Dead Duck Boats and Ducking Thunderstorms

As yet another day dawned recently with the doom and gloom of thunderstorms in the forecast, I decided we were overdue to revisit the issue of predicting and avoiding them.  This summer has seen more than its share.

-still from an eyewitness clip of the doomed “duck” boat foundering in wind and waves it was neither designed nor capable of safely operating in.

By now, most of you have probably heard about the ‘duck’ boat that sank in a severe thunderstorm in Missouri, killing 17 of the 29 souls on board.   As is typical, we don’t yet have a complete picture of what happened.  Two questions have arisen:

  1. Are these craft inherently unsafe?
  2. Did the operator recklessly proceed in the face of approaching storms?

We’ll add a third:  how do people manage to get caught in these storms, especially licensed professionals?

“On Thursday, the area around Branson was placed under a severe thunderstorm warning shortly after 6:30 p.m. local, about half an hour before the boat sank. Authorities received the first 911 call about the sinking at 7:09 p.m., according to the Stone County sheriff.”

CNN; link at bottom.

‘Yet the duck boat owned by Ripley Entertainment entered Table Rock Lake 23 minutes after the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area. That alert included Table Rock Lake and warned of winds in excess of 60 mph. In reality, winds on the lake hit 73 mph with waves of more than 3 feet.  (ed. note: the craft was only allowed to operate in winds up to 35 knots by US Coast Guard inspection and certification.)

When the boat started its water tour at 6:55 p.m. on July 19 the lake appeared calm. Around that time, emergency crews in Taney County began responding to calls about toppled trees and downed power lines caused by the storm.

Just after 7 p.m., whitecaps were visible on the water and winds increased, according to an initial report released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Friday. Less than a minute later, the captain of the Ride the Ducks boat made a comment about the storm, the NTSB report said, without any further explanation.

By 7:09 p.m., the first 911 call about the struggling boat came in.’

-Kansas City Star,  link at bottom.

The NTSB and the Coast Guard are investigating whether criminal charges ought to be brought against anyone, which means there’s significant doubt about the wisdom of the tour craft having left shore in the first place, or suspicion of actual wrongdoing.  That’s pretty serious.

So, how could it have happened?

I don’t know for sure; I wasn’t there.  Reports are sketchy, except for the facts that the entire area had been under a thunderstorm watch for awhile, which was elevated to a warning of severe thunderstorms.  If the operators were watching the weather events unfold on their smart phone/s in real time, they should have seen it coming to the area and not left port.  Unless, of course, the main mass appeared to be missing by a safe distance and this was a ‘pop-up’ storm.  But it doesn’t appear to have been from the available reports and evidence, especially its strength.  Pop-ups tend to be smaller, quicker, and less intense.

If the pros can get caught off guard, what chance do all y’all have as recreational boaters?

The answer is: the same as they do.  It’s not rocket science.  We can all see what’s happening and play it safe.  Here’s what I use… a site called CT Precip, with a URL of…

A screen capture of pretty f-ing obvious bad shit. We did a few posts that day with this image, and captioned it simply, “Any Questions?”
  • Green: rain.
  • Yellow: moderate rain.
  • Red: heavy, and probably a real thunderstorm complete with lightning.
  • Purple: game over.

Weather radar is easy enough for the average boater to have a sense of what’s coming.  It’s accessible to all of us on our smart phones, meaning we’re stupid when we don’t look at them for this purpose.   When heavy thunderstorm activity is moving our way, it’s obvious.  The exact timing isn’t obvious, and sometimes it’s not completely clear if our exact location will be hit.  But that’s splitting hairs – even for many pros.

Weather Radar apps tend to show about an hour and a half of motion of whatever is out there (or not on clear days).  If the system has moved consistently for the past hour and a half, then one can see where it’s going next.  If it’s ‘brewing,’ or constantly changing, the picture might not be as clear, but the direction and rate of travel might still be.  Any ambiguity?  Don’t go out on the water – or get off it!  If that’s no longer possible, then at least one can make preparations before it hits.

One of the most severe events is a line squall.   It’s when a clearly delineated band of weather that’s long and narrow is moving consistently and rapidly.  It’s sometimes referred to as a ‘derecho.’  In the northeast, we get them moving west to east, or right.  (‘Derecha’ is Spanish for ‘right,’ so I’m assuming there’s something going on here.)  Actually, our derechos can span a huge tract from the Mid-Atlantic up through the Northeast.  When they’re coming, you know it.

-A classic derecho, which we saw a comin. Super hard to miss.

The worst storm we experienced in recent years was worse than all this.  Much, much worse.  We didn’t screen capture it at the time.  It was a large mass that was moving south from upstate NY, and it was going to engulf all of NYC, Lower Westchester, Northern NJ, Nassau County LI, and parts of SW Connecticut.  At the same time.  We closed up shop and were safely eating lunch ashore when it hit.  We know half a dozen sailors who got caught in it – and all took knockdowns, but survived.  Unfortunately, at a competing sailing school, someone didn’t.  A Day 1 class was actually in progress, on a boat without lifelines.  No one aboard was wearing a PFD (life jacket).  All wound up in the water; one never made it back.

And what did everyone who got caught in it say?  “You couldn’t see it coming.”  That’s what they all say.

But they’re wrong.  Dead wrong.  The Radar reveals all.  That’s how I managed to stay out of trouble, after being on heightened alert from the earlier forecast (which was for severe thunderstorms that had already caused significant damage further north).

Heres’ a pair of Radar observations 20 minutes apart.  These were taken this season when a slow moving and brewing cell developed.  We stayed close, then got off the water…

20 minutes of storm brewing. Note the similar location of everything – just darker and larger!

Smaller area; harder to be sure what would happen.  In that case, just call it quits.  That’s what we did.  And we stayed safe and dry.

So, the next time you’re out and about, be sure you’re ready to check the radar first.  The marine and general weather forecasts will let you know whether to go to the water and get on it.  The Radar will tell you whether to stay there.  They’re interrelated.  Don’t leave home without a way of checking both!

And now, those links I promised…


Kansas City Star,

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“The Couple That Learns Together…”

…Grows together!  And, stays together.  (Or, they realize they shouldn’t be together and go their separate ways.)


