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    Saturday, July 20, 2024

    For Stonington yacht club kayakers, paddling is only half the fun

    Kayakers with the Stonington Harbor Yacht Club gather beneath a whimsical statue in Collins Cove. (Steve Fagin)
    The sun sets over Stonington Harbor during a post-paddle party. (Steve Fagin)

    A gusty breeze roiled Stonington Harbor the other afternoon, as a pod of a dozen kayakers steered north through a maze of moored sailboats, while watching out for commercial fishing boats motoring back to Town Dock with their day’s catch.

    Gulls swooped and cried as the group crossed from the borough to Wamphassuc Neck, ducked beneath a railroad bridge just after Amtrak’s Acela Express whooshed by, and entered serene Lamberts Cove.

    “Nice day for a paddle,” remarked Cindy Oksanen, kayaking next to me.

    “Always a nice day for a paddle,” I replied.

    Cindy had invited me to join Stonington Harbor Yacht Club kayakers on one of their every-other-Monday excursions. I was curious about the itinerary, which called for an “annual visit to Marilyn Monroe in Collins Cove,” but when I asked other paddlers what that meant, was only told, “You’ll see.”

    By the way, most participants regard the kayaking segment of these biweekly voyages as a short prelude to the main attraction, the post-paddle potluck party, which I’ll describe shortly.

    Anyway, we squeezed through a narrow cut at the northwest end of Lambert Cove into Collins Cove, and drifted up to a pier. We were about to meet Marilyn.

    Marilyn, it turns out, is part of a campy, larger-than-life sculpture depicting a man and woman fishing from the pier. The male figure is a Chef Boyardee look-alike, while the female figure, posed in a crimson cocktail dress and matching sandals, bears a passing resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, complete with blonde tresses and curves.

    While we floated beneath the sculpture, a real-life, bearded man bounded over on the pier.

    “I’ll take your picture!” he called, reaching for one of the paddler’s phones.

    This was Stan Cardinal, who founded Cardinal Honda in Groton in 1990 and lives in Stonington. He also owns Cardinal Cove Marina, where Marilyn and the chef permanently hold faux fishing poles.

    “I bought the statue years ago from a restaurant on the Connecticut River in Middletown,” he told me. Stan said he now leaves the day-to-day management of the car dealership to his daughter, Kim, and spends much of his time running Cardinal Cove Marina.

    After a short visit, we left Stan, Marilyn and the chef, and paddled a mile-and-a-half back to the yacht club. The 45-minute paddle over, it was time to party.

    I should mention that I often kayak with an informal group called the Tuesday Night Paddlers, who typically head out for miles-long, open-water adventures on Fishers and Long Island sounds, and beyond. After a couple hours of kayaking, the sweaty gang returns to shore to gobble cold pizza, potato chips, salsa, and other snacks spread out on the tailgate of Curt Andersen’s pickup truck.

    The yacht club soiree had a somewhat different ambience.

    Graciously hosted that evening by Ann Lobdell and Mark Scott at Ann’s grand home overlooking the harbor at the southern tip of Stonington Point, the repast featured crudités, assorted amuse-bouche, Perrier mineral water, gourmet cheeses, and a surprise: hot dogs and baked beans.

    “Beanies and Weenies” night is one of the kayaking group’s popular annual events – other favorite outings, hosted by various club members, include a “Dark and Stormy Tour,” and a “Martini and Matings” paddle during canoodling season for horseshoe crabs.

    While 12 people participated in the “Marilyn” paddle, more than 30 showed up afterward for the festivities.

    “I just come to eat,” one guest confessed.

    Ann, formerly a corporate events planner in New York City, and Mark, a retired architect, are active in a number of sports who met on a mountain-climbing expedition, but they were too busy with party preparations to paddle to Marilyn.

    There’s a lot of pressure to put out a good spread, Mark said with a smile, adding, “It can get pretty competitive.”

    The kayaking, though, is pretty laid-back.

    “We call ourselves the Boring Paddle Club,” joked Allegra Griffiths.

    “We’re like a book club, without the books,” Tori Gimple said. Like many yacht club members, they are more into sailing than kayaking. She, her husband, Matt, along with daughters Lindsay and Megan, and son Eric, were preparing to compete in this week’s 636-mile Newport Bermuda Race aboard Banter, their 40-foot racer-cruiser.

    In addition to sailing and kayaking activities, the yacht club offers an oar and paddle program, cruises, events for small power boats, and marine safety programs. It also makes its fleet and support boats available to the Connecticut Special Olympics program.

    Founded in 2002 as “an inclusive and welcoming club of boaters in our community to celebrate a shared love of the sea,” the club bought the former Monsanto Building at 32 Water St. in 2004 to serve as its headquarters and dining facility.

    Membership has grown to 250 families, and the club “continues to warmly welcome boaters and landlubbers alike,” according to its website.

    More information about the yacht club is available at shyc.us.

    More information about the Tuesday kayak group is posted on meetup.com/tuesday-night-paddle.

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