Dinghy Down!

The Over/Under on the Dockmaster’s first race in a LONG time as he shows a friend how to sail one.

It’s been a minute since I raced a sailboat, and a few more since I did it in a dinghy. What’s a dinghy?

NB: CLICK ON PICS to defeat distortion and/or blow up (glitch I’m solving that you might or might not see depending on device).

IN THAT PIC: 3 dinghies racing. Foreground: Vanguard 15 that just capsized. Background: Paolo and I holding it together on another Vanguard (left), with a Sunfish on the right. Sebago Cup. Chris Bickford, this and all other photos not otherwise credited.

The little ones that flip. Fun; fast. Fairly athletic. (usually) Simple. They’re dry-sailed: put ’em in the water to use, and pull ’em back out when done. Often on a dolly but sometimes by sheer lifting and carrying power.

I used to race two classes of dinghies: Dyer Dhows, and Lasers. Dyers were originally yacht tenders: the kind of dinghy used to go to and from shore when moored or anchored. Somehow, Dyers became very popular in the northeast for “frostbiting,” or winter racing. It’s slightly insane, but yets – I did it, and people still do it today with abandon in Dyers and other classes of boats…

IN THAT PIC: Dyer Dhows ‘frostbiting’ courtesy of Mamaroneck Frostbite Association site.

…Including Lasers. I raced them in the early to mid 1980’s. My sail number: 101670. One doesn’t forget it. Now, they’re popular for frostbiting, but not when I started racing Dyers.

“Laser: there is no substitute.”

Steve Card (Owner & Author)
IN THAT PIC: Tracy in fine style at the Cup. She went on one of our BVI trips a long time ago, so was pleasantly surprised to run into her here at Sebago.

I had some success with Dyers at the local level and Lasers at the district level (#8; NYC/Long Island). I raced the full-size rig, as that’s what people did then. I was way too light for it then, and am still too light for it despite not being as rail thin as I was soaking wet back then. I got away with it as LIS is a light wind region, and maybe I had some talent and ability. If nothing else, I could move fast in the boat.

But now, I’m a member of the Sebago Canoe Club, sailing in Jamaica Bay near the Atlantic Ocean. With wind! Much more wind. So, while I’ll get out the full rig eventually on lighter days, I’m now sailing the Radial rig which is around 20 square feet smaller than the standard rig.

But, I’ve just been sailing around. I mentioned something about a race, didn’t I? That was on a Vanguard 15, a boat I’d been super excited to try but never had access until I joined Sebago. Then I was able to get out and just sail around, and do some casual pick-up racing with other members in Vanguards and other boats. When they announced the annual Sebago Cup, I signed up immediately for the club’s one Vanguard 15 and, as two other members own their own, we had a ‘class’ with awards to follow!

IN THAT PIC: Vanguard 15, skippered by author and crewed by Paolo, a client and friend from the Sailing Center this shot was probably most of the way through the race.

So did Lasers and Sunfish, which comprised all the other boats racing. Sailing at Sebago is about Sunfish first, and Lasers second. (They do, of course, do a lot of paddling – mostly in kayaks but also canoes.) In the Sebago Cup, all are invited, and it’s open to non members as well. It’s a casual, fun, long-distance race, rather than a series of shorter races constituting a ‘regatta.’ One start; one finish. Lots of time in between to try to sail fast and smart.

I used to race competitively and train for it. Now, it was supposed to just be fun. Great! I would have fun trying to win, and try not to care about how I finished. This is what I’d been looking for in racing for awhile but not finding a fit. Often, people said they didn’t take it too seriously, and just having fun, etc. “Our boat isn’t competitive in our division unless it’s really windy; heavy Scandinavian design,” went one explanation. That one, and every other time I heard it, it wasn’t as advertised.

But this time, I’d only have myself (and possibly my crew) to blame if it wasn’t.

The Sebago Cup happens every September and has a good turnout. This time, we had 16 competitors and a couple of boats that sailed along but specifically not competing (traditional designs rather than high-performance skiffs or dinghies). All members are strongly encouraged to attend, and it’s supposed to be fun/casual. Plus, there’s a banquet afterward! What’s not to love?

I signed up with another Steve in the club who I’d met before. When we got closer to go-time, the forecast was kinda rough. Steve didn’t want to go out in a gear buster, especially as he’d never sailed the Vanguard before and was, like me, only recently back in dinghies. So, I put out the word, and found Paolo, one of my clients from the Sailing Center. He’s tall, young and fit. I figured he could hike all day! (‘Hiking’ in this case means leaning out over the boat with feet under a strap to help lever the boat down.)

IN THAT PIC: Paolo and I prepping our Vanguard for the day.

While Paolo is a fairly experienced sailor, learning in Italy and continuing with his cruising education here in the States, he was never on a sailing dinghy in his life. Did some bareboat charter cruises on his own, including at our favorite locations (Croatia and Italy). Got on the dinghies on those trips: the kind to motor you back and forth from your yacht. Not sailing dinghies.

So what? Perfect excuse if I tanked, right? But really, who cares? I had nothing to prove. I just want to participate and have fun racing, especially given that we had multiples of three different classes of boats to make it super interesting.

They almost called it due to the forecast as of the night before, and they could have made that decision last minute. But, they went with it, and it was fine. Got windy at around 12:45, earlier than anticipated, with winds in the upper teens to maybe 20 a few times, but then also calmed down toward the end of the race.

It was FUN! More like one of Sebago’s cruises in Jamaica Bay than a race; main difference is that we didn’t stop for lunch on one of the J-Bay islands. No one yelled at anyone else. Maybe on one of the other Vanguards between skipper/crew, but if so, we didn’t hear anything. One woman had music on softly and we chatted to confirm as we sailed side by side on one leg of the race.

IN THAT PIC: At the dock; preparing to splash and dangle.

Paolo and I arrived early, got the boat rigged, and dollied it down to the dock early to avoid the rush, dangling it off the dock. By the time we were quite ready, we were a little behind so had to catch up as most of the fleet was already headed out, but all good.

I’d hoped to get out early enough to do some warm up with him. Sailing out of the long, narrow Paerdegat Basin to Jamaica Bay was a start, but we needed some room to zoom and also assess the starting line and make a plan for that. I’ve always told anyone who would listen that I’ll go race with anyone – total beginners at racing, casual veterans, what have you, with two caveats:

  1. Don’t expect more out of the race than what you bring in to it – experience, practice, and also talent.
  2. Have a plan for the start. I don’t care if you fail miserably at it – just have one and try to execute it. See how it goes.
  3. Have fun trying to win the race!
IN THAT PIC: The whole gang & shebang: pre-race meeting held, and time to splash and dash!

We got out there, ran the starting line, ID’d ourselves to the Race Committee (which included Howard, a grad/friend of the school from awhile ago who joined the Club the same day I did! I tried to get Paolo to hike, but he wasn’t having it at first. Later, I realized that part of it was his proportions. Long and tall don’t work so well in a Vanguard 15. Hard to fit in the hiking straps. But, he was also simply new to it, and the wind was all over the place. Not good conditions for a first timer. But, he did it.

IN THAT PIC: Howard, a graduate of the Sailing Center and new member of Sebago just like me. She’d answered the call for RC duty (Race Committee).

We took a quick break while waiting for the automated starting sequence horns, and hove to while taking what would likely be our last sips of water until after the race (which we figured could be as much as two hours). Next thing we knew, we heard the RC announce “one and a half; one and a half” on the bullhorn. Not only was there not a 3-minute countdown (it was only 2), it had started before we knew it!

IN THAT PIC: Howie + Howard, true blue, on the Canarsie (new hand-built wooden boat with fancy engine), which serves as RC boat and, if ever needed, ‘crash’ boat.

Now, were were going to barely make the start and have little to no control over our position. I’d decided to come in fast on starboard tack for the pin end, as it was a downwind start and this should have given us plenty of room to dodge any leeward boats by forcing port-tackers out of the way, but no. That ship sailed.

We crossed the line. But, nearly last to do so. So it goes…

IN THAT PIC: Just after the start of the race! 2 Lasers, 3 V-15’s, and 2 Sunnies (Sunfish). Paolo and I are in the closer Vanguard with yellow PFD’s.

And off we went! Now, we could just have fun attacking downwind and see how much ground we could re-take. I’d been getting a reputation for being fast; I did well in both the Vanguard and Laser in mock racing with other members. On the one ‘cruise’ I did, I left the lunch stop last but passed the whole fleet on the way back before heaving to to stay in sync and keep an eye out for other boats (safety first; Sebago is very safety conscious). So, I figured I could gain some ground.

