Fly an Ensign!

No, not the yacht ensign flag – the little yacht called an Ensign, on which we teach people how to sail a boat properly in Brooklyn, NYC.

ASA recently rolled out an on-line study course for learning to sail. It’s intended to help people get ready for on-water lessons by previewing the concepts and terminology. Schools pay a monthly fee to have access for their students; students pay whatever, if anything, schools charge them. Or, anyone can just purchase and peruse (see link at bottom of post).

Maybe it cuts down classroom time and reduces hours/costs for schools. Maybe it lets those whose learning preference is to read up and study in advance do so. Maybe it competes with other online educational materials such as ASA’s arch rival, NauticEd. Any which way you slice it, it’s here.

An Ensign class sloop, out for family fun. Note the large cockpit with deep bench seats; swallows families whole!

And, when they did their e-blasts about it, they chose a photo of an Ensign. Why do we care? Because that’s what we teach on for learn to sail (ASA 101)! We didn’t in the past – it’s a new thing for us, although some schools have been using them for a long time. We tried them last season at our Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn branch and decided they were at least as good, and maybe slightly better, than what we’d been using since 1997 – the Beneteau First 21.0.

A Beneteau First 21.0 sloop, in City Island Harbor, where we had our school for most of its existence. Great boat; great location… but sometimes even ‘great’ can be improved upon.

What’s odd is that ASA used an Ensign in this promo campaign. They actually endorse the Beneteau First 21.0. They have no relationship with the Ensign beyond the photo you see above. Sure, it’s a great shot, and ASA undoubtedly is aware of the history and pedigree of the design. But, they really got a hard on for the Beneteau when they did a collab with them- the world’s oldest and largest sailboat manufacturer. ASA thought the industry needed a new, sexier boat, and the “ASA First Trainer” as it was first named was born.

The ASA First 22, formerly called the First Trainer. Same hull, keel, twin rudders, mast/boom, and sail plan. Just has a longer cockpit, shorter cabin, and graphics that cry out “Glass Patriot.”

Beneteau took their First 20 (same damn boat as 21) and made a version with a longer cockpit and smaller cabin. That’s it. Same hull; same rig; same keel and rudders. True, the longer cockpit was an advantage for daysailing and teaching, but only because most sailing schools put 4 students into a boat for learn to sail. 4 plus an instructor = one too many people on average to get around when doing maneuvers. ASA has featured the First Trainer (now “22” and same damn length) in other promo stuff so it’s funny that they show an Ensign here.

But, they do!

So, why the Ensign?

THIS is why! Click the pic to see the action. Two of our students on an Ensign this summer out of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. They were new to sailing. And now, they’re going on our BVI (Virgin Islands) trip in this late April/early May!

Well, when we started doing a ‘sea trial’ of a satellite branch in Sheepshead Bay, we felt it was a good idea to use what was already down there to get started. Both the Miramar Yacht Club, and the boats they had (Ensigns), had reputations that preceded them. Very good ones. We were only going to try a narrow scope: teach learn to sail a few times and see how it all went. I was quite confident it would work well, based on the boat, the location, the facilities, and the weather. All of it met or exceeded my expectations. As this is about the boat, I’ll focus on the Ensign here:

STABLE. It has a full keel, meaning it’s large and heavy. (The ‘keel’ is the fin underneath the boat that stops it from flipping over and also helps it track straight and pivot evenly during turns.)

MANEUVERABLE. Surprisingly so for a full-keel design, with arguably an inefficient rudder design. In a crowded mooring field (Sheepshead Bay owns that description), the Ensign can maneuver handily through it all, which means it can handle anything.

FAST. Surprisingly fast in light winds with its large genoa jib, and with mass that keeps it moving through lulls to the next puff. When the wind picks up, switch to a basic working jib and eventually reef (shorten) the main. The Ensign can handle more wind than most people who sail them can – and it hauls ASS!

ROOMY. Super long bench seats with high backrests allow the boat to swallow up passengers, so 3 students plus and instructor can get around each other easily. (No, not 4; remember, “we give you more!”).

SAFE. Despite not having lifelines, which we were a little concerned about beforehand, the boat is super safe. As it’s very stable, it simply doesn’t heel as far over, nor as quickly. That, plus high backed benches, mean people aren’t at significant risk of falling overboard.* No need to leave the cockpit and go forward except to pick up the mooring – when we’re back inside super protected Sheepshead Bay, and the boat is level as it makes its approach. (*Lifelines can help in that regard, but people can still fall overboard despite them.)

Happy Halloween from the Irish Riviera! We’re aboard an Ensign, in between Breezy Point and Coney Island here, just off the entrance to Sheepshead Bay. Halloween, 2022. Breezy is nicknamed the Irish Riviera, but its real name was for a good and obvious reason! nb: the engine is not used by us for classes – ever. The Miramar Yacht Club owns this boat and the engine is on rare occasions, if ever, used by their members. Everyone just sails these boats in and out. There are around 20 at the Club!

I used to personally have a penchant for light, racy boat designs. Over time, I developed more of an appreciation than I’d had for some classic, more traditional boat designs. And now, we teach people how to sail on one.

