Readers of my book The Cure for Anything is Salt Water-yes, both of you- will recall that I spent some very happy moments at Sunset Beach on Shelter Island. I had just brought my steel trawler Bossanova up the east coast from Florida to Sag Harbor-my inaugural voyage at the helm-and was feeling great. An unexpected romance and a series of Sunday afternoons whiled away over bottles of Chateau Minuty at Sunset Beach just put the whole experience over the top ahhh. Good memories.
So, you can understand why I was more than happy to get out of Yachting's midtown Manhattan office for two sweltering days in August, and cruise the East End and North Fork aboard a Mochi Craft Dolphin 44.
It's no secret that the East End and North Fork of Long Island are truly beautiful places-edged with gorgeous beaches, striped with green fields, dotted with farmstands, and bathed in a very special light-which is why approximately 50 percent of greater New York City braves a 90-mile, four-hour drive every Friday in summer to get there. The end result is a bucolic area that's overrun with aggressive, affluent type-As-but nothing's perfect. My secret to enjoying summer in the Hamptons has always been to bring some groceries, stop at a farmstand en route for the fresh stuff, and then climb aboard for the weekend. There is no finer way to enjoy this part of the world than from the water.
Our trip started from Sag Harbor, where I once lived aboard for a while, and it's still my favorite town on the East End. a charming village, it's home to a great mix of locals, New Yorkers, artists, and writers-it feels a little more diverse and less ostentatious than the rest of the Hamptons. I love it mostly, though, because it's still soaked in its history as a whaling village-it reeks of the sea.
For me, every trip to Sag starts with lunch at Dockside (see "tell them Mary Sent You," below) and afterward, it was just a short walk down Bay Street to reach the Allied Marine offices. Allied is part of the Ferretti Group, and their seasonal office in Sag Harbor last summer was a brand-new experiment, prompted in part by their dreams for the Mochi 44.
"Opening the Sag Harbor office was a big gamble, in this economy," said Alberto Perrone da Zara, then Vice President of Sales and Service for Ferretti Group USA, as we climbed aboard. (Da Zara has since become CEO of Vicem Yachts.) "But we wanted to show the Mochi 44 in its 'natural habitat.' It's not big enough or glitzy enough for Florida."
It was easy to see Da Zara's point. The Mochi 44 is a very sexy, Italian variation on the Downeast theme-a lobster boat to the manor born. This one was a glossy flag blue, upholstered in creamy leather, with a helm that was protected by a single piece of curved glass. In a word, it was hot, even while tied to the dock.
Yachting's art Director Dave Pollard, photographer Pamela Jones, Da Zara, and I set off from Sag Harbor and headed out into Gardiner's Bay on a beautiful sunny day with a light breeze and very little chop. Our first stop was for a photo op at Orient Long Beach Bar Light, which is better known as "Bug Light." When our chase boat failed to show up, Da Zara and Jones gamely scrambled into the RIB, which gave us a chance to admire both their ingenuity and the way the transom hydraulically folds down to create a swim platform, simultaneously revealing the dinghy garage: it's a pretty nifty trick on a 44-foot yacht.
"We have rewritten the Downeast yacht, with one substantial difference," noted Da Zara, who pointed to the Hinckley picnic boat as their most natural competitor, as we sped smoothly over the bay toward Shelter Island, "the Hinckleys are jet boats, with very shallow drafts. The 44 draws 4 feet, 4 inches and has a deadrise of 16 degrees. It's a very comfortable ride." Of course, there are other picnic-style competitors with deeper drafts than the Hinckley Talarias, but i couldn't argue with Da Zara about the 44's performance.
Twin 575-horsepower Volvo Penta engines pushed us to 29½ knots at 2400 rpm, but with a clean bottom, the 44 has a reported top speed of 32½ knots. A deep-V hull design topped with very sweet flare kept everything bone dry and the lines of sight were excellent, thanks to that single piece of molded glass above the helm.
The Mochi 54 was the first model introduced here and did very well-there are 11 of them plying U.S. waters. The 74 was next and was a tougher sell-its 22-foot beam might have stretched the idea of the lobster boat beyond the practical comfort point of the Yankee imagination. The 44 was Mochi's third model (there's now a 64 in the line, too) and she seems the perfect size in most ways-but don't let her fine looks fool you. It hasn't been the easiest yacht to sell to Americans, confided Da Zara, but he sees that starting to turn around. "It takes a daring customer to depart from a traditional design for something more luxe, sexier, curvier, and bolder. With Rivarama number three," he said, referring to the newer offspring of the venerable Riva marque, a product line he used to oversee, "we couldn't sell that boat for cost. Now, three years later, we sell them all at full retail."