IN THAT PIC: still on first downwind leg; wind is now lighter. We’re assessing our options to ‘attack’ downwind.

At first, not so. Surprisingly slow; kept pace more or less but couldn’t really gain ground. Then lost some. Soon, however, Paolo and I agreed there was more wind toward shore, on the left side of the first leg, so we headed up to intercept it first and BAM. We got up on a plane and started gaining ground. But, it didn’t last, and of course the wind reached others sooner than we’d hoped so they gained back. But, by the first rounding, we were closer to mid-pack than nearly last. We were doing something right.

IN THAT PIC: This is where several boats ran aground, and we are heeling the Vanguard with board all the way up to hopefully slip through unscathed.

The course wasn’t around marks; it was a figure-8 around two island in Jamaica Bay. That’s tricky, as one has to decide how close to shore to go. Closer is often a shorter distance. But, that often means losing some wind, or running aground. Or both. Numerous boats ran aground at both islands. Jamaica Bay is deep in the middle channel going around most of it, but it’s quite shallow in other areas – even for little sailing dinghies.

We opted to follow the leaders and hedge our bets in the ’rounding’ parts of things, and observe. Good thing we watched; two people ground to a halt when they passed between two grass patches, giving us warning to raise our board all the way and heel over to protect the rudder and reduce leeway. That worked. Another two or three boats gained.

IN THAT PIC: fun shot of Paolo and me. This is after rounding Canarsie Pol and en-route to the Ruffle Bar (island) with a little wind that made for an exciting leg.

We had good speed for awhile on route to the next island, and felt more competitive. We traded places with one of the other Vanguards a few times, but after rounding the Ruffle Bar (second Island), they just left us behind. I’d counted on gaining ground upwind with hard hiking by Paolo and experienced reflexes playing the main in the gusts, but we just weren’t keeping up much less catching up.

IN THAT PIC: Tracy holding her Laser down in a gust. World’s longest hiking stick! (Tiller extension) Many Sebago members wear helmets in Lasers and Sunfish. I can’t deal, despite always wearing one snowboarding and the rare times I get on a bike. “Change my mind!”

We sailed the rest of the upwind leg back to the finish trying to play the gusts and wind shifts, balancing two strategies: tacking when it would point us consistently closer to the finish, and conserving tacks. Our tacks sucked. Paolo wasn’t about to learn to roll tack in one race, and as well as handling the jib sheets, he had to hike out on the new side and also keep pushing the daggerboard back down as it tended to rise up. I was impressed at how he managed to multi task this. But, it was too much for a new dinghy sailor and we lost ground every tack. Half way through the upwind leg, I was underperforming in my duties as well. Tired.

IN THAT PIC: Torben in fine form upwind, during the windiest part of the upwind leg. This. Is. HIKING! Laser, with radial rig.

But, we kept our position relative to the two Laser Radials were were essentially ‘match’ racing against at that point, and eventually pulled ahead. We were in the upper third or so of the fleet, so at least we came back somewhat from our lame start.

IN THAT PIC: Tracy flying by Torben, king of rare but spectacular capsizes. I love the plane overhead!

As soon as we finished, I capsized the boat! Not on purpose. But, capsize I did. I decided I wanted to jibe around the committe boat for the fun of it. Could have tacked. But, we’d had few jibes, and the wind was lighter. We jibed, the boat started heeling, it kept heeling, and then very gracefully finished heeling. 90 degrees. Sails flat on the water. I’d already jumped up on the windward rail, but Paolo went down with the ship, so to speak.

IN THAT PIC: Our turn. Not just capsized, but turtled! Post race, so didn’t cost us any places. Note the shark grin on Paolo’s face. (He’d seen a shark right off the entrance to Sheepshead Bay not two weeks ago, so…

But wait – there’s more! The boat kept going. It ‘turtled:’ bottom and board up; sails straight down. Not uncommon. Not a drama. Got Paolo back to the boat, and we righted it quickly enough. Plenty of other boats had capsized during the actual race, including the man who was ahead the ENTIRE time and won line and corrected honors: David Cripton, a really solid Laser sailor. (I had that happen once in Manhasset Bay Race week but against a weaker field than at this Sebago Cup.)

IN THAT PIC: usually takes two to right a sloop dinghy.

Anywho, we got under the causeway that marks the entrance to the basin, feeling pretty good. Then, bam – ran aground again. Low tide; very common. But, it was a sudden, hard grounding, and the boat basically tripped over the board. Dinghy DOWN! We’d capsized again. This time, it was even less elegant, as we both went in the drink. But, it was waist deep for short me, so we just walked around the boat and flipped it. By then, Paolo was shivering from the two dunkings while I, with a little more body fat or possibly warmer layers, remained cool but okay. Short ride back, however, with no further flips.

IN THAT PIC: Jon, a graduate and past member of the Sailing Center, who just went on a BVI trip with us in the spring. He started out the day with a hat…

Time to haul the boat out and up onto its dolly. It was heav-EEEEE. We were tired, of course, but this was TOO heavy. Then I realized. I never closed the drain plug on the transom before splashing the boat. I had checked it when I arrived at the boat; it had been left closed. So, I opened it to check for water, and a lot was coming out. I tipped the bow up on the dolly so it would drain. And, of course, forgot to close the plug.

We’d been taking water for two hours, and apparently faster than it could drain out the few times we got up on a plane. Embarrassing and silly way to slow down; not good for the boat – so even more embarrassing…

“So it goes.”

Kurt Vonnegut, over and over, in Slaughterhouse Five
IN THAT PIC: post-capsize; en route back in, to… capsize again, but at least not turtle.

We washed down the boat, left the sails up to dry, got into dry clothes, and finished putting the Vanguard to bed. Couldn’t wait for a beer! But we decided to wait until the banquet officially began. Someone else summarily decided they were hungry, and it was time, and that was that with that. A line formed and we all grabbed the grub: a variety of hot food and salads catered by Sebago and partially off set by our $10 entry fees, and some nice sides others brought on a volunteer basis (including Howard’s excellent vegan cole slaw). And, of course, a Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze I brought to hedge against less-than-Stella beer I’d heard was common at the large events. So large that Paolo and I split one. (And, no – I don’t like Stella, but you saw what I did there.)

But, they had Lagunitas IPA and maybe some other good stuff, to my pleasant surprise. Good to know for future events!

IN THAT PIC: Tracy accepting her award for 3rd Overall from John, the Sailing Chair (excellent, as 1st Overall went to a standard Laser rig)!

After chowing and chatting, the announcements and awards commenced. There were three Vanguards, and therefore a ‘class.’ that meant there was a 3rd place award. A Participation Award! Paolo and I could frame them, and simply not share that 3rd equalled last. LAST. DFL. (Use your imagination to decipher that acronym; it’s an old racing thing.)

I guess we… earned it?

It was a FUN time. I was in a buoyant mood for a day or two later despite a mediocre showing. Didn’t matter. I’d realized the best of what it meant to go racing: enjoy the camaraderie and like minded spirit of having fun trying to win a game. In this case, a dinghy race.

IN THAT PIC: I proposed a Kewlest Color Coordination Award for this guy; not sure if that will stick. Time will tell! Steve Card, snapper.

Shark Attack: and why you probably shouldn’t care

A recent shark attack in the Rockaways not far from where we teach you how to sail drives the point home, close to home.

IN THAT PIC: One video segueing to another from Scott Fairchild’s feed on Insta. That/those are great white sharks in California.

Last Monday evening at 6pm, a woman went in the water off Beach 59th Street in Far Rockaway. She was close to shore, but alone. She screamed, and lifeguards went to help. She’d been bitten by a shark and had a serious wound to her thigh. The New York Post took the sensational route, of course, and also published a lame account of the attack where someone claimed the woman lost approximately 20 pounds of flesh. That would have been her entire thigh and she would have been dead before she could have received treatment. Desapite that being debunked they have not corrected it. They also published close ups of the woman being treated on the beach. Not gory; shows some blood but mostly her being treated and also good samaritans holding her head and hand. Good shot from that perspective, but won’t reprint it here. Go find if you must.

She was brought ashore and a tourniquet was applied. She wound up in Jamaica hospital in serious but stable condition and was expected to not just survive but make a full recovery.

But, that was close! Had she been further out, and/or lifeguards weren’t nearby, she would have had a high risk of dying from loss of blood and shock.

“Yes, but…”

A large, perhaps overwhelming majority, of shark attacks are survived. Most bites are from small sharks and make minor injuries.

