Our third trip to the country and second to Campania for bareboat sailing vacation courses did not disappoint.
Not much, anyway! Winds were kinda light. By light, I mean sometimes nonexistent, often very light, and sometimes sailable. But, we sailed. And we toured. We swam. And we wined and dined like the Medeci.
This trip was booked for last September, but by that April, we called it for obvious reasons. We eventually rebooked and kept a close eye on things, and it all worked out with the exception of some missing luggage for one couple. (I avoid checking bags, especially for boat trips.)
We first did this itinerary in 2010. It was a private trip booked by three friends (a fourth had to drop out). This time around, it was the same deal but with addition instead of subtraction, so five passengers plus yours truly. The ‘ringleader,’ Jay, had taken our Start Sailing course years before and had also been on BVI and Croatia trips with us.
Sailing out of the Naples area gives a few options:
The islands off the Golfo di Napoli (Bay of Naples). These are Procida, Ischia, and Capri. Procida is the start of it all for Sunsail/Moorings charters.
The Pontine Islands, further west. These are Ponza and Ventotene. Next to Ventotene is Santo Stefano but it’s off limits.
The Sorrentine Peninsula, with Sorrento on top near the western tip, and the entire Amalfi Coast and “Amalfi Drive” leading to Salerno to the east.
It’s not hard to do some of each in a 1-week charter, especially if, when the wind is light, one is willing to turn on the engine to get there. On our first trip 10 years ago, we seldom had to motor to a destination. On this one, we seldom got to sail all the way to one. That meant sailing when there was wind, and motoring when there wasn’t. Simple. When there wasn’t, we could cover much of the distance to a destination and allow potential back-end sailing time as we got closer.
Not everyone spoke English well. But, who cares? We’re in THEIR country. And they were all very helpful and nice. That’s 3 for 3 with our Italy trips. We were always able to communicate. On our trip to the Isole Eolie dal Sicilia (Aeolians), we were lucky enough to have a fluent speaker aboard so we had an edge. The point is, you don’t need it.
Foodie? Sommelier? You’d like this trip. It was hard to get a bad dish or a bad glass of wine. We managed with wine once. On our second night at Procida, we tried the house wine. It was pretty bad. Everything else was excellent however. We did dare to try the house wine at another joint: on our last night on Procida, albeit at another restaurant. This one was fine.
We had a few foodies on the trip, and they scoured Google and Trip Advisor reviews to find our dinner spots. They did their jobs well: back-to-back Michelin rated restaurants on Amalfi, for example! One had a standard menu format and the other was strictly tasting menu options. Dishes at both ranged from solid to amazing. For the tasting menu, we opted for wine pairings with each course. That cost. But, it was worth it.
The water was absolutely delicious for swimming. Warm; clean and clear; smelled good enough to taste, although we passed on it. We had the same experience in the Eolie off Sicily. Something about that clean, super salty water. Seldom anything to see by snorkeling, as it’s not a coral-reef kinda place, but we leave that for the Caribbean anyway. Ventotene is a diving hot-spot, but it’s less suitable for snorkeling. On our prior trip, the gang was invited along last minute to go along with some divers and they had a good time with it. One can also just snorkel from the beach and if not a snob about it, it’s decent.
Our itinerary for this trip: it evolved as it evolved. We didn’t show up with a pre-set plan, but rather some general ideas about what we wanted to do that would be dictated by weather and logistics. The first logistic was… Lufthansa. They lost some of our luggage. It never got to the boat or the base, until the day after we returned to New York. But, it was supposed to arrive by courier the next morning, so of course we didn’t head off to Capri or Ventotene or anything. We simply did a day sail on the first full day and returned to the base at Procida.
That was almost a blessing in disguise, as it allowed for some exploration that we would’t otherwise have gotten. What a stunningly beautiful little island! Very good, and very local, food too – including spaghetto with sea urchins. Yes, I spelled it with an “o.” That’s what the local restaurant did, and not just for that dish.
It’s that time of year; weather is warming up, and thunderstorm activity is heating up as sailing club, school and rental activity opens up. We revisit this topic every year as a public service. One reason: people still don’t seem to ‘get it.’
