The Long Island Sound was a place of enchantment Friday for 112 young area children who boarded power boats to tour the Darien and Norwalk harbors.
Riding the waves—and in some cases taking over the controls—the five-to-twelve-year-olds got a look at the Greens Ledge lighthouse, alighted at Sheffield Island, and, even had an encounter with saber-flashing pirates on the way to a lunch in Ziegler's Cove.
Their guide from destination to destination was the Noroton Fire Department Marine Unit boat, its hose shooting a plume of seawater skyward into half an arch. With the skilful toe work of NFD's Joe Warren, the crew aimed the spray at the 22 boats when they got within range—all in good fun, of course.
The Boat Camp, now in its 14th year, was made possible by 70 volunteers representing the Darien Boat Club, Norwalk Seaport Association, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and the Darien Police Marine Unit. The adventure took off from Noroton Yacht Club under the joint sponsorship of the Darien Sail & Power Squadron and Darien's Person-to-Person charity.
The children attend the Hand-in-Hand Camp in New Canaan and Sunbeam Camp in Stamford courtesy of Darien's Person-to-Person, which has a scholarship fund that makes it possible for less privileged children in the area to attend summer day camps.
Fred Elliott, former Person-to-Person board member who helped inaugurate the boat camp excursions 14 years ago, took on passengers in his 28-foot power boat, Carpe Diem.
En route to the high seas, he instructed his passengers in the basics of navigation and steering.
Elizabeth Gomez, 9, of Norwalk, learned her lessons well. The Hand-in-Hand camper was at the controls when a passing vessel created huge waves in its wake.
"We were starting to tip over," she recalled excitedly as the campers returned to the Noroton Yacht Club for ice cream bars.
"I kept the boat stable," she said with assurance.
The close call was confirmed by her counselor, Jeffrey Jean, 18, who praised Elliott's exceptional personal and seamanship skills.
To most, the high point of the trip was the encounter with a boat flying a Jolly Roger. The crew of 5 "pirates" swooped in, decked out with costumes, sabers, plastic water pistols, and even a hook for a hand, in the case of 95-year-old Hank Strauss.
"Awwwrrrrrr!" growled Strauss in a deep gravelly voice to each approaching craft. "You're in trouble!"
But the only real trouble for the passengers was in catching the plastic bags of candy treats flung at them by the pirates. Some landed in the water.
"Farewell!" Strauss called after them.
"I do this every year because it gives me a sense of authority," said Strauss, a member of the Yacht Club and a lover of the sea, at the end of the trip. "Instead of swords into plowshares, it's cutlasses into candy."
"Pirates!" declared Shelomi Soljour, 6, of New Canaan, when asked her favorite part of the day.
For Cierra Kitt, 9, of Norwalk, it was getting sprayed by the fire boat, as well as the pirate treats.
For Bruno Cameselle, 8, of Stamford, it was the excitement of the waves.
"A huge wave came up and splashed us and we got soaked," he remembered. "It was so fun!"
The event instilled a healthy respect for the sea as well, said Elliott, captain of the Carpe Diem. A 7-year-old boy aboard his boat declined the offer to take over the controls.
"He said he was too young," Elliott explained.
All returned safely to land under the watchful gaze of the family of ospreys that has established itself since March at the Yacht Club's main pier.
Elliott and the other volunteers plan to return next year to carry on the tradition.
For Elliott, his favorite moment occured when the power boats moored for lunch and the campers began singing their camp songs. To the rhythm of the gently lapping waves, one boat would take up a verse where another left off.
"They filled Ziegler's Cove with echoing song," said his wife Pam Elliott, also a former Person-to-Person board member, who served as crew.