It’s scary nonetheless. It was a serious attack. And, there have been a rash of shark bites and all kinds of sightings in Long Island waters in the past year or so. Numbers of sharks seem to be on the rise.

“Yes, but…

Same diff. Florida is historically the shark attack capital of the world, with a proportionally very large percentage of attacks. Vast majority are minor bites by small sharks feeding on fish.

But but… I don’t WANNA get bit by a shark!

“Yes, but…

No one does. But the odds against it are insanely in your favor. Compare the number of attacks/bites documented each year to the incalculable number of times people go in the water with the sharks. Total documented attacks? Hovers around 100. (Undocumented attacks probably tip up the number incrementally, but there’s no reason to suspect multiplication is involved).

IN THAT CLIP: surfer paddling directly over a great white shark in Cali.

Also: think about when to get in the water, and when not to, etc…

  1. Don’t swim at night. Dumb and Dumber didn’t even do that.
  2. Don’t swim at dawn or dusk. At least as bad.
  3. Don’t swim in the mid to late afternoon. This is a trigger time for predatory fish to feed, in my lifelong experience as an angler, and it happens to be when many attacks happen (probably more because more people enter the water, but still…)
  4. Don’t swim alone in waters where sharks might be. Okay; they might be ANYWHERE. So, don’t swim alone where sharks have been seen recently, or where there’s any history of attacks and/or dangerous species being seen.
  5. Don’t swim out further than others.
  6. Don’t wear yellow. Divers call it “yum yum yellow.” High-contrast visual trigger.
  7. Don’t swim when small fish are being chased by birds or other fish, or where where gamefish like tuna have been coming close to shore, even if they’re not there when you go in.
  8. Don’t swim when there’s any chance you have a cut of any size that could bleed, or if you’re menstruating.
  9. Don’t swim when the water’s particularly murky.
  10. Don’t splash around frantically. If snorkeling, no need to smash your fins down on the surface with each kick. Super inefficient anyway; keep fins in water to push water!

Can you get through your natural life without being bitten by a shark if you break some or all of these rules? Yes! You probably won’t get attacked if you break them all.

“Yes, but…

She did. She swam alone, and shortly before dusk. Don’t know if any of the other rules applied. But, it’s the first documented attack in NYC waters since at least the 1950’s. And, the near-ish attacks on Long Island were all minor.

IN THAT PIC: another video montage from Fairchild. Swimmer and surfer basically on top of great white sharks.

I consider the fear of attack to be both irrational and rational. I’ve been fascinated by sharks and shark attacks since I was a boy. My dad took me to the South Street Seaport once and, of course, no visit anywhere ends without a stop at the gift shop. I took home a book: Shark: Unpredictable Killer of the Sea, by Thomas Helm. Lost the original but replaced it on Amazon…

Great book. One man’s perspective on sharks, shark fishing, and attacks, with some personal anecdotes. One of them both reinforces and destroys the subtitle. He was stationed in the Pacific during WWII. Somewhere there was a lagoon encapsulated by a fringing reef. His unit was tasked with disposing of outdated grenades. They decided to fish with them. They went out in a rubber raft and started tossing grenades in to stun fish.

BOOM. Up floated many dead fish. BOOM. Again. he-he.

Eventually, sharks came to pick up the scraps. So, why not blow up the sharks? They started tying grenades to fish, pulling the pin, and tossing them so if a shark went to grab it, head blown off. Nasty; wrong. Dumb. But, the author knew it by the time of writing long after and was admitting, not bragging.

Then, they started tossing the fish in immediately after pulling the pin. One shark took the bait and swam toward the raft. Ooopsieee…..


Raft flipped and tossed them all in the water – with that much more fish blood in the water.

They all swam back to shore unscathed. So, the sharks didn’t see them as potential prey, despite what must have been some frantic flopping about and plenty of blood in the water already. Should have been… shark bait.

“Yes, but… No bites.

Unpredictable. Except, maybe, they’re not unpredictable, indiscriminate killers? Maybe they bite when they’ve rarely mistaken us for normal prey, or in more rare cases, when they’re simply desperate to feed or otherwise thrown off their games?

My own experiences with sharks…

  1. Seen a few while snorkeling. First was in Australia on the Great Barrier Reef. White tip reef shark. It was lying on the bottom breathing from the current without swimming. The snorkeling guide swam down toward it to spook it into moving. It grudgingly did so, and lazily went in a great circle while no one but I saw it plop down in the same exact spot to resume minding its own biz. Everyone else had swum away. My treat.
  2. Another time, found a decent sized lemon shark minding its own biz in the Tobago Cays of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Video’d it with underwater camera (point n shoot in a good case). It spooked and swam further away quickly, then resumed a lazy swim. I got good zoomed in footage. It’s up on our YouTube right now! What I DIDN’T see at the time was the other shark that was what spooked the lemon. THAT scared me! Different species. Never found out what.
  3. Saw others snorkeling in the BVI. One time, a guy was sitting on the bottom minding its own business. Wasn’t a nurse shark; didn’t match another species I could think of. Started approaching to ID it. Then, I thought better and went away.
  4. On our most recent BVI trip in spring of 2023, clients were snorkeling off the boat in an anchorage. They got my attention: wanted a ride back in the dinghy. They’d seen a relatively large shark and didn’t want to fool around and find out. At least one of them didn’t. The other, when advised and asked, wanted to stay in and try to see it. Only problem is it had seemingly spooked when the first guy saw it and disappeared. How large? Around the size of the dinghy. 10-11 feet.

Drones are the new rage, and they reveal how often we’re actually swimming or surfing with dangerous sharks swimming amongst us. Enter Scott Fairchild, whose Insta account is so revealing. And, they’re being used to look for sharks by beach and park patrols to make swimming even safer.

And now for a few words and images from someone other than me!

Great montage in Scott Fairchild’s Instagram account…


Article in NY Times about the Rockaway attack with good perspective and info about drone patrols…


Like Clockwork!

Actual clockwork – the works that solved the problem of how to sail across an ocean safely by keeping proper time for navigation. And, these clocks from the 1700’s are still ticking!

IN THAT CLIP: Harrison’s four timepieces that revolutionized navigation and long distance sea travel.

I visited the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England this month. Been on my list since I first read “Longitude” by Dava Sobel, about the English crafstman and inventor John Harrison. I’ve written about it before, but now I’ve seen it.

“You have to see it to understand. Now I’ve seen it.”

The Dragon Queen, Game of Thrones

(I also saw the dragon motifs in Wales, and got some great drag swag, but that’s another story from the same trip.)

Harrison’s clocks revolutionized sea travel and have withstood the test of time. It took him most of his adult lifetime, partially because he was a self-sabotaging perfectionist, but he solved the problem of his time: how to determine longitude at sea. His timepieces were the first chronometers, or very accurate time pieces that would work for extended sea voyages without adjustment or maintenance. And, he won the incentive prize offered by Parliament: 20,000 pounds. That translates into roughly $7 million when adjusted to today’s value.

IN THAT PIC: His first chronometer clock, H1. Kept good time near-coastal in Europe.

Why was this a problem to begin with?

  • To determine longitudinal position at sea (east/west), one needed to know the time at the home port of departure (now Greenwich, England, or GMT for all) and compare it to the local apparent noon (sun at its zenith).
  • To do that, one needed an accurate time piece.
  • They existed on land, but none of the day could keep time at sea due to the motion of the ocean, as well as changes in humidity and barometric pressure.
  • Until the problem was solved, vessels were constantly at risk of delayed or premature arrivals, getting lost, or worse, running aground. That last eventuality was the straw that broke the stiff upper lip of the land: a small armada was lost off the coat of England due to poor position reckoning.
IN THAT PIC: H2. Tried to sole some problems; he found another. NEXT!..

The detailed history is best left to Dava Sobel, but suffice it to say it that this wasn’t an easy affair. Here’s a super-short summary.

In 1714, Parliament created the Board of Longitude and offered the prize.

In the 1720’s, Harrison created his first clock. It was huge, unwieldy, and elegant a/f – so much so that a fancy-lad clockmaker in England makes stunning replicas.

It worked well enough on a proper sea trial, and it was duly recognized by the Board, but there was room for improvement. A small sum was paid with the promise that another improved clock would be built.

IN THAT PIC: H3 Not good enough. The can of worms, they squirms…

It took three more iterations, decades of time, and some political jockeying to get it done…. but the fourth time was the charm. From a large machine, to a large pocket watch, Harrison created a consistently reliable chronometer and safe navigation was possible. Sadly, despite this accomplishment and also winning the king’s ransom of a prize, he died a bitter and broken man.