In that pic: screen capture of radar images on Wednesday, June 3, in the late AM. We had a private lesson booked that day with an experienced sailor. The forecast was for thunderstorms – not a chance, or a likelihood, but just… thunderstorms. And, they warned of potentially damaging winds and hail. Not a garden variety summer forecast, which is “chance of showers and thunderstorms” or similar language.
Oh, no… it’s ON!!!!
Below, I’ll share how the day of June 3 unfolded forecast wise, and also stories about two needless tragedies in the past that happened when people didn’t pay attention to the forecast.
The first step of the day is to check the forecast. That should be done several times as the day progresses to look for updates. The next step is to check the radar. Easier than you might think; just look at the pic above. Pretty clear that something is brewing. And, even if the forecast winds up being off, the radar doesn’t lie. It doesn’t take a meteorological degree to read a radar app. It just takes a little time and experience.
On two occasions since I’ve been operating New York Sailing Center, which I founded in the fall of 1997, there were particularly violent thunderstorm systems that passed through the region and resulted in a fatality at some other school/club. NOT AT MY SCHOOL/CLUB. At others.
The first was in 1998, before we all had smart phones and radar apps at our disposal. It was old school; check the forecast, check the sky, and listen to the VHF radio weather band for updates. The forecast was doom n gloom: thunderstorms, some of which could be severe, and which had a large outer perimeter of strong wind (meaning no way to see it coming). And, the storms had already started upstate and killed a few people.
Make no mistake; winter is coming…
So, I kept everything on a super tight leash that day in 1998. We had one class with a veteran instructor. We talked about it and decided to confine the boat to the anchorage. No further than the outskirts of the anchorage. The anchorage is small. More maneuvering, then! Marina customers were warned of the storms if they showed up. A few did and just turned around and went home. One woman chose to sit on her boat at the mooring for awhile and then go home.
Eventually, after frequently checking the sky to the north and west, I didn’t like the look and feel. I started radioing the instructor to come in, and saw he was already approaching the mooring. They took one shot, and fell short… and then it hit. BAM. Nothing to be seen in advance. Just wind laying the boat over and flogging the sails. They didn’t have a chance to sail back to the mooring; no way. The boat was basically blown down onto the next pier, and the instructor wisely off-loaded the students and left the boat. I went out with a few experienced people and two solid motor boats, and towed the sailboat off and moored it. It took two boats just to pull it off and suspend it into the winds, which were at least 60 knots and possibly as much as 70. When it subsided a bit, we moored the boat.
It was over quickly. It always is. But it takes little time to cause mayhem. We got away with a torn sail and a fright. Down in New York Harbor, they weren’t so lucky. One large club/school had allowed at least one member to go out with his family. The boat took a complete knockdown, and the man was in the water and separated from his family. He wasn’t wearing a PFD. His body was found a few days later in Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn.
Fast forward to August, 2010. Morning forecast: about the same as the 1998 incident. Thunderstorms. Severe. Moving fast. Clear band of strong winds. This time, however, we had smart phones and radar.
I kept the one class we had that day pretty close for our morning sail. I intended to do a short n sweet lesson, get off the water way early, and watch it all blow through during lunch and some extra classroom. While on the water, I got a call from a recent graduate hoping to come out for one of his practice sails that afternoon. Sorry; no. Bad forecast. He pushed; I explained the severity of the forecast. He tried some more.
“No fucking way! I’m not going to let you come out here just to die in some violent thunderstorm! You’ll come out another time – live to sail another day!” The first sentence is an exact quote; the second is approximate. The message is clear.
What happened then? We sailed back to be safe. Sky still looked fine. Checked the update radar while waiting for our launch ride. Whoah…. it was the largest Darth Vadar Death-Star-looking doom ‘n gloom ball of red, orange and yellow I’d ever seen – before or since – on a radar screen. It was moving south and clearly going to hit all of Western New Jersey, Westchester, NYC, and Nassau, Long Island. All of it; all at once.
So, I shut down the operation until further notice. Told my launch operator to go somewhere inside for lunch on the avenue and stay there until I told him to return. I took my class to do the same, with some classroom props.
It did hit. We were basically done with lunch and b.s.-ing about other stuff. Suddenly, it was very dark. Stuff was flying around like that scene from the Wizard of Oz. Darker; windier. Eerily, we couldn’t really hear it as the place was well sound insulated and we were in the back looking down the hall at the front door. And, almost as soon as it started, it was over.