And, for anyone interested in doing a little on-line learning before they come to us to do it for real on an actual boat, here’s the link to ASA’s online prep course!..

What’s in a Name?

Boat names are often painful, but sometimes inspired. When our students learn how to sail or cruise a boat, they’re often torn between smiling and grimacing at what they see out there.

Best. Name. Ever. Pearson 10M we’ve had at our City Island Branch for years.

(Ed. note: be sure to at least view, if not read, to the end… but for the best experience, do it all in order.) So… what’s up with those boat names? Most people who’ve owned a boat have either named it or at least considered re-naming it (despite the superstition involved). If you’ve never owned a boat, you’ve still probably given at least casual though to naming one.

BoatUS compiles an annual list of the most common boat names. That lets one either choose something they theoretically can’t go wrong with, or avoid something overdone to death. Here’s the top 10 for 2022:

  1. Andiamo
  2. Osprey
  3. Serenity
  4. Encore
  5. Zephyr
  6. Second Wind
  7. Adventure
  8. Knot on Call
  9. Shenanigans
  10. Grace

I’ll note that Andiamo was also number 1 for 2021, and has made the top-ten list in half of the last dozen years. Of course, we know an Andiamo or three. One of them is an S2 8.6 that still lives at City Island and used to summer and winter with us when we had a small marina. Zephyr? We had one in the fleet, albeit briefly.

Graduates of our school, and Sailing Club members, finally got their own boat and kept it with us for one season in exchange for limited use by the school. Yup; that’s a thing we do in case you’re interested. Their circumstances changed, and so did the home for the boat. So it Goes, anyone? Also up there in popularity, but missing this year’s list? Aquaholic.

You might have to look closer, but they’re all smiling about something… Second Wind, a Pearson 26 we’ve had at the City Island branch for awhile.

Best and worst names at the Sailing Center itself? Kilroy Was Here, complete with the face doodle as shown in the top pic, and, shown here, Second Wind (ouchie FAUCI!). We chose Kilroy and tolerated the Second without bothering to change it. At least the graphic was well done, and most students seeing it hadn’t seen countless others before. Not yet, anyway. One of our graduates got his first boat during the pandemic. Catalina 32. Very nice. “Second Wind.”

Decades ago, I started frostbite dinghy racing on a Dyer Dhow out of MFA (Mamaroneck Frostbiting Association). Temperature puns were common. My dad and I came up with what I thought were the two best Dyer names ever… Dyer Straits (me, sail #228), and Apocalypse Dhow (Dad, sail #501). Yup; boats have been gone forever but I still remember the sail numbers. “228; we have your finish.” That means you lost a long time ago; get your ass back to the line for the next start ASAP. “501; over early as usual!” Dad was overly partial to dip starts, but he certainly had the courage of his convictions, as they say.

But, this post wasn’t inspired by what we own or chose. It was about what we see out on the water, or in boatyards and marinas. So, we’ll occasionally post a good pic here in the Rants, as well as on Instagram and maybe FB. To kick things off, we’ll do one sailboat name of the punny variety, and a powerboat name of the hobo-ghetto, oh-no-you-did NOT-just-go-there-variety.

So, here’s a pretty good punny name well hung on the transom…

This one caught our attention in October on Sheepshead Bay, during a private lesson at our new branch down there. Don’t know the make of the boat; has pleasing lines not dissimilar to Kilroy (Pearson 10M).

And, I’m closing this out with the worst name I’ve ever seen. No others going forward are even slightly likely to overtake this one, and I wouldn’t want to overtake this boat…

Worst. Name. Ever. (Hey! THAT’S a name!!!)

GoDaddy Gone Sailing!

The internet giant sent some people to learn how to sail and do a photo shoot of it.

Over the years, we’ve attracted a lot of publicity from the media. Not sure how or why, but they show up. TV, Cable, magazines, papers… we’ve gotten quite an assortment. Sometimes it’s a feature and we’re the talent. Sometimes, we’re more behind the scenes facilitating them getting their shots.

IN THAT PIC: Our Director and HBIC (Head Bozo In Charge, Captain Stephen Glenn Card, getting a chuckle of understanding from the students that day.

The one that “got away?” We barely missed a shot providing a boat and logistics for a shoot with the famed portrait fotog Annie Liebowitz. That hurt. But at least they came to us. Others?..

  • Discovery Home Channel
  • CW 11 (WPIX)
  • Transit Transit News
  • NY 1 News
  • Fox 5 News
  • Worth Magazine
  • Fine Living Network
  • Metro Channel
  • NBC
  • New York Magazine

…and so on, and so on… And, by the way, some of the better ones are on our YouTube Channel. All posts and pages have our social media links.

Anywho, it was pleasant if not a real surprise that we got an email from GoDaddy looking to do something. They proposed to send a staff (pro) photographer along with two producers to feature New York Sailing Center, and do so by getting out on the water if at all possible. It’s rarely NOT possible, especially if the group is flexible.

The weather that day was windy and gusty. But, it was still within a reasonable range, and the folks were all athletic and outdoorsy. So, I started off with shoreside shots of me giving an actual lesson using our model sloop (boat), just as we would for any first session when people are learning how to sail.