IN THAT PIC: H4. DONE. Kept accurate time from England to the Caribbean.

But, I was a happy fan at the Royal Observatory. I highly recommend anyone traveling to London take a side trip to Greenwich, which also has the Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark. Easy on tube + rail. Harrison’s clocks might be the best part about the Observatory but there’s plenty more, including the touristy thing: standing on the Prime Meridian!

Again: read Longitude by Dava Sobel. Get the illustrated version. Fascinating and revealing. There’s also a Nova episode about it, and despite being a little campy with reenactments, it’s great. Sobel is interviewed in it.

We teach the basics of latitude and longitude work in our Coastal Navigation course, Start Sailing (ASA 105), including how to use lat/lon coordinates from a GPS to plot position on a paper chart. Old school blended with new.

If You Build Them, You Will Sail Them!

Kids learn how to build, then how to sail, small sailing boats. STEM working for them!

I started sailing dinghies (little boats that can flip over) when it was almost ‘too late.’ From a development standpoint, kids should learn on dinghies. If they learn on keelboats (larger boats that basically don’t flip over), fine – but they must get on dinghies while they’re still young and developing themselves. By late teens or so, that ship has sailed. They’ll never develop their skills as well as they would have had they been on dinghies earlier.

In that pic: they built the boats, and now they’re sailing them. How kewl is that?!

These kids have a shot. True, they’re largely from less or disadvantaged backgrounds. Sailing has a deserved reputation as being lily-white. This student body isn’t. But, as with many other activities and institutions, things are changing. There are more opportunities. Sailing might be one of the slowest to come around, which is partially intrinsic due to the cost of boats and access to them, but it is coming around.

And, around came Brooklyn Boatworks:



Harnessing the unique craft of wooden boat building and maritime-centered exploration, we inspire young people to uncover the confidence, skills, and courage to chart pathways to success in and outside the classroom.

call-out on home page of Brooklyn Boatworks

Basically, they offer community programs and after-school activities that take a different tack toward preparing kids for both academic and life success. What better way to approach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) than to do something in real life that shows why a kid would want to do well with those subjects in school?

It reminds me of the public service TV ads from awhile back (a long way back) where they’d show someone doing an activity they liked, then, ask how that’s going to help them in life? They then explain why. “Joe likes shooting pool. How is that going to help him in the real world?” Well, I’ll tell you why. Angles. Physics. Geometry. Patiently learning physical techniques and manual dexterity that can apply to any number of potential future tasks – including surgical sutures. (Ed note: I made up the explanatory part, and re-created the quoted part which gives the gist of it but with different words.)

In that pic: dinks are done – lined up and ready for rigging and sailing!

Building a small wooden boat as a team lets kids work on…

  • team work
  • long-range planning
  • managing material resources
  • safe use of tools and glues/epoxies
  • setting and achieving goals
  • application of academic subjects to the real world
  • etc
  • etc

The mission has been around for a couple of years. Now, Brooklyn Boatworks has moved their most recent completed fleet of Optis (Optimist Prams) to the Sailing Center’s host facility, Miramar Yacht Club. Miramar’s mission is simply to promote sailing and get as many people from as many walks of life as possible into it. That dovetails well with Brooklyn Boatworks.

We saw it all in action last week. The school had a class of two (young) adult students out for their 3rd day of lessons. On the way out, the boats were lined up on the dock in preparation for rigging and sailing. On our way back, it was all happening.

latest YouTube clip we posted – self explanatory. Check it!

I wanted to hop in on one! But, of course, that wasn’t the point. They had everything under control as far as volunteer instructors, coordinators, and safety staff. The wind had been too strong, but then it moderated and conditions became ideal for this – wind aligned with dock, enough to sail but not enough to bail, no threat of squalls, etc. Perfect.

The Sailing Center is an unofficial, informal advisor to the program. We can’t wait to see what comes next!

For more:



RIP, Buddy

Harry “Buddy” Melges, one of the greatest sailing racers ever, has passed at 93 after passing down a legacy that has reached down even to those learning how to sail.

I got into sailboat racing when Buddy Melges was a household name in racing circles. From Zenda, Wisconsin, Melges (pronounced with a hard “g”) was super successful in a variety of boat types and also influential – and consequential – in sailboat design.

IN THAT PIC: Melges in ’53 after returning from combat in Korea with a Bronze Star. Of course, he went on to win the coveted Star World Championships twice. Once is impressive enough.

I’ll leave the more general obituary to others (several are linked to at the end of the post, along with a photo biopic from a local paper). Here, I’ll talk about him from a racing perspective.

He was a scow sailor. What does that mean? Scows are type of very flat, wide, lake boat. Scow racing is very competitive in many lake areas of the US. Melges came up, so to speak, on scows, and was one of the most successful scow racers in history. He was particularly successful in the E scow, winning the nationals 5 times. I’ve never sailed one, but reading about Melges back in the day made me curious to try.

He also raced both dinghies and keelboats. He medaled in two Olympiads: the Flying Dutchman in 1964, and the Soling in 1972. The FD was the “heavyweight” 2-man sloop rigged dinghy with main, genoa and spinnaker, and it was a beast to sail. Paul Elvström and Ted Turner were two competitive FD sailors, to give some perspective on the talent in that class. (Neither won an Olympic medal in one.)

IN THAT PIC: Melges helming, and hiking, with his venerable crewman Bill Bentsen. This is a Flying Dutchman, the largest Olympic dinghy and perhaps the largest one period. While no longer in the Olympics, it’s still a popular class. These guys won Bronze in the 1968 Olympiad.

The Soling? The 3-man Olympic keelboat, also sloop rigged, with main, jib and spinnaker. I have a lot of time on Solings, although much of it was learning to sail and race when younger and, later, teaching both sailing and racing. I did sail in an East Coast Championship once as crew. Who did Melges beat in the 1972 Olympiad, amongst others? Paul Elvström, arguably the greatest racing sailor in history. (The Great Dane didn’t do very well in ’72, coming in 13th.)

But wait – there’s more! Melges also championed in the Star class, another sloop rigged Olympic keelboat (2 person; main and jib; no spinnaker). He won the World’s twice in that class. Who else is a sailing household name with fame in the Star? Dennis Connor of America’s Cup lore.

IN THAT PIC: The 1992 Americas Cup. Melges co-skippered with Dave Dellenbaugh and syndicate chief Bill Koch. That’s almost certainly Melges at the helm in the red jacket and white cap.

And, then, there’s the America’s Cup. Melges won that in 1992! Co-skippering, to be clear, with Bill Koch and David Dellenbaugh, but an integral part of the team. And, to win the right to defend the Cup, they had to defeat Dennis Connor, the name most synonymous with the America’s Cup. Melges was in his 60’s at the time, when the average age of an AmCup skipper was more like 38. Decades later, he said this:

“It’s nice to win the America’s Cup, but I’ll take an Olympic medal.”

Harry “Buddy” Melges, c0mparing winning Olympic Bronze and Gold to winning the America’s Cup. He did all three, and was more impressed with his Olympic successes.

Taking a few steps back in time from the America’s Cup, I realize I overlooked some of his successes. He won the Skeeter Ice Boat World Championships 7 times, and the 5.5 Metre keelboat class World’s 3 times. Almost more impressively is the fact that these two records, plus the E-Scow record, were all done from the ’50’s through the ’80s. Yup. Consistency over a long span of his life.

IN THAT PIC: Melges sailing a Soling with his sons hiking out as crew! I have fond memories of sailing Solings with my dad. Neither of us were in the same universe, much less league, as Melges, but we played the same way.

That record makes Melges one of the most well-rounded and diversely successful sailboat racers in history. At the moment, only Elvström comes to mind as a comparably, or arguably even more, successful overall sailboat racer. (Melges has the ice-boating, giving him a singlehanded class, and the America’s Cup. Elvstrom has the Finn dinghy, the world’s toughest boat to sail, with 4 Olympic golds, and he just missed the bronze in the Tornado catamaran when he was in his 50’s and his teenage daughter was crewing for him. As with Melges, Elvström was a 5.5 Metre champion. Elvström was top tier in the 505 dingy and Dragon keelboat as well. Melges built boats; Elvström built sails. Both businesses continue to thrive.)