Our first ‘contestants’ in this Blog Rant, or shall we say happy couple.  Marc and Sheri, in their third course with us: Start Bareboating (ASA 104). Oyster Bay, Long Island, aboard our Pearson 10M.

“If you win, you win!  If you lose, YOU STILL WIN!  YOU CAN’T LOSE!!”

-Joe Pesci’s Joe LaMotta, in Raging Bull, advising Robert DeNiro’s Jake La Motta to take a particular fight due to both the merits and the politics.

We were reminded of the this recently when our Director and HBIC,* Captain Stephen Glenn Card, chimed in on a Facebook sailing forum.  Someone posed a question about what size boat is good for learning.  One can imagine what a can of worms that opened.  Of course, this raised other issues.  One member of the forum posted some opinions about how a sailing school program should run.  (He used to do that for a living.)  Captain Card agreed with much of what he said.  But, he took another tack about one opinion: whether couples should learn together.

The poster basically said that any program worth going to automatically splits couples up into different boats.  Our take?  These days, that’s a crutch; instructors have to be able to deal with any “second instructorism” or tensions between any two or more people in the boat that arise for any reason.  It’s rare that there are any.  What does come up most often is when people try to help each other understand what’s going on, and that’s not limited to couples, or even people who already know each other.


Our most recent contestants (again, a/k/a happy couple), Steve and Anita. They took their first course at True North in New Jersey and are now doing Start Cruising with us (ASA 103).

We know of one high-volume school in the area that has a reputation for splitting couples up automatically.  They have one of the worst school programs in the industry.   We don’t know if other schools have a policy about this.  What Captain Card knows is this: his father’s school (long since sold out of the family) did in fact used to do the same thing: split couples up.  But, that was in the 1970’s and ’80’s!  And, some couples resisted getting split.  The times have changed, and teaching pedagogy and methodology – while scant in the sailing school industry – have a home here at New York Sailing Center.  Our history spans ownership of two sailing schools since 1968, making this season our family’s Jubilee year: 50 years of owner/operation of schools and advising others.

What we also have done: participate in snowsports instruction, which started just after WWII and is much more evolved in teaching methodology than the sailing industry.  But, that’s another story.   The point is that the dynamic with couples had changed by the time Captain Card started his school (second Captain Card; second school), and sailing instruction had to change as well.

Contestants from a few seasons ago: Yury and Erin, during their first post-course practice sail. Our Start Sailing course comes with these after 3 full instructional days on the water. Time to cut the cord!

Why re-write what’s already been written?  Here’s what Captain Card posted on the Facebook forum…

(*HBIC = Head Bozo In Charge)

“My father’s school had a policy of splitting couples up.  That started somewhere between 1968 and 1970.  My Dad was one of the original ‘Mad Men’ in the NY advertising scene before he started his sailing school; back in that day, from a professional perspective, he would have appreciated the famous campaign “You’ve come a long way, baby!”  Prescient, if politically incorrect and poorly motivated by a tobacco company and the ad agency that spun it.

“But how far have we come if we still treat women differently when there’s no inherent need to?  You point out the traditional scenario of a man at the helm and a woman at the bow.   I agree that when there is situation involving heavy pulling and lifting, as men are usually physically larger and stronger than women, this is a reversal of the logical gender role.  (When picking up floating mooring lines, or deploying an anchor on an electric windlass, this ought to be moot, but that’s a separate discussion.)  Yes, I cringe when people yell from the back of the boat to the front, and the person at the front can’t hear and is yelling back. 

“What I see less and less often compared to decades ago is a man angrily yelling at a timid woman.  What I see more and more of is people yelling to be heard as they’re at opposite ends of the boat with wind interfering, and they should be using hand signals or headsets. (Sometimes it’s a woman in back and a man in front; sometimes it’s two men; sometimes it’s two women.  Yes, too often, it’s the traditional roles you speak of.)  I LOVE it when a woman is at the bow, calling the shots using hand signals or a wireless headset, and a man is following her specific and accurate instructions, and BOOM – the boat is moored, anchored or docked expertly with no fuss.

These contestants, Gab and Kutjim, enjoyed a slightly snotty first day in a bit of a northeast breeze two summers ago. They had their own boat, and Ensign, and they still have it now. And, we’re going to go do a lesson or two on it with them!

“What happens to a couple when they’re split up during class, and then rent or buy a boat together?  They revert to the same patterns they would have demonstrated during class – but it wasn’t addressed when it needed to be.  This comes up routinely with strangers, too.  If we separate couples, family  and friends, an instructor is left with strangers.  Someone inevitably starts taking charge or becoming a second instructor.  A good school and its instructors are going to have to deal with it.  Can it be a little awkward?  Yes.  However, almost anytime we have to ask someone to let us be the instructor, etc, they’re genuinely apologetic and the situation is diffused – even if it happens a few more times.  They start to intervene, catch themselves, zip it, smile sheepishly, and we laugh and continue.  And, on rare occasions, it’s not as easy as that but we deal with it.

“Some couples function very well in learning environments, and it’s because they already understand each others’ learning preferences.  When we start classes by discussing this, couples sometimes jump in and tell the instructor about each others’ preferences rather than their own.  Due to this understanding, one will sometimes re-expalin something to the other after an instructor did but it did’t ‘take.’   Do we just step in and shut that down?  Not when the recipient is receptive to it, and it’s productive both for the other student and the instructor who is playing catch-up on understanding how that person learns.  It’s not black and white.

Contestants Ellen and Ray, aboard a Rhodes 19 at Bitter End YC, Virgin Gorda, BVI in 2016.

“It’s fine if women prefer the camaraderie of an all-female experience.  If they’re doing that because they are tired of being dominated or yelled at by men, that’s unacceptable.  It’s never sat well with me that women sometimes feel they have to have separate learning environments, or that educational institutions feel they have to create a service to accommodate that.  To me, it’s always smacked of the even more insidious “separate but equal” blight on our society.  Anyway, the alpha/beta dynamic is more universal and needs to be recognized and addressed across the board in this context.