IN THAT PIC: it was hard to get the sails filled on the model boat due to shifting winds complicated by being on land, albeit at water’s edge. At this moment, they filled.

The goal? Get the shots. The secondary goal? Teach them enough about sailing in a few hours that they felt like they understood how it worked and could do it at a very basic level. That meant this:

  • Understanding how sails harness wind to create power to make the boat go;
  • Understanding where one can aim a sailboat in relation to the wind;
  • How to steer the boat;
  • How to start and stop;
  • How to keep the boat moving at any angle it can sail on by adjusting the sails;
  • Believing the boat won’t flip over when the wind picks up!

It was a success. The team got the goods, and got the boat going. They asked questions that demonstrated they were thinking about it, and basically understanding it. For a Day 1 on the water, that’s enough. Of course, the goal is to come back and do more. In our full 3-day course (one of thew few that actually exist in the region if not much of the nation), students have time. They can get comfortable and competent as they reinforce the basics and add more skills and technique.

What about a “3-hour tour?” Well, that depends: on the weather, the inherent aptitude of the students/s, and how it all comes together with an instructor. Even the boat plays a part. There are several excellent boats to use for teaching sailing, and a number of good ones. They’re all as different as they are similar, and the difference – and devil – is in the details.

IN THAT PIC: Captain Card checking that they’d made their connections properly before hoisting the main and casting off.

Averaged out over a few days, things tend to just average out. But, over a few short hours, the weather might favor one design of boat more than another. That can make progression slower on the “wrong” boat (meaning not optimal for the current conditions, even if perfectly safe and useable for the purpose).

The challenge for an instructor is dealing with the hand they’re dealt on that day. Light & variable winds, or strong & gusty, can complicate teaching for a first sailing session. It’s not just the boat, but the students themselves, that can make it a teaching challenge. A good instructor adapts to both the students and the sailboat.

On this day, we had a boat that could certainly go out in more wind than we had. But, for a first lesson, we were already a little above the ‘ideal’ threshold for that boat. (By the way, there’s a great little boat called an Ideal 18, which we really wouldn’t want to be out in on that day – but great for more experienced sailors in club racing.) We were aboard one of our Beneteau First 21.0 sloops which are light, responsive, and reactive. All great for getting a true feel for sailing, and also developing innate physical sailing skills.

IN THAT PIC: Captain Card chose to keep it simple due to both the short time we had and the gusty winds. Simple is usually good.

But, on this day, we’d have preferred to be aboard one of the Ensign sloops we use down in Sheepshead Bay. Why? Heavier, less reactive, and more predictable. On a windy, gusty day, it’s quicker and easier for beginning students to understand how sailing works if they’re getting surprised less by the boat.

But, both great teaching boats; both could do the job that day.

The little Beneteau did its job. I did mine. The GoDaddy team got to do theirs. And, they want to come back and do more sailing!

Done.

IN THAT PIC: she was getting the hang of it, so Card got to just hang for a quick bit.

How are we scoring in ASA surveys?

Our Director, and most prolific instructor, scored 3.92 out of 4 so far in 2022! THIS is how we teach people how to sail in Brooklyn and City Island.

Year to date, 2022: Captain Stephen Glenn Card, our Director, “Dockmaster” and author of our Blog Rants, has a near-perfect record thus far. Unless there’s a seriously negative ballot-box drop in the next few week, which basically can’t happen, that’s that with that.

Captain Card explaining the gift of lift – or, how sails work most of the time. Quick shoreside preview before going out and doing it for real.

And, we’re not talking about an average of 1 or 2 reviews. 20 were submitted, which is a meaningful amount statistically (and particularly in our industry.)

How does this work? ASA sends a confidential email survey to all students who have course certifications processed. Some students respond, and answer key question about how their course went. Their responses are strictly confidential: schools and instructors never know who said what about the where now. Instructors can only see how many reviews were done, and when, plus a breakdown of scoring for each question (not each student).

Dinghy Captain (every trip has one) Steve clowning for the camera while simultaneously towing a stranded dinghy from another cruising yacht (the little outboard that couldn’t). Off Marina Cay and Scrub Island, BVI, literally days before the pandemic lockdown in ’20.

And, ASA issues Instructor of the Year awards based on these. Assuming an instructor gets a minimum number of responses (ASA doesn’t’ disclose what that is), they’re in the running based on their cumulative score for the calendar year.

Will 3.91 be enough to win one for our Dockmaster? Doubt it; he’s always scored quite highly and hasn’t won one yet. So, the margins at the upper end are tight. But, that’s splitting hairs. It’s like when the final race in a regatta comes down to a few top sailors, and they all finish within a few places of each other in the final race in a large fleet. Someone gets the win, even if there’s really no difference in their overall performance. But, Steve hasn’t won. (Yet?)

Bareboat 104 course; Long Island Sound. 20-25 knots (building to 30 by the time we approached home port) and a long haul back to City Island from Oyster Bay. Beat back, or beat it.

What does this mean to students looking for a school to learn how to sail, or take their sailing up to the next level? As the owner, and most prolific instructor of late, top scores translate into a top-tier program. Our Director sets the pedagogy of the school, plans the places and the props, and keeps adapting the program based on results and feedback. And, the weather! As that’s been changing, schools must adapt or decline.