We paid up and walked back to the marina. None of us had ever seen so much random debris blown around by a squall. The waterfront was worse; the waterway itself was a shit show of stuff blown offshore by the storm. There was zero wind. Sun was back out. Surreal.
And then, I got a text from one of my instructors. He let me know that another school (again, not ours) had a class out during the storm. They lost one person. Literally. The body was found a day or two later. This was disturbingly close to home, in lower Westchester, within sight of my school on a clear day. it was day one of a learn to sail course (compared to day 3 for mine that day). They went out in the afternoon (as opposed to my coming in at around mid-day). No one aboard was wearing a life jacket, or PFD. (We spend extra money on comfortable automatic inflatables with manual overrides, and make people wear them.) The boat had no lifelines, which are wires or ropes that are elevated above the deck going around the boat. (Not all boat designs have them, but it’s riskier when they don’t – especially for beginners.) Everyone on that boat wound up in the water; all but one made it back to the boat.
All but one.
I knew several sailors who got caught out in that same storm. They all fared well, but got quite a fright. I heard of others who got caught as well (also survived). The common denominator? And, what was reported in the news regarding the fatality in Westchester?
“It happened so fast.” “You couldn’t see it coming.”
But, you could. On the bloody radar! And, you KNEW it was coming. Why wait to see it? Does that sound simplistic? Well, it really is that simple.
In that pic: all gone – out to sea, but I pity the fool who got caught out in that. It intensified as it neared shore and got over the water. Wednesday, June 3.
Remember the DUCK boat incident a few years ago? We did a blog rant about that. Same shit; different details. Only that time, many people died. I’ll link back to that blog post below.
The lesson: people don’t seem to learn the lesson. Here’s how I suggest you manage the risk of getting caught in a squall or thunderstorm on the water during the summer, which is when most of them happen, and also when most of you would likely do most of your boating.
start the day with the forecast online, cross referencing at least two sources.
If there’s some risk of thunderstorms, consider skipping boating that day.
If you go anyway, check the update forecast upon arrival at the marina.
Start checking the radar at that time as well. If it looks dicey, don’t go!
If it looks like it’s far off, or just not developed, stay close and check frequently – at least every 20′.
As soon as it’s looking worse, assume the worst. Head back. If you have an engine, turn it back on (yes, you should have checked it before). Stow sails.
Moor or dock the boat. Double check the radar and forecast.
If still no good go home! If the risk went away, it’s your call.
I’m not a meteorologist. I’m not a weather forecaster. I’m not a climate scientist (although I know one who’s a PhD candidate at Columbia). But, I am an expert and well-seasoned mariner. And, I have to make decisions all season that affect other people: whether they get to play or not that day. it comes down to whether they’re safe or at risk of death. And so, I check the weather and radar pretty obsessively.
“What do we say to the God of Death?”
Arya was bad-ass enough to slay the Night King. But even she knew the universal truth:
“Don’t f*%! with Mother Nature!”
The Radar web site (not an app per se) that I like to use for the northeast…
A client of ours is originally from Canada, and two buddies and he did 103 and 104 with us one season before doing their first bareboat charter in the BVI.
Adam’s uncle got involved with a latent lighthouse in Ontario, Canada. He’s on the local preservation committee, and had been trying to get it lit back up. Apparently, it was a somewhat uphill battle as there were concerns about the light shining on shoreside homes at night and being intrusive. The major’s office was involved and favored the light being back on, so that helped.
Here’s an excerpt from the original Notice to Mariners in 1917 that announced the construction of this light!..
For its return, the compromise was to aim the light across the bay at another peninsula rather than sweep across the shore or just aim 360 all around. Our mission: confirm the exact bearing, and show/explain why we came up with the magic number.
(Truth be told, Adam was more than capable of doing this himself, having successfully taken and passed 103, 104 and 105 with us and then applied it in the BVI. But this had to come from us as the outside experts.)
Anywho, Adam enlisted us to be the alleged experts to plot the angle of the light and show how we’d done it.
1. Get the right chart. Adam took care of this: NOAA #14832, Upper Niagara River, ending in Lake Erie.
2. ID the light in question: “Light House,” on Point Abino. No characteristics shown as it’s idle.
3. ID the exact spot the new light is supposed to be aimed at: SW corner of the peninsula across the bay at the other end of Crystal Beach.
