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    Sunday, November 27, 2022

    Poking into Stonington’s hidden coves

    The so-called “castle house,” a familiar sight for those driving along Palmer Neck Road toward Barn Island in Stonington, is visible from Wequetequock Cove. (Steve Fagin)
    Phil Plouffe, in the bow of a tandem kayak, paddles beneath a railroad bridge at the entrance to Quiambaug Cove in Stonington. (Steve Fagin)
    The north end of Wequetequock Cove pinches into a vine-choked stream as it passes beneath Greenhaven Road in Stonington. (Steve Fagin)

    Moments after kayaking beneath a bridge at the mouth of Stonington’s Quiambaug Cove the other day, Andy Lynn, Phil Plouffe and I encountered a great egret imperiously perched on a rock along the shore.

    We stopped paddling, but the current kept pulling us toward the snow-white, three-foot-tall bird. It stared at us, in no hurry to move, and I could see why: A school of bait fish, swept in by the tide, was jumping nearby. The egret wasn’t about to give up its place at the sushi bar.

    But by the time we began back-paddling, the three of us had unintentionally drifted to within 10 feet of the bird, at which point it sprang from the rock, flapped five-foot wings and flew off to find another fishing spot.

    “Sorry about that,” I called.

    “Never got that close to an egret,” Andy said. “Guess it’s not used to seeing a lot of people in such a quiet cove.”

    Southeastern Connecticut offers a multitude of kayaking destinations: Fishers Island and Long Island sounds, along with scores of rivers, streams, ponds and lakes. Often overlooked, though, are secluded coves along the shoreline from the Connecticut River to the Rhode Island border.

    There are so many choices, including Jordan and Goshen in Waterford; Alewife between Waterford and New London; and Baker, Mumford and Palmer in Groton.

    We arbitrarily decided to head farther east and explore Stonington’s coves. Happily for kayakers, railroad bridges near the mouths make these waters accessible only to small boats – no ferries, charter fishing boats or nuclear submarines to dodge.

    Andy, Phil and I launched on a warm, sunny morning from a public dinghy dock at Mystic River Park off Cottrell Street, just south of the downtown drawbridge. Phil and I paddled a 22-foot tandem while Andy soloed an 18-foot sea kayak; we switched places later so I could try his new boat.

    The Mystic River has long been a favorite place to paddle, with an interesting mix of vintage sailing vessels at Mystic Seaport Museum, luxury yachts, rowing shells and schooners. We steered east of Masons Island, cut between Andrews Island and Latimer Point, where about 20 cormorants milled around on a wooden raft, and ducked under a railroad bridge spanning the entrance to Quiambaug Cove.

    The only boats on the water, we passed Avalonia Land Conservancy’s Knox Preserve on the east shore, and then passed beneath the Route 1 bridge along a shore lined with trees, marshland and gracious homes.

    After our encounter with the great egret, we continued north until we reached where Copps Brook trickles into the cove. Time to turn around. By the time we paddled back to Mystic River Park, we had covered more than nine miles.

    A few days later, Andy, Phil and I launched at the Barn Island state boat ramp and began paddling west, taking advantage of the end of a flood tide.

    After rounding Randall Point, we steered north into Wequetequock Cove and passed beneath a railroad bridge. With 1,000-plus-acre Barn Island Wildlife Management Area to the east and 108-acre Saltwater Farm to the west, we enjoyed a largely undeveloped shoreline until we passed the Coveside Marina and several sprawling waterfront homes, including the so-called “castle house” that resembles a medieval fortress.

    The Groton and Stonington Street Railway built a casino not far from here in 1906 that hosted dance parties and other activities until it burned down in 1940 on the night of the Stonington junior prom.

    Ruth Buzzi, best known for her performances on the comedy-variety TV show “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” from 1968 to 1973, grew up on Wequetequock Cove; the family business, Buzzi Memorials, now under new ownership, still cuts custom gravestones.

    The cove narrows to only a few feet wide at the north end, where we ducked through vines dangling from a short footbridge and more hanging branches at a tunnel beneath Greenhaven Road. Here, Wequetequock Cove becomes Wequetequock Pond – end of the line.

    Reversing direction, we passed Goat Island and Elihu Island, where Peter Benchley wrote the novel “Jaws” in 1974, which had everyone terrified of sharks when it was made into a movie the following summer. The tide was too high for us to squeeze beneath the causeway leading to Elihu Island, so we scooted around the east shore and resumed paddling in Little Narragansett Bay, hugging the north shore of Sandy Point.

    After passing Stonington Point, the southern tip of the Borough, we passed swimmers at Dubois Beach, fishermen casting lines from the rocks, and a jetty protecting vessels at the Stonington Harbor Yacht Club. We steered around a fishing boat preparing to tie up at Stonington Town Dock and approached another railroad bridge.

    Had we passed beneath this bridge, we could have entered Lambert Cove, and then continued under the North Water Street Bridge into Quanaduck Cove. It was a hot day and the tide was about to turn. We already covered six miles and had three more miles to return to Barn Island. Exploring those coves could wait for another day.

    A brisk tailwind propelled us back to the boat launch. Another worthy voyage, we agreed.

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