Mystic – Some of the boats with the best stories in the Mystic Seaport Museum are rarely, if ever, seen by visitors.
These include Franklin D. Roosevelt’s sailboat, author John Steinbeck’s Boston whaler, a 20-foot fishing boat that carried two groups of Cuban immigrants to safety in Florida, a tiny life raft in rubber that carried a man across the Atlantic for 76 days, and one of two lifeboats that carried Stonington resident Tod Johnstone and 12 others to safety in 1961 after their sail training vessel sank in a storm – the story told in the 1996 film “White Squall”.
These are just some of the 470 small boats in the museum’s collection that are usually stored in its vast Collections Research Center, which is not open to the public.
Starting Saturday, 18 of these boats and their stories will be on display in the Thompson Exhibition Building and on the museum campus as the port unveils a major new exhibit called “Story Boats: The Tales They Tell.” It runs until August 14.
During a tour of the exhibit Wednesday morning, Krystal Rose, curator of collections at the museum, said that being a summer show, the exhibit is “all about being on the water and the incredible stories related to these boats”.
Rose explained that the museum is developing a plan to establish a personal watercraft room open to the public in the Collections Research Center.
“So these stories (in Story Boats) give people a sample of the great stories and boats in this collection,” she said. “We wanted to do something that reflects the future of the watercraft market.”
Accompanying each of the boats are not only panels that tell their stories, but artifacts, photographs and videos related to each one.
Ten of the boats are in the Thompson Building and eight are on the grounds. Also in the Thompson building is a rack with 10 other small boats. Scanning a QR code will allow visitors to read their stories.
Among the boats on display are:
The Vireo, which Roosevelt used to teach his children to sail at the family summer residence on Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada. It was after a day of sailing aboard the Vireo in 1921 that Roosevelt contracted poliomyelitis. He never sailed Vireo again. A wheelchair used by Roosevelt is also on display.
Patsy Green, a canoe Henry and Elizabeth Wood used to paddle 900 miles from New York to Nova Scotia in 1908. Artifacts include camping gear they brought for the trip.
A six-man Avon life raft like the one used by Steve Callahan who, in 1982, survived for 76 days after his Mini Transat sailing race boat sank in the Atlantic. Artifacts on display include the diary he kept in a Tupperware container, the sextant he made with crayons to plot his location, his watch and a large recreation of the map he made to plot his journey, which ended when he was found by three fishermen. Marie-Galante in the Caribbean. There are also photos of him with the three fishermen and the blue pants he was given when he was found. He lost a third of his body weight in the 76 days and he recounted his journey in a bestselling book, ‘Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea’.
The 20-foot-long Analuisa, which in 1994 left Cuba with 19 family members and a small dog on board en route to Florida. After approximately 18 hours at sea, they were picked up by the crew of the Carnival Ecstasy cruise ship and brought to Key West. Abandoned at sea, four other men fleeing Cuba miraculously stumbled upon the adrift Analuisa after their small boat’s engine failed. They then traveled to Key West. The Day traveled to Florida in 2000 to tell the story of the people aboard the Analuisa.
Among the artifacts are a shirt worn by a man on the boat, a drinking cup used during the trip, a life jacket given to them by the cruise ship and a religious statue the family donated to the museum when they came years later to see the Analuisa. There are also photographs of the rescue by a family who were aboard the cruise ship.
Gerda III, a Danish lighthouse supply ship that smuggled Jews from Denmark to Sweden after the Nazi invasion in World War II.
One of two lifeboats that 13 teenagers and crew used in 1961 after the sail training vessel Albatross, which embarked from Mystic Seaport, was hit by a downburst west of the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico and quickly sank. Two crew members and four teenagers were lost. One of the teenagers who survived was Tod Johnstone of Stonington.
Acadia, the 21ft sailboat that Clay Burkhalter of Stonington sailed 4,000 solo miles from France to Brazil in the 2007 Mini Transat race. He became only the fifth American at the time to complete the dangerous race .
Tango, a 24-foot pedal boat that Dwight Collins of Darien propelled across the Atlantic from Newfoundland to England in 40 days in 1992.