Mojo bound for Maine

The author at Mojo’s helm. The boat’s small diesel was a welcome change from the outboard on his last boat. Photo by Diana Donahue

By Mark Barrett
For Points East

“I’ve always wanted to sail on the coast of Maine,” I said to Diana at the end of our last cruise. “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?” she asked. “I’ve always wanted to climb Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.”

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

We looked at each other, and Diana smiled. I nodded. And that’s how we decided upon the ongoing adventure that begins here and continues in the issues to follow.

It was Saturday, July 28, 2018. The big day had arrived for Diana and me to set off on Mojo, our J/30, from Red Brook Harbor, in Buzzards Bay, bound for Mount Desert Island in Maine. This would be our first cruise Downeast. At 8:30 a.m., the boat was at the dock at Kingman Yacht Center, loaded up and ready to go. Well, almost ready.

The dodger we’d ordered eight months earlier had not been installed. The canvas guy was putting it in place while we sat in the cockpit waiting to leave. We watched as he measured meticulously, checked his measurement twice, made a tiny X with his pencil, then drilled a hole in the cabin top. He screwed in a snap, going in halfway and then backing it all the way out, before screwing it all the way in. There were a lot of snaps.

“Hey, anything I can do to help?” I asked. “We have to get moving or we’re not going to make it through the canal today.”

“No, no, I’ll be done here in just a few moments,” he said. He had a thick English accent, so it was hard to get mad at him. Besides that, the man built beautiful dodgers, even though it took forever to get one from him. He’d completely forgotten about the awning we ordered to cover the cockpit, but he promised that he would make it as soon as he got back to his shop and then ship it to us somewhere along the coast of Maine.

We finally left the dock at 9:56 a.m., bright-red dodger in place, and we reached the west end of the Cape Cod Canal at slack tide. That meant we were bucking a stiff current by the time we reached the east end. Mojo’s 13-horse diesel did not like that. We were making headway at 2.9 knots as we approached the Sandwich Boat Basin. People walking briskly on the canal path were passing us, some of them pushing strollers.

Diana’s house was near that end of the canal, in a close-knit neighborhood of Sandwich called Town Neck, and she often hung around there with a group of older, retired schoolteachers known as The Town Neck Girls. They were an energetic bunch of women who spent the majority of their time planning and throwing raucous parties at each other’s houses. Diana was their “prospect,” as if they were in a motorcycle gang. Three of them came down to the canal to see us off, standing on the bulkhead as we motored slowly past. I suppose it was a very nice gesture on their part, but the way they waved goodbye as we went out to sea made me nervous.

We were heading for Provincetown Harbor, on the tip of Cape Cod, planning to stay overnight. From there, the original plan had been to sail straight up to Mount Desert Island, a distance of 155 nautical miles as the crow flies. “It would be about 30 or 35 hours straight,” I’d told her during the planning of our cruise. “That way, we get way up to Maine quickly, accomplish our goal of climbing Cadillac Mountain, and we can take our time on the way back.”

“Did you say 30 hours straight?” she’d responded. “Five hours is my limit – maybe six – then we’re going in somewhere. It needs to be daylight while we’re sailing so we can see land the whole time.”

We’d be taking the shore route.

Outside the canal, in Cape Cod Bay, the wind was light and out of the north. We raised the sails and glided along silently and peacefully for about an hour, when the wind died and we started the motor. The two-cylinder diesel was loud, and it vibrated the whole boat. It was the opposite of peaceful.

About nine miles out from Provincetown, the wind came up from the southwest, and we were able to sail on a broad reach at six knots all the way into the harbor. We dropped our sails and hailed Provincetown Moorings Company on VHF Chan. 9. While we were waiting for the launch to show us to our mooring, the wind suddenly got stronger and the sky turned ominously dark. By the time the launch got out to us, a nasty chop had built up in the mooring field, and a squall was imminent. The gray curtain of rain could be seen approaching across the water. Diana was up on the bow getting ready with the boathook, but I yelled at her to come back and take the helm so I could grab the mooring pennant in challenging conditions.

It got a little hectic. Diana motored up too fast and didn’t put the engine in neutral soon enough. I shouted out a few commands, and it was a struggle to hold onto the pendant with the boathook. Luckily the J/30 is a fairly light boat. Eventually, I got the mooring pennant secured to the bow cleat, and we scurried below to wait out the squall.

“Listen, you can’t freak out like that,” Diana said.

“I wasn’t freaking out. I was talking loudly so you could hear me.”

“You’re supposed to remain calm at all times. When you start yelling and running around like a maniac it makes me nervous.”

“Did you see that squall line coming? I didn’t want to miss that mooring and have to go around again.”

“You were panicking.”

“No, I wasn’t,” I said. “I never panic.”

Once the squall blew past, the sun came out again, and moods improved. We hailed the launch again for a ride into town. Provincetown was its glorious bustling self, with gangs of colorful characters parading up and down Commercial Street. Every restaurant was packed, but we were able to conjure, with the power of our minds, two seats at the upstairs bar in The Lobster Pot.

The food and service there were spectacular. We had an amazing meal of kale soup and cioppino, plus several Tito’s and sodas. Back on the boat, we played two hands of cribbage, winning one each, but we were too tired to play the rubber match. We crawled up into the V-berth, and drifted off to sleep in the now perfectly calm harbor.