“My dad started a sailing school back in 1968. He sold it in the late 80’s. Eleven years later, I started a new school. I modeled it after his program. Yes, I changed and tweaked, but cautiously and creeping, not with reckless abandon.

The new and subsequent owners of the school dad sold? They took something that wasn’t broken and tried to fix it. It took awhile, but the more they messed with it, the worse it got. They ran it into the ground. Ultimately, they just abandoned the boats. Sad.”

Captain Stephen Glenn Card

… who shall remain in first person mode for the remainder of the Rant. I guess at that point, it wasn’t fun for them anymore. True, it was a business. But if this type of business isn’t fun, you’re not doing it right. To quote one of the most highly respected snowboard instructors at Okemo Mountain resort when I was part-timing there…

“You’re going to be safe, and you’re going to have fun. And, maybe you’ll learn something!”

spoken at the start of a beginner group lesson

I’m afraid I don’t remember his name – only his face. I’m bad that way. Not so hard with groups of only 3 people max for our learn-to-sail courses (and 4 for cruising). But, when teaching up to 8 students in a group snowboard lesson, with faces often covered, and no name tags, names get lost. Yes; I taught snowboarding part time for 3 winters. It was mostly to prove I could teach better than I’d been taught (only 2 years before). It was also for instructional cross-training, getting good as fast as possible, and a free pass to a quality mountain. I didn’t do it for the money; it’s safe to say I lost money on this deal.

In my first lesson, I felt vindicated on the teaching part. From day one, supervisors were watching me intently, clearly wondering what I was doing and why. But, they just watched. My students didn’t fall (certainly not a lot, and some never fell). And, the feedback I was getting from veteran instructors who inherited my students for their next level, and later my supervisors, was super positive.

This one from our inaugural Kid/Parent cruise in the Virgin Islands (BVI), with two moms and 4 kids between. Wildly successful!

Did I figure out a new model for how to teach snowboarding? No. I picked it up from a video series! Anyone who’s even curious about maybe learning to snowboard should watch this. It’s entertaining. Highly qualified instructors, one of whom was a pro rider for Burton for a spell. Brother and sister. Their system made sense from my own experience trying to learn, and from their presentation. It wasn’t a complete departure from the conventional progression, but they made key changes in the early stages that appeared to make far more sense. So, I did it that way. It’s not what the mountains seem to be doing, and that’s why they have students falling all the time trying to learn (as opposed to occasionally). Have an open mind, and when stuff doesn’t make sense, consider rejecting it.

It took me another few years to accept something another veteran instructor said one day, but due to his experience and the respect he commanded, I kept thinking back on it. Turns out… he was right. And, he was voted Instructor of the Year by his peers! But, whether I ever earn that in sailing circles doesn’t really matter. Delivering an excellent lesson, every time, is the goal. The proof is in the people when they can sail off the mooring, do all the skills, and sail back – without brakes, without a reverse gear – and stop their boat.

And, we do it for them every time.

Live 105 on Zoom, November 15, 2021. Pets and drinks are welcome. We have fun! But, we also get shit done. It’s quite efficient especially as no one needs to travel. We were the first school to switch to Zoom for coastal nav courses when the pandemic hit. None of our local competitors did this; we have yet to confirm any school that actually has. In-person 105 courses are likely to resume this winter in addition to Zoom

US Sailing issues report on Newport-Bermuda race death

A skipper/owner went overboard and died – because he wasn’t tethered to the boat and wasn’t wearing a life jacket or PFD.

That’s essentially the story in a nutshell, but the commissioned report is still way worth reading for more detail and education .

Offshore sailing, and especially distance racing, augments the normally slight risks of sailing for a few key reasons:

  • When conditions worsen the waves are larger
  • Safe port is nowhere nearby
  • Everyone gets tired
  • Help is usually nowhere near

Call me a sissy, but I just don’t do long distance ocean sailing. I grew up watching the news about the Fastnet Race tragedy of 1979, and that was the end before the beginning could ever happen. Every now and again, I’d read about another tragedy at sea. Eventually, the Sydney Hobart happened as well. Commercial vessels lost; cruising sailor basically run over by large ships. A coastal delivery (not even a race) where the life raft was taking water and the sharks were at them – and that was the US Eastern Seaboard!

Of course, these cases are very few and far between -but that has basically been enough for me to not go. Yet. Maybe I will. But, you better believe it won’t be before copious quantities of research and prep, especially vetting the vessel and people I’d be going with.

Here’s the report from US Sailing on this past season’s tragedy in the Newport-Bermuda Race. The lessons aren’t just for long distance races, so read up!..

https://ussailing2018.wpenginepowered.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/NBR-Morgan-of-Marietta-Report-10242022-FINAL.pdf

Transition time again

Yes, we’re still sailing… but they’re blowing snow on the mountains while those who’ve learned how to sail this season wonder when to switch gears!

The Mary’s of Miramar, as we affectionately call them, taking their final lesson with us down at Miramar Yacht Club in Sheepshead Bay – our new branch. They’re aboard an Ensign, and the boat in the background is also an Ensign. October 6, 2022!

