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Albert Einstein Summers in Rhode Island, Connecticut

He showed off his lack of sailing skills


Even the greatest minds need a rest now and then, and in the 1930s Albert Einstein rested his in New England, spending several summers in Watch Hill, R.I., and at least one in Old Lyme, Conn.

Einstein, the legendary physicist who gave the world the theory of relativity, liked to relax playing the piano and violin, and sailing. And he loved summertime.

Einstein was wildly famous and easily identified in America, where he came to avoid persecution in his native Germany. As Hitler had intensified his persecution of Jews, the Nazis had seized Einstein’s home, turning it into an Aryan youth camp. They stole and sold his sailboat and burned his books.

Though he didn’t know how to swim, Einstein continued his sailing in exile in New England and New York. He couldn’t sail too well, and locals often had to fish him out of the water.

Albert Einstein in 1947

Einstein on the Water

In the summers of 1933 and 1934 he was a regular sight sailing a 22-footer in Watch Hill. And his sailing around the waters of Connecticut were legendary. With his wild hair and easily recognizable features, people couldn’t help but notice when he landed on a sandbar. He often ran aground, according to his biographers, lost direction or collided with other vessels.

He once ran aground off Old Saybrook in the summer of 1935. Newspapers had a field day. The New York Times ran a headline: “Relative Tide And Sand Bars Trap Einstein.” Another newspaper put it this way: “Einstein’s Miscalculation Leaves Him Stuck On Bar Of Lower Connecticut River.”

During his New England vacations he also would often would meet with other scientists and debate principles of advanced mathematics and physics in the cool summer evenings. He always took a pencil and pad with him on his sailboat, so he could write down his thoughts if the wind died.

His thoughts, however, also strayed to his lost homeland. He kept careful note of the schedule of Hitler’s speeches so he could listen to them on the radio while watching the waves from his Watch Hill cottage.

And on Dry Land

Gillette Castle in East Haddam

While staying in Old Lyme, someone recommended that Einstein visit Gillette Castle. He was said to have enjoyed Gillette’s miniature three-mile railroad. No danger of running aground there.

This story was updated in 2023.


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