Destination: Lady Liberty

Our goal was the iconic Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Photo courtesy Mark Barrett

May 2023

By Mark Barrett

In Part 1, in their quest for an up-close-and-personal experience with the Statue of Liberty, in New York Harbor, Mark and Diana sailed westward from their Cape Cod home port to Niantic, Conn., in Long Island Sound, by way of Cuttyhunk and Block Island. Leg 1 was earmarked by light air, “arrival cocktails,” a fireworks display and gams with cruising friends. In Part 2, the intrepid couple work their way deeper into the sound, destination Lady Liberty.


The sail from Great Salt Pond on Block Island to Niantic Bay in our J/30 Mojo took five hours and 15 minutes. The distance was 30 miles, so that worked out to an average speed of 6 knots. Not bad for a 30-foot sailboat. But our speed had been enhanced by a strong current behind us through The Race.

As soon as we passed through The Race, we pulled out the Maptech Embassy “Cruising Guide to Long Island Sound.” According to the guide, several large marinas were up in the Niantic River, but Diana’s attempts to book a spot on the Dockwa app, and calls on the phone, came up empty. Luckily, we were able to reserve a mooring at the Niantic Bay Yacht Club (NBYC), which was not in the river but tucked in behind a curved stone breakwater outside in Niantic Bay. We arrived at our mooring at 3 p.m.

The mooring was fine, as was the launch service. After showers at the club, we walked into town to an Irish pub on Main Street called The Black Sheep. The Black Sheep was worthy of its good Yelp reviews. We never went to a restaurant that Diana did not Yelp first. “Why take the risk?” she’d say.

After dinner at The Black Sheep, we wandered around town before going into The Main Street Grill for a cocktail. We were the only customers at the bar, so there were no local characters for Diana to strike up a conversation with, so we left after one round and found our way to another pub down the street called Smarty’s. It also was deserted, but no disrespect for the nightlife of Niantic. It was a Monday night after all. Then we hustled back to the club to catch the launch back to Mojo.

The next morning we had breakfast at a quirky little place called Cafe Sol, where everything was organic and “locally sourced.” We had them make a couple of Sol Salad Wraps, with turkey, for lunch later while we were sailing.

Since we were only planning to sail as far as Branford, Conn., about 30 miles, that day to see my friend Danny, we didn’t get under way early, for which Diana was ecstatic. There was nothing she enjoyed more than going ashore in the morning to Yelp a good breakfast place, then check in on Facebook. Facebook was her modern version of our old-fashioned logbook.

We had another reason to take our time: to take advantage of a favorable current in Long Island Sound. There was a light breeze blowing from the southeast that morning. It was 10:50 a.m. by the time we raised the mainsail and sailed off the mooring. We had to sail away on a starboard tack for a while to get to the layline that would take us past Black Point, the peninsula on the west side of Niantic Bay. Then we tacked back, and I thought that Mojo must look beautiful from the NBYC clubhouse as she heeled over and slipped smoothly through the calm water of the bay.

Unfortunately, and par for the course in Long Island Sound during the summer, the breeze quit after only an hour, and we had to drop the sails and start the motor. With a favorable current pushing us to the west, we motored at seven knots. Fog developed on and off throughout the day, at times extremely dense. At one point, we passed close by Falkner Island, but we could not see the island or the lighthouse.

This would be Diana’s first time going into Branford by boat. I had been in and out of this harbor several times on Danny’s trimaran, which he kept at a little boatyard called Birbarie Marine, way up the Branford River. Diana had made a reservation on Dockwa for a slip at Bruce and Johnson Marina, a deluxe property with a pool, restaurant and, hopefully, hot water in their showers.

Even though the fog had lifted, I misread the shoreline and overshot the buoy where we needed to turn north. We had to turn around and backtrack for about a mile. That’s what I got for thinking I knew where I was going and not putting waypoints into the GPS.

The river is home to four or five marinas and a lot of boats, some of them tied up fore-and-aft between pilings that line the river. We landed at the fuel dock at Bruce and Johnson West and took on our typical miserly amount of fuel, 2.8 gallons. The nice man working there radioed Bruce and Johnson East, got our slip assignment for us, and gave us directions. We pulled bow-in, and Diana tossed our lines to polite young dock attendants.

