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    Friday, July 19, 2024

    Lighthouses galore at the Tuesday Night Paddlers

    Avery Point Lighthouse in Groton was built in 1943 but not lit until 1944 because of concerns over an enemy invasion during World War II. (Steve Fagin)
    The three-story, granite and brick New London Ledge Lighthouse was built in 1909. It was originally called Southwest Ledge Lighthouse, but the name was changed a year later to avoid confusion with a lighthouse of that name in New Haven. (Steve Fagin)

    “Hey, Ernie! You in there?” Bob Ten Eyck called from his kayak.

    No reply – not surprising, considering “Ernie” is a ghost said to haunt New London Ledge Lighthouse.

    Bob and about a dozen other paddlers were bobbing around early Tuesday evening just below the 58-foot -tall structure at the mouth of the Thames River.

    Only a few minutes earlier, the informal group known as the Tuesday Night Paddlers had kayaked past 55-foot Avery Point Lighthouse in Groton. In addition, 89-foot New London Harbor Lighthouse could be seen across the Thames River. And had paddlers ventured farther south, they could have spotted lighthouses at Race Rock off Fishers Island and on Little Gull Island.

    For some 30 years during boating season, the Tuesday Night Paddlers (TNP) have been savoring such appealing sights along southeastern Connecticut’s coast.

    Originally affiliated loosely with the now defunct Connecticut Sea Kayakers club, TNP now operates through Meetup, a free website that bills itself as “the people platform – where interests become friendships.”

    On any given week, 10 to 20 kayakers typically show up to paddle distances that usually extend for five or six miles. Although there are no rules to participate, nearly everyone has offshore experience and paddles a sea kayak that measures 15- to 18-feet long.

    “That’s not saying we would kick out anyone who showed up in a (short) rec boat,” said kayak designer-builder Nick Schade of Groton, one of the region’s most skilled paddlers who has been with TNP for about 20 years. But those who join TNP outings should be equipped with the proper gear, and be capable of handling occasionally challenging conditions, he added.

    Ideally, TNP outings should serve as an opportunity for paddlers to learn and improve skills, and to socialize with other kayakers, Nick said.

    Last week, for the first paddle of the 2024 season, only four kayakers ventured out into rough seas and nearly 20 mph winds off Esker Point in Noank. This week, the larger group that set out from the Bayberry Lane launch in Groton enjoyed near-perfect conditions: a light breeze, clear skies, calm seas and balmy temperatures.

    As is usually the case, the route was decided more or less spontaneously, with paddlers sticking together and watching out for power boats. This early in the season, they had the water to themselves, but later in summer, Fishers Island and Long Island sounds get busy with powerboats, fishing boats, sailboats, ferries and even, on occasion, a submarine.

    Ages on Tuesday ranged from 20s to 70s, with one exception: 16-year-old Samantha Stacy of Ledyard, who began kayaking with TNP four years ago, with the support of her parents and encouragement from her neighbor, veteran paddler Carl Tjerandsen.

    “I was pretty scared,” Samantha recalled of her first outing.

    But with “Mr. Carl’s” oversight, as well as a lesson (and a gifted kayak) from expert Mark Starr, Samantha has developed into a seasoned kayaker who easily kept up with the rest of the group. She now hopes to encourage high school classmates to take up kayaking.

    Her assessment of the sport: “It’s great!”

    In previous years, Nick and Elyse Landesberg would plan the trips, which frequently launch from such popular sites as Barn Island and the Small Boat Association in Stonington; Esker Point; and Four Mile River and Great Island in Old Lyme. Bill Wright, who is coordinating this year’s schedule, said he is keeping these favorite locations, “but I’m adding some new places,” including Long Cove on the Thames River in Gales Ferry May 21.

    For a schedule of upcoming paddles, visit meetup.com/tuesday-night-paddle/events/

    On-the-water launch time is 5:30 p.m. There is no charge. Paddlers may bring food for a post-paddle potluck picnic.

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