The next morning, at 8:15 a.m., we took the launch to shore. Somehow, I had managed to lose my toothbrush, or maybe I forgot to bring it, so we walked around trying to find somewhere to buy one. They sell a lot of interesting stuff in those stores along Commercial Street. You can get brass knuckles, switchblades, kinky leather clothing, drug paraphernalia, and every kind of erotic device known to man, with even a museum for such contrivances. But we couldn’t find a place to buy a toothbrush. Diana looked pretty disgusted when we got back aboard Mojo and I asked if I could borrow hers. She eventually handed it over.

The debate now was whether to go into Boston or somewhere farther north. Boston would take us out of the way, so we opted to shoot for Gloucester Harbor, on the southern side of Cape Ann, a distance of about 46 miles. There was no wind that morning, and none predicted for later, so it looked like it was going to be a long day of motoring.

The hook-shaped land that protects Provincetown Harbor requires that you go out and around for more than eight miles before you reach Race Point, at the very tip, so you can finally turn north. The water off Race Point goes from 100 feet to three feet in a matter of yards. A cluster of two dozen fishing boats was only a short stone’s throw from the shore when we got there, some trolling and others drifting. We motored smack through the middle of the pack, then pointed Mojo north toward Cape Ann, now about 38 miles away.

Just a few miles to the north was another fleet of fishing boats, and, as we passed through them, two whales surfaced off our starboard side. This was our first experience with whales while on Mojo, and, at the start of our trip, we took it as a good omen.

The sky was clear, the sun was hot, and Cape Cod Bay was flat calm. The only breeze was the apparent wind caused by our forward movement at five knots, just enough to keep us from sweating. Diana was wearing the red bathing suit that matched our new dodger. She carried one of our blue folding seats up close to the bow so she could sit down on it and put her feet up on the bow rail, one on the port side and one on the starboard side. She looked like a woman with her feet in the stirrups at the doctor’s office. We chugged along like that, Diana reading her book up forward, while I stayed back in the cockpit near the tiller pilot, in case I had to make an adjustment to the steering.

At one point along the way, with the hazy skyline of Boston visible way off our port side, we motored right into a large flock of tiny black birds with white tails that were sitting on the water. They all took off at once and flitted around Mojo for a few moments like a cloud of butterflies, then settled back down in our wake as we continued on our course.

At 6 p.m., after eight hours of motoring, we finally arrived at Gloucester’s Eastern Point. Cracking open our “Embassy Cruising Guide: New England Coast, 12th Edition” for the first time, I looked up Gloucester Harbor and randomly picked Brown’s Yacht Yard to call for a place to stay. The pleasant woman who answered the phone had a mooring available, and she gave us directions on how to find it.

It was a great relief to drop the loop over our bow cleat and finally shut off the motor. Diana mixed up a couple Tito’s and sodas in our big, insulated Yeti cups, and we sat in the cockpit to take in our surroundings. We were in the inner harbor, right across the channel from a massive concrete structure on the waterfront. The windowless building was supported by a dark forest of rotten-looking pilings, and we could see a couple kids climbing around on the rocks under them. It looked dangerous, but you could understand how it would be an irresistible place to explore if you were a kid living it that neighborhood.

We traveled with our Magma grill stowed in the cockpit locker, so I retrieved it and carefully secured it to the stern rail. Once before, on another boat, I had dropped a crucial piece overboard, so I am always paranoid while setting it up. Mojo came equipped with this clever little folding cockpit table that cantilevered off the traveler, and I set that up, too. Diana grilled up a delicious dinner of steaks and peppers, every single bite of which we savored while we watched the sun set over the town of Gloucester.

After dinner and another round of cocktails, we decided it would be a great idea to get in our inflatable dinghy and go all the way across the harbor in the dark to a big waterfront restaurant we could see through binoculars. As we went around a point of land in the inner harbor, close by a rocky outcropping, somebody yelled “Hey!” out of the dark. I looked back and saw the taught fishing line right before it snapped.

“Sorry about that!” I yelled at the dark shape up on the rocks.

I quickly shut off the outboard and tilted it up. Luckily, nothing was fouled on the prop. If, by some chance, you were the person fishing off the rocks that night, send me your name and address and I’ll send you a new lure.

We landed on a long dock and tucked the dinghy in between a ferry boat and a beautiful Hinckley powerboat, but when we got to the top of the ramp, we found that we were fenced in. It was a fairly high fence, securely locked. The only thing stopping us from climbing over it was that the restaurant was on the other side of the fence, and people sitting at outside tables staring at us. We decided to try to find somewhere else to land.

We motored quite a distance up along the shoreline until we found a place to land right near town. It was a hot, muggy night, and, for some reason, the streets were deserted. We stopped at a bar that was devoid of people, but at least it was air-conditioned. We ordered one last round of Tito’s and sodas.

“Okay, where are we going tomorrow?” Diana asked.

I pulled out my phone and brought up the Navionics app.

“I guess maybe Isles of Shoals,” I said.

“What’s there?”

“I don’t know. Or we could go to Portsmouth.”

Diana’s daughter Madison lived in New Hampshire, somewhere near Portsmouth.

“Let’s go to Portsmouth,” Diana said. “I’ll call Madi and see if she can meet us.”

“Portsmouth it is,” I said.

We clinked our glasses together and drained the last of our drinks, paid the tab, and went outside into the hot, humid night. A CVS was right across the street. Diana took my hand and started pulling me toward it.

“Where are we going now?” I asked.

“To get new toothbrushes,” Diana said. “For both of us.”

Part 2 will appear in the October/November issue. 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 Diana. They sail their J/30 Mojo out of Red Brook Harbor, in Buzzards Bay.