“Now, a story or two.  One time in a learn to sail schedule with three boats, another instructor approached me in the first break and said there was a problem with the dynamic of an unmarried couple on his boat.  She was frustrated and upset, and the boyfriend was at least partially responsible.  He asked if I’d switch some people around, or take her for a quick sail during the break.  I chose the latter.  We sailed briefly, and she was close to where she ought to have been at that point, but her confidence was not there.  I told her she’s good enough to try singlehanding.  I gave her a quick demo, and stayed out of the way while she singlehandedly sailed around our Obstacle Course.  She was beaming.  When we all headed back out for the next session, she told her boyfriend, “I just singlehanded the boat.  Did you do that?”  Vapid stare in response. Ha!

“Last season, a couple signed up for a weekday 101 course.  They already owned an Ensign but didn’t know what to do with her.  i was their instructor.  There was no third student as a buffer so to speak, but they worked perfectly together.  They sometimes discussed things while doing them to improve their understanding, but neither took over or dominated the other.  It was a fine sight.  They had a ball and were on pace with their skills that first day.  For day 2, the wife picked me up at the subway station and her husband was coming from a different direction.  We got to chatting, and got on the subject to dating and relationships.  I told her about a problematic one that just ended for me, and opined that in some ways, perhaps men and women are wired differently, and that sometimes we process and express emotions differently.  She wholeheartedly agreed.  She then detailed how she sometimes catches herself expecting her husband to instantly know what’s she’s thinking and feeling without telling him, and becoming angry and resentful that he doesn’t just confirm this for her verbally.  “He’s not a mindreader; it’s ridiculous.  Yet I catch myself doing it, and letting resentment build up, before I realize I have to just tell him.”  They’re both highly educated (doctors) and have lived in different countries together and separately.

“For what it’s worth… sorry it rambled on.

Have a great season!”

couple strolling in tropical surf
These guys weren’t true contestants. They didn’t train together, but she got him the gift of sailing, and then he took her a few times locally.  Then, they came along on one of our BVI trips! Angela and Lawrence, on Sandy Spit off Jost Van Dyke.

Want to explore learning together?

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Volvo Ocean Race: Struck by Tragedy Again

A veteran and highly respected sailor, John Fisher, was lost at sea on March 27 during the Volvo Ocean Race’s long, dangerous leg in the Southern Ocean.  He was knocked overboard by the mainsheet during an accidental jibe.  And, he was not tethered to the boat at the time.

This was the second overboard accident on the same boat, Scallywag, in this event.  The other sailor also wasn’t tethered, and was not wearing a life jacket.  The conditions were much calmer so they got him back aboard safely in 7 minutes.

Things often happen in twos in both the Volvo and Clipper Races.  And, the deaths are starting to pile up.

So, why wasn’t he clipped in?  Why couldn’t they rescue him?  Why do race organizers send the sailors on a long dangerous leg in the southern Ocean, where one of our own graduates at NY Sailing Center was washed overboard but pulled back by his tether during a Clipper Race?  Why do they go?

Well, we know that part.  People drawn to participate in such events are always going to go wherever the challenge occurs.  The other questions are all worth discussing.  And, I’m not seeing or hearing discussions on what I see as the prime issues raised by these accidents.

Scallywag sending up some serious water, which when it comes over the boat and at the sailors, can easily sweep them off their feet – and the boat if they’re not tethered in. Note the rudder coming out of the water: twin rudders like this are the norm for most ocean racing classes, including the Mini 6.5 meter. Our Beneteau First 21 sloops are remarkably similar in profile, and also have twin rudders.

First: Why are people not ALWAYS wearing PFD’s (life jackets) AND secured to the boat with a tether?  First one: duh.  Should require no discussion.   These boats are going fast, often, if not typically, over 20 knots.  They’re sailing in open ocean waters with waves and swells.  Even in relatively calm conditions, it takes time to turn around, and at speeds of 15-25 knots (and we’ve seen posts that they go over 30 but I’m not convinced as of yet), the boat gets away from the person in the water quickly.  The waters are often cold.  People should always have a PFD on.

Second: Why are people not ALWAYS secured to the boat with a tether?  It’s a critical last line of defense.  John Fisher wasn’t clipped in.  He unclipped to go forward to do some task that he or they felt was important enough at the time to go forward for.  He might have been about to clip back in to another jackline (security line or webbing that the personal tether attaches to).  If that was the case, why aren’t the boats rigged to allow “make before break,” as they say with combined battery switches?  Many boats have that when it’s not practical to rig a continuous jackline.  Perhaps this boat was and it was user error.  Wasn’t there; hasn’t been posted; don’t know.

If Mr. Fisher was tethered in, he probably would have survived.  Because he was not, he had little chance of being recovered at all, and even less alive.  I’m seeing arguments in different forums where one sailor will criticize decisions on board as well as the entire event as organized and ruled by race management.  The flip side sees sailors calling these shameless, bitter, angry rants that show that the first sailor doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and defends the personal liberties and sense of adventure of the people on the water.

And, the person who just died.

But the basics are patently obvious so I won’t further belabor them here.  I just wish that the defenders of the race and the participants  – and the dead – would get their head out of this perspective and see the bloody obvious, and discuss something they’re not, and should be given their experience with this kind of extreme sailing, to wit…

THIRD: Here’s something that’s less obvious.  The gear sometimes fails.  That wasn’t the case here.  However, in both the Volvo and Clipper races, and in other races and non-race passages, tethering systems have broken and sailors were in the water with the boat sailing away.  The faster these boats go, the more shock load is put on the connections when they come taught.  At 20-25 knots, I can’t even imagine what the PSI load would be based on the average weight of a sailor plus water resistance with safety and survival equipment.  Occasionally, it’s not enough.

I hear and read about different types of connections – which are stronger, which are more practical, how to balance the dual needs (including how to not flay ones knuckles on the gear aboard the boat).

What I’m not hearing about is this: shock absorption.  If the tethers were rigged with something elastic to gradually absorb the shock load, the load on the components would be less severe upon ultimate impact.  That could only help.  Of course, it might make the tether more awkward.  I suppose it could, indirectly, lead to a greater risk of fouling onboard and actually causing someone to get twisted, off balance, and go overboard in the first place.  I’m not going to pretend I’ve worked this all out.