One of the first things we do when we get to a slip – or a mooring for that matter – is set up our cockpit awning. To install it, first we unclip the mainsheet, which, on a J/30, runs right through the middle of the cockpit from the traveler and clip it to a stanchion base outboard. Then we zip the awning to the aft edge of the dodger. Our spare boathook fits into loops on the aft edge of the awning, and we tie the center of the boathook to the backstay. The ends of the boathook are then tied down to the stern rail. The last step is to clip the main halyard to a loop in the top-center of the awning and raise it to form a peak. We can set it up or take it down in minutes. I think I love this red canvas awning almost as much as I love the folding cockpit table that sits on the traveler.

Once we were situated in our slip, I called Danny, who I’d grown up with in Stamford and known since the fourth grade. He came by with his friend Peter, and the four of us sat in the cockpit, in the shade of the awning, talking and drinking beer until we went up to the Dockside Seafood and Grill. Diana and I were back on the boat by 10 p.m., planning to stay in our luxurious slip for another whole day and night.

In the morning, Danny came by to take us to breakfast at the G Cafe Bakery, where we had strong gourmet coffee and excellent breakfast sandwiches. It was great to hang around with Danny and hear about his never-a-dull-moment lifestyle running a high-tech company, traveling to Europe for business, completing the build of his radical trimaran, restoring exotic cars, and waging political battles to protect his beloved Branford wetlands.

Diana had to attend to morning conference calls on her computer, so Danny and I went off to do some errands. There was a West Marine in Branford, and there I found something essential for the boat: the ribbons you insert at intervals in the strands of an anchor rode to indicate how much line you have run out. We had managed for years to get by without these markers, so I was happy that we had them now. And I kept my streak alive of never leaving a West Marine store empty-handed.

Back at the marina, Danny and I met Diana and Jack, another friend of Danny’s, at The Dockside for lunch. We sat up at the bar, and next to me was a local older gentleman named Stan. Turns out Stan was a huge fan of Hemingway and his short stories, as am I. I asked him what his favorites were, and he replied, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” I noted the titles in the logbook so I could reread them when I got home.

Jack owned a 44-foot Beneteau, which was in a slip on the set of docks next to Mojo. He was having a problem with his inverter, so we boarded his boat to check it out. Danny is a brilliant electrical engineer, and soon he and Jack had the electrical panel opened and were using a multimeter to test circuit breakers and otherwise diagnose the problem.

The inverter itself was in a compartment under the closet in the port aft cabin. While they were messing around at the panel – talking about volts, amps and ohms and other things I don’t comprehend – I got down on the floor and found a reset button on the inverter. I pressed it, and the problem was solved.

It was relaxing to know we were staying over in Branford another day and night and didn’t have to sail anywhere, especially since it was pouring rain. Danny picked us up to see the movie “Yesterday,” about a musician who, because of some implausible events, ends up being the only person on earth who has heard of The Beatles. As the story goes, he becomes famous by playing their songs and claiming them as his own. Talk about suspension of disbelief. But it was entertaining, and the music was great.

After the movie, Danny chauffeured us to the supermarket for provisions, and then back to the boat. Danny lived in a large, rambling house right on the marsh, not far from the marina, and he invited us to stay there. However, we wanted to stay in cruising-on-a-sailboat mode, so we politely declined. No regular bed on land could be more comfortable than Mojo’s cozy V-berth, anyway.

Danny came by the next morning and took us to G Cafe for breakfast, and at 10 a.m. we departed Bruce and Johnson and waved goodbye to my old friend, who was standing forlornly on the docks. I was sad to leave him behind, and I swore that someday we would have a bigger sailboat so we could all cruise around together – Diana, me, Danny, and one of his various girlfriends.

“Do you ever secretly wish you were like Danny?” Diana said. “Footloose and fancy-free, off-the-charts social life?”

“Absolutely not!” I asserted. I have the best girlfriend any man could ever ask for.”

“Aw, you’re just saying that because it’s true,” Diana replied.

Not only that, I thought. I was also saying that because my mama didn’t raise no fool.

Mark Barrett started at the bottom of the boating industry – literally – scraping, washing and painting the bottoms on all sorts of vessels. He currently works as a yacht broker for Cape Yachts in Dartmouth, Mass., and he lives in Sandwich, Mass., as does Diana. These days they sail their 1988 Freedom 30 Scout out of Red Brook Harbor in Buzzards Bay.