A new boat for Diana

Diana Donahue at the helm of the The author’s “new” boat, Mojo. Photo by Mark Barrett

By Mark Barrett
For Points East

Editor’s note: In “Cruising with Diana,” parts 1 and 2 (December 2019 and Midwinter 2020 issues), Mark detailed the slow, steady and oft-mercurial evolution of a cruising couple – he and his new girlfriend, Diana. She took to the cruising lifestyle like a duck to water aboard their 40-year-old, 24-foot racing boat with minimal, claustrophobic accommodations. With a double-handed crew now on the same page, it was time to trade up. The events in the following account took place two summers ago, pre-COVID-19, obviously.

As luck would have it, I came across a 1986 J/30 named Deep Cover for sale that fit the bill perfectly. It was proportioned just like the J/24, Student Driver, only bigger, and we were able to get it for a reasonable price of $17,000. I thought it was a good choice because Diana would already be familiar with the tiller steering and the way the traveler and mainsheet ran smack through the middle of the cockpit.

Below, the J/30’s cabin was cavernous compared to that of the J/24. It had all the comforts of home, plus standing headroom for us, all the way up to the forward cabin, where it did get pretty low again. Each of us had to whack our heads a couple times before we figured that out. The only real difference with the J/30’s rig was the roller-furling jib. No more crawling up onto the bow to hank on the jib or pull it down and stuff it into a bag. I’m glad we experienced a hank-on jib, but enough was enough.

Deep Cover had been well-equipped and well-cared for by several previous owners, so I had little to do to get her ready to cruise. I did put in an order with a local canvas guy for a bright red dodger, and a red awning that zipped to the dodger and attached to the backstay. We picked red to match the existing sail cover. The only other upgrade was a new toilet, not because there was anything wrong with the old one, but it just seemed like a good idea. If we couldn’t have a brand-new boat, at least we could have a brand-new toilet.

I believe the head was Diana’s favorite part of the new boat, and not just because of the new toilet. Although the head was cramped, because of the low ceiling and the mast going right through it, there was an actual door, so she finally had some privacy. And not only did it have a door, it also had two big mirrors so Diana could check on the state of her hair from different angles. There was even room for her to attach one of those magnifying mirrors that provided a horrifying close-up of every flaw and wrinkle on your face.

My favorite thing on the new boat was the 13-horse Yanmar 2GM diesel motor under the stairs. Its presence there meant no more fear of chopping off my fingers, or straining my back while battling with the outboard bracket on the transom of the old J/24. That thing was evil!

The next order of business was to rename the new boat. The name Deep Cover was fine with me, but Diana didn’t like it. She wanted to name the boat Mojo. She said that meeting me had helped her get her mojo back. Awww . . . I liked her choice of name because it was easy to pronounce, simple to spell, and clearly discerned over the VHF radio.

But you can’t just scrape off the old name and slap on the new one. That’s a huge no-no. Sailors are very superstitious. Next to baseball players, they are probably the most superstitious people on the planet. After a season cruising on Student Driver, Diana had become as superstitious a sailor as they come. She thoroughly researched the subject of sailors’ seagoing beliefs, and, as a result, we hung in the cabin a Nordic good-luck charm she made according to stringent directions. It consists of a blue cloth bag tied with a cord with seven knots. Inside the bag, I’m told, is some dirt from “sacred ground,” a fishbone, several other things, and some rocks. I’m scared to untie it and look inside.

On launching day, Diana printed out a four-page renaming ceremony she found on the internet. My job for this ritual was to remove all traces of the old name on board the boat. Mojo was the last boat to be launched that day, and the boatyard crew manning the hydraulic trailer and Travelift were anxious to get the job done and go home. Once the boat hit the water, they all stood around the edge of the launching pit and looked down on us – either impatiently or with curiosity or pity; I couldn’t tell which – as Diana performed the renaming ceremony.

“Oh, Poseidon, mighty ruler of the seas,” she read in a loud voice. “To whom all who sail upon your vast domain must pay homage. We implore you to remove from your records for all time the name Deep Cover . . . .”

The ceremony involved pouring champagne in the water toward all points of the compass, while begging the wind gods – like Zephyrus, the god of the west wind – to “spare us the scourge of your wild breath.” Diana was really into this. Finally, it came to an end, much to the relief of the launching crew. I peeled off the paper we had used to cover the new name, another part of the ritual, pulled the boat out of the pit, and took her to an empty slip.

We got her rigged up, and I carried the sail bags up from below and threw them on deck. Immediately Diana noticed they still had tags on them that said Deep Cover and bellowed, “Hey, what’s this B.S.?” She ripped a tag off a bag and waved it in front of my face.

“Oh, crap!” I said.

“You were supposed to remove all traces of the old name!”

“I did, I did! Well, I thought I did . . . .”

“We have to do the whole ceremony all over again,” she said.

“Really? We do?”

“Oh, yes. Yes, we do.”

As with Student Driver, Nantucket’s Figawi Race, on Memorial Day weekend, would be our shakedown cruise on Mojo. We would have to get the boat from Red Brook Harbor, in Buzzards Bay, over to Hyannis, race from Hyannis to Nantucket, and then sail her from Nantucket all the way back to Red Brook Harbor. That’s a total distance of almost 100 miles, maybe 20 hours or more of sailing Mojo, which, we felt, would give us a good J/30 orientation.