Soon we’ll be switching gears – Live 105 Coastal Navigation courses (both in person and on Zoom), and our Virgin Islands (BVI) trips for sailing vacay courses. And, snowsports!

Skiing at Mt. Zion, Michigan, October ’22! This is a still grab from a clip reposted on Snowbrain’s Instagram. Click it to play!

Each fall and spring, people who sail and also ski or ride sometimes have a choice to make: slide through water, or slide on snow. That time is just about here in the northeast. Killington began making snow awhile ago, and while not open yet, it’s probably just around the corner. They often start with a few trails in late October, and host a world cup women’s ski comp each Thanksgiving weekend.

And, there was a dump in the midwest already! Michigan got it, and they’re already doing it. Much more is coming out west shortly – as in a few days.

Precipitation modeling chart/map, as posted by Snowbrains on their Instagram. Winter is coming. Fast!

How long does sailing go on in the Northeast? As long as you like, really. Ever hear of ‘frostbiting?’ It’s racing during the winter, usually on small boats and dinghies. I started doing it in high school and stopped during college. I decided it was insane. It’s much better now with better outerwear options, and also because self-rescuing boats are more commonly used than before. I used to race Dyer Dhows, which are still popular in parts of the Northeast including Western Long Island Sound.

The Dyer is basically a bathtub with a sail and fills up with water if you flip it. Positive foam flotation prevents sinking, but a swamped sailor needs rescuing by one of the fleet’s chase boats before considering getting back out. A Laser, on the other hand, can be flipped right back up and back into action with minimal fuss. If one is fast, and stays on the windward rail, they might not even get wet. But, it’s a boat that throws up spray so in any wind, one gets wet just from that. Dry suits are in order here.

“Laser: there is no substitute.” – Captain Stephen Glenn Card, former Laser racer and lifelong enthusiast. No, that’s not him sailing. It’s a recent regatta snap posted on ILCA Sailing’s Instagram. (International Laser Class Association)

How about bigger boats? Keelboats don’t easily capsize, and they’re drier. Many people extend their seasons well into the fall. At Miramar Yacht Club, which hosts a branch for our school in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, some members keep their boats in all winter and sail from time to time. The Club is open all year, despite launches being hauled out for the winter. The Bay is super calm, so it’s reasonably safe to just row out to one’s boat if weather permits with a life jacket on and others around knowing what you’re up to.

Around 12 years ago, I was living in Greenwich CT. I was in a super kewl and fun/funky apartment complex right on the water, at the end of a peninsula and street, next door to Indian Harbor Yacht Club. Fancy club, and expensive, but a sailors club. The main thing they needed to know before one joined is that you actually were into sailing and active at it. They didn’t care if you had a lowly J/24, as long as you sailed it. They had a frostbiting program in the winter, on Dyer Dhows. And, it was open to non-members. I was very close to just joining that program, as it was happening almost in front of my living room window.

A Dyer Hair Day? I do note the helmet on the sailor to the left… And while two of the Dyer Dhows here have no names, punny plays on Dyer and winter weather are the norm. Photo from Mamaroneck Frostbite Association’s site.

And then, I took a snowboarding lesson. I was a newbie; never did it before. I hadn’t skied since I was a wee boy either, and skiing and snowboarding are very different skills with almost no overlap, so no muscle memory, etc, to dial up. “That’s that with that,” I said. I’d never frostbite again. I wouldn’t have time. Snowboarding is my winter jam. But transitional fall sailing? One of my favorite ways to play!

Pro tips for fall sailing:

Dress for fall, but be prepared for summer – or vice versa. You can still easily get sunburned, especially with clearer atmospheric conditions when it’s from the northwest. Bring both a warm hat and a sun hat. And, sunscreen for exposed spots.

Don’t dehydrate. Wind and sun do that, even when it’s cooler. Bring water.

Bring a hot beverage in a thermos or some soup in case you get chilly and need a warm-up.

Do you ski or ride? You can bring those clothes, minus helmet/boots, and you’re in good shape!

If you’re skippering the boat, beware the setting sun. It sneaks up on us early now; we’re conditioned to sail into a sunset that is much later in the summer. Don’t get caught with dimming light and dropping temps when you have a ways to go – especially if the wind picked up from the afternoon sun and hasn’t died down yet.

My biz card for the side hustle awhile ago: teaching snowboarding part time while also running a sailing school and its winter nav classes and Caribbean sailing vacations. Whew! Busy boy. I don’t teach for a mountain any longer, but occasionally offer a private lesson. (Certification lapsed for non-renewal just for full disclosure. Easy to renew if needed: one continuing ed clinic and pay a season’s back dues!)

As well as being a certified sailing instructor with ASA since 1983, when they started, I was a Level I snowboarding instructor with AASI/PSIA for few seasons much more recently. I got certified almost exactly 2 years from when I first got on a snowboard. Not because I was prodigy, but because I had a teaching background and had stubbornly applied myself on a board to get as competent as possible as early as I could. I didn’t even have a goal of teaching – it didn’t enter my mind until I was getting ready for my second full season of snowboarding, and I saw some instructor recruitment info on mountain resort web sites. “You don’t have to be the best skier or rider on the mountain to teach. You have to be good with people, enthusiastic, etc, etc.”