Melges had always been into making and tweaking boats. Ultimately, he followed in his father’s footsteps with Melges Boat Works, transitioning and expanding it. After the ’92 Americas Cup, he partnered with renowned naval architects Reichel/Pugh and the Melges 24 was born, with a 32 to follow. The 24 was a true sport boat, super-light and fast AF with an asymmetrical spinnaker to make for more tactical and controlled speeding downwind. It became a very competitive class around the world, supplanting the J/24 (which was succeeded by both the J/80 and J/70).

IN THAT PIC: a Melges 24 racing flat out with main and asymmetrical spinnaker. This sport boat made the older J/24 show its age and ushered in more designs that were better racing platforms.

Melges was nicknamed the Wizard of Zenda, and he co-authored, with Charles Mason, a well-received book on racing called Sailing Smart: Winning Techniques, Tactics and Strategies. If memory serves from the debates from back in the day, Melges believed in something called the “lee bow effect.” Other experts didn’t. I happen to believe that most people misunderstand current, which is what’s involved here, and I always believed Dave Perry’s explanation of why there is no such effect (which he credits Peter Isler explaining patiently to him for over a year until he “got it.”).

The lee bow effect argues that, if the current is basically head-on to a boat sailing upwind, meaning it’s also sailing directly into the current, that the boat could pinch slightly (head up toward the wind) to get the current onto its leeward, or downwind, side. That, in turn would push the boat further to windward, more than offsetting the loss by going a little too close to the wind.

IN THAT PIC: Melges hiking harder than his crew – unusual to see. Reminds me of… Elvström! (He liked to steer from the trapeze sometimes.) This is a Flying Dutchman.

Never made sense to me. Set a fleet of boats adrift with no wind, but in current. Have them at various angles. They all drift the same way. Start moving them through the water with motors. They all travel exactly straight through the water. What’s different? There’s a ‘wind’ created by the boats moving through Earth’s atmosphere, regardless of current. The current simply changes that angle. But, rotating the boat in the water doesn’t make the boat ‘feel’ the current and react differently, so there’s no advantage to changing the angle of the boat to the path of the current. Boats neither ‘feel’ it nor are ‘deflected’ by it.

Having said all that, my racing success is limited to the local and regional level and nothing to speak of compared to that of Melges (nor to Dave Perry, Laser and Soling champion amongst other accomplishments, or Peter Isler, tactician to America’s Cup winner Gary Jobson).

Maybe Melges wrote about it in his book. I just ordered a used hard-cover copy to find out.

IN THAT PIC: Melges and Bentson after winning gold in the Soling class, 1972 – the racing result he always remained the most proud of.

Rest in peace, Buddy. The sailing world misses you already.

Links to some bios and obits:



Back from the BVI

Our latest Virgin Islands trip saw people brushing up on how to sail a yacht and how to kick it on a kewl cruise.

IN THAT PIC: a balanced helm during our first sail of the trip. En route to Spanish Town from Road Town. Stephanie was on one of our Italy trips before this.

Our (typically) annual trip in the British Virgin Islands was spectacular. Winds were surprisingly consistent, especially for this time of the year. The group got along like Kool and the Gang. There was less traffic than in the high season, and therefore parking, playing and getting dinner reservations were all easier.

For newcomers to our ramblings and Rants, these trips are instructional sailing vacations. People get a tour and vacay, but also can train at all the aspects of bareboat charter cruising. Those with the prerequisite background can earn one level of ASA cruising certification (either 103 or 104). On rare occasions, a student might pursue their 105 (coastal navigation).

This trip was full and waitlisted for any cancellations. Our last BVI trip was literally the week before the pandemic lockdown in early 2020, so we skipped two years in paradise. We did manage an Italy trip last fall which had been postponed for the same reasons. On this BVI trip, we had one couple who’d taken their beginner course with us last summer, one single guy, and three single women (one of whom had gone to Italy with us as well as sailed in our club and taken a course or two).

IN THAT PIC: Egret or Heron flying by a… frigate? Traditional sailing vessel that was moored not far from the hotel some of us stayed at the night before we met up at the charter base. Maria’s By the Sea, not fancy but perfectly fine, and they have good food and drink. Convenient and consistent.

So, what was new in BVI? What was the same? We skipped the “new” stuff. For example, we know peeps who played there a month earlier. They reported that Cooper Island, Bitter End & Saba Rock, and the restaurant above The Baths had all over done it. A few places had rebuilt bigger and badder than ever after the back to back hurricanes that preceded the pandemic. Others never rebuilt. Others were simply the same. It therefore felt like it always had, in a good way, and often felt as if we had it to ourselves.

I’d anticipated some dead zones where motoring was required to get anywhere. March had been like that a few times. Not so this early May! Winds were consistently about 12-15, and sometimes into upper teens. One day was honking as we got started, and we very conservatively double reefed the main. When it diminished somewhat, we shook out one reef but that was all I could get a basically lazy crew to do. Their party; their time. It was our last full day so they were kinda chill.

And, of course, it’s all supposed to be “island time.” There are some exceptions, of course. Want a guaranteed mooring? Have to be on the special app for that at 7am. Maybe not in the shoulder season, but certainly in the winter and early spring. Want a dinner reservation at Pirates Bight restaurant on Norman Island? Better make one early, especially if you want to choose your table time. How about dinner at all on Anegada? They do things different there. Call in your boat’s name and exact dishes (plus any choice of sides) by 4. Better yet, do it by 3. How many lobster? How many Mahi? Etc, etc.

IN THAT PIC: One of our stunning little semi-secrets from the BVI. Special beach on Anegada, a somewhat remote spot in the Virgin Islands, that takes careful navigation to get to without running aground on the fringing reef that basically surrounds the island. Great swimming and snorkeling here, and also a fun bar and restaurant.

We were on a nearly new Jeanneau 40 (Sunsail 40, as that’s who we chartered from). Nearly new here means 4 months. We paid extra for the privilege, and always do if they’re available. The sails were therefore perfect, and almost everything else showed new. There were some strange small failures that weren’t fixed before we set out on charter, such as the strut to hold up one of the top-load cabinets, and one door handle kept coming off for the aft head. But we dealt easily enough. The engine and electronics were all perfectly functional, and the boat performed.

IN THAT PIC: two of the crew enjoying the view as we sail back to the main island chain from rather remote Anegada.

It did poorly under the double reef; the boat needed to heel over and power up. The sail plan must have been inherently small, requiring reefing higher up on the wind dial. The crew had their chance to shake out the single reef when even that was too little but were enjoying it nonetheless. We got to our destination with plenty of time to do other activities despite that.

Turtles were doing well, and we saw them daily. Rays were a little down in the count. Snorkeling got us into all kinds of parrot fish, and numerous other species. One decent sized shark was spotted: almost the size of the 10-foot dinghy (so perhaps 7-8 feet, although it was an experienced snorkeler who’d seen sharks in the past, so maybe 9). That client asked for a pick up from the dinghy, as we were snorkeling off the boat close to shore, and he backed himself up almost onto it to keep an eye on the thing. He did say that the shark seemed to spook when they got close to each other and take off, but due to its size he wanted to play it safe. We drove over to the other snorkeler and advised. He wanted to see if he could see the shark! So, we let him be. Shark attacks in the Virgin Islands: how many documented attacks? One, in the 1970’s, on a diver in over 200 feet of water far from shore. Statistically insignificant, as I often say.

IN THAT PIC: empty-ish. There are some boats out of view to the right, but nutin happenin on poor old Marina Cay. I like it like that. This place had a great bar, mediocre restaurant, and very nice villas for rent. But, it was too busy and touristy. One of the more delightful small islands and anchorages in the BVI, with excellent snorkeling nearby. I even caught some fish prowling the shallow flat behind the reef you can see breakers on in the background.

Food: better! I’m often less than impressed with the local food, sorry to say. Having said that, there are several places worth dining at. We ate out for dinner half the time, and every meal was excellent, with the possible exception of the first night before we took off on our adventure. I ordered duck that was under cooked, and when it came back, it was still undercooked and everyone else had finished their meals. I rejected it and ordered a salad, which came back way too complicated after I’d asked for greens with dressing. I’d go back despite that, as we’ve been there before and it was top tier.

Sadly, my personal favorite, and always a favorite of clients, is still not back up and running after the hurricanes. That’s Fat Virgin’s Cafe, not surprisingly of Virgin Gorda. Unpretentious; cheap; excellent. Slow, which might be to get more drink orders or, more likely, because they take their time to cook things right. Dinghy up to the dock; the picnic tables are two feet away. Limited seating; never full; hard to tell if reservations are ever needed or taken seriously. If a pro captain brings a group, he or she eats free. But, don’t be bringing no high-maintenance people late in the evening. Yup; we sort of did that once.