4. Measure the bearing painstakingly several times with at least two methods and get a consistent answer: 61 degrees magnetic.
…or is it no location? Or too many, so a school is confused about where it is?
Do two (or three) wrongs make a right (location)?
Wonder what percentage of you get the GoT reference of this post’s title. (If you don’t get GoT, let us know and we’ll bring you up to speed.)
WTF am I talking about? Sailing schools who are geographically challenged and are either so confused they don’t know where they are – or want you to be so you sign up for their school at one of their dubious digs.
Example: a school is named after a geographic location. An island. They had to move from that island to a neighboring state. They still reference teaching at that original island in their blurb on the ASA School’s page. But a girl has to cross a river to get to them. (oops; there’s another GOT reference…)
Another example: a school has three locations, none far from the others (and all in our state). One moved across the bay it’s located in. Map page still shows it where it isn’t. At least it’s the right bay. One is entirely new. It’s listed on the ASA page as being in a particular Bay, where they say the sailing is Great. But a school is not in this bay. It is in another, far away, and the sailing is not in this tiny bay. A school sails in an inlet on an ocean. (And a school cannot hide from that ocean’s swells.)
What do we care? We like good old fashioned, straight up honest advertising. Plus, we’re very proud of our location. It’s extremely accessible from so many places, both by public transit and car. The area is insanely good for teaching sailing and just enjoying a day sail or a cruise.
Some schools have multiple locations. Some locations have multiple schools. Tiny little City Island, barely a mile and a half long, has historically been home to two sailing schools – sometimes just one, and for a time, three. Plus, it has two college sailing teams. Both those universities have campuses on Manhattan. But, they sail out of City Island. Finally – we have three yacht clubs on the Island and the vast majority of their members’ toys are sailboats.
We have had opportunities to add a satellite location at the “bay on the ocean,” on the Hudson, etc. We have always declined. Not worth having a location slightly more convenient to Manhattanites, or to spread ourselves around hoping to capture another demographic, just to take clients’ money and give them a piss-poor education and experience that, if they even learn properly from, they’ll soon outgrow.
We did the first weekend of a Bareboat Cruising course (ASA 104) on the 11th and 12th. Marc and Sheri, prior grads and ongoing Sailing Club members, wanted an overnight cruise experience as part of their training. We decided on Oyster Bay. Say hi to Marc & Sheri…
Moderate, slightly gusty breezes tapered off as we departed, so it was light winds all the way. They became variable in direction as well so it was a good challenge to keep the boat moving. Too many people just give up in these conditions, and never learn to actually sail a boat in them. This is one of the fascinating challenges in sailing, and as Long Island Sound and the Northeast are light-wind regions, it’s a critical skillset to develop. We did motor-sail briefly when it was futile to sail. After all, there was a sunset to catch while relaxing on the mooring!
We arranged for a mooring and the timing was perfect. After the yacht club’s sunset cannon went off, we walked into town in time for our dinner reservation at Wild Honey. Appetizers and entrees were all excellent as usual. We did have to reject the first bottle of wine, but the replacement was fine.
The next day saw winds increase beyond what had been originally forecast. We expected Northwest winds of 10-15 with gusts to 20. We were greeted with 20-30 from WNW. Higher gusts were to be possible. So, after taking our time with breakfast and boat prep, and preparing quick access sandwiches and snacks (as well as water), we headed out with our smallest genoa and a single reef in the main. First thing we encountered in the mouth of the bay? A fleet of little Optis zipping all over in perfect control, and one chase boat seemingly with nothing to do. We knew we then had no choice but to tough it out on our Pearson 10M (33-foot) keelboat! (Opti, short for Optimist Pram, is the most popular kids training boat in the world. We see them everywhere we cruise in the Caribbean and Mediterranean.)
But it wasn’t a big deal despite a confused sea state with short choppy waves. Kilroy ate it up with a balanced helm. The seas became more rhythmical the further west we progressed. But after a brief lulling of the breeze to mid-teens, it picked back up. By the time we had to negotiate the entrance to City Island Harbor, winds were 30-35. That’s getting into gale forces. Whew! But the boat and crew both took it in stride and it was a rewarding finish to a fine trip.