Our first full-time experience aboard a boat larger than a skiff in waters off the tiny state of Rhode Island, where we live, work and play, went something like this: Capt. Bo van der Zanden steered us into quiet anchorages and gave my husband, Derek Luke, a fishing rod to see if he could catch dinner; chef Tory Peters served us plate-licking meals and cleaned the dishes nonstop; we met new friends; we kayaked into Menemsha Pond on Martha’s Vineyard; and we saw some incredible views only a few nautical miles from our front door. Sound uncomplicated? It should. These activities were quite possibly the most drama-free we could have experienced during our crewed charter aboard the Jeanneau 53 Zuma. Since Derek and I are small-business owners in Newport, Rhode Island, we run ourselves ragged as the responsible problem-solvers in our respective fields — beer and rum brewing and publishing — and are unaccustomed to indulgence.
Our sailing experience had been limited to pleasure cruises around Narragansett Bay and a couple of deliveries I did a lifetime ago. But when fresh sushi was served for lunch and later, bottles of my favorite pinot noir were uncorked for dinner in the airy cockpit at the start of this trip last September, we were happy to subscribe to Zuma’s ways, as well as the crewed charter ideology.
“How can you not have a good time out here?” Tory asked with a smile, pointing to the endless horizon of Rhode Island’s coastline.
I could not (and would not) argue, so I settled into a lovely, relaxing routine of, well, enjoying every moment. We’d plotted an easy course from Zuma’s summer berth in the waterfront village of Wickford on the mainland, out of Narragansett Bay and east toward the Sakonnet River, planning to anchor at Third Beach in Middletown on Aquidneck Island, before heading to Cuttyhunk, the fourth largest of the Elizabeth Islands off the southern coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. We were eager to follow a flexible itinerary, to let the winds take us where they would for the three-night, four-day charter.
Casting off, cocktails that we fortified with Derek’s signature product, Thomas Tew Rum, were firmly in hand. As is customary, Derek had trouble sitting still — hence the fishing rod. So while he entertained himself, I closed my eyes and let the sun kiss my cheeks as Bo hooked a soft southerly out of the bay.
Derek stowed the fishing rod and asked to drive for a bit, which prompted a sailing lesson. He peppered Bo with questions about boat speed, wind direction and electronics. The gracious captain didn’t seem to mind. After all, we had time on our side and the wind behind us.
“Most charter guests are done with the sailing element after the first hour. But the guests who enjoy sailing and want to get involved, well, that’s better and more fun,” Bo said. “This boat is ideal for people who enjoy sailing but still like to be taken care of.” So it appeared that we had the best of both worlds: a weekend in which I could relax and enjoy stress-free time aboard, with a crew who could engage my hyperactive husband. Perfect.
Zuma herself was indeed a good lesson for us newbies, and we quickly learned that she’s a comfortable floating hotel with two capable attendants. Launched in 2013, she is a neophyte in the charter fleet, and is now represented by the brokerage Nicholson Yachts Worldwide, based in Newport. At 53 feet, she sleeps four guests comfortably, two in the forward master suite plus two in an aft guest suite. The bright cabin feels gigantic, with plush leather and large ports at the waterline, a galley about the size of our own kitchen and separate crew quarters. “We have to be quite intimate with people on this size yacht,” Bo said, “but there’s plenty of room, and more often than not, guests are topside taking in the activities. She sails nicely too, and as soon as there’s a puff of wind, she just goes.”
And that she did. Derek drove; 8 knots of wind in the bay picked up to 16 as we rounded Beavertail Point on Conanicut Island heading east, hugging the shoreline past Sachuest Point on Aquidneck Island. “It is really lovely to sail this,” Bo said as he took the wheel, relishing the breeze. “The wind is fluky around here, so we’re following it, just cruising.” Less than 14 nautical miles from our starting point, Third Beach, on the banks of the Sakonnet River in Middletown, came into sight. Though this voyage was intended as an escape, I was content to return to this familiar spot for the night: I was raised nearby, and the beach is not far from our Newport home, so I walk it weekly. We saved the jaunt ashore for the next morning, however. Our first evening aboard Zuma was for dropping anchor within view of my parents’ house on the bluff, calling them to brag about how lucky we were and popping open that bottle of wine as the sun cast a brilliant orange glow.
That was Tory’s cue. While the fishing resumed and I tried to photograph the sunset, she was down below whipping together a fine three-course meal: macadamia nut-encrusted scallops with zucchini, oysters and Portobello mushrooms, and sautéed ginger salmon with red peppers and sugar snap peas. Apparently I had written on our pre-charter preferences questionnaire that we loved seafood and veggies, wine and rum. And homemade chocolate cake for dessert, because that came next, a la mode. Not one to sit idle, Derek set the table, and we all dined in the saloon happy as could be. After the feast, we retired to our royal cabin and let Zuma rock us to sleep as the stars twinkled through the hatch overhead.
The next morning, we all took the dinghy to the beach for a quick walk. It was a cold, wet ride back to Zuma in 15 knots before we motored out of the cove, with Cuttyhunk our destination. Luckily the sun escorted us for the rest of day. “It’s a little bit chilly, a bit choppy. A true New England sailing experience,” Bo said, laughing. “We just need some fog now.” After enjoying eggs Benny in the cockpit, Derek hoisted the jib, I winched up the main and Bo cut the motor, gingerly guiding us along the shore at 7 knots. We soon spotted Cuttyhunk, 15 miles away, right where the wind was coming from. “Just our luck,” Bo said. “If we were going to Block Island, the wind would undoubtedly be coming from that direction too.” No matter. We were here to go sailing, and sail was what we intended to do.
