Mojo: Maine or bust

Diana in her favorite spot aboard (above left), and Mark monitoring things (above right) on yet another windless day. Photos courtesy Mark Barrett

By Mark Barrett
For Points East

Since they became a cruising couple, Mark and Diana had dreamed of sailing to Maine in their own boat. In the September issue, Mark told of their almost flawless passage from Red Brook Harbor, in Buzzards Bay, to Gloucester, Mass., with their J/30 Mojo. In this installment, we continue their cruise north toward the pristine coast of the Pine Tree State.

Diana and I sat in the cockpit of Mojo and watched an almost-full moon rise over a fish-processing plant. Gloucester Harbor was flat calm, except when a commercial fishing boat passed nearby in the channel. They were going a little too fast on their way to work, ignoring the no-wake zone, not worried about rocking a few transient boats on moorings.

Eventually, we went below, not because we were ready for bed, but because Diana was addicted to a Netflix series called “Ozark,” and she’d figured out how to watch it on her computer by connecting to a hotspot on her phone. The old cribbage board wouldn’t get much use on this cruise, now that we had all this modern technology.

It was the same with the weather forecast: state-of-the-art prognostications had taken over. Instead of listening to the robotic voice on NOAA weather radio, we now had three different apps on our phones to find out what the wind was going to be for the next day. Unfortunately, for the second day in a row, there was no wind whatsoever in the forecast.

If we were in one of those big center-console boats, with three or four giant outboards on the back, it would have been a perfect forecast. We would have made it to our destination, Portsmouth, N.H., in less than an hour. But we were in a 30-foot sailboat with a 13-horse diesel. At our blistering five-knot cruising speed under power, we were looking at more than seven hours to cover the 37 miles.

We had a choice of two routes to get past Cape Ann on our way to Portsmouth. We could go out and around, or we could cut through the Annisquam River and save six or seven miles.

The Annisquam route sounded interesting in the guidebook, and it would be great to save the miles, but the tide was going out and I was nervous about our five-foot, six-inch draft in the shallow channel. There was also a stiff tidal current in the river, and boat traffic to contend with while waiting for narrow drawbridges to open. We opted for the longer route.

More correctly, I opted for the longer route. Diana was still asleep in the V-berth when we motored out of the harbor, and I knew she’d have wanted to go into town for a leisurely breakfast and a little shopping. We didn’t have time for that if we wanted to cover any distance before dark.

Outside the harbor, the seas were smooth and undisturbed. I attached the tiller pilot, set a course for Cape Ann Light, on Thacher Island, and kept an eye peeled for lobster buoys. Eventually, Diana awakened and poked her head out the companionway. She looked around, sleepy and disoriented, her gravity-defying curly hair sticking up in all directions.

“What’s so funny?” she said. “My hair?” She tried to smooth it down, but it sprang right back up.

“You are very adorable in the morning,” I said. “What’s for breakfast?”

“I see what you’re doing, by the way,” she responded. “I’m not stupid, you know. We’re getting into port after the shops are all closed, and then leaving before they open.”

“What are you talking about?” I said weakly. “Can you grab me a granola bar while you’re down there?” Dodged that bullet, sort of.

With Mojo’s two-cylinder diesel banging away, time slowed way down. I forced myself not to look at the clock for what seemed like a long time, and when I did only eight minutes had passed. I watched the tenths-of-a-mile tick away on the GPS, and, as we passed a clump of seaweed on the glassy surface, I thought, “Man, we could walk faster than this. We’re never going to get there.”

It’s a different story when the wind is blowing, and we can sail. There is something magical about being pulled along silently by crisp, white sails. You pay attention to the angle of the wind, the surface of the water, and the tug on the tiller. It’s not a lot of attention you have to pay, but it’s enough to keep you in the present moment. When the boat and the wind and the sails and the water come into a perfect balance, you are genuinely in the now, and hours pass unnoticed.

Not when Mojo’s diesel is running, however.

Diana and I dealt with the long, hot day of motoring by reading books. Diana was reading “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah and I was reading an old Robert B. Parker novel, “A Catskill Eagle,” I’d picked up from a take-one/leave-one shelf in a boatyard and stashed aboard for a day just like today. I had to look up from the book every couple of sentences to make sure we weren’t headed for a lobster buoy, and Robert Parker’s spare writing style was perfect for that.

At one point we were so bored that we played a game called “I Packed My Grandmother’s Trunk,” which my sisters and I played on road trips in the family station wagon. It was a memory game in which one person says, “I packed my grandmother’s trunk, and in it I put a . . .” and offers something that begins with the letter “A.” Then the next person says, “I packed my grandmother’s trunk, and in it I put a . . . ,” and they have to say the “A” object and add something that begins with the letter “B” and so on, until somebody forgets something. We made it through the whole alphabet. I recorded our list in the logbook for posterity.

After that, we took turns napping below, out of the blazing sun, and while I was dozing off, Diana saw a porpoise jump out of the water, or it might have been a dolphin. Neither of us knew the difference, but we Googled it on our phones and determined that it was a porpoise.

