Fetching Lady Liberty

Diana, relaxing in the cockpit of Mojo. Photo by Mark Barrett

Winter 2023

By Mark Barrett
For Points East

Lady Liberty in New York Harbor seemed like one of those iconic tourist sites everybody should visit at least once, and Diana and I could visit it for the first time together. How romantic! And sailing down that way would take us right past Stamford, Conn., and the house on the water where I grew up. I was sure Diana would be fascinated to see that.

We set off aboard Mojo on Friday, Aug 3, leaving our mooring in Cape Cod’s Red Brook Harbor at 11:30 a.m., and motoring out the twisty channel into Buzzards Bay. It was a sunny day, and soon the dependable afternoon sou’wester piped up to 15 to 18 knots. Our destination for the first leg of the trip was Cuttyhunk Island, a little over 20 nautical miles away. The island was due southwest, so that meant a hard day of tacking ahead.

We sailed Mojo upwind that day with a double-reefed main, and about a quarter of the jib rolled up; it was only a working jib anyway. The first tack took us across the bay to Green “3” off Bird Island; the second tack, leaving Cleveland Ledge to port, took us down to Quissett Harbor; the third tack back across to the Phinney Rock Buoy outside Padanaram; and the fourth tack all the way to the RW “CH” buoy near the entrance to Cuttyhunk Harbor. Thank you, Rod Johnstone, for designing the J/30, which can sail upwind so efficiently.

Six-and-a half hours after we left our mooring, we dropped the mainsail and started the diesel engine. Cuttyhunk was crowded with vessels, even more so than usual for a Friday afternoon in the summer. All the town moorings on the outside were taken, and dozens of boats were riding on their own anchors. It seemed unlikely that we would find an open mooring on the inside, but we decided to go in and have a look anyway.

Diana switched on the special mental powers she used primarily for scoring open seats at crowded bars, hoping it would also work for moorings, and we motored in through the narrow entrance. Right away it was obvious that our chances were slim-to-none. There were boats hovering around all over the place, looking for a vacancy. Many moorings had multiple boats rafted up together. Boats were anchored all around the perimeter of the mooring field, where I knew, from experience, there was poor holding ground in thick eelgrass.

We took one lap around and headed out, only to get turned around in the channel by a cruise ship on its way in. It was not large by cruise-ship standards – something called Blount Small Ship Adventures – but it was tall and wide enough to fill up the tiny entrance channel entirely so no boats could pass. We waited with several other boats while the vessel crept in slowly and then ponderously spun around so it could dock alongside the bulkhead with the bow facing out.

Cuttyhunk on the outside is well-protected in a southwest wind, and there is no issue with eelgrass out there; it is fine holding ground. We picked a spot way out on the fringe; we were not planning to go ashore in our inflatable dinghy.

Diana mixed up a couple of our traditional “arrival” cocktails: Tito’s and soda and a splash of whatever juice we had in the cooler, usually cranberry. We lounged in the cockpit and watched a tugboat and barge anchor near us. I didn’t like this big, rusty barge anchoring so close to us, but our anchor had set well, and I was reluctant to move to another spot.

A great feature here is the Cuttyhunk Raw Bar boat. We saw it making the rounds near us and called it on VHF Ch. 78. We bought a dozen freshly shucked oysters and 12 shrimp to go with our cocktails. The price was shocking, but you could not beat the ambiance.

At some point, I received a text from a friend of ours, Mary Dixon. She and her husband Chris were on board their Pearson 303 Mariah, which was anchored a hundred yards in front of us. They had spotted us, with our bright-red dodger, entering the anchorage, and we made plans to stop by later. I set up the grill on the stern rail, and Diana made a delicious dinner of grilled chicken and salad, which we savored from the small folding table in the middle of the cockpit.

After dinner, we rowed to Mariah with fresh cocktails as cargo. Chris is English, and Mary is Irish, and neither one of them was opposed to raising a pint of beer or a glass of wine. Also on board were a couple from an identical Pearson 303 – anchored nearby – friends of theirs named Neil and T. By the time we arrived at Mariah, all on board were already in a festive mood.

“What’s going on around here?” Diana asked. “Why are there so many boats?”

“Don’t you know?” Mary said. “There’s a big fireworks display tonight. They’re going to shoot them off that barge right there.”

“Wow!” Diana said. “We have a front-row seat!” Diana loved fireworks. “Mark, did you know about this?”

“Of course I did,” I said. “I wanted to surprise you.”

“Liar!” It was a perfect example, though, of one of the great joys of cruising: You never know what special occasion you are going to stumble into.