As we approached the shipping channel at Buzzards Bay, Bo explained that the incoming current was against the tide and the northeast wind, making the seas confused. But Zuma’s sharp bow and gently rounded beam allow her to cut through waves better than other boats her size, so our chariot wouldn’t be uncomfortably bouncy, he said. Luckily, we were content to chill. With my sea legs beneath me as I nestled into the cozy cockpit, Derek remained determined to catch dinner while holding on to the rail. “Oh, look at that lovely little beach over there,” Tory said as we closed in on Cuttyhunk a few hours later. “That looks like a nice place to be.”
I directed my gaze where she was pointing. “Isn’t that where we’re going?” I eagerly asked. Indeed it was, but we had a few more tacks to make before passing Penikese Island and rounding in to Cuttyhunk Pond with the genoa aloft. Delicious smells soon wafted up from the galley, but Tory made us wait until we anchored to devour her rosemary roasted chicken with potatoes. We dined on deck, enjoying our new view and watching the other cruisers capitalizing on southern New England’s warm autumn weather. There was a calm vibe here, yet we all knew we must pack every moment in before the fall frost.
That afternoon, Bo took Derek and me in to shore to look around, and on the way, we noticed our neighbors relaxing on deck, with cups of coffee and books. Ashore, we wandered through this sleepy island of less than a square mile, with shingle-sided houses, where 52 year-round residents drive golf carts and shutter their seasonal businesses after Labor Day. Heading up to Joe’s Bunker, a former U.S. Navy lookout, we enjoyed panoramic views from the island’s highest point. The fog rolled in quickly, just as Bo had requested. As we headed back to Zuma, he said rain was coming, so it might be a wet night.
Back aboard, I hopped into our cabin’s stall shower. It was pouring rain by the time I was clean and eagerly awaiting another great meal. What is it about sailing and all this fresh air that made me so ravenous? I never got my answer. But I did get an heirloom cherry- and sangria-tomato salad with basil, cheese and olive oil, with scallop and shrimp pappardelle pasta, and for dessert, cheesecake. “Pretty much everything I make is an experiment. I just go to the farmers markets and throw a fresh meal together,” Tory said. “That’s one of the best parts of being in Wickford for the summer — access to fresh local seafood, veggies and meats.”
The next morning brought bright blue skies and a howling 20-knot wind. While Derek woke early for a knot-tying lesson, the banana pancakes and freshly squeezed juice were my alarm clock. After another jaunt ashore so Derek could kiteboard, we motored toward Martha’s Vineyard and dropped anchor at Menemsha Bight, off the entrance to Menemsha Pond. The wind had died and the sun was heating up by midday, so after fish tacos and lure tying, we took Zuma’s inflatable two-person kayak for a spin into Menemsha Pond. We were able to float most of the way back, letting the ripping current carry us out past sunbathers and fishermen on the beach and tourists licking ice cream. I thought it was a mirage when I spotted a lovely spread of creamy Camembert and chevre cheeses awaiting us in the cockpit. Good cheese is another favorite that I had noted on our preference sheet, and which Tory had heeded, and it was just the thing to put me into a trance while lounging in the sun. Grilled New York sirloin and corn on the cob were on the menu, with red wine and a special panna cotta for our last night aboard, which was also a celebration of Derek’s upcoming 39th birthday. We dined again in the cockpit, telling stories and watching the stars, reminded while looking for a blanket how chilly it can be at night here, despite the day’s heat.
After all the paddling, hiking and fresh air, not surprisingly I slept like a baby as the light waves tapped Zuma’s hull. But Derek was up at dawn to cast his fishing line again — and this time he had company. Men in kayaks floated around the pond’s entrance, and the breachway was littered with fishermen. I don’t think Derek had as much luck as they did, but he did catch a small red gurnard fish, which wasn’t edible, so he threw it back.
For the hungry fisherman and the rest of the crew, bacon and eggs were served for breakfast, with fresh juice from Tory’s fruit press, as morning bloomed into full sun. For the sail home, Bo prepared the Code Zero. “It unfurls like a kite and you have to pull as fast as you can,” he said, adding, “We don’t need the mainsail, as it’ll block all the wind. Now we’re going as fast as we were with the motor.”
The slight current and outgoing tide carried us out past the Elizabeth Islands again, and as the mainland hove into view 10 miles away, the 5- to 10-knot breeze proved a little too variable for the code zero. Half a mile from the Buzzards Bay buoy, we stopped going forward. “This is not the angry sea we sailed through on the way over,” Derek noted. So on went the motor, and it stayed on for most of our return to Wickford.
After lunch, we spotted the Newport bridge span on the horizon, and though we knew home was so close, we didn’t pull into Zuma’s dock until dusk, after cruising up Narragansett Bay’s East Passage. “It’s almost like coming back home here now, like pulling into your driveway. It’s all familiar,” said Tory. “Newport and Wickford are two of the top friendliest ports we’ve ever been to. The locals gave us the jackets off their backs, their cars for running errands, and really welcomed us.”
We didn’t want to leave, so we did the next best thing by inviting our new friends to Derek’s birthday dinner at our home, vowing to visit them in their winter port in the Caribbean. We couldn’t shake the permanent smiles and relaxation that had overcome us in just four short days by letting someone else take care of us. After a charter like that, it’s no wonder.
For details about chartering Zuma, contact Nicholson Yachts Worldwide.
Other brokers who book bareboat and crewed charters include:
Ed Hamilton & Co.
Virgin Island Sailing, Ltd.
For more about chartering and companies, consult the charter section of the Cruising World website.
Annie Sherman is a writer, editor and the author of Legendary Locals of Newport. Her husband, Derek Luke, is a co-founder of Coastal Extreme Brewing Co. in Newport, Rhode Island. This article first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Cruising World.