An idea was born. I pursued it. I was hired to teach at Okemo in Ludlow, Vermont, to my great surprise (more on that story in another issue of the Blog Rant.) And, I brought back a lot of instructional cross training and teaching methodology to the Sailing Center. More on that later, too.

Our Director & Dockmaster, Captain Card, taking a break from navigating Memorial Chutes or Here Be Dragons (some navigating, eh?). They’re adjacent, anyway, and just like on the water, there are not road signs in gate-accessed sidecountry in the mountains. Solitude Mountain Resort, Utah, February ’22.

I occasionally have free time to give snowboarding lessons, and I always enjoy it. If you’re interested, or know someone who is, shoot me a message by reply to this or from the contact page on our site (in the main menu of every page and post).

Think wind – and snow!

Which boat shall we sail today..?

We teach newbies how to sail on two types in two locations. These sailboats are very different, yet both deliver top notch learn to sail lessons.

One of our Beneteau First 21 sloops as seen on the cover of our new learn to sail textbook.

Which boat to play on today? Depends where you sail with us.

There are several types of boats we use at our City Island home branch, where we’ve been sailing on and off forever and uninterrupted since 1996. For learn-to-sail courses, it’s the Beneteau First 21.0 sloop. It’s a very modern design – light weight and responsive, maneuverable, ergonomic, and with twin rudders. Designed and built by the world’s oldest and largest maker of sailboats, it’s the only sailboat design ever endorsed by a national sailing school organization.

ASA did a collab with Beneteau and their modified version became the ASA First Trainer (and subsequently the ASA First 22). Same body (hull), keel, rudders, sailplan, etc. Only real difference was to make a smaller cabin and longer cockpit to better reflect sailing classes. (Wouldn’t really benefit us much, as we’re one of the few schools to limit learn-to-sail classes to 3 students per boat.)

Sail an Ensign; see an Ensign. Or, many; they’re out and about all the time! From our Sheepshead Bay location this summer.

Fast forward to 2022, when we re-wound to a boat designed 60 years earlier: the Pearson Ensign, from venerable naval architect Carl Alberg. it’s what they sail at the Miramar Yacht Club. That’s in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, and that’s where our second branch is. There are almost 20 Ensigns at this Club, but also many other daysailers and cruising designs. The Club has been around since the 1930’s and was incorporated in the ’40’s. And now, we’re at both “Bookends of the Boroughs.”

The Ensign is very different from the Beneteau. Traditional full keel, rather than a fin or long swing keel (the latter of which the Beneteau sports). Single rudder than hangs off the back of the keel, rather than a modern spade rudder. No real cabin; just a small ‘cuddy’ with room for two diagonal berths and sail storage. Low to the water; a little wet when it gets wild on the waterway with wind and chop. Very long, deep bench seats in wood (the Beneteau has excellent ones as well but fiberglass). Very large mainsail; two sizes of jib/genoa. (Beneteau has a fairly even distribution between main and 110 genoa, to which we add a storm ‘jiblet’ courtesy of the classic Rhodes 19 class, as well… we had two from the past and they worked. The Ensign has seen a resurgence in popularity whereas most of its contemporaries and next-gens have faded into obscurity. It’s also in the American Sailboat Hall of Fame, along with the Tartan Ten. And, Miramar YC has its own Tartan Ten as well as Ensign!

Saturday, September 24: aboard an Ensign off Breezy Point near Sheepshead Bay. Day 3, Start Sailing course (ASA 101).

We were the 1st school to use the Beneteau 21 for learn to sail. A few other schools have been using the Ensign in recent years, and who knows how many did over the decades. They both work extremely well for the purpose, despite the large differences in their designs.

We do strictly sail in our Start Sailing course (ASA 101, learn to sail / Basic Keelboat). No motors – except on the launch that drives you the short distance to your moored sailboat. Then, we keep it real. No brakes; no reverse. You get to use forward (trim in the sails and angle the boat properly). You also get to go into neutral (make the sails flap like flags, or luff, but easing the sails and angling the boat enough into the wind). That’s it! Do those things with the right timing, and you glide to a near or complete stop at the mooring ball.

Simple. Also, simply difficult. It takes only a shot or two to start to understand it, but it takes a lot of practice to get consistently good at it. Expect to have many of your stops wind up short, or to happen well after you want them to. Don’t worry – you’re surrounded by something soft: water! And, yes – boats. But we teach you how to start moving again on demand.

Blueprint of the Beneteau First 21.0 sloop including the largely irrelevant cabin configuration. Note the long, high-aspect keel.

One concern we had before trying out Sheepshead Bay was the proximity of the moorings to each other (on the tight side), and the narrow nature of the small Bay. We also wondered if the current in Rockaway Inlet, just outside of the enclosed Bay, would be too much at times. Not so, said the Commodore, David, who sails both an Ensign and a Cheoy Lee 35. The Ensigns overwhelmingly sail off & on, and also out & in. This entire season, I saw an Ensign under power only once or twice: one time the main was up and drawing and I wasn’t sure if the electric motor was also in play.