But, it needs to be done.  I propose that either…

  1. The tech be improved with a method of shock absorption if feasible;
  2. The boats be mandated to stay below a specified top speed.  The faster they’re going, the more risk, as it’s caused by increasing wind (which, in open water, is soon accompanied by larger waves).  It’s easy to track; the boats are accurately tracked by satellite at all times.

The Southern Ocean is a brutal area to sail.  Perhaps the race should minimize time and distance spent sailing here, or avoid it altogether.  That’s been bandied about on various forums.  Regardless, the obvious safety measures of always wearing PFD’s and always being clipped in must be mandated (if not already), and observed.  And, as people WILL be tossed, knocked, or washed overboard anyway, the equipment must be improved or the boats slowed down.  Or, both.  We can have high quality racing and have much better safety as well.

But first: people are still not always wearing PFD’s or tethering themselves.

Who wouldn’t agree with the need for starting with that?

Here’s an article on the tragedy that has the most detail we’ve been able to find…

Here’s the Volvo Ocean Race’s photo gallery of John Fisher…

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We Started Sailing!

Well, yeah – we went out on that super warm day in February, but that doesn’t count.  We officially kicked off our 2018 sailing season on March 31 and Easter Sunday, April 1.  No foolin!  On both days we chose our Pearson 10M, Kilroy Was Here.  (Our Pearson 26, Second Wind, was an option as well.)

The Longest Season in the NortheastSM – another way we give you MORE.

Anywho, Saturday saw light and variable breezes to start out, including a little motionless hang time.  It’s all good in the Sound and its surrounding bays and harbors… there’s little current, and very predictable commercial traffic.  Soon, enough wind picks up to sail meaningfully, even as little as 5 knots.  (Don’t try that in NY Harbor and the Rivers.)

See the trimaran between the boys? It was our only sailing company the whole weekend. it seemed to appear from Manhasset Bay, a quick sail even for a monohull from City Island or vice versa. Kept photo bombing us!

Later, the southwesterly picked up just like a summer sea breeze, but cooler of course.  We made it to Stepping Stones Lighthouse, our modest goal, before that and rode it almost to Fort Totten off Little Neck Bay.

Sailing wing on wing up the Sound as we cruise back toward Stepping Stone Lighthouse on Saturday. Open Long Island Sound is behind and to the right.

We passed the light again, then decided that was plenty of fun and rode the building breeze back in to get docked up.  This was a Club sail with two members present- Adam (graduate of several of our courses who went on to bareboat in the BVI based on that), and Piers, a recent learn-to-sail graduate who’s going to take 105 next weekend and 103 & 104 as the season progresses.

The wind picked up nicely after reaching the light on Saturday and we flew back north before turning into Eastchester Bay to berth the boat.

Easter Sunday was a teen outing put together by a long-standing client and friend of the Sailing Center, Jim, who has a small daysailor of his own.  The young adults had a blast, all taking turns steering, and eventually letting Jim have a shot.

Teen trip on Easter Sunday! One more hiding out of sight somewhere, plus the Dad of two who put it together. Stepping Stones starting to look familiar back there?

We did the true City Island-style Lighthouse Loop!   Okay – technically, not – we didn’t go around Stepping Stones.  Not worth it; tricky passage and waste of distance and time.  But we went just past it and turned and looped alongside.  Good enough.  Then, we went very close to Gangway Rock, cutting between it and it’s very nearby gong buoy.  How  close?  THIS close…

Gangway Rock Light, off Manhasset Neck. Gorgeous picnic spot – there’s a deeply curved bight with a beach that locals call Half Moon Bay. That’s an osprey flying in the photo. Almost always a next on the lights near City Island, making for numerous birdwatching (and listening) options.

Then, on to Execution if the wind held and the teens steered well.  And both did their duty.  So, we went all the way around Execution and its red nun on the far side, and then tacked to head back to City Island Harbor and then around into our off-season slip for Kilroy on the Eastchester Bay side.  Lovely ride.

Approaching Execution Rock Lighthouse, Easter Sunday. Fun, easy and safe itinerary – out around the light and back! Have to look at the chart and see what marks the safe passage, but if you bother, it’s easy.

Did we mention the fun?..

Post faux-Titanico fun on Easter Sunday aboard Kilroy Was Here.

Want to get in on it?

Our Sailing Club has Skipper memberships for those of you who are ready to just go.  We also have Social/Crew memberships for those who are not.  Want to bridge the gap?  Of course, as a school, we have courses, clinics and even private instruction.  We have what you might need not just to skipper a day sailor in Long Island Sound, but to cruise the whole thing or charter a Bareboat yacht in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, or anywhere else charter companies exist for that.

Want to see some clips?  Here are two on Insta…

Saturday’s Club Sail

Easter Sunday Teen Sail

Want to learn more?  Here you go…

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Instructional Sailing Vacations




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Fatal Collision in Volvo Ocean Race

On January 19, approaching the finish of leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race, team Vestas 11th Hour collided with a local fishing vessel.   All 10 men aboard that boat wound up in the water; their boat sank.  One later died after being helicoptered to hospital.  No one aboard the racing boat was hurt.

Of course, details are sketchy as always.  We do know that…

  • It was the middle of the night;
  • Vestas’ ground speed was 20 knots in 23 knots of breeze;
  • they were 30 miles from the finish;
  • Vestas was vying tight for 2nd place in that leg with another boat;
  • They were in Hong Kong waters and it was crowded out there.

Sound like a recipe for disaster yet?

Coincidentally, this was the second accident for the company Vestas.  In the last Volvo Ocean Race, their team grounded and destroyed their boat and some reef in the Indian Ocean (we wrote about that then).  It’s the same company sponsoring the team, but a different boat and racing team.

