The Rose Was Never Truly Appreciated Here

March 25, 2001
from the Connecticut Post website

Forget Harbor Yard, the hockey arena, the parks and the esplanades on Park Avenue; the most miraculous turnaround that has happened in Bridgeport in the last 25 years was the conversion of a municipal marina at the foot of Bostwick Avenue in the citys West End into what is known today as Captain's Cove.

Dana Fiorini was the young man who ran the marina in the mid-1970s when John C. Mandanici was mayor of Bridgeport.

For perfectly understandable reasons, Dana wore a revolver in a holster at his waist. He had a shack in which a single bulb burned, and into the rank water of Black Rock Harbor a handful of sloping decayed piers reached.

There may even have been a handful of boats there. It was a long time ago.

What were nearby were an incincerator, a sewage treatment plant and a notorious public housing project. The first two elements made life in the public housing project even more unpleasant than it might otherwise have been.

The sewage treatment plant in those years was not a particularly effective operation and there's no delicate way to put this simply filled the waters of Black Rock harbor with chunks of human waste.

This place was no more a marina than the Bon Ton Grille was a Michelin four-star bistro.

But a guy had a vision for the spot. That was Kaye Williams, a regular, straight-talking, seafaring, Bridgeport-native lobsterman.

What Kaye Williams did at this sump was remarkable on any number of fronts, but three in particular stand out.

First, the sheer magnitude of the conversion, from cesspit into something clean and attractive, was remarkable.

Second, Williams, unlike many of the high-profile, polished, circuitously talking developers the city has dealt with over the decades, actually went ahead and did what he said he was going to do.

Third, he did it with honest labor, much of it his own. In the early days, if you went out there looking for Kaye Williams, you could simply follow the sound of the hammering. 

Williams was no fool, of course, and got a long-term lease from the city before he started putting his own blood, sweat and money into refurbishing the place.

He built a bar and restaurant, first class piers, a fish store and then a string of little shops.

Eighty percent of the time that a high-profile piece of property comes up for development in Bridgeport, there's a lot of fast and fancy talking, lots of rights that get turned over to people, and then and thennothing happens.

If Bridgeport had handed a third of those properties over to Kaye Williams, they'd be building Super 8 motels and miniature golf courses in Easton to accommodate the people coming to visit Bridgeport.

In 1984, Williams bought a replica of a British frigate, the HMS Rose, and brought it to Bridgeport. He started a foundation to support the ship. For some reason, the Rose never got the attention here it deserved.

Therefore, the departure of the HMS Rose, which was announced Friday, is a sad thing. 

Wherever else the ship went, it was considered a star.

I was in Baltimore once many years ago and in each of the city's hotel rooms was a nice-looking, hard-covered book provided by the Chamber of Commerce.

Pictured on the cover, of course, was a view of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the magnet that brings millions of tourists into the heart of the city and down to the waterfront.

On the cover, at the center of the photo, was a ship that looked familiar. Yes, it was the Rose, tied up in the harbor and presented to visitors as part of the city's picture.

Here, it was merely something of an oddity.

The Rose will turn up on the big screen someday, of course, reportedly in a movie that will be based on the terrific naval stories of Patrick O'Brian.

The Cove will still have the lightship Nantucket.

The Nantucket has had its difficulties, however, as a tourist attraction. There was, for example, the party of senior citizens who paid their modest fee to take a tour of the ship.

A few minutes in, they stepped off and demanded their money back.

"This ship isn't going to Nantucket," they said in disgust.

Michael J. Daly is managing editor of the Connecticut Post. You can reach him at 330-6394 or by e-mail at