mind as does an overnight visit to Mystic Seaport. We’ve had the good fortune to cruise with our boys, on our J-40, since they were very young, and the museum has always been a favorite.

The excitement starts on the approach, heading up the river through downtown Mystic. There are lots of unique boats to admire along the way. It’s fun to wonder aloud about each of them, and to discuss their aesthetics, design, age, and required upkeep. And then there are the bridges! The magic river gates that open for those lucky enough to travel by water. First, a railroad bridge rotates (on command of the operator) to allow passage. Then, a highway bridge lifts like an enormous tamed animal, raising its paws and sitting back on its haunches, as you motor by to a peaceful step back in time. In minutes you are a time traveler, a fiberglass creature amidst wooden vessels that whisper of adventure, excitement, and stories you can only imagine.

Your arrival at the North Dock is met by friendly staff. They help with your tie up and welcome you to Mystic Seaport for a hands-on, close-up view of life and work aboard these storied vessels. (Even better, all card-carrying Brewer Yacht Yard members get a discount on dockage.) This is the marine equivalent of stepping through a looking glass. Suddenly, you are in the middle of Nineteenth-century coastal life. For the details on the docks, including contact information to reserve a spot, click here to download Mystic Seaport’s guide to visiting by water.

Indoor exhibits provide shade and air conditioning on hot days, while you view figureheads, a planetarium show, an historic art collection, and a bevy of small watercraft and engines, among numerous other treasures. The discoveries are endless. There’s truly something for everyone! Outdoor exhibits offer live demonstrations of required crew skills, fun plays and readings, and horse drawn wagon rides. A blacksmith shop, clock shop, and rope making exhibit are also sure to capture your attention, but the shipyard is one area not to miss!

At the south end of Mystic Seaport, the shipyard is busy with a restoration project. Here you’ll see incredibly large tree trunks, wood planks, and all the tools being used for the extensive, five-year restoration of the Charles W. Morgan. Built in 1841, this is the last remaining wooden whaling ship. She came to Mystic Seaport in 1941 and, until recently, visitors have only seen her in the water, alongside the wharf. Now she towers majestically over the yard (nearly three stories high) awaiting her expected launch on July 21, 2013. Until then, at a length of 113 feet and a beam of nearly 28 feet, the Charles W. Morgan is a sight to behold! All museum visitors are permitted to tour the shipyard area and are invited to watch the shipwrights at work. It’s marvelous to smell the sawdust and hear the planks being hammered into place.

When visiting Mystic Seaport by water, you’ll also enjoy special access to the museum campus. Not only are entrance fees for everyone on board covered by your dockage fee, but when the gates close for the day and the other visitors and staff go home, you are still there! From your own vessel, you are free to walk the town green of the restored whaling village, peer in shop and store windows, and extend your visit to the mid-1800s, as if living in a magical place and time, even if only for an overnight.

While adults always appreciate the 21st century conveniences of showers, laundry, and onsite and local restaurants, it is the child’s imagination that owns the overnight stay at Mystic Seaport.

— Lynn Oliver, Brewer Yacht Yard Member, s/v Covenant