Diana was excited about the race. The year before, with Student Driver – in her first Figawi and first sailboat race – we had placed 2nd in our class, with Diana at the helm the entire way. This led her to believe that we would easily win this year. I tried to lower her expectations by reminding her we had never sailed Mojo before, that last time light conditions had favored the J/24, and that a lot of luck was involved.

She wasn’t having any of it. “What the hell are you talking about?” she snapped. “We have a bigger, faster boat this time, and that means we’re going to win. Don’t put any of your negativity out there into the universe.”

Bursting with positivity, we got the boat through Woods Hole and over to Hyannis in about seven hours. A 10- to 12-knot northwest wind blew that day, so we sailed Mojo on a beam reach most of the way. Diana and I wore smiles the entire time. Everything is relative, and after the J/24, the J/30 felt like a substantial yacht. We changed our perspective when we put her into a slip in Hyannis, among much bigger boats. Then she looked pretty small.

This time around, the weather on race day didn’t favor us. It was blowing 20 to 25 out of the southwest in the morning, and forecast to increase as the day went on. I figured I’d better reef the sails, and it was a good thing I did. In fact, I should have put the second reef in the main. As the wind picked up, we had trouble keeping the boat upright. With just two small, light people aboard, and no “rail meat,” we were heeled too much. Even when I put the traveler down and luffed the main a little, it was a struggle for Diana to steer in a straight line.

By the halfway point, we had lost track of where we stood in the large fleet of boats – all classes mixed together. However, one boat 100 yards to port had a sail number that indicated it was in our class, so Diana raced against it. At one point, I looked aft at her, and her body was straight out, her feet braced against the leeward cockpit bench. She had both arms wrapped around the tiller, pulling it to windward to counteract the severe weather helm. “Is it supposed to be like this?” she said.

“Not exactly,” I said. “You want me to take over?”

“No, I’m passing that boat little by little. I refuse to let them beat us.”

Eventually her arms gave out, and she reluctantly handed the tiller to me. Shortly thereafter, Mojo hit a wave that threw up a wall of spray that drenched us. As soon as her arms recovered, she wanted the tiller back. “You’re losing ground to that boat over there,” she said.

“No, I’m not!”

“Get out of my way!”

She steered the rest of the way. We crossed the line barely ahead of that boat we had been neck-and-neck with the entire race. On the way into Nantucket Harbor, Diana attempted to take a picture of the famous Brant Point Lighthouse and discovered that her phone was dead, soaked in saltwater by my wave. Panic ensued.

As soon as we hit the dock, Diana leaped off the boat, ran to a little supermarket, and bought a bag of rice. Back aboard, she stuffed the phone into the rice and began to pray. I’ve heard it said that all those who go to sea in small boats eventually become religious. Well, I can say with certainty that all whose phones get soaked in saltwater instantly become religious.

“It’s your fault,” Diana said. “Only one wave came into the cockpit like that all day, and it happened while you were driving.”

“It was just a freak accident, you know, a rogue wave, your pocket not being zipped up. Just bad luck, that’s all.”

“It was Poseidon!” she yelled.


“Poseidon was angry because you forgot to take the old tags off the sail bags.”

“But we did that whole ceremony all over again,” I whined weakly.

We came in second-to-last that day, beating the boat we had been racing beside almost the entire race. The slight satisfaction of at least beating one boat was greatly outweighed by the tragedy of the dead iPhone.

We were sitting in the cockpit of Mojo, coming to grips with the frightening prospect of not being able to text each other in the event we got more than a hundred yards apart, when four guys approached. They wore identical long-sleeve jerseys with wide black and yellow horizontal stripes.

“We were on the boat right next to you,” one of them said. “Where’s the rest of your crew?”

“It was just the two of us,” I said.

“Wow, just the two of you? On a day like today? That’s impressive.”

“I was the driver,” Diana said, “and there was no way in hell I was going to let you guys pass us.”

“Well congratulations, you did a great job,” he said. That they were impressed by our double-handed crew, and Diana’s sailing ability, diminished the grief, somewhat, over the dead iPhone.

After that long weekend of sailing we felt pretty confident the two of us could handle Mojo in any conditions. We were also blown away by how roomy and luxurious the accommodations were compared to those of the J/24, and it was a perfect time to plan a cruise for the upcoming summer.

“I’ve always wanted to sail on the coast of Maine,” I said. “There’s this body of water called Eggemoggin Reach I’ve read about my whole life.” I pulled up the Navionics App on my phone and pointed it out to her.

“Is that near Mount Desert Island?” Diana asked. “I’ve always wanted to climb Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.”

“Yeah, that’s right here, right in the same vicinity.”

We looked at each other, and Diana smiled. I nodded. And that’s how we decided upon our next adventure.

Mark Barrett started at the bottom in the boating industry – literally – scraping, washing and painting all sorts of vessels. He currently works as a yacht broker for Cape Yachts in Dartmouth, Mass., and lives in Sandwich, with the now-infamous Diana Donahue. They sail their J/30 Mojo out of Red Brook Harbor, in Buzzards Bay.