Here’s a screen grab from AIS showing vessel traffic in the area one hour before the collision…

There’s an article in the Hong Kong/Macau edition of the Oriental Daily News with a video compilation that includes a Q&A with a sailor from another team and yacht.

ed. aside/sub rant:   All the PC in the world is getting to be too much.  People shudder when a white person in NY says “Oriental” when they think it should be Asian.  Here, it’s in the name of the bloody paper!  Yes, yes – context, location, etc.  Another example is in navigation courses and books in the United States.   There’s a table we create to convert between different versions of ‘North.’  The salty old pneumonic to remember it? TVMDC +W!  That stands for… True Virgins Make Dull Company – Add Whiskey!  It’s been sterilized far more than whiskey itself could ever accomplish – and it can’t be remembered.  Defeats the purpose.  End of Rant… for now.)

Back to the rant at hand.  It’s now been about a month since the accident and we know about the same stuff as when it happened.  Photos of the damage to the Vestas boat seem to indicate that the sailboat rode up and over the fishing boat, or plowed through it.  There is extensive damage to the bottom of the Vestas hull near the bow.

The cracked in hull is obvious, but see the bottom of the vessel as well. There are more detailed images out there that are specifically marked as copyrighted for those who search a little, but this makes the point.

We weren’t there.  Neither were you (unless you’re one of the Vestas onboard team, in which case we’d love to hear from you).  We wish there were more information available.  Not out of morbid curiosity, and, yes –  that’s in human nature or tabloids wouldn’t sell so well – but out of a desire to better learn how to prevent accidents and injuries.

The answer might be to set a less difficult and potentially dangerous challenge when all that’s at stake is money and ego.  Endangering ones own life is a self entitlement until it endangers, or even just wastes the time and resources of, others.

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Pug Saved from Sinking Boat (yes, pug people too…)

“We were traveling two knots. We were extremely safe.”

And then, the keel came off on something.   Or something.

Another odd tale of tempestuous tall waves, or tales, or tails…

A couple, aged 24 and 26, bought a sailboat to live on and cruise the Gulf.   Two days into the trip, that ended abruptly.  The 28-footer (make undetermined – help me out here, peeps?), lay  swamped on its side awaiting removal on pain of pissing off the Coast Guard., at a potential cost to exceed the total purchase price of the boat.

The 28-footer “Lagniappe” lays swamped with it’s Walker Bay dinghy riding high.

The couple said they’d sold everything to buy and improve the boat, and basically lost all that when they had to abandon ship.  Their Walker Bay dinghy seems to have survived, so perhaps there was that.  And the pug.  Ah, the pug…

“Dangerous Currents?”  I’m assuming that’s what the sign says.  Did Danger Pug (a/k/a Remy) get them off the stricken vessel and into the Walker Bay Life Pod?  Pugs can be pretty smart.  I know one pug that plays his parents like a couple of instruments to get treats.  I digress…

So, in the interests of being fair and reporting more fully, here’s what little we know…

  1. The couple, who seem modest and very nice, left their life in Colorado behind, and bought the boat in Alabama before bringing it to Florida.  They lived aboard their new home, “Lagniappe,” at Tarpon Springs for about a year.
  2. They worked at a marina and also did boat deliveries.
  3. They departed for Key West to begin their journey.
  4. The next day, they struck something in John’s Pass and the boat apparently lost its keel and capsized.
  5. They began a GoFundMe campaign, and soon wound up with over $14,000, well exceeding their target of 10k.
  6. They say their plans are to salvage Lagniappe and get another boat.

The quote at the top is from the boyfriend – they were traveling at 2 knots.  That’s indeed a safe speed.  I’m really wondering how they could have separated what ought to have been a swing keel from that hull at that low speed.  Even at some velocity, swing keels don’t tend to lock in the down position.  They lift up, which absorbs the impact.

Also wondering about the boat and the purchase price.  They say they were into that boat for 10k.  In a generally depressed used boat market, with most boats under around 30 feet not holding much value, and this one being an awkwardly large trailerable, these numbers don’t add up for me.  (I should note that after Irma, the market for used boats might have improved due to loss of inventory down south.)  But, where did 5k go into that boat?

Some naysayers are predicting that this couple will pocket the money and not replace the boat.  Others are taking them to task for getting into boating irresponsibly and therefore getting into trouble.   I wasn’t there every step of the way; we have their statements as evidence and little else.  Time will tell what will float to the surface to be revealed.  Perhaps a new boat for them should be called… Pugnacious?  Pugnacity?  Danger Pug?

Here are links to a few articles and some video on the story so you can try to gauge for yourself…

Tampa Bay Times (winner of 12 Pulitzers, apparently)

Miami Herald

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Back to the BVI!

“Lay it on me, Card- how is it down there?  Really.

Well, it’s like this…

We all know that there’s an elephant in the chat room.  It’s been hard to get a good sense of what it’s like down there post Irma and Maria.   So, we up and went, on the assumption that despite boat and building damage, the islands would still be there.

Our report?  Not half bad!  Better than that.  We recommend it.

Of course, that depends on what you’re looking for in a tropical sailing trip.  If you want an endless variety of bars, restaurants, and gift shops, go elsewhere.  If you want beautiful islands, healthy reefs, and an abundance of fish to gape at while snorkeling, a representative sample of shoreside fun, and some well deserved tranquility, then head on down or join us on one of our trips.

The hand that steers the boat is… well, the hand that steers the boat. Balance it correctly, and only one hand is needed! 20-25 knots in Sir Francis Drake Channel with double reefed main and partial reef in genoa-jib.

Islands: what’s good and what isn’t

Most islands in the British Virgin Islands were impacted by the hurricane.  Some did quite well and it was not an issue for tuning up for the tourist season.  Others had extensive shoreside damage and the facilities (restaurants/marinas) were basically wiped out.  These areas are under reconstruction, and will be restored, but some have a way to go.

A-Z, to the extent we could ever bother to spell while down there…


We didn’t go this time around due to a short trip and rough weather for more than half of it.  However, we’ve heard all along that Anegada fared well in the storm and was good to go.  Once we were down there for our skippers meeting at Moorings/Sunsail, this was confirmed.  The Anegada Reef Hotel and many other restaurants on Anegada await you.