IN THAT PIC: About to be off to our last dinner of the trip at Norman Island.

It can be fun to cook on board, and everything just tastes better on a boat. We did stove top and barbecue grilling for some of our dinners. Simple stuff, and it came out great. No complaints here. One woman’s pasta dish caused me to totally overeat with healthy seconds heaped on. Plus, ice cream she’d gotten at the last port and somehow managed to fit into the tiny freezer! That was a feat of modern engineering.

Next trip? September. Where? Europe: either Croatia or Italy, both of which we’ve visited before. Excited to go back to either, so I’ll basically let clients choose assuming comparably good boat availability with doable pricing at both locations.

Hope to see some readers on that trip! Get in touch if that might be you. You never know; you might dial up the delightful experience you want for yourself.

IN THAT PIC: typical stunning sunset as seen looking from Norman Island to St. John, USVI. About to chow down at Pirate’s Bight. Excellent food and drink here, and nice ambiance.

It’s Always Sunny in Brighton Beach!

Until it isn’t… or is that Brighton, Utah? The weather has been wild all over, but we’re starting to teach people how to sail in Brooklyn and ignoring the powder out yonder.

We started on April 4, did a few lessons, resume this week with a private on Wednesday, and take a break for our Virgin Islands Sailing Vacay (BVI). After that, our first full Start Sailing course of the season kicks off on May 6.

IN THAT PIC: sunny day for sailing some Sunnies! Sunfish class dinghies racing on Jamaica Bay, near New York Sailing Center’s home base on the other side of the Marine Parkway Bridge. Posted on behalf of the Sebago Canoe Club on the Facebook group Sailors of New York.

The little guys above are Sunnies! That’s a nickname for Sunfish, one of the world’s most well-know sailboat classes. There are a ridiculous number of them worldwide accumulating since they were born in… 1947!!! I most certainly did NOT know they went back that far. By the time the Sunfish turned 50, there were over 300,000 of them. They’re a competitive racing class with well attended world championships. I’ve sailed them once or twice, along with the similar Sailfish.

That shot was posted to promote the Sebago Canoe Club‘s spring regatta, which involves Sunnies and Lasers (which I’ve raced extensively). Sebago is in Jamaica Bay, a short ride away from our Sheepshead Bay location at Miramar Yacht Club. Like Miramar, Sebago is a cooperative and all members give service to the club to help run it and keep costs down.

So, the Sunnies will be out in force. How about us?

IN THAT PIC: seagull preparing to take off as we sail near Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. The fog in the background appeared to emanate from the Coney Island Amusement Park and extend all the way out over the Atlantic (out of the frame to the left).

We’ve been sailing off Brighton Beach. That’s next to Manhattan Beach. But… it’s not in Manhattan. We don’t do Manhattan for sailing. Brighton is on Coney Island, facing south toward the Atlantic, and almost there. Directly across Rockaway Inlet is Breezy Point. If Montauk is “The End,” as the bumper stickers say, Breezy is the beginning. It’s the very start of continental Long Island, and where New York Bay meets the Atlantic.

Brighton was a bit cloudy and more than a bit foggy the last time we were out. It happens. There was enough wind to sail after being almost becalmed briefly. That’s super rare here. Remember… Breezy. The area has its own micro climate, with fair weather far more often than foul. Last season, we did five full learn to sail schedules there, spread out over the whole summer and early fall. We also did numerous private lessons. How many times did we cancel due to thunderstorms? Zero. Not so with our old digs at City Island. “It’s (almost) always sunny at Breezy and Brighton.”

How about Brighton, Utah? Still snowing!!! They just got some more, and have little more on the way. As of this writing, they’re still 100% open. Every. Single. Trail. And, all the glades. 65 big runs, at the little big mountain in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

IN THAT PIC: yesterday, April 23, at Brighton Resort, Utah. Fully open, and still snowing. They, like all their neighbors in the Wasatch Range and a number of other resorts out west, broke their all-time recorded snowfall records. Brighton? Approaching 900 inches this season! This is a screenshot from their Insta.

Who cares? Anyone interested in both sailing and snowsports; anyone concerned about climate change. The Wild Winter that Was out West broke many records. We might not be glad that it did. Add in the drought we had on the East Coast this winter, and the spring tornados that have wrought havoc on the southeast, and who knows what to expect going forward.

Down around Breezy and Sheepshead Bay, for at least the foreseeable future, we can count on afternoon sea breezes most days, with virtually no risk of thunderstorms. It is known. We’ll take it, and take our chances with what happens when the next winter comes.


IN THAT CLIP: my new riding buddy Jack spraying me on his way down a double- diamond bowl with a few trees mixed in. Powder day, Brighton Resort, early March. Click pic to play video on Insta!

In Full Spring

Our season for teaching people how to sail a boat, or get better at it, is underway.

Actually, it began on April 4, one of our earlier outings! We started off conservatively with a private lesson for an experienced student who has a new boat arriving soon. He’s been a regular private lesson client for awhile, and has come down to our new location in Sheepshead Bay a few times now despite plans to keep his boat on the Sound.

Due to the vagaries of spring weather, as exacerbated by global warming and climate change, we stopped our long standing tradition of kicking off learn to sail courses in mid April. Now, it’s early May, with an occasional advanced course starting earlier as well as private lessons.

CLICK TO PLAY! Insta clip from our first lesson of the season.

Next up after that lesson: I brought our Carolina Skiff down from City Island. I ran it down the East River, which is not necessarily for the faint of heart, and then NY Harbor (even less so) before getting through the Verrazzano Narrows and on to Rockaway Inlet and Sheepshead Bay. I knew I needed to not only time the current properly, but also the weather. Our skiff is very open, so spray can be an issue. It’s also more flat bottomed than deep-vee’d, so it has serious limits to how much of a pounding it can take in chop. That said, it’s super stable and can handle rolling/yawing extremely well.

I settled on a Sunday with a forecast for very light north winds, switching to light from the southwest late in the day. If all went well, I’d have a gentle wind at my back on the way down and no worse than a gentle one from on one side toward the end of the trip. The slack current at Hell Gate was predicted for exactly noon, and I love the ‘high noon’ thing. I assumed a 10-knot average speed, and based on the distance, figured it would take 2.5 hours non stop. Of course, I’d stop for various reasons a number of times, including potentially for a fuel top-off, so guesstimated 4 hours dock to dock.

CLICK TO PLAY! Insta clip of my run down to Sheepshead Bay from City Island, and then an orientation sail with new instructors the next day.

It was a milk run. Sunny most of the way to take the edge off the chill; flat calm due to light winds. There were occasional wakes, but I barely reacted to most of them and none were dramatic. I almost skipped the fuel stop, but heeded the advice of one our instructors who’s and ASA Instructor Evaluator, and super knowledgeable and experienced in that area. “You’re right there – how long a detour is it? 30 minutes? Just do it.” He was speaking from both experience and common sense. Most very experienced boaters have, at some point, had a fuel fiasco.

It was around 30 minutes. I also did numerous very short stops for grabbing a bite to eat, adding clothes, doing something on the phone, or taking pics. Total time dock to dock? 3:08. So, my 2.5 was damn close to exactly right. Score one up for the great navigator! Turns out… I didn’t need the extra fuel, but better to have to add stabilizer to that than wonder if a tow boat service could do a fuel drop half way between Hell Gate and Schitts Creek.

Next? A quick sail with two instructor candidates. Chilly and wet – but fun! See a sample in the clip above.

We did another private lesson for a City Islander soon afterward. She booked weeks in advance and didn’t realize we had moved to Sheepshead Bay! But, she decided to make the trek anyway. Her sister and she had taken lessons together previously, and wanted a better progression at a pace that suited them. They tried, we supplied, and they had nearly perfect conditions that helped that happen. They’ll be back.

IN THAT CLIP: sisters sailing together, per the paragraph above.

We also got out two students who had different backgrounds, but were both in need of a similar lesson. I grouped them and also brought along a new instructor we’re ‘onboarding’ for his second orientation session. We got becalmed just as we entered the Inlet, but then the wind picked up enough to fight the current. Soon, we didn’t need to consider the current.

Full courses begin on May 6, and our first Sailing Vacay Course of the year ends the day before down in the Virgin Islands (BVI). In the meantime, we’ll continue with privates as the weather allows. Spring weather up here is too volatile to plan on multi-day beginner courses for people with busy schedules. Some schools do it anyway and graduate people who haven’t learned to sail. We’ve paid attention to the weather trends and decided to start a little later, so students who Start SailingSM with us can get it done the first time.

