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    Saturday, September 23, 2023

    Best summer deal: Thames River Water Taxi season pass

    Thames River Water Taxi Utility Boat Groton lands in the City of New London on Friday, July 8, 2016. (David Collins/The Day)
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    I'm sorry to say that one of the most interesting new enterprises to arrive in New London in a long time comes by way of Groton.

    The new Thames River Water Taxi, linking the waterfronts of New London and Groton, and both cities' state parks and historic forts, is up and running and seems to be on its way to great success.

    It got a big thumbs-up from everyone we rode with Friday. 

    The crew is friendly and accommodating and it was keeping a perfect schedule, making a one-hour loop.

    When the Utility Boat Groton is joined by a second taxi, Utility Boat New London, both old 44-passenger Navy liberty launches, purchased cheaply from government surplus, the schedule essentially will run in half the time.

    The second launch is due in another week or so.

    Plans call for increasing the Friday-to-Sunday service this season to run every day next year.

    By the following summer they hope to add a stop upriver, at the Nautilus and Submarine Force Library & Museum.

    A lot of volunteers and organizations have pitched in to make this happen, but most of the energy seems to have come from the Groton side of the river.

    The idea of resuscitating the long-dormant concept of a Thames River Heritage Park, linking attractions on both sides of the river by water taxi, came from officials of the Avery-Copp House museum in Groton, a short stroll from the new taxi stop.

    An early and engaged supporter was Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith, who helped secure the small state grant to launch the program.

    She also hunted down the surplus launches.

    The launches are owned by Groton, and the mayor has followed closely the progress in getting them operational and certified by the Coast Guard.

    The new park, a separate nonprofit, found an operator of the taxi service by issuing a request for proposals over the winter.

    The successful bidder was a new company formed by Jacalyn and David Dietrich.

    I caught up with David Dietrich, a General Dynamics vice president, on the Fort-Trumbull-to-City-Pier leg of the service Friday.

    He told me his wife, a licensed captain who will regularly be driving one of the launches, is the primary operator of the new service, but he is helping.

    He said Friday was actually a vacation day for him from his regular job.

    Dietrich told me they decided to apply for the license to run the service after someone he works with showed him the request for proposals.

    A former submariner, Dietrich said they are very excited for the potential the taxi service represents.

    On Friday he seemed happy to see it successfully on its rounds, picking up and dropping off passengers.

    By noon Friday, they already had sold five season passes.

    At $50, the season passes are a bargain — endless boat rides, with stops at historic parks and both cities' downtowns.

    I can't think of a better summer entertainment deal, less than a season beach pass. A single adult round trip is $10.

    Dietrich told me they have six licensed launch drivers and a full crew of mates to keep both launches on schedule this season.

    Painted Navy gray, the launches make for a nostalgic ride that will probably make many old Navy sailors feel at home.

    One was a launch to a flagship in the Sixth Fleet and the other was launch to a submarine tender.

    Head down and take a ride. Buy a season pass. Visit Connecticut's newest, and cheapest to produce, state park.

    This looks like a winner.

    Maybe New London should put Groton Mayor Galbraith in charge of some other things.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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