We’re not on the Cape anymore

A 40-foot model of the Titanic hangs over the dance floor at Captain’s Cove Seaport in Bridgeport, Conn. Photo courtesy Mark Barrett

June 2023

Part 3: This leg’s objective was to get from Branford, Conn., to Larchmont, N.Y., where wine appeared to be $70 a glass, and where we sensed a head-for-the-barn syndrome as the Statue of Liberty seemed well within our grasp.

By Mark Barrett

We left our slip at Bruce and Johnson Marina and motored out of the Branford River into Long Island Sound at 10 a.m., on Aug. 8, 2019, westward-bound for Black Rock Harbor. Diana had made a reservation using the Dockwa app at a marina called Captain’s Cove Seaport, in Bridgeport, only 22 miles away. This was not much ground to cover toward our ultimate destination, the Statue of Liberty; but Diana wanted to drop in on an old friend who lived near that city.

I grew up on Long Island Sound, in Stamford, Conn., and my memories of summer sailing in our Blue Jay were earmarked by light air, long paddles home, or tows by compassionate powerboaters. That was not the case on the day we left Branford. We had a steady 15-knot breeze out of the southwest – on the nose. We put a single reef in the main, rolled up a quarter of the jib, and sailed close-hauled all day. It took five or six long tacks, back and forth across the sound to get down to Black Rock Harbor. We arrived at 5 p.m., seven hours after leaving Branford, a trip that would have taken 30 minutes by car. But that’s just cruising under sail.

We motored up into the inner harbor and contacted the dockmaster at Captain’s Cove. Our slip assignment was on a floating dock connected to the fuel dock. For some reason, I decided it would be a good idea to back Mojo into the spot. Mojo, like most sailboats, does not go backwards very well. You have to build up a fair amount of momentum through the water before you can steer, and once you get going, you have to keep a death grip on the tiller so the big, outboard-hung rudder doesn’t snap over and knock you down.

We came in at a bad angle, with way too much momentum, and we hit the corner of the dock with our starboard side near the stern, right on the name Mojo. Luckily, we only scraped the gelcoat. We also left a big scar through the name decal, which served as a painful reminder of that ugly docking incident.

Captain’s Cove Seaport was both fun and interesting. A gigantic restaurant was right at the docks, with a deck overlooking the water. The bar was built around the wheelhouse of an old tugboat. A boardwalk was outside, with things for kids to climb on, and freestanding sheds housing shops that sold ice cream, candy, jewelry, and other trinkets.

Nearby, an outfall pipe emptied into a sort of pen in the water. The warm water from the pipe, and whatever else it was discharging, attracted menhaden, of which there were thousands swimming around in tight circles. It was mesmerizing staring down at them, along with the seagulls sitting on pilings. Menhaden are used for bait and fertilizer. Supposedly Squanto, a member of the Patuxet tribe, taught the Pilgrims to bury menhaden next to their corn stalks. I learned this from a sign on the dock.

That evening, we took an Uber to nearby Fairfield, where we met to visit Diana’s college roommate Mandy at a restaurant called Brick and Wood. We ate gourmet brick-oven pizza and drank beer and wine while Mandy and Diana reminisced about their days at the University of Massachusetts. Mandy gave us a ride back to Captain’s Cove and came down to the docks to check out Mojo. We sat in the cockpit for a while, and before she left she wrote in our logbook, “Keep your eyes on the horizon,” which is great advice for avoiding seasickness.

More great advice if you plan on sleeping late, is to ensure your transient slip is not next to a fuel dock. Inevitably, there will be noisy people fueling up early in the morning to go fishing, as was the case at Captain’s Cove. We were awakened at 6:30 a.m. and up and off the boat by 7:00. Tony, the friendly guy working the fuel dock, recommended a breakfast place just a short walk from the marina; it’s known as SOB, South on Bostwick Cantina & Grille.

Outside the marina, a heavily industrial area with a gigantic plant loomed over us as we walked to the restaurant. SOB was a tiny place, with seating for about four people. We had good coffee and delicious breakfast sandwiches served on homemade Portuguese rolls, while Diana chatted with the cheerful lady working behind the counter.

It was 9 a.m. when we pulled away from the fuel dock, with no accidents because we were pointing out. We motored down the channel and out into Long Island Sound. The wind was blowing again at 10 to 15 knots out of the southwest. It was a miracle. We were planning to sail only as far as my old hometown, Stamford, about 20 miles away. But the breeze was so steady and the sailing so delightful we decided to take advantage of it and continue farther.

