Published June 27. 2010 4:00AM Updated June 28. 2010 8:55AM
Where else can you row alongside a nuclear sub?
One sunny morning a few weeks ago, some friends and I hopped in our kayaks and began paddling from Howard T. Brown Memorial Park in Norwich at the confluence of the Shetucket and Yantic rivers.
A handful of fishermen on piers and along the banks balefully stared at their lines to make sure we didn't cross them as we swept past. One man working on his boat at a marina called out, "Nice day." Gulls circled, swooped and cried; a cormorant sprang from a piling and dove into the murky water.
This is the head of the Thames River, which flows to Long Island Sound. Over the next few days various friends would join me along various sections of the river as I worked my way south.
I followed a course that would make Ferdinand Magellan weep - poking in and out of coves, zigzagging across the river and back again to explore small inlets, and wandering into marshes.
Had I taken a direct route, I could have covered the 15-mile distance in less than three hours, but I was in no hurry. I stopped to chat with people in fishing boats, men working on bridges, college students sunning themselves on rocks overlooking the river, people walking their dogs, homeowners fixing their docks and a few other kayaking brethren. By the end of the trip I had logged more than 40 miles.
I managed to squeeze into narrow openings, under low bridges and through shallow channels where only a kayak or canoe could go, and I saw places comparatively few people even know exist, let alone get to see. I brought along a digital camera and a digital recorder so I could document not just what I saw but also what I heard.
My journey has been broken into three sections. The first, from Norwich Harbor to Poquetanuck Cove, is the subject of an audio slideshow at www.theday.com/thamesriver. Additional slideshows will be posted online in coming weeks.
I had a great time paddling with my friends Betsy and Bob Graham, Carl Astor, Ian Frenkel, Phil Plouffe and Gary Burfoot.
I came away with a greater appreciation for the river's rich history and vast diversity. Having kayaked or canoed most of the major rivers and waterways in the Northeast, I can't think of any other 15-mile stretch that includes such variety along its banks: pristine wildlife sanctuaries, dilapidated mills, gracious homes, bungalows, major manufacturers, a power plant, casino, college campuses, military installations, sandy beaches, railroad sidings, marinas, ferry slips, cargo piers.
I also doubt there are many places you can see a rowing shell skimming alongside a nuclear submarine.
The short journey also reinforced my view that we need to do more to preserve and protect the Thames and other rivers. Yes, it's a working river that for centuries has been used commercially, but it also is a great recreational resource with many places to launch kayaks and other small boats.
I would like to see more people enjoying the river and helping ensure future generations will as well.