Beef Island/Trellis Bay

Pretty beat up.  Many boats still littered around the anchorage and shore, and as it’s connected to the mainland, it remains a busy and crowded anchorage.  There’s a market to get supplies which might be adding to the crowding.  This was from observation, briefing, and first hand reports from people who just went there.

Cane Garden Bay, Tortola

Didn’t go, but it has a restaurant open on the beach (supposedly a good one).  The satellite branch of Bobby’s Marketplace is not open yet.  As this anchorage is uncomfortable in any north ground swell unless you get a good mooring, either skip it or arrive very early with a Plan B in mind.  Having said that, they’re recommending it subject to the swell, and based on past experience, we agree.  It’s gorgeous.

Cooper Island

Restaurant not open yet.  Can sort of get ashore to walk on the beach a little; if you do, honor the signs for private property when you get close.  There are plenty of moorings here, but get there early.   This is the only anchorage in the area where anchoring is legally prohibited.  You will be chased out if you try it, so if you’re getting there past early afternoon, have a plan B.

Cooper Time! People beachcombing, seeing what’s SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard), snorkeling from the dinghy moorings off the large rock upcropping near top center, or just chllaxin aboard their charter yachts. Cooper is also a great place to just do nothing.

Snorkeling from the dinghy mooring at Cistern was above average for the location with plenty of fish.  (A certain secret spot where a VERY large barracuda liked to hang was all but destroyed so didn’t go looking for trouble.  To this day, dear friends/clients argue with each other and me as to whether this was actually a shark.  It wasn’t.)

Jost Van Dyke

Here’s your nightlife.  Most places on the island are up and running, including Foxy’s in Great Harbor, Sydney’s and Harris’ in Little Harbor, and the Soggy Dollar Bare in White Bay.  One can dock up to refill water tanks in Great Harbor.  Foxy’s Taboo at Diamond Cay (near Little Jost) is not open yet.

There are some moorings in each harbor, although traditionally, one expects to anchor at Jost due to the volume.

Marina Cay

Open this one up! It’s a Pano – must see it full sized and scroll in both directions.  Click once for a new window and again to really expand it.  We had the anchorage at Marina Cay to ourselves at around noon. Very tranquil.  

Gone.  The island is still there, of course, and anything concrete and steel remains.  The fuel and water dock, English phone booth, restaurants and bars are gone.  The island is off limits and (fairly) strictly enforced.  That makes it nice and quiet!  Get there early, get a mooring directly in the lee of the island (protected from the prevailing wind), and enjoy a nice quiet night.

Snorkeling at the Coral Gardens was amazing.  It’s always good, but we enjoyed something different this time.  Schools of parrot fish were behaving a lot like predator gamefish, snapping at floating weeds at and just below the surface!  We’ve never seen them more than a few foot off the bottom, cruising around or nibbling at coral.  Their were several varieties in attendance, but the ones schooling were fairly colorless with gray/black highlights.  There were rainbows and other color varieties around as well.

Norman Island

The Bight, or Pirates Bight, is a large anchorage that always has room for more boats, and a little more now that the Willy T (William T Thornton, a large sailing vessel semi-permanently moored in the Bight), is semi-permanently wrecked ashore. Sad.  Benefit?  That was a LOUD boat, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.  So, much quieter now until if/when they replace it.

Rain squalls have their rewards! Double rainbow looking west toward St. John from the Bight at Norman Island.

The restaurant is supposed to be open but we didn’t go ashore to investigate.  Snorkeling along the walls at the Caves, around the corner from the anchorage, was average to slightly above for this spot (which is excellent if you do it right).

North Sound (Gorda Sound), Virgin Gorda

Mostly gone.  This area’s facilities were mostly wiped out.  One can anchor or moor in many places, of course, and enjoy the tranquility and the reefs for snorkeling.

The one facility open in the Sound is Leverick Bay, and the Pussers (eh) restaurant is open.  I don’t remember if water was available at Leverick to top off tanks, but one can check before planning on it.

Peter Island

Looking roughly south from the east headland of Great Harbor. The boats in the background are in the back of the bay where there’s a bit of a pebbly beach. They were getting more wind/gusts (expand the pic to see the whitecaps), so we opted for shiftier winds with less velocity and lighter gusts, plus snorkeling off the boat.

No facilities open yet ashore.  Who needs it… Peter Island had an expensive and snotty facility which, if memory serves, required a jacket of gentlemen for dinner.  So NOT going down there for that.  The allure of Peter, as we see it, is that the harbors have nothing.  Just protected anchorages and scenic tranquility.  We anchored along the east wall of Great Harbor and loved it.  Good snorkel trip along the rip rap on the bottom (which had been there forever).  Not a coral spot, but lots of fish as they love this kind of structure.  Not bad for jumping off the back of the boat!

At anchor, pointing roughly south west at other yachts in Great Harbor. The black bow of one mega private sailing yacht is on far right.

Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda

Marina is open.  This is very enclosed with slips.  There are also a few moorings outside, and an area where one can anchor and dinghy in if it’s not rough.  No dockside market, and might not have any restaurant facilities running yet, but there are several in town within walking distance, which lets one see how the locals live.   Also, one can get a taxi from here to go to the Baths.  If it’s a little lumpy in the harbors due to weather conditions, and people need a break, this is your spot.  Flat calm, plus you can step off and walk around on solid ground.

Our trip revealed what we’d hoped it would:  a resilient populace living in a natural environment, both of whom roll with the proverbial punches of Poseidon, Neptune, etc.  If you want to see and explore the British Virgin Islands closer to the way they were before the charter industry really built up, now’s the time!  Expect to provision your boat more and dine ashore less.  If that’s the price to pay to play here, I’m more than happy to go back ASAP.

Apres-snorkel sunbathing (briefly of course). Cooper Island, BVI.
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The People Have Spoken… on Yelp

…and Yelp gave us an award for it.  Behold:

Yelp helps level the playing field.  In our case, being a very small business, and one where our talents don’t necessarily lie in web design, SEO, digital branding and marketing, etc, we need it.  So, we’re very pleased to have just received this award of distinction from Yelp.  Nice email to start the week!

We do well on Google, too.  In fact, we have a perfect 5-star rating in their reviews.