The Pearson Ensign. Note the full keel and attached rudder.

Head to head comparison…

Beneteau pros: super responsive; light on the helm; mainsail easy to handle; lifelines going around the boat give a good sense of security going forward.

Ensign: super stable; has great momentum; very predictable response; huge cockpit helpful for groups; wide foredeck offsets lack of lifelines.

They’re both excellent for sailing off and back onto moorings, and for teaching people how to sail a boat. Which one will we use today? The one that’s where you want to sail!

“The Hudson River is always a dangerous place to operate.” We’re not on it.

Those aren’t our words, but we could well have spoken them ourselves – and they also apply to the East River and NY Harbor. And it’s why we would never have you learn how to sail there.

There was a fatal accident on the Hudson recently, near the Intrepid aircraft carrier and museum. An adult woman and a child died when a motorboat overturned. NY Waterways (ferries) were on scene quickly rescuing other passengers.

On any very busy waterway, there will be an occasional accident, and more rarely, a tragedy such as this. But, some places are just less suitable for recreational boating, and all the more so for beginners. The Hudson River, where a number of sailing school/clubs operate, is one of those.

So are the East River and New York Harbor where the rivers join it.

The quote in the title? Words spoken by Inspector Anthony Russo of the New York City Harbor Unit after the accident. Three other people were critically injured in the accident.

One accident by itself doesn’t make an area inherently dangerous. It’s the potential for other accidents, or how much effort goes into preventing them, that matters. In these areas, one contends with…

  • strong currents
  • narrow waterways
  • erratic windshifts
  • high speed commuter ferries
  • cruise shiops
  • huge medium-speed ferries
  • any number of other large commercial vessels

Plus, the water is basically so dirty that you can often smell it as you get within half a block or so. Ugh.

So, why learn to sail there? Because you can?

There’s a guy who, as of 2018, regularly swam in the Hudson about two blocks from where I live. He was featured in the NY Times; link below (photo here). Note the off-color water. He swims there to promote that one can, and to increase awareness and access. But..? Because one can? Should one?

Intrepid swimmer on the Hudson. Chang W. Lee, NY Times, photo.

There are so many other places people can safely and enjoyably swim – and sail. Some of them are in NYC. Some off them are further away, but accessible by public transit and car.

The Hudson, East River, and NY Harbor offer no benefits to sailing – or learning how to sail – other than potential proximity to ones work or home. But why have a short commute to a crap-ass location? And, we’re talking literally – there’s sewage being pumped into these waters! Sure, much or maybe most of it is treated. But, there are frequent overflows of untreated sewage. Still smells. Not sanitary.

On the other hand, our Brooklyn and Bronx locations at Sheepshead Bay and City Island have swimmable waters with public beaches – and lifeguards – nearby. And, fish. And, birds. And the waters are hospitable to sailing and learning how to do it. Our locations have five yacht clubs with mostly (overwhelmingly) sailboats in their fleets. Hudson? East River? NY Harbor? None. Nor do they have college sailing teams. Ours do.

If you have to hold your nose to go to the waters, or are afraid to get them in your eyes, or if you read too often about accidents on them in the news, or if public officials say they’re basically dangerous… Why? Just, why? Ride the subway or your car a little longer (if at all), and enjoy the sights, smells, and success of sailing where NYC ends and sanity begins!

And now, all about the Kookaburra who Could…

“It’s like the Autobahn!” And not in a good way.

That’s Jennifer Connelley’s take on trying to learn how to sail a boat in New York Harbor in preparation for “Top Gun: Maverick.”

IN THAT PIC: still grab from the sailing scene in the flick. Jennifer Connelly, driver (at the helm).

We taught David Letterman how to sail back when Late Night was actually Late Morning. A looooong time ago. (This was during Dad’s school; I worked sweeping up for child’s pay.) Of course, when Ted Turner was on Late Night not that long ago, David didn’t work in any Q&A about sailing despite Ted being one of the best. I was disappointed. I half expected him to say, “You know, I took a sailing course. It was on City Island. New York Sailing School, I think it was.” Didn’t happen.

Fast forward to earlier this week, and actress Jennifer Connelly appeared on A Late Show With Stephen Colbert. (We link to that below.) I didn’t realize there was a sailing scene in the flick, but Connelly did and decided to prepare for it. She took sailing lessons in several locations in preparation, as she had no background with it.

IN THAT PIC: JC driving and Tom Cruise bringing up the rear. Apparently, he wasn’t satisfied with the pace of things off San Diego so they did some sailing out of San Francisco- a renowned heavy wind region. This was there.

Being from NYC (Brooklyn), she did a course in NYC and did what too many people do: she did it in NY Harbor, as accessed by the East and Hudson Rivers. Train wreck conditions, but maybe they saved 15′ on their commute!

“I was taking lessons in the Harbor, which was interesting…”

“That’s busy!” (Colbert)

“It’s kinda like learning to drive on the Autobahn, you know? I don’t recommend it as a first way to sail.”

