Jennifer Ruhling's son John pilots a boat in Hamburg Cove on July 24, with Cove Landing Marine in the background. (CT Examiner/Crowley)

After a Family Tragedy, Cove Landing Marine Keeps Doing What They Have Been Doing

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LYME — The plan was always for Jennifer Ruhling or her brother to take over their father’s boat yard, but that time came sooner than expected.

Ruhling said that it was her father’s dream to own a boat yard and he bought Cove Landing Marine on Hamburg Cove in Lyme in 1978. Either Ruhling or her brother at some point was supposed to come back to Lyme, work the yard with their father, and eventually take over.

John Leonard, their father, died unexpectedly in a car crash on July 20, 2019, as he was driving to get more wire ties, said Ruhling. Living in South Carolina at the time, she returned to Lyme the next day.

Ruhling grew up in Lyme and moved to Rhode Island in 1991. She lived there for 25 years with her husband, Chris, as they raised their children. The family moved to South Carolina, where her oldest daughter went to college, and Ruhling went to law school. 

She had just graduated with her degree in real estate law when her father died.

Ruhling and her brother unexpectedly became owners of Cove Landing, and she and her family returned to the town where she grew up. They have been running the daily operations for the marina and boat rentals for the past year.

It was a big move from South Carolina back to Lyme for the family, Ruhling said, but it’s been going well, and her two high schoolers like the school district.

She said that it’s bittersweet being back in Lyme without her father, but she can’t think of anywhere else she’d rather be.

“The people in the town are really supportive,” she said. “Many of them are customers of my dad’s, and it’s just been a positive experience.”

Ruhling said they’ve had some fun projects working with wooden boats, something her father was passionate about. John Leonard and his father were judges in the Antique and Classic Boat Rendezvous at Mystic Seaport, and were involved from the beginning, she said.

“My dad always worked on wooden boats here, it was kind of his forte,” Ruhling said. “Over the years, he had rebuilt some really amazing wooden boats, and had quite a following.”

The wooden boat business is waning now, but there are still some at the landing, and Ruhling said it’s been nice to be able to keep up some of her father’s legacy.

Not much has changed in the yard since her father bought it when she was in high school, said Ruhling. Her father would renovate a building and perform maintenance, but the layout has stayed the same, similar to the town around it. The beauty of Lyme, said Ruhling, is that not much has changed since she first left in 1991.

The marina is on the eastern bank of inner Hamburg Cove. Boaters can easily cross the calm water to access the outer cove leading to the Connecticut River, or Eight Mile River to the north, which gets shallower and grows lily pads and where boaters can see the beautiful bridge there, Ruhling said.

Cove Landing has a marina and offers indoor and outdoor winter storage for boats. It also offers seasonal and daily rental moorings on the cove, and rents out kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. There’s also a building near the water available to rent for parties or events.

The landing has been fairly busy recently. It’s not difficult to follow social distancing guidelines on shore, and boating is a socially distant activity anyway, Ruhling said. There has been an impact, but Ruhling said they’ve been able to stay on task and keep doing what they have been doing.

“There’s so much wildlife, and it’s just so peaceful and beautiful,” Ruhling said.

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