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Antique boat show returns to Mystic

Mystic — More than 20-something antique and classic boats floated in the sunshine on Mystic River on Saturday for the annual Antique & Classic Boat Rendezvous.

The event, usually held over a whole weekend each summer, was held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Mystic Seaport Museum, where a colorful collection of boats lined up along the banks of the river before launching into a parade under the Mystic Drawbridge in the afternoon.

The now one-day event was smaller this year than in years past, with about 20 boats participating. The smaller size and shorter run were a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the event’s hosts to pivot to a smaller showing and virtual version since 2020, Mystic Seaport spokesman Dan McFadden said.

The event drew young and old boat captains, showing and teaching folks about their mostly old and antique boats, with a few newer boats even being shown.

Sean Melanson, 21, was one of the youngest boat owners participating. But even for a young boat captain, the show has already become an important, repeat event.

A student at Penn State studying meteorology, Melanson received his 13-foot-6-inch boat built in 1957, the Whirl Away, as a gift from his uncle when he was only 15. In just over a year, he restored the wooden boat with one goal in mind: entering the Mystic Seaport show. He’s come back every year since.

“It’s become a tradition to come down here every summer. I look forward to it every year,” Melanson said. “You learn a lot when you do this, it’s not just the skills of restoring the boat and doing the work, you learn a lot about making a commitment and I think it’s all had a big impact on who I am today.”

For other boat owners, like Thomas Knight, the event has been a summer tradition for years. Though he missed last year, he said he and his family try to make it every year with their boat Sea Lark.

The boat came into Knight’s family in 1980, when it was purchased by his late parents-in-law, Sam and Carolyn Crowley — it’s now owned by his wife, Jennifer Knight.

The Knights use their 32-foot boat, built in 1941, primarily for family day trips to places like the Chesapeake Bay and Bar Harbor. They keep the boat in Noank, where it was built and bought.

As a regular participant in the show and parade, Knight said his favorite part has always been “seeing all the other beautiful boats” and all the people he knows along the parade route. “We’re local, so we get a lot of cheers,” he said.

Docked a few feet over from the Sea Lark was the Dragonet, a fully wooden 38-foot boat designed for the Chesapeake Bay. Brian, Martha, Casey and Caitlin Gilmore of Noank were having a picnic on board.

“You’re looking at her primary use,” Brian Gilmore said, gesturing to his family as they enjoyed lunch. “This is really what we use her for and every living hour we’re either driving her or scrubbing her or working on her.”

Though the boat looks antique, it’s actually a newer model — built in 2016. The Gilmores just purchased the boat a few months ago and this was their first show at the seaport.

Sarah Clement, waterfront programs administrator for the seaport, said newer boats with traditional styles are allowed to participate through the show’s “Spirit of Tradition” program.

The program, she said, aims to “expand the scope of baits that are allowed in the event, so that newer built boats that emulate older designs can enter. It is a very fun addition to the collection of our boats and the Dragonet is a great example.”

She said the program is also “a great way to encourage more people to be involved,” including newer boat owners.

Clement, who helped organize the event and was participating in the parade as an announcer, said the seaport was thrilled to have folks back enjoying its events and learning about the water and boating after shuttering so many programs last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

McFadden, who led this year’s boat parade in his Boston Whaler, said the museum is “recovering from a very slow year last year.”

“We’re just happy to have people here," he said. "So far, it’s been a tremendous summer and it’s been really nice to see people here and see people happy.”


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