We enjoyed the beautiful sunset ­– something Cuttyhunk is famous for – while sipping our cocktails and talking about boats, sailing, and the places we wanted to go or had already been. Chris and Mary were avid cruisers, and they kept Mariah in Bristol condition. Mary had candles burning below in the cozy cabin and a clothesline strung up to dry bathing suits and towels. When our cocktails ran out, Chris mixed us up a couple of new ones with rum. He was smiling from ear to ear the whole time, so happy to be on his beloved sailboat with friends on a warm summer night in such a beautiful harbor.

The fireworks were spectacular from our vantage point next to the barge, and, luckily, nothing went sideways. We got back to Mojo late and slept late, and we didn’t take off until 9:30 a.m. Our destination: Newport, R.I., about 25 miles away. A slight breeze wafted out of the southwest, right on our nose, and too light to make headway under sail, so we just kept motoring. After an hour or so, we altered course and headed for Block Island instead.

Block was 10 miles farther, but since we were motoring and could therefore travel in a straight line, we thought it best to put more miles under the keel toward Lady Liberty. At 3:45 p.m., we were at the entrance to Great Salt Pond. We called the harbormaster, who gave us mooring No. 206 ($46) on the west end of the mooring field. We were hot, sweaty and grouchy after more than six hours of motoring through sloppy seas and listening to the motor. I hung the swim ladder over the stern, and we jumped in. A leisurely dip in the cool, clean water of the pond, followed by “arrival” cocktails in the cockpit, cured our grouchiness.

At 7 p.m., we called the launch on VHF Ch. 68 and rode into shore. Diana Yelped a good place to eat nearby, and we made our way to the bar at Dead Eye Dick’s. Diana had salmon with a cherry jalapeno glaze, and I had an arugula salad with grilled chicken. Sitting next to us was a local sailor, Dean Matthews. When I said I was feeling a little old to be cruising in a J/30, Dean laughed, saying he was 75 and still racing sailboats. When he got up to leave, he grabbed my shoulder and said, “Never give up sailing, kid; it’s the best way to stay young.” I Googled him later and learned that he had won a Long Island Sound sailing championship in 1972, sailing out of the Riverside Yacht Club in Riverside, Conn.

After dinner, we wandered over to The Oar for one more cocktail. This restaurant has hundreds of old oars nailed to the walls and hanging from the ceiling. There was great ambiance at the bar, and we wanted to stay longer, but we had taken the launch in, so we had to head back before the launch stopped running.

The next morning, we took on two gallons of diesel at Champlin’s before leaving at 9:45: destination, Niantic, Conn., 30 miles away. The wind had switched around to the east-southeast and was blowing about 12 knots. We broad-reached at 4.5 knots for two hours; then the wind dropped off, we rolled up the jib, dropped the main, and started the diesel. Diana handed me the tiller pilot. I snapped it into place and plugged it in.

“We should have a pretty good current with us,” Diana said, holding up her phone to show me the screen.

“Look at you,” I said. “Getting apps on your phone and figuring out the currents.”

“I just love this Deep Zoom app,” she said. “At this speed, we’re going to hit The Race at just the right time.”

She showed me how the arrows got bigger to show stronger current as she slid her finger along the timeline. It was impressive how far Diana had come in such a short time, having never sailed before we met. Either she was a natural sailor, or I was a fantastic instructor. Or maybe sailing wasn’t all that difficult.

After two seasons of sailing around on Mojo, she was already excellent on the helm in all conditions, could furl and unfurl the jib, raise and lower the mainsail, knew the points of sail and how to trim the main and jib. She knew how to start and stop the motor and how to shift gears, how to check the oil level, and how to make sure the engine was pumping water.

She knew how to run the outboard and steer the dinghy . . . well, more or less. She had figured out how to put routes and waypoints into the chart plotter, and now she was figuring out how to predict the currents, a crucial factor for piloting a sailboat along the New England Coast. It suddenly dawned on me that my days were numbered as the captain of Mojo.

The Race is the three-and-a-half-mile-wide gap between Little Gull Island and the western tip of Fishers Island, through which all the water in Long Island Sound flows in and out with the tide. It’s one of those places along the New England coast where people in sailboats want to be traveling with the tidal current, considering the current in The Race can run close to five knots. The day we went through, there was no wind, and we were motored with the strong current behind us. According to the GPS, in the middle of The Race we were making 8.5 knots over the ground.

“Eight-point-five!” I called out.

“See? That means the current is three and a half knots with us,” Diana replied. “Just like it says here on Deep Zoom.”

“Okay, now go on, Dockwa,” I said. “Get us a reservation for a mooring or a slip somewhere in Niantic.”

“Aye, Aye, Captain,” she said as she started tapping away on her phone. My exalted position was still secure – for a little while, anyway.

To be continued…

Mark Barrett started at the bottom in 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 lives in Sandwich, Mass., as does Diana. These days they sail their 1988 Freedom 30 Scout out of Red Brook Harbor in Buzzards Bay.