We the People love Yelp.  We use it to find things for ourselves.  We compliment or critique, and sometimes just plain crap on, businesses and services we use that are on Yelp.  And we at NY Sailing are out there and subject to the same.

We have 17 reviews on Yelp.  All but one are 5 stars.  (One is a 2-star, but still has some good stuff to say.)  And they’re all legit: real reviews from real clients.  Be sure to check out the ‘filtered’ reviews as well – the ones that Yelp’s algorithms deem suspicious and label as “not currently recommended.”  They start at the bottom and one has to click twice to read them all.

Here’s where you can read our Yelp reviews:

Want to see our Google reviews?  Just do a Google search for New York Sailing Center. 

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Turn Initiation: it’s not just for Skis and Snowboards anymore…

As we’re deep in the throes of a cold start to the winter – polar vortex/arctic blast kind of cold – thoughts are somewhat removed from sailing.  But not entirely.

While on the slopes enjoying fresh pow over the holidays, and warming back up to techniques shelved during the boating season, I was reminded of the concept of turn initiation.  Don’t ski or ride?  Don’t even sail yet?   No problem – we’ll break it all down and maybe even get you stoked in the process.

Looks like this rider either tried an abrupt start or ending her last turn that way. Wasn’t there; can’t be sure. But it looks like she made a zig-zag of quick pivot turns in a that are on the right in pic. Her edge and bottom of board are a brake right now. Good if she wanted to stop quickly. How does that translate to the rudder of a sailboat? Read on…

“Turn initiation” is the technique used to get a ski or snowboard to go from flat on the snow to beginning a turn to one side.  Anyone who can link turns on either kind of plank knows what I’m talking about.  It’s like this: we make certain motions to suggest to the equipment that we want to turn instead of going straight.  After it starts listening, we add more motion to shape and complete the turn to the extent we want.  Regardless of what kind of turn we make, we have to start it – and eventually end it.

Same with boats!  Techniques, and consequences for ignoring them, are different.  Thankfully for sailing, there are usual no real consequences.

If you ski or ride, but are beginner to intermediate, it’s time to think about this again as you begin your snow sliding season.   You experts out there don’t think much about it, but warm up your technique and self-critique as you get your form back each season.

These guys are about to go down a moderately steep trail at Killington in Vermont. Skiers have two planks. Duh. Translation to sailing? Twin rudders that can operate independently. Kewl!

Back to sailing and turning a boat.  Let’s leave special techniques like steering with sails, and with body weight, out of it and focus on the thing we all use all of the time: the rudder.  (Don’t even sail yet?  That’s the fin that we turn back in forth behind the boat to make the boat turn, like a paddle stuck in the water and angled to one side.  Makes the boat turn.)

At the most basic level, we angle the rudder to one side or the other when we want to turn a boat.  Some boats have a stick attached called a tiller, found on smaller boats and almost mandatory to learn with.  Once the boat is in the upper 20-foot range, and especially at around 30 feet, it tends to have a wheel instead.  As the rudder is angled more to one side, the pressure of the water hitting it pushes it back the other way, taking that end of the boat with it.  The boat pivots in the middle, and turns.  (The direction the fin aims is also where it want to go once it gets moving.)

So, to make a slight or narrow turn, the rudder does not need to angle much to the side.  To make a sharp or tight turn, the rudder needs to move pretty far over.   Turn initiation is really the rate of motion to get it started, so that the whole process works better.

On a board or skis, if we suddenly wrench the plank over to the side, we often catch an edge in the snow and catapult or slam.  No fun.  But if we get the edge to gently start engaging, and then add more edge and pressure, we can smoothly get the plank on its edge and into a turn.  Can’t usually skip steps: have to START the turn before shaping and completing it, before ending it.

I haven’t skied since I as a boy, but I’ve watched a lot of skiers.  Good skiers are graceful in their transitions.  I’m a pretty solid boarder – somewhere in the advanced range by objective standards I’ve come across. I’ve watched a lot of boarders too.  I won’t pretend I know how to turn skis.  But Im supposed to be expert at understanding how to turn a board, as I’m a certified instructor.  So, I’ll talk about boards.

“I PISS on snowboards and boarders!” That you?  That’s fine. We’ll just shred around you and share the slopes with others.

For most turns on a snowboard – and some experts say all – we initiate by twisting the front of the board slightly so one edge is pressing into the snow and the other starting to lift.  Think of holding the ends of an ice cream stick with your thumbs and forefingers.  Now, think of holding one end level, but rotating or twisting the other end slightly.  That’s the general idea.  In the air, this does nothing but flex the stick.  But on snow, one edge of that stick presses into the snow, and starts to take the rest with it to that side.

Of course, we add some at the other end, and make more of a turn.  And, release.  And, rinse and repeat, maybe mixing it up from time to time to not get bored.

How do we translate this to turning a sailboat?

Think of the rudder as the edge.  initiation is turning the rudder ever so slightly to suggest to the boat that it should stop going straight, and to pivot.  Once it listens, we gradually increase the rate of turn but angling the rudder more.  But at what rate?  And how far?

This is the beautiful part, elegant in its simplicity.

We slowly, steadily, move the tiller to the side.  One simple, steady motion.  Easy.  How far?  Until we like how much the boat is turning.  For how long?  Until we’re half way through the turn, at which point we reverse the motion at exactly the same rate.

What if we need the turn to happen quickly?  Well, there is no shortcut here unless we’re throwing the boat around with our body weight, and/or using sails to help turn the boat.  Again, let’s leave it at rudder only for this discussion.  (And even when we’re using other techniques, rudder action doesn’t change.)

Too many sailors just jam the rudder over hard when they want to make a quick and/or large turn, especially for tacking (crossing through the wind quickly and ‘catching’ it again on the other side).  Jamming it over skips the initiation.  Consequences?

Drag.  The rudder is now sideways to the water, creating lots braking resistance.  Imagine gliding along in a canoe or kayak, and suddenly jamming the paddle in the water off the back end, with the flat side perpendicular to the direction of travel.  Sea brakes!  Craft slows down.  Think of air brakes on a plane.  Overuse them at the wrong time, and the plane starts to drop.

