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Hidden coves offer serenity

By Matt Collette

Publication: The Day

Published August 22. 2010 4:00AM
Dana Jensen/The Day
Jim Lewis, owner of Gales Ferry Marina on Clark Cove, waters his tomato plants located on the gas dock. Lewis says boaters enjoy picking the tomatoes to take along on their outings.
Ledyard waters bring residents ample fishing, abundant wildlife and sheltered getaway

Ledyard - From most vantage points, Clark Cove is all but invisible.

"Unless you've been to the backyard, you wouldn't even know it's there," said Terri Isenburg, whose Chapman Lane house overlooks the cove. "We've had friends come over and they'll say, 'Whoa, you have a water view there?'"

From a boat on the Thames River, you're more likely to notice the railroad tracks that pass over the entrance to the cove than the narrow inlet itself.

Dozens of coves along the river provide a tranquil escape from the hustle of the river and the grind of everyday life. At Clark Cove, the sounds of Route 12 traffic and riverside industry provide nothing more than a quiet hum, with birds and marine life providing a steady soundtrack.

At high tide, the cove is about 6 or 7 feet deep; low tides drop the water far enough to reveal the cove's muddy bottom. The cove is about halfway between Norwich and Long Island Sound, which is four miles south.

Most families along the cove have small motorboats, canoes or kayaks to allow easy exploration.

At the mouth of the cove sits the Gales Ferry Marina, which has been owned by Jim Lewis for more than five decades. Lewis bought property to build the marina from the Norwich & Worcester Railroad and the estate of his ex-wife's grandfather.

"I started putting boats in the water, and people just kept coming," said the 80-year-old Lewis.

Over the years, he bought adjacent properties, including a cottage with its own storied past.

"During the Prohibition days, this house was a little speakeasy," Lewis said, pointing to a cottage on the eastern edge of the marina. "You used to be able to get all sorts of booze there. People would come in a ferry from across the river, where there was another speakeasy and a brothel."

Railroad ends trade

In the late 1800s, paddleboats from as far away as New York City traveled up the Thames to Clark Cove, pulling up to a large flat where farmers and locals sold timber and farm goods.

But when the railroad was built in the 1890s, the new tracks blocked entrance to the cove for larger boats, all but ending interstate trade.

Today, most of the people who keep their boats at Lewis' marina are locals (though some come from as far away as Massachusetts) who take their boats out on the water on summer evenings and weekends. Unlike some marinas on the ocean or closer to the Thames' mouth, Clark Cove provides a quiet and tranquil place for boaters to dock.

"It's not like the ocean, where sometimes it's so miserable and so rough you couldn't stay on board," Lewis said.

In the last five or so years, as gas prices have spiked, Lewis said more and more boaters have been opting to take smaller craft on shorter trips, exploring nearby coves and inlets.

This year, though, boaters have started to return to taking longer and more frequent boat trips.

"You figure, you've got to have some entertainment," Lewis said. "And they have a lot of friends here. They go out, they tool around, and they drink a lot of beer. You can't hold that against them."

Because of its location, the water in Clark Cove tends to be warmer than the Thames River, which is warmer than Long Island Sound. Those higher temperatures attract fish that spawn and a large number of crabs. On Thursday, the talk around the marina centered around one woman who claimed to have captured 87 crabs in one day the weekend before.

"You're finding fish here you wouldn't see other places," Lewis said. "They come up with the warmer currents and they stay here where it's warm, so there is always good fishing."

'Our own little nature center'

Terri Isenburg, who lives on the opposite end of the cove from the marina, has started taking advantage of the aquatic life this summer, too. Now that her children, 6-year-old Jolie and 2-year-old Brock, are getting older, Isenburg and her husband, Ed, are spending more time by the cove, even creating a slalom-like trail that allows easy access down the steep hill between their home and the water.

"Seeing the wildlife here, it's just amazing," Isenburg said. "Jolie loves this stuff. Her hero was The Crocodile Hunter (Steve Irwin, who died in 2006), and she talks to you like she's explaining all this stuff."

Watching as birds circled overhead and frogs, fish and crabs moved through the water, Isenburg marveled.

"It's like we have our own little nature center right here," she said.

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