By Timothy S. Barry
I’m always intrigued by places I have yet to visit. I remember the first time I explored the lower Connecticut River and how amazed I was at the number of little coves and creeks located there. Those out-of-the-way places on the charts look pretty small but carry just enough water to make you want to go in and take a look around.
On the east side of the river — roughly midway between Essex and Chester, Conn., on the west side, and about 8 miles north of where the river empties into Long Island Sound — is one of those special places, Selden Creek.
One of the most biologically significant locales on the lower Connecticut, this preserve takes the name from the creek that divides it from the 600-acre Selden Island State Park. Because of its unmarked, narrow entrance with sandbars on both sides, many boaters pass it by as too demanding to enter. The creek, indeed, is narrow, and turning around is an exercise in helm control. But there’s plenty of water, between 5 and 10 feet, all the way to Selden Cove.
Once you clear the entrance, one of the most beautiful gunkholes on the Connecticut River awaits. This jewel of a waterway is breathtaking any time of year but is especially beautiful in late spring and autumn. Winding your way upstream, you’ll feel like Humphrey Bogart in the “African Queen.” All types of wildlife abound along the shore, with trees and plants crowding right up to the shoreline. Anglers, electric motors humming, slip silently close to shore, impossibly casting lures under tree limbs at the water surface. Muskrats, turtles and water snakes often swim from shore to shore as boats pass. Egrets and herons gently tiptoe in the shallows. There’s something unique and special about finding such a secluded anchorage. You just select a spot, let the anchor out, secure the boat, and sit back and enjoy.
Everyone I know treats the creek with respect — i.e., it’s best enjoyed at idle speed, and loud music and boisterous behavior generally aren’t accepted. It can get crowded on a hot summer day, with folks in kayaks and canoes, and swimmers jumping off the cliffs midway up the creek on the east side. Once past that area, you’ll wind around a sweeping bend, and the east shore opens up to an expanse of reeds and grasses with pine and oak trees in the distance, while the west shore, Selden Island, is heavily treed to the water’s edge.
Our family has spent many days at anchor here, swimming, reading, sunbathing, whiling the day away enjoying the scenery and lack of man-made noise. I find the stillness comforting and reassuring. That’s the benefit of gunkholing: no gas docks, no restaurants, none of the hustle and bustle of boats coming and going or the frustration of trying to find a slip in a strange marina. The current runs fairly briskly, so we feel it’s best to set bow and stern anchors.
One evening in early autumn we sat in the aft cockpit of our 40-foot 1939 Elco Cruisette while a full moon illuminated the water like a ribbon of silver. Our conversation was accompanied by the hooting of owls and a combination of deer, coyote and fox peering at us from shore. Sunrise in Selden Creek has to be one of the quietest, most peaceful experiences on earth.
It’s possible to go all the way out the north end via Selden Cove, but I advise doing so only on a rising tide. Due to constant shoaling, the bottom isn’t always where the chart says it is, so watch your depth finder. I can’t stress enough that entering or exiting Selden Creek from the north isn’t recommended for large or deep-draft vessels.
My family has done its fair share of cruising over the years, and Selden Creek ranks as our favorite gunkhole. It’s breathtaking in its raw and natural beauty, an oasis from the hectic lives we’ve created for ourselves.
Some of us use our boats for transportation, some for socializing, others as a means to connect to the joys of being on the water. Gunkholing isn’t for everyone, for sure, as we all have different tastes when it comes to how we use our boats. But sometimes slowing things down a bit and taking in what’s around you can make all the difference.
Check out the other parts to our Gunkholing series:
Explore our picks for 10 great gunkhole getaways:
Learn The Art of Gunkholing
Or introduce yourself to "Mr. Gunkhole."