Stalling.  Because it’s angled too aggressively to the flow of water, the water doesn’t flow around the far side of the rudder, and and bottlenecks against the near side.   Water flow around the rudder allows the rudder to take the back end of the boat with it in an arcing turn, and therefore makes the front go the other way, pivoting around the middle.  Stall the flow, and we stall the turn.  (This also increases “leeway,” both when turning and when trying to go straight, for those with more sailing savvy.  It’s why excessive rudder angle has to be dealt with one way or another when going straight.)

Sorry, only one color still had ink… On your left: outline of a sailboat and its rudder, shown twice – straight, and also cocked slightly to port (left). The curved lines and arrows show how the water would flow over it on both sides and allow good turn initiation. On your right: severe rudder angle typical of many sailors when they make a large turn, especially to tack (cross through the wind quickly). Arrows and squiggly lines show turbulence with little to no water flow.  This is what happens if you simply jam the tiller over.  What a drag…

It’s slightly counter-intuitive at first.  “I want to turn hard, so why not just turn the tiller/wheel hard?”  Doesn’t work that way.  You’ll get there sooner by starting slower.  A slow, steady, linear motion of the tiller (or wheel) gives you everything you need:

  1. Turn initiaiton.  Suggests to the boat what you want to do, and it gently begins.
  2. Shaping.  We turn the rudder enough to get the turn shape/speed we want.
  3. Completion.  So simple – half way through the arc of the turn, we just reverse what we did with the rudder at the same steady rate!

The tiller moves in a linear fashion, but the boat turns in a crescendo/decrescendo.  See?  We’re teaching to both logical learners and musical/rhythmic ones!   If we graph it out, we’ll see different patterns for the tiller and the boat…

On your left: graph of what the tiller motion is like – linear in speed.  On your right: the effect this has on both rudder angle and boat’s turn shape: good turn initiation, shaping, and completion. WooHOOO!

The more rudder angle, the greater the turn.  To get there, we simply move the tiller steadily to gradually increase rudder angle, and therefore the rate of turn.  Your boat will take over, and the rudder will follow.  When you feel that, you’ll know you got it right.

Then, you’ll be ready to shred!

Want to learn more about turning a sailboat?  See us at NY Sailing Center in the spring.  We start in April.

Want to learn how to snowboard?  Already ride, but want to improve or take it to the next level?  Our Director, Dockmaster and rambling Editor at Large, Captain Card, is a certified snowboard instructor who loves to teach.  Hit him up to discuss getting out on snow.  This can be as close as Mountain Creek, NJ (an hour from the GWB), as far as South/Central Vermont, or mid way at Hunter or Windham in the Castkills.

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iNavX: not just for iPhone anymore!

Now, one app does it all.  iNavX just announced that it’s available for Android.  And, it can run Navionics.

One stop shopping.  Comes at a price: $30.  That’s an expensive app.  But it used to be $50, and worth it, even before it integrated with other chart app software.  So, you get what you pay for – and sometimes you get rewarded and pay less for it!

Who cares?  What’s so special about iNavX?

First, a word or 50 about charting apps.  They’re a great resource when you have cell service on the water – which, for most of us, is most of the time.  They show where you are in real time just like a dedicated GPS chartplotter but for pennies on the dollar.  Even without cell service, you can look at the charts for planning purposes.   However, just as with anything else electronic, they can fail, go overboard, or just run out of power.  And, you can’t plot a course or position on them with a pencil.

Having said that, most of us want to be using them to supplement our paper charts.  It’s just as foolish to swear off them as to over-rely on them.

And now, why iNavX…

iNavX is the quintessential (if not only) chart app that uses digital imagery of real charts.  It’s a static display.  What you see on the chart is what you get on the screen.  You can zoom in and out, but it’s like cropping a photo.  The same stuff is there.

Example of iNavX:

Screen capture of an approach to the Cape Cod Canal from iNavX chart app. This is what the equivalent paper chart would look like, as this is scanned directly from the same file.


  • like we said – what you see is what you get: consistency.
  • More practice reading the same style chart makes it all faster and easier.


  • not available for all areas.
  • Must ‘switch’ charts in the app when your position crosses the boundary.

The popular Navionics app uses ‘vector’ scan tech.  The app uses its own colors and presentation to display essentially the same data that a chart would, but it is responsive and dynamic.  As one zooms in or out, the scale changes.  If the user selects a different size area, the amount of detail changes in inverse proportion.  Translation: what you see is what the app chooses to show you.  Ask for more area, and you get less detail.  Stuff disappears.

Example of Navionics:

Navionics display of basically same area and scale as the previous iNavX image. This is vector scanning. Captured from the Navionics web site. Resolution slightly degraded from how it would likely appear in-app, but you get the picture. Different type of display.  Nb: the near complete lack of depth soundings – prime example of data disappearing.


  • broad coverage: more regions available worldwide.
  • seamlessly switches ‘charts’ without interruption or input from user.


  • changing graphics causes visual confusion
  • inconsistency with paper chart presentation can do the same
  • both above slow things down
  • And, like we said – the chief culprit?  Stuff disappears.  If one zooms out pretty far for ‘small’ scale (large area in smaller detail), reefs and shoals can disappear, and the app doesn’t tell you that it just erased something – including the shoal you were, and still are, aimed at.

A few years ago, a boat in the Volvo Ocean Race ran aground off a tiny island essentially in the middle of nowhere in the Indian Ocean.  The area is called the Cargados Carajos Shoals, about 270 miles off Maritius.  Everyone on all the boats knew they were going to pass close by one of the islands.  One ran aground while sailing at close to 20 knots at night.  It’s somewhere between possible and probable that vector scan charting software that was overzoomed contributed to this mistake.  Fortunately, no one was hurt.  But, the coral was damaged, and the boat was essentially wrecked.

Our recommendation?  Get iNavX and be done with it.  If you want to play around with vector charts as well, then get the $29 add-on for Navionics and run that within iNavX so you have options at your disposal.  In the interest of full disclosure, Navionics alone, outside of iNavX, is $10.  It’s called Boating and has a similar logo.

Happy Hunting!

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