The Coast of Summer
The most relaxing summer reading I can think of is a book by Anthony Bailey called The Coast of Summer. This longtime New Yorker writer — an Englishman, no less –- brings me back to my New England youth with his tales of lazily sailing the waters of Long Island Sound, Block Island Sound and Buzzards Bay. On board the 27 foot Tartan sailboat that he called Lochinvar, Bailey, and his wife Margot, dip into small harbor towns along the southern Massachusetts coast, visiting Cape Cod, the Elizabeth Islands and Martha's Vineyard. The prose is wonderfully descriptive, and the mood he creates allows me, as reader, to feel the balmy sea breezes and remember the brilliant blue skies that are hallmarks of the area. Even if I’m stuck on the No. 6 train.
I think of this book now, as we settle into summer, because I visited Stonington. Connecticut last weekend. Bailey set sail from Stonington, the last seaside town before you cross into Rhode Island.
It's located on a quiet peninsula that juts into Long Island Sound, almost an island, removed enough from the past two centuries to have a Brigadoon-like feel.
In fact, the town is almost too perfect, with impeccably kept Greek Revival and Federal style homes. It's a place that has attracted writers as varied as the poet James Merrill, "Jaws" author Peter Benchley, and the garden writer Eleanor Perenyi. It is a walkers town, a village, but not a resort. There are a couple of restaurants, a boutique or two and the very charming and well-appointed Inn at Stonington, with rates from $190 in summer. The working part of town is just that, home to Connecticut's last commercial fishing fleet.
Though the light in the Stonington Lighthouse has been extinguished, the building is now a museum where visitors can climb up the tower. Walk to the tiny beach at Stonington Point and you can look across at Fishers Island. If the light is as perfect as it was last Sunday afternoon, you can see the faint blue outlines of both Block Island and Montauk, at the tip of Long Island.
Araminta, a 33 foot L. Francis Herreshoff ketch built in 1954. Courtesy Mystic Seaport.
If you have kids — even if you don't, in fact — head down the road a few miles to Mystic. There are a string of shops and restaurants and motels along Route 1 for diversions. But the real reasons to go are twofold: Mystic Aquarium and, better yet, Mystic Seaport. The latter can easily fill an entire day. It's a tasteful museum village of more than 60 buildings on a 17-acre peninsula in the Mystic River. I was struck by how non-commercial it was, how spectacular many of the boats were, and how engaging the living history lessons turned out to be, taught by eager — but not unbearably eager — docents.
Should you want commercial, the modern world, in the guise of Foxwoods Casino and Mohegan Sun, two enormously successful and ever-expanding Native American casino complexes, lie within a half hour's drive of Stonington. The beaches of Watch Hill, Rhode Island are 20 minutes away, though I like gazing at that town's classic shingle-style summer homes.
As for me, I'll take The Coast of Summer, something cold to drink and an Adirondack chair overlooking this still lovely stretch of the New England coast. With a promise of steamers or a lobster roll later in the day. For this New Englander, that's summer.