IN THAT PIC: fog flowing from Coney Island on the right out over Rockaway inlet, and out past Breezy Point to the Atlantic (out of frame to the left). Bird about to take off for some drama. Foggy but beautiful sail on Sunday, April 16.

Product Review: Hangtime – Hold that phone!

Using your phone to take pics and clips while learning how to sail, or sliding down a mountain? Don’t do it without a leash.

Instagram is a boon and a bane. And, it’s incessant. It’s like the Terminator. It doesn’t stop; it doesn’t reason; it doesn’t care. It just does. Insta? It’s newer digital tech, but it uses an old school ad trick. It makes sure you see the ad enough times to have a chance that you’ll take the bait.

IN THAT PIC: Insta ad for the Hangtime Gear Koala phone holder.

I took it. Despite being leery of Insta ads, this one looked good and I needed something like it. I needed a leash for my iPhone for snowboarding, and potentially for on-water this sailing season. The closest thing I had in the past was a bulky foam protective wrap that went around the phone’s case, and would both cushion and float it. It came with both neck and wrist lanyards. I took the phone on chairlifts; I took it snorkeling (waterproof case). That was the Lifeproof case and Lifejacket accessory. But, their quality control eroded and I lost a phone to water intrusion, so was done with that.

Anywho, fast forward to early/mid winter. I was seeing ads like the one above for the Hangtime Koala. It’s a one-piece silicone leash and holster. It straps around the corners of various phone models and interferes little to not at all with functions. It attaches to ones clothing with a choice of carabiner or spring clip. I removed the clip and tried the carabiner, which isn’t perfect (I popped it off a few times but didn’t lose my phone). Upgrade the carabiner, add an extension to the short leash, and I should be good to go.

It works! Like everything, nothing’s perfect, but it’s a solid product. I’ve taken clips on the hill, and also while doing runs. I fell; I tumbled. The phone stayed with me (possibly because I had a death grip on it; can’t remember if I dropped it during any of my falls).

IN THAT PIC: Koala on a kitty. (That’s a 15-pounder for reference.) The blue color is a little darker / richer in real life.

The last time I used it was around 2 weeks ago at Stratton Mountain in Vermont. It was a true powder day; I’d driven up the previous afternoon to avoid driving as the snow fell that evening and through the next day. That was a good move – few people got to the mountain the next day due to the storm, so the overnight snow held up well and we were all treated to free refills all day. And, it kept snowing into the evening and next morning! Stratton reported a total of 41.” No one got to ride or ski 41″ of course as people started getting at it the first morning, but it was already 2+ feet by then and building. That’s almost as good as it gets for a Northeast powder day. (I had a better one once, with 2.5-3 feet overnight, and also at Stratton. Killington does get more snow, and better quality on average, but Stratton seems to get the bigger dumps albeit rarely.)

I posted that run in the previous Rant, but here’s one newly posted from a Utah trip two weeks beforehand using the Koala. Click pic to play…

CLICK THAT PIC! Play the clip on Instagram. Take a run down Snake Creek at Brighton Resort, Utah, filmed on iPhone as secured with Hangtime Koala, including a good tumble early on. Or click here…


During a break in the mid mountain lodge, a guy approached me and asked what I was using to hold onto the phone. It was still attached to the Koala. I told and showed him. He said he owned the patent for it, and that the guy from Hangtime was knowingly violating it. His company? Smart Catch. Similar product; less expensive; patents shown on the web site. (And, yes – there are other similar products out there including one aimed at those who go fishing.)

His wife apparently came up with the idea while on a chairlift, and the idea became a reality. This fellow (very nice; didn’t get his name) actually said that the Hangtime product was very good – but also that it was a patent infringement. I felt bad, but what did I know. Hangtime’s Koala has “patent pending” printed on it. I reached out through their Insta ads but didn’t hear back. The Smart Catch products are sold directly on their site, and also on Amazon.

IN THAT PIC: gallery page for the Smart Catch

Anyway, I was an unsuspecting purchaser in good faith, and the guy who might have the intellectual property rights signed off on the quality of his competitor. I’m keeping it unless I find something significantly better, and who knows? I might very well try the Smart Catch for the lower price and out of pro curiosity.

For a few years in a row, we had at least one client each season lose a phone overboard. I cringe every time someone is about to step from dock to boat, or boat to boat, holding an unsecured phone in their hand. I warn them against it if I can do so without risking them dropping it right at the edge as they try to pocket it. I’ll be updating our “What to bring and wear” list that we send to everyone before their course, which we do seasonally. I’ll be adding a phone leash to this (and that we’ll laugh like Cartman if they lose their phone stepping off the boat with it formerly in hand).


Hangtime Gear Koala

The Smart Catch

Weather & Whether: Forecasting Basics

Climate change is affecting weather everywhere, but when we learn how to sail or cruise, new apps give old (and new) dogs kewl tricks

It’s all about the weather… whether we’re skiing, riding, or sailing.  And while the weather is more volatile, the apps to check it are more robust.

IN THAT PIC: screen grab from The Weather Channel (weather dot com). I often use that in conjunction with other sources when checking weather for sailing.

I was getting a bit of a rep for forecasting on City Island.  I’m no meteorologist.  My experience, history and insight (if any) range from “red sky at night; sailor’s delight” stuff from back in the day to “which app is that?”  Patterns have changed, and technology has taken strides. Anyway, I’m on the water a lot so there’s that.

With everyones smart phones come apps.  However, what’s included stock is sketchy.  We all have some kind of basic weather app.  But, how does it work?  What’s it good for?   Do we trust it for snowsports in the winter, sailing in the summer, or neither?

The answer is probably a little of both, and not neither.  But, those basic apps need to be used judiciously, and paired with something more robust and specific to the sport at hand.

First, a story…

As you probably know, I’m a snowboarder. I got tired of not getting fresh pow, even when traveling out west to do so. I used to think that out west, they didn’t get ice, and a ‘bad’ day there was like a packed powder/hardpack day on the Ice Coast (northeast). Not soooo… EVERYONE gets ice! Everywhere. It’s just a matter of how often. I learned the hard way: we booked a trip to Solitude (& Brighton) in Utah and not only got skunked (no fresh while there), but ICE. Crappy conditions. It hadn’t snowed in over a month!!!! I call it the Great Drought of ’22, and it affected much of the west in between great starts and finishes to the season.

IN THAT PIC: what was left of the snowpack on gate accessed terrain at Solitude Mountain Resort, early February ’22. This is either Here Be Dragons or Memorial Chutes – it was on the border. Lots of bare patches up top with better coverage further down. Some trees were bare nearby; others had plenty of snow to slide across… and enough to worry about tree well immersion if you were to land head first in them.

Short-term forecasting doesn’t help when you have to plan a trip months in advance. I’d done the right thing; I picked a place that’s hard to get a drought, and which gets a ton of snow each season (annual average of around 500,” as opposed to 175-250 in Southern Vermont). Plus, a ‘minus:’ subtract rain (and add that the snow is light and dry). While it didn’t work out on that trip, at least it didn’t rain. Plus, the trip was still very enjoyable. Just no fresh snow. Historically speaking, it was a not a gamble but a good idea.

Next trip? We still had to plan in advance, and decided that variety plus consistency were good ideas. ‘Variety’ was a totally different area with unusual terrain, scenery, etc: Revelstoke, B.C. Also, it’s known for good annual snowfall averages of good quality, and consistent smaller amounts of fresh snow (“free refills”). It delivered – sort of. Compared to their previous season, they were about 2 metres below when we arrived, and there hadn’t been much recent snow. Bottom of the mountain was icy. Top was zero ice and some soft powder to be found, but no bonanza. Fine; it was still a good trip and half way through, we got some fresh that fixed the lower mountain. Lesson: a little fresh goes a long way at Revelstoke!

IN THAT PIC: from near the top of Revelstoke Mountain Resort, looking way out over the mountain ranges and also all the way down to the Columbia River – which flows through BC all the way to the Oregon coast! This is in Separate Reality Bowl. Worth clicking on this pic to blow up a bit.

By then, I was looking around for better apps for the mountains. I had a new strategy in mind, and needed new last minute tactics. Strategy? “The Formula.” Basically, identify two, maybe 3 mountains or areas where the following conditions had a chance to all align at the same time…

  • Lots of fresh snow in the forecast (on top of good recent snowfall and no drought);
  • Good flight itineraries with low risk of weather delays;
  • Cheap, practical lodging
  • Safe, reliable and affordable transit to the mountain.

