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Melville Coast

You really should read Moby Dick before these first three stops so you have a background in the whaling industry . Mystic, New Bedford and Nantucket were the crown jewels of American whaling. They built and serviced the great ships in Mystic, ran the industry from waterfront offices in New Bedford, and docked the ships in Nantucket Harbor. To spend a day in Mystic, therefore, is to study the industry that provided early America with its financial base and is still important to Russia, Iceland, Japan and to a lesser extent Finland. Hundreds of thousands of men were employed directly on the ships and in the offices, and another million found work in all the support industries along the coast. Mystic is the best example of this, a town where good wages were earned by men who never actually went to sea. But they were skilled craftsmen of the highest order, who patented over a thousand innovations in ship design and construction between 1780 and 1880. One of these was the prism, a solid glass crystal with one flat surface and a series of angles extending down to a point. The Mystic shipmen built these into their decks with the bottom protruding through ceiling to the room below. The prisms carried sunlight down and reflected it out in all directions, lighting the lower decks during daylight hours (photo, below right).

You should rise early, eat breakfast and enter the historical district at 9am. You'll need every minute. Use the main entrance. Stop at the 6000 square feet Museum Store now so you don't get hurried at the end of the day and run out of time. Turn left and tour the Shipyard, an assortment of buildings where they're building and repairing every kind of boat large and small. Mystic has become world reknowned for its skills in restoring wooden craft. Plymouth even brings the Mayflower down here during the Winter for its annual maintenance. There's an 85 foot spar lathe, a rigging loft and a 375 ton lift dock. As you leave the Shipyard, tour the L.A. Dunton, considered the finest remaining example of a 123 foot two masted fishing schooner. From the same dock, the Sabino, a 1908 coal fired steamboat, offers tours up the Mystic River. Take the trip for a different view of the town and river, and the chance to learn about the old steamboats which were in America.prior to World War II. Following the waterline, at the other end of the Village Green is a scale model of the whole Mystic River Valley in the 1800s. Past that, the Boat House rents rowboats, dinghies and sailboats for 30 or 60 minute forays up and down the river. It's a great opportunity. These are museum pieces, collector items, not the heavy, awkward boats you rowed or sailed at summer camp (photos left and below).

When you entered the Historic District you were given a schedule of events, and you will notice posting boards at major intersections. Keep checking for shows and demonstrations and cut back and forth from one to the other, following our recommended sequence only when nothing else is going on. Be especially certain not to miss the Whaleboat demonstration at Middle Wharf, the Aeriel Rigging of the Charles Morgan and Joseph Conrad, the Capstan Demonstration on the Conrad, and the Timber Raising at the shipyard. You might also want to catch the toys and games of 1800, lifesaving skills, setting a sail, any of the music performances, and speed sailing (below).

One reason we recommend this trip be taken in June is that Mystic hosts many special events then.

The first half of June is usually the time of the Maritime Art Festival. You can see some of the best scrimshaw, paintings, carvings, and ship modelling in the world, along with the artists who created them.

The first weekend of June is the annual Small Craft Festival. You can see the best canoes, kayaks, rowboats, dories, dinghies, tenders, skiffs, whitehalls and pea pods. There are workshops, competitions and demonstrations. The row down the Mystic River Sunday morning is pretty impressive.

The second weekend of June is the annual Sea Music Festival. This is now the finest such gathering in the world. It attracts chantyers and players from Italy, Greece, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands. Morning symposiums and evening concerts are memorable.

There's even a Lobster Days week culminating in Memorial Day. In addition to lobster feasting out on the docks, there are symposiums on the history of lobsters as food and symnbols.

One thing we think is important is even though you're trying to hurry through the day to see as much as possible, take time at least twice to stop, sit under a shade tree, and absorb the ambience of the place. Horses clippety clop past pulling wagons, ships drift up and down the harbor, sails are unfurled, cargo is loaded or unloaded, bells ring, horns sound, and water laps against the docks. Perhaps most important is what is not heard. No motorized vehicles, no rap or hard rock, no sirens, no traces of the modern postindustrial age. Midmorning and midafternoon, grab a lemonade or ice water, sip it leisurely, munching on the ice, and soak up the feel of a 19th Century town.
Leave time at the end of the day to stop by the gift shop on the way out of the historic district. They have items here you won't find anywhere else, and they're not made in China. We know budgets are tight, and trips like this are expensive, but we always try to allow money for gift items to remember the trip by. We're especially fond of metal key chain medallions, which we attach to the zipper pulls on our packs. After a few trips, a pack becomes a display of all the places you've been. We like to buy at least one good book from each major stop; we almost always learn more about a place after we get home than we did while we were there, so then we always want to go back.
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