She looks sensational, of course, even from a million miles away. As we cruised the waters of the North Fork, several yachtsmen circled to ogle and yell out questions. "See?" grinned Da Zara, after the third admirer promised to pop into the Allied office for an upclose look and test run, "We may even sell a boat today."
But is a test drive with the Mochi 44 a little like the let-down of a second date with a supermodel? Depends on the supermodel. Some are gorgeous and speak several languages-likewise, the Mochi 44 has substance. Longterm commitment? We can't speak to your personal issues, but she is surprisingly spacious. In fact, this could be the possible deal-clincher for those traditionalists made faint of heart by her price tag. With the Mochi 44 you get glamour and comfort.
The cockpit is large with leather bench seating on either side that curves around at the top. In the deck saloon, a C-shaped leather settee is to port, just aft of the helm, and wraps nicely around an extendable teak dining table. A credenza to starboard hides a refrigerator and stowage.
The helm layout has been tweaked from earlier versions-it's handsome and sensible. Air conditioning vents keep the skipper cool on hot days, when he's decided to open the retractable awning that's set into the overhead. A leather helm seat folds into a backrest.
When we stopped at the gas dock in Shelter Island Heights, it was a nice chance to stretch our legs and take a stroll through town. Settled in 1652, Shelter Island sits right between the North and South Forks of Long Island. It wasn't until 1871 that the hamlet of Shelter Island Heights was established as a summer community of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which is why Victorian architecture abounds here. And thanks to the Nature Conservancy and its benefactors, which now hold a third of the island in forever-wild trust, Shelter Island has retained its natural beauty with a quirky character that's neither North Fork nor South Fork.
Back aboard and on way to our next stop, Sunset Beach, I forced myself to leave the on-deck sunshine for a look below. It's a 44-foot yacht, so my expectations were simple, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the belowdeck accommodations. There's a straightforward galley to starboard that's less imposing than Americans are used to, but it fits the intentions of this yacht. There's every amenity here-Isotherm refrigerator/freezer, twoburner Gaggenau cooktop, General Electric microwave/convection oven, Raritan ice maker, even Alessi cutlery!-but clearly the idea behind this yacht is showing her off dockside while checking out the local fine-dining options.
An amidships master cabin is to port, with a full queen, set on an angle, and an en suite head. In the forepeak is a large VIP with twin berths, also with an en suite head. While the deck is where you'll want to live, a couple could cruise with friends for the weekend without living in fear of a rainy day-particularly since the deck saloon can be enclosed.
Our next stop was just around the point and down the coast: Sunset Beach. An André Balazs hotel, this stylish mecca sits on a stretch of Shore Road with a deep harbor off its beach. Bright yellow and orange beach umbrellas and awnings, a pétanque court, and an open-air restaurant with several levels, festooned with strings of tiny wicker lamps, give Sunset Beach its Mediterranean charm. Great music and good food mean the place is packed all summer. If you need a night on the hard, the rooms are glossy white with orange accents, chic amenities, and private waterview decks. Once you get here it's hard to leave, so I stayed.
We reconvened aboard the Mochi 44 at dawn to snap some photos on the North Fork, purring around the Orient Point Yacht Club as sun broke on its weathered shingles, then tied up at Claudio's for a stroll through Greenport. It's been a working seaport since the 18th century, and it's still authentically salty. The town's Mitchell Park marina has 60 slips for transients and Claudio's has very popular dockage for diners or overnighters. A restored Art Deco movie theater, Preston's famous Chandlery, and an antique carousel are only a couple of obvious highlights. Visit in September for the Maritime Festival, or any time of year for a great getaway-there are lots of small shops and several fine dining options.
I never get tired of spending time aboard in this part of the world. And after a few days on the Mochi Craft Dolphin 44 in these waters, I may have fallen in love all over again.
Allied Marine Group, (954) 462-5527; www.alliedmarine.com
Tell Them Mary Sent You
Here are my favorite spots to visit on a weekend cruise. Dockside Bar and Grill, 26 Bay Street, Sag Harbor, New York; (631) 725-7100 Claudio's Restaurant and Clam Bar, 111 Main Street, Greenport, New York, (631) 477-0627; www.claudios.com Sunset Beach, 35 Shore Road, Shelter Island Heights, New York, (631) 749-2001; www.sunsetbeachli.com