Lodging and transit could be figured well in advance. Snowfall was mid and short term dependent on weather. Same for flights. But, how to forecast the upcoming snow reliably? I had to do better than try to extrapolate from weather dot com (which I do use for some boating), and NOAA forecasts, neither of which are comprehensive enough at the local mountain scale.

I searched around and found two candidate apps to use and cross reference. If they were reasonably in agreement, and the trend looked good, I could pull the trigger.

They were; I did.

It worked. Third time’s the charm! I got 3 powder days in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah (Brighton and Snowbird). Conditions were anywhere from excellent to epic (heli-quality), with the exception of later in the day on one of the faces of Snowbird where it had been heavily trafficked and skied off with horrible visibility due to fog. Almost a problem! But, I took another route out through chopped up pow, another lift to top, and the tram back down to the base.

IN THAT PIC: I’m putting on the brakes throwing up snow while Jack, my new storm-chasing buddy, tears it up. Double diamond bowl area off the top of Great Western chair, Brighton Resort, Feb. ’23.

The apps?

Open Snow, primarily. It’s a paid app with a 2-week trial period. For $29/year, you get detailed conditions report, regional forecast narratives, and super detailed forecasts for snow, wind, temps, etc at just about any ski hill you’d care to go to. Turns out the guy I met on the UTA ski bus, who had the same “Formula” as I, had been using Open Snow for some time.

IN THAT PIC: On the Snow, open to the portrait view for Brighton Resort. This was a screen grab leading up to my epic trip. The view can go landscape as well with more data shown for each day.

Cross reference? On The Snow. Not as robust, but serves the double-check purpose. I also follow Powder Chasers, although there’s no app involved but the option of a paid concierge service (that could be well worth it in the context of the cost of an actual trip).

“What if I don’t ride or ski? What about on-water weather?”

First, let’s talk about some forecasting basics -what you’re looking for in evaluating weather for boating. Once you know that you can narrow down the app choices.

Marine forecast. It’s at least somewhat different from the standard weather forecast most people use on a day-to-day basis (including me). Marine forecasts focus on wind direction & strength, sea state (waves), and risk of precipitation – particularly thunderstorms. That’s what you really need. If you do nothing else, consult the NOAA / NWS Marine Forecast for the general area you’ll be boating, and also keep checking a radar app if there’s any risk of thunderstorms.

Radar. The greatest risk for most people boating inshore and along the coast is thunderstorms. In the northeast, for example, most people do most of their boating in the warmer months, which incurs risk of thunderstorms (especially mid afternoon and later). So, using some app to track potential approaching storms is critical. In the old days, we relied on the morning’s published forecast and our trained eye on the sky. Eventually, Marine VHF radio helped, but when it did, it was almost too last-minute. Radar can see what you can’t, and when real-time stuff changes, so does the radar imagery. It’s not perfect- it can’t always keep pace with small pop-up squalls at water’s edge, but large, seriously bad-ass systems don’t get missed.

History and trend. Don’t just open your iPhone, look at the included weather app, and see what the current temperature is. Look at what happened for at least a few hours prior, and what will happen into that evening/midnight. This applies to temperature, wind direction & strength, and if the area is exposed, the wave heights. Also, look at the forecast and the actual radar imagery for risk of precip and especially thunderstorms. If the forecast for later doesnt’ make sense in the context of the recent history/trend up to ‘now,’ the forecast could be stale or just plain wrong.

IN THAT PIC: example of an NDBC page. This one’s for Sandy Hook, the closest and most relevant station for the Sailing Center. It’s not “right there,” but it will closely match what we get and should expect. Note the reference to right whales!

Of course, there are many apps and sites to choose from. Personally, I have mostly used weather dot com, searching for stations that most closely reflect the area I plan on boating. Example: I cross reference Brooklyn and Long Beach when evaluating conditions for classes out of Sheepshead Bay. (See top photo in post for an example.) The reality is somewhere in between, but favoring Long Beach which is close and also most similarly situated: an Atlantic Ocean inlet. Weather dot com gives hourly breakdowns and, for the very short term, 15′ breakdowns. To get the full suite of features and skip adds, it costs around $30/year. Annoyingly, it logs one out too frequently so choose an easy, short password.

I also cross reference that with the NOAA NWS Marine forecast for the area. No app here – just find the right web site starting point, bookmark it, and return often. Important: to get the history/trend, one must go to the NDBC page (National Data Buoy Center). This is a list of stations on and off the water that give frequently updated live data feeds for wind direction, strength gusts, wave heights, etc, etc. This, plus the forecast for the area (linkable from the NDBC pages) gives a good overall picture. The history of the live feed remains up, revealing the trend up until the user checks it.

What else is popular?

Windy. This was recommended during our Croatia trip at the skippers meeting to go over weather for the week, itineraries, etc, etc. The First Mate of record for our trip, Dave, and I both downloaded it immediately. Personally, I find it counterintuitive and annoying, and seldom use it. Having said that, many if not most people disagree with me and it’s certainly a robust app. Plus, it’s supposed to be good for snowsports!

And… there are two. Yup; two Windy apps. A good friend and client of the school, who’s a United pilot by profession, uses Windy.com as opposed to Windy.app. the dot com is an app for mobile as well. (I have on rare occasions used the other one, so now I’ll play around with the one the Pilot uses.)

How about a Radar app? For the Northeast, I use not an app, but a bookmarked site few people know about. My dentist, who’s a sailor, turned me onto it. It’s called CT Precip, and more commonly just called PLUFF. (pluff dot com) A University, in conjunction with Accuweather, arranged a feed of images for the northeast and much of the continent, plus other evaluative feeds that I don’t understand and probably don’t need. The first two screens take care of all my local and regional needs. When I travel out of the range, and need radar, I figure that out in the moment.

IN THAT PIC: GO time! Monday morning, one week ago. Storm is approaching, and I’m going to get in the car in a few hours to drive up and arrive before it starts snowing heavily. Blue is snow; green is rain. This is a screen grab from CT Precip, or pluff.com. Excellent for seeing what’s really out there in the moment and tracking its movement.

Old school?

VHF Marine Radio. Apps aside, one should understand how to get weather updates that are broadcast on VHF radio, including ‘push’ severe weather alerts where available. If your smart phone dies or falls overboard, VHF could save the day proverbially – or literally.

On the water, the stories aren’t the same. We either get the green light to go, or we don’t. It’s not the same as a serious powder day at a mountain. But, it lets us go out when the sky looks doom n gloom, but nothing shows on the radar or in the forecast. And, more importantly, it lets us know when conditions favor the development of thunderstorms, or they’re strongly predicted – and lets us see them beyond the horizon when the weather looks just fine. For now…

And, now that you have more of an idea what to look for, start comparing history/trend with both forecasts and what actually happened for the local area you do most of your boating in. That will teach you how to forecast based on trends, and not totally rely on the apps. It will also show how reliable your choice of forecasting app is. And, it will make you a safer and more confident boater.

UPDATE: storm chasing with the app worked again… this time for Southern Vermont. This was a week ago. For the second time, I hit Stratton when it was likely to get the most snow in the region during a big storm. It did, and so did I. Car was socked in so deep I couldn’t see anything but the side view mirror. But, I was at the mountain snowboarding when most people couldn’t get there. It dumped overnight, and kept nuking as the day – and night – went. Free refills. And, it was Open Snow that made it a go, letting me see that I could safely drive up on Monday and get there before driving was not a good idea. 2-3 feet. Enough left over the next two days to keep hitting pow on side hits and in the trees, plus two incredible runs at Magic Mountain on Wednesday when they opened just because of the storm. Maybe they looked at Open Snow…

If you made it this far, here are links two a couple of Insta clips I posted. Come take part of a run with me down Brighton and Stratton Mountains from those recent trips! In the Brighton clip, I’m shooting Jack drop before I follow. It’s me, myself and I at Stratton.

Brighton: dropping into the double diamond bowl off the top of Great Western…


Stratton: heading down Upper Standard from the peak…


App Links:

CT Precip (pluff): http://pluff.com/

NDBC (for data buoys/stations and marine forecast): use the map to gradually zero in on a region and find stations relevant to you… https://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/

Weather Channel: https://weather.com/weather/tenday/l/5c587ec94779bcfe6616225e92289ce94424df07399952538d503ee6260592fb

Windy: there are two… windy.com and windy.app. You know what to do there.

And, to help decide and see some other apps, here’s an article I came across…

Happy hunting!