Every community has at least minor historical claims to fame. I grew up in a town that contributed marble to the U.S. Capitol Building. I lived for awhile in a town that touted its role in providing snowshoes for Robert Peary’s expedition to the North Pole.
Coastal cities seem to bring in quite a few more stories, though. New London is probably best known for the being torched by both Benedict Arnold and the Hurricane of 1938, its role in Amistad affair, and Kelo v. City of New London. But it never fails to amaze me what sort of historical tidbits one can find related to the city’s maritime past.
Johnna Kaplan uncovered some of these tales when she wrote a for the site, including this strange affair involving an . I’m a history buff, and when I would stumble across something else—the U-boat that docked here for repairs and accidentally sunk its attending tugboat, the sunken torpedo boats near the complex, etc.—I would pass along word to her. Once she mentioned that she had quite a stockpile of stories involving historic ships visiting New London, and between the and and and , we still get plenty of interesting waterborne visitors.
It’s easy to discover these stories by accident. I’d noticed several copies of My Old Man and the Sea at The Book Barn—today’s bestseller is tomorrow’s overstock—and ultimately decided to buy the book. Co-written by father and son David and Dan Hays, it details their rather spur-of-the-moment decision to build a boat and sail together around Cape Horn, on a journey that took them through the Caribbean, Panama Canal, Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, and various South American ports. All of this they did in a 25-foot sailboat with no company but each other and a cat named Tiger.
I bought the book because it fit right into the mood I had of looking for a few tales of adventurous outings. It wasn’t until I decided to page through it a bit that I realized the local connection. Near the end, a chart portrayed the final leg straight into New London.
Sure enough, the two men had started right here on the Thames River. The journey set out from and it wasn’t until the site of Ledge Light that Dan (a graduate, incidentally) knew he was home again. Their minor claim to fame was that they were the first people to sail around the Horn in a boat smaller than 30 feet in length.
On one hand, it was just an interesting coincidence and yet another story to add to New London’s maritime history. But 223 pages later, it was also a nice affirmation that it’s never to late to step out from your doorstep into the unknown, and that home will always be there for you when you're ready to come back.