Modern technology came in handy again when we were trying to find a place to stay in Portsmouth. Instead of scanning the New England coast cruising guide to find a marina or yacht club to telephone, we used our new Dockwa app to make a reservation without having to talk to a human being. A few minutes later, an email popped up on my phone, announcing – with a happy tune and colorful falling confetti graphics – that our reservation was confirmed at the Wentworth Marina, at the Marriott-owned Wentworth by the Sea Hotel in New Castle, N.H.

The marina was located in what’s called Little Harbor, the first cove to the left when approaching the mouth of Portsmouth Harbor. We pulled up to the fuel dock and took on a whopping 5.4 gallons of diesel. We figured out that Mojo burned .37 gallons per hour at cruising speed. That meant Mojo’s 13.5-gallon tank should give us a range of 36 hours, which, at five knots, would be 180 miles.

One of the great things about coastal cruising is that a couple of pikers like Diana and myself, in an old, inexpensive sailboat like Mojo, could pull into a deluxe marina like Wentworth, and dock right between a million-dollar Grand Banks on one side and a million-dollar Sabre yacht on the other. I was pretty sure the stainless-steel anchor on the bow of the Grand Banks was worth more than our entire boat.

Without a doubt, this was the most deluxe marina we had been to since we started cruising on Mojo. The members of the uniformed dock crew waiting to catch our lines were clean-cut and polite. According to Diana’s Yelp research, the restaurant there, SALT Kitchen & Bar, was top-notch with plenty of stars. Included in our slip rental was access to the hotel pool and health club with a full spa. To top it off, the marina had several late-model SUVs as loaner vehicles.

As soon as we got Mojo secured in her slip, plugged in, and hosed off, we put our bathing suits on and went up to the pool. After a refreshing dip, we helped ourselves to some fluffy towels and reclined on lounge chairs at poolside, where we ordered cocktails and appetizers. The waiter working the pool area was yet another young, handsome guy wearing a tight shirt that showed off his muscular build. Diana kept flagging him down and asking him for things we did not really need – like side plates and extra napkins – and engaging him in completely unnecessary conversation. “You know, I used to be built just like that kid,” I said one time after he left.

After our poolside respite, we carried our clothes up from the boat in the canvas carryall bags they hand out at marinas, and took long, luxurious showers in the spa. The slip fee was $4 per foot, enough to make any true sailboat person decide to anchor out somewhere instead, but we sprang for the fee and were glad we did.

Several gas grills were spaced out on the wide boardwalk that ran along the heads of the floating docks, and we used one to grill some chicken cutlets. We carried them back to Mojo and ate dinner in the cockpit, a better setting than any five-star restaurant. After dinner, we put on our “good” clothes to go up to SALT and have a drink at the bar. In my case, “good” meant clean shorts, my one decent pair of Sperry Topsiders, and any shirt that had a collar.

Diana, on the other hand, had miraculously fit into her duffle bag at least a dozen outfits. She also had a bag full of shoes, and that night she picked a pair with high platform heels that were dangerous to wear anywhere near a boat.

The bar at SALT was small and intimate. We got two seats on the end and ordered our usual Tito’s and sodas. Next to us was a loud group of people who’d arrived by boat. Normally, Diana loves to strike up conversations, but this time she whispered, “Don’t engage.” Three sheets to the wind, they got steadily louder and more obnoxious. One of the guys ordered yet another bottle of wine, and the bartender decided to cut them off. It was clear that the shut-off procedure was not going smoothly, so we paid our tab and got out of there.

Back aboard Mojo, Diana insisted on watching an episode and a half of “Ozark,” so we stayed up later than we should have. In the morning we borrowed one of the marina vehicles and drove into Portsmouth to meet Diana’s daughter, Madison, for breakfast. Madison had graduated from the University of New Hampshire the past spring, and was working as a vet tech in a town near Portsmouth. She showed up with her trusty dog Dozer, who Diana loved more than any human, including me, and we ate at a dog-friendly place right downtown called Popovers.

Diana, fueled by coffee, excitedly recounted to Madison every single thing that had happened on our cruise so far. Madison nodded and listened with a polite expression on her face. I could read her mind: Who in their right mind would want to do that? Spend 24 hours a day for weeks with the same person? On that little boat, way out in the ocean?

We only had one errand to do in Portsmouth: Mail the sunglasses our dodger installer left aboard back at Kingman Yacht Center. They were cool, wraparound Maui Jim’s. Diana wanted to hold them as ransom until he sent us the cockpit awning he’d promised us, but we mailed them anyway.

We got off the dock that day at 11:50 a.m., bound for Portland, Maine. Again, I used modern technology – our Simrad chartplotter and the Navionics app on my phone – to calculate that it was a distance of 40 miles, and, therefore, it should take us approximately eight hours. Thus, I figured, we should arrive in Portland safely before dark.

Modern technology, it turned out, was only as good as the moron using it.

Part 3 will appear in the Jan./Feb. issue. Mark Barrett literally started at the bottom in the boating industry – scraping, washing and painting all sorts of vessels. He is a yacht broker for Cape Yachts in Dartmouth, Mass., and lives in Sandwich with the now-famous Diana. They sail their J/30 Mojo out of Red Brook Harbor, in Buzzards Bay.