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Tag Archives: Alan Sterling
In the 2 1/2 years since Alan Sterling died, “Gloria” — his beloved oyster boat — has sat forlornly in Gray’s Creek.
But on Sunday, alert “06880” reader/Renaissance man/photographer Jaime Bairaktaris noticed something:
She shined brightly. With Christmas lights.
Intrigued, he took a photo. But it didn’t show “Gloria” in all her glory.
Last night, Jaime returned to the inlet, between Compo Beach Road and Longshore. He hoped the lights would be on again.
They were. He snapped these gorgeous photos:
Jaime has no clue who strung the lights, and turns them on at night. He asked if I know.
It’s better that way. Just call it Alan Sterling’s Christmas miracle.
We all come to Westport in different ways.
Some of us are born here. Others are brought here by parents, spouses or work. We come here wonderingly, wanderingly, willingly or by whimsy.
Hanne Jeppesen arrived as an au pair.
She grew up safe and secure, in a small town 30 miles south of Copenhagen. Wanderlust took her to a kibbutz in Israel, to Iceland, to a hitchhiking tour of England, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland.
Then a chance glance at a newspaper ad changed Hanne’s life.
Instead of heading to a Danish teacher’s college, she decided to become an American au pair. She knew nothing about Westport — her destination — other than that it was near New York City.
That was enough. She arrived on December 28, 1966, ready for adventure.
Life in the suburbs was lonely at first. But she met a German au pair. Hanne took a night school English class at Staples, where she met a “real live wire” Dutch girl. Fifty years later, they’re still friends.
Hanne started going out. The Ship’s Lantern bar downtown was a popular destination. So was the beach.
Westporters were very friendly. Hanne dated a few men. She had a wonderful time. Life was good.
“We drove around in a Corvette, with the top down,” she recalls. “This is what I dreamed America would be like.”
In October of 1968 she returned to Denmark. But her parents encouraged her to live the life she wanted, and 2 months later Hanne was back in Westport. She and her Dutch friend rented a house here.
Soon, though they moved to New York City. New adventures beckoned.
From time to time, Hanne and her friend returned to Westport to visit. Once, at Compo, she met a married man. He invited her to a party that night. And he gave her the keys to his car, in case she wanted to drive around and have fun.
In New York she met a man. They got married, moved first to New Orleans and then San Francisco. They divorced. She had a daughter, and a career in insurance. Now — still living in the Bay Area — Hanne works at Macy’s.
She stayed in touch with a few friends. She always thought fondly of Westport. But except for a couple of visits — the last was in 1998 — Hanne has not spent any time here.
A few years ago though, she saw news online about Jeff Simon. That’s a common name, but it was the same guy she’d dated in Westport. She was intrigued to learn about his life as a photographer and video director.
Then she stumbled on a story about Tracy Sugarman. She’d known his son.
Finding “06880” — including a story about her old friends Alan Sterling and Steve Emmett — helped her reconnect with Westport. She doesn’t know many of the people I write about, but photos and references to the past bring smiles to her face.
Living here during a very lively time in Westport and America’s history was wonderful, Hanne says. And she was exactly the right age to enjoy it.
“We did what we were supposed to do in our early 20s,” she explains. “We partied, at people’s houses and the beach. We went to Port Chester, because the bars stayed open later. We had a great group.”
While she lived here, Hanne kept a journal. It was stashed away for years. But after seeing the movie “The Big Chill,” she looked at it. Reading about her time here, and her close-knit friends, she felt a surge of familiarity.
Of course, a movie is not real life.
But Hanna Jeppesen loves the story line that Westport provided to hers.
For years, “Gloria” was a glorious sight.
Alan Sterling built the wooden oyster boat himself. He named it after an old girlfriend, and took it oystering on 150 acres of beds, between Compo Beach and Cockenoe Island. It was a tough job, but Alan — a Staples grad — loved it from the day he began, in 1964.
Alan moored Gloria in Gray’s Creek, between Compo Beach Road and the Longshore exit. Some winters, he lived on the boat. It was cold — but it was home.
On July 4, 2014, Alan died of a massive heart attack.
Since then, Gloria has just kind of drifted. She was Alan’s baby, and now he’s gone.
The other day, “06880” reader Bruce McFadden spotted Gloria abandoned, on the Gray’s Creek shore.
He wonders if anyone has plans for the boat. The Honda outboard has value. Perhaps, he says, funds from its sale could be used to place a plaque or bench at Longshore’s E.R. Strait Marina, honoring one of Westport’s last commercial fishermen.
In 2008, the wife of Chris Bousquet’s friend died suddenly. He realized how quickly someone’s world can fall apart, and wondered how anyone can move on after such a tragedy.
The singer-songwriter — he led High Lonesome Plains, and has performed with Roger McGuinn, John Sebastian, Asleep at the Wheel, the Nields, the Turtles and J. Geils — started to write a song about all that.
It didn’t go anywhere. “I was maybe too close to it,” he says. “Or maybe it was not really my song to write.”
A couple of months later, he read about Westport oysterman Alan Sterling, and his boat Gloria (named for an old girlfriend). Bousquet calls it “a profoundly moving story of grief, continual struggle, and the simple triumph of carrying on.”
Having grown up in Clinton, Connecticut, Bousquet always found the sea to be “ethereal and transcendent.” Staring out at the water, he believes in the interconnectedness of all things. So when Sterling noted in the story that a gull might be Gloria watching over him, Bousquet understood.
The sea can be warm and caressing, but also brutal. “Alan was well aware of the cold and raw, but it didn’t blind him to the beauty,” Bousquet says. Inspired, he reworked his old song into a new one: “Gloria.”
Bousquet never met Sterling in person. He thought about sharing the song with him, but felt it was presumptuous. Sterling died last July 4. Now, Bousquet wishes he had told the oysterman what an inspiration he’d been.
“He made me appreciate my life — and my wife! — even more,” Bousquet says. “I don’t mean to sound trite. But he reminded me to head out on my proverbial boat, and sail on each day.”
The song was supposed to be part of a compilation CD a few years back. It didn’t happen. But it’s one of his most popular songs during his live performances. Bousquet cherishes the connections “Gloria” allows him to make with audiences.
Now, Bousquet has re-recorded it. It will be on an EP to be released this spring.
But, he says, if any of Alan’s friends want to do something with it, he’ll be glad to help.
“The best songs are the ones that feel like they came from some place outside myself,” Bousquet says. “Like in some sense that gull came down to guide me too — and lead me home.”
(Click here to listen to Chris Bousquet’s haunting song “Gloria.”)
John Kantor reports that “Gloria” — Westport’s beloved oyster boat — broke her mooring off his Longshore Sailing School Friday night. She drifted onto nearby Hendrick’s Point.
Her owner — oysterman Alan Sterling — died in early July.
Gloria’s been on her own ever since.
Many Westporters were saddened to learn of the death of Alan Sterling — Westport’s hard-working native oysterman.
Bruce McFadden went to his photography collection.
“I spoke with him several times at the E.R. Strait Marina, where he kept his boat,” McFadden says.
“When Alan learned I was a former Staples chemistry teacher, he said some of the best years of his life were spent there. He spoke in glowing terms of the school.”
Bruce gave Alan a photo of his beloved “Gloria” — one of the last surviving commercial boats in Westport.
Alan built it himself. They sure don’t make ’em like that — like Alan, or “Gloria” — anymore.
Meanwhile, here’s another photo, sent later today by JP Vellotti. It shows Gloria the day after Hurricane Sandy.
Soon enough, Alan had her shipshape, and back on the water.