It is 11:30 on a Sunday morning, and about 40 people have settled into the upper deck of the Hannah Glover as it crawls out of Salem Harbor. Some sip mimosas, others close their eyes and look toward the sun as the Andrew Gravel Trio offers Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.
“I like showing people a good time,” said Will Cole, who stands at the wheel and steers his boat, which will glide over to Marblehead Harbor, the Misery Islands, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Beverly Harbor in the next two hours before returning to Salem’s Pickering Wharf.
While people have been making money with their vessels off the North Shore for centuries, the jazz brunch is a new twist to the gaggle of sightseeing trips offered in the area. Cole, who owns Mahi Mahi Harbor Cruises & Events in Salem, offers several trips each day, but he only recently began the Kickin’ Jazz Brunch, which runs on Sundays until September.
“Brunch is a lot bigger outside of Massachusetts than it is here,” said Cole as the boat glided on gentle water that was flat as a pancake. “If you go down South and to the West Coast, you’ll find that brunch is huge and everyone’s having their ‘Sunday Funday.’”
On the deck below, a buffet — catered by Henry’s Market of Beverly — sat on a white tablecloth. As part of the $28 cruise fee, people can have a Bloody Mary or a mimosa and dig into an array of assorted muffins, bagels, fruit salad, lobster rolls, tuna, egg salad, roast beef, cookies, and croissants.
Passengers were impressed by the mix and quality of the buffet and gave it high marks; the tuna and lobster rolls went fast, and the doughy chocolate chip cookies were heavenly.
“For the price you can’t beat it. I’m feeling relaxed and comfortable,” said Brenda Gaudreau, who pulled up a chair next to her husband, Greg. The couple, from Moosup, Conn., were celebrating their 28th wedding anniversary in Salem. They spent the morning strolling through Pickering Wharf and when they noticed the cruise, bought tickets and boarded the boat.
There’s plenty of room to amble around on the 65-foot Hannah Glover, and some took turns sitting in the shaded lower deck before returning to the sun-splashed upper deck, where the jazz trio played nonstop. Some sip beer and wine ($4 and $5), while others try the house favorite, Wacky Willy — a pineapple and cranberry infused drink that has three types of rums ($6).
As the boat sailed past the lighthouse on Marblehead Neck and into Marblehead Harbor, Haleigh Cronin stared at the waterfront homes as her hot dog cooked on the grill.
“For me, this is an escape,” said Cronin of Newburyport, who also came to see her cousins Andrew and Jordan Gravel play jazz on the boat. “This is just very relaxing for me.”
In front of the bar, Alanna Nelson and Mourad Chaouch of Melrose sat on a couple of chairs and alternately looked at the sailboats in the harbor and closed their eyes.
“I’m with my man and we’re on the water. Can you ask for much more? I’m pretty relaxed,” said Nelson, who said the couple sail often.
For Chaouch, a native of Tunisia, the ocean represents happiness and freedom.
“You feel free,” he said. “You leave all of your problems and all of your thoughts and everything else on shore. You don’t take them on the water.”
In between songs, Andrew Gravel put down his Les Paul guitar and took in the view of the harbor. He said he knows it well, having grown up in Marblehead, and as a child he took the same boat to a day camp on nearby Children’s Island.
“It’s a little different now being on this boat playing music. It’s very cool,” he said.
Time on the boat passed quickly. The vessel left Marblehead, passed the Misery Islands in Salem, sailed to Lynch Park in Beverly, and began its return to Pickering Wharf. After 90 minutes, most people were silent and had closed their eyes.
“The gentle rocking and the water is womblike,” said Heather Macpherson, who recently moved to Salem from Texas.
Two hours after setting sail, the boat gently came to a rest back at Pickering Wharf. Cole, the captain and owner, took the ship’s microphone and seemed as relaxed as everyone else on the cruise.
“Thanks again,” he said, his voice crackling over the ship’s speakers. “It’s a new thing, and thanks for coming out and making it work.”