All we saw of Stamford was the hazy skyline in the distance as we glided by. The Landmark Building, once the tallest structure for miles around, was now dwarfed by high-rise office buildings. I looked through the binoculars at Shippan Point, site of the waterfront house I grew up in, but we were too far out of range to see it clearly.

We adjusted our course to shoot for Mamaroneck, N.Y., and then, after another tack or two, changed our minds again and decided to continue farther down the sound to Larchmont. Diana used Dockwa to make a mooring reservation at the Larchmont Yacht Club (LYC). The breeze eventually quit in the late afternoon, and we dropped the sails and started motoring eight miles out from the LYC.

As we motored through the calm water, I noticed that we were occasionally passing through large schools of menhaden, so I threw out our trolling line. A while later, the monotony of motoring was interrupted by the singing of the reel as line peeled off spool. I threw the motor into neutral and grabbed the rod, which was bent over in half. I tightened the drag a little and tried to reel it in, but the line kept going out. “It’s a big one,” I yelled.

“You are not bringing a fish onto this boat,” Diana said. “I am not cleaning up blood and fish guts.”

It really was a big one. I couldn’t reel it in at all. Then I saw the lobster buoy a hundred yards or so off our stern. There are not very many lobster buoys in Long Island Sound, but I had managed to snag one with our fishing line. Try as I might, I couldn’t free the hook from the buoy and ended up breaking the line and losing my favorite Rebel lure. I wonder if that ever happened to Hemingway.

As we approached Larchmont Harbor, I raised the little burgee we carried from the Kingman Yacht Club, in Cataumet, Mass. I was under the impression that you had to be a member of a yacht club to be able to stay at another, although nobody ever asked or checked. But I always raised the little flag just in case.

The LYC was housed in a magnificent sprawling building surrounded by manicured grounds and with thousands of members stretching back generations. It was 5:30 by the time we were secure on our assigned mooring, way out near the stone breakwater. We had been under way for 8 1/2 hours, and were all too ready for our traditional arrival cocktails, mixed up in our big Yeti cups.

We relaxed in the cockpit for a while, watching a dinghy race right next to us. They were barely moving, sitting there waiting for occasional puffs of wind. At 7 p.m. we hailed the launch and rode into the yacht club. When we stepped on land, it meant that, on this cruise, we had visited Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and now New York.

The LYC had a fancy restaurant, an elegant bar, a large pool, half a dozen tennis courts, and a stable with horses. That part about the horses was a joke, but it felt like there might be horses around somewhere. There were tables set up on the expansive lawn, with white tablecloths, where well-dressed elderly couples were dining. I felt awkward walking past them, carrying my old canvas tote bag with my towel and shaving kit, but people coming off boats must have been a common sight. I looked over at Diana, whose curly head of hair had taken on a life of its own, and down at my wrinkled clothes and thought, We don’t look like we just got off any mega yacht – maybe boat gypsies off some old sailboat.

The shower facilities were top-notch, superb. I met a nice gentleman in the air-conditioned locker room who asked me where I was from and where I was going. After our showers, Diana and I walked about a half-mile into downtown Larchmont and had a nice dinner at the bar in a restaurant called the Vintage 1891 Kitchen. Diana had salmon, and I had a dish called Crispy Skin Branzino, a fish I had never heard of. It’s also known as European or Mediterranean sea bass. The meat was sweet and flaky, just like the bartender said it would be.

When we got back to the LYC, we stopped in at the bar and had a nightcap. The place was beautiful, with dark mahogany everywhere and dozens of half-models mounted on the walls. Leather straps, like those on old subway cars, were hung over the bar stools. I had a sense that the drinks would not be cheap, but I almost fell off my stool when I was handed the bill. “Boy, we’re definitely not on Cape Cod anymore,” I said, throwing down my credit card.

“What?” Diana said, as she perused the bill, then called the bartender over, explaining that he had charged us $70 for her single glass of red wine. “I think you charged us for a bottle by mistake,” she added. The bartender, who did not speak English, tried to convince her that the bill was correct. Soon the manager materialized and everything was adjusted amicably.

A little while later, back on Mojo, we realized we had not only forgotten to get ice, but Diana had forgotten to take her leftovers at the bar. We called the launch driver again, and he made another run out, delivering both of the items. We crawled up into the v-berth early that night, hoping to get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow would be the big day, on which we would transit the East River and dreaded Hell Gate, and enter the approaches to our symbolic and statuesque destination.

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.