Jennifer Connelly

We link to the full clip below. As mentioned above, she took lessons in a variety of areas, so this wasn’t an isolated perspective.

Sailing in NY Harbor and the Rivers is difficult with challenges that are not the good kind…

  • Currents strong enough to stop a boat in its GPS track;
  • Lots of random commercial traffic including high-speed ferries, barges, and cruise ships;
  • Narrow waterways and, where they open up, with large obstructions;
  • Confused winds with shears from geography and high-rise buildings.
IN THAT PIC: a rather large Norwegian Cruise Lines ship about to block out the W hotel in Jersey City as seen from the shore of lower Manhattan.

This isn’t a recipe for success. Expert sailors can have a lot of trouble there. Why try to learn how in such an environment? The perception is that it’s close and convenient. It might be quicker; depends where you live, and your actual commute time. (Two schools that sail in NY Harbor are located in New Jersey, including one with Manhattan in its name. There is one in Brooklyn.) More importantly is the education and skillset you get. If you can’t skipper the boat after the course, you didn’t sail in a good location and/or get enough training.

IN THAT PIC: the same Norwegian cruise ship about to totally dwarf the rather large classic sailing vessel. It’s a schooner rig, normally only found on larger vessels.

We don’t go there, literally or figuratively. There’s a reason Columbia and Fordham Universities have had their sailing teams practice out of City Island for so long. (Columbia moved recently, but only about a mile or two as the bird flies). There’s a reason why there are 3 ASA sailing schools on City Island, and also three yacht clubs that are almost all sailboats (used to be four before Hurricane Sandy closed one down).

It’s the beginning of Long Island Sound, and the beginning of a proper sailing foundation. And, one never outgrows it!

Here’s the link to the Colbert segment with Jennifer Connelly:

I Wrote a Book! Dad helped.

More accurately, I largely re-wrote his textbook on how to sail a boat from the 1970’s but kept the best parts, which inspired the project in the first place.

In a previous Blog Rant, I wrote about how both my Dad and I wrote books for our respective sailing schools. I’d been meaning to resurrect his for awhile, and that post put me over the edge. I gone went and did it!

IN THAT PIC: the cover of NY Sailing Center’s new learn-to-sail/101 textbook.

That’s one of our Beneteau First 21.0 sloops flying along upwind, with Teacher John as he’s known on the transom where he’s known to love perching or propelling himself. Yup; that’s a class in progress.

Dad’s textbook, The Masters Course, was brilliant: pithy, funny, effective. Well illustrated. Nothing is perfect; his wasn’t. In fact, a few of the diagrams on piloting and navigation left a lot to be desired. But, these weren’t important to this level of training. I left them out of the new book.

As well as wanting Dad’s book to be resurrected, I also just wanted a better learn to sail book than ASA was putting out. I disagree with some of the content in their book, completely disagree with the order and emphasis of the material, and can’t deal with a defective diagram in it that’s a very important and which is very fucked up. It’s so bad, that after our first day of instruction, we challenge students to figure out “what’s wrong with this picture.” Some do on the spot after pondering briefly, most take a little longer. A few don’t figure it out. But, to a person, once they see it or are told it, they get it. And, they can’t believe it was allowed to go to print that way.

IN THAT PIC: the best Points of Sail diagram I’ve ever seen. From Dad’s book, and now in mine.

(Not long ago, I found an error in The Annapolis Book of Seamanship by John Rousmaniere. Now, this is perhaps the best single all-around sailing reference available. I highly recommend it to all beginners and intermediates; most advanced (and some pro) sailors can learn at least a little if not a lot from it. I corresponded with John about it; I don’t think he realized the error was there. “After all these decades, you’re the first person to spot this,” he wrote. I see EVERYTHING. It is known.)

Truth be told, Dad’s book had what I consider to be an error in one of the illustrations. But, I left that one out and used many of the good ones! Almost everyone will eventually err in an explanation or illustration. However, when it’s caught, it ought to be corrected.

IN THAT PIC: modern diagram of heaving to. Jennie Wilde, illustrator. Text: Steve Card.

My book? It started out as Dad’s book redux, but became more mine than his. I did keep parts of his prose intact. I augmented other parts. I deleted some others. And, of course, I wrote several sections from scratch.

Our new book is going out digitally to people as a PDF. That way, it can be easily corrected, but also searched, viewed on any mobile device, and updated easily. Also, instead of putting painful step-by-step photos of knot illustrations, for example, we can have one good reference photo plus a link to quality step-by-step videos! And the book can easily evolve as photos are added, better ones are found, an idea comes to mind for a better explanation or ordering of content, etc. Of course, if anyone prefers, it can be printed.

What better way to celebrate writing a book on sailing than with sailor drinks? Dark ‘n Stormy: Reed’s ginger beer, Gosling’s Black Seal rum, oversized ice balls and cubes, and a mini-anchor bottle opener. It’s made by Lewmar, and a replica of their Delta Fast-Set anchor. That anchor is on the bow of most charter boats around the world. Why? It holds best in most seabeds. We’re all about the “why’s” of things.

Yes, I wrote about anchoring in the book. I left the illustrations to others; I explained what one is really trying to do when anchoring, and how to get the job done on the water.