I Chased a Storm. Did I Win?

Not on a boat – by plane to ride a snowboard. But storm chasing to ski/ride is more like planning a boat delivery than it isn’t, so once you learn how to sail a yacht, you can apply this to delivering one!

IN THAT PIC: sneak preview of what’s to come. Aboard a very late Alaska Air flight almost at Seattle. Cascades? Olympics? Dunno.

Mid-January: I’m frustrated and feeling like I’m losing out on the winter. I haven’t hit a storm yet. I’ve missed many; couldn’t leave early enough for the annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage to Vermont, so missed that one. Couldn’t stay later than Sunday, so missed the next. And so on, and so on. One conflict after another and I had missed many shots both locally and out west. Got some days in but in average conditions at best including crowds.

What’s the hurry/rush? Well, snowboarding in powder is my favorite activity. (Yes; even more than sailing, and I LOVE sailing.) I started relatively late in life, so the novelty hasn’t worn off. Plus, as I advance in confidence and skill, and learn how to explore more areas and when, I get more rewards.

So, what do I mean by “storm chase” exactly? I mean that I don’t pre-plan snowboard trips in advance. I keep an eye on trends in different regions, and keep checking long and mid range forecasts. When those consistently call for a lot of snow in an area, I pay very careful attention to the trends when less than a week out. If, a few days before the storm, it still looks good, I see if the travel and lodging logistics would work. If everything alines last minute, I go!

IN THAT PIC: sneak preview of what’s to come – hopefully: upwards of 55″ over two days and nights! Could be too much if they can’t open due to road closures or avalanche mitigation. This is on the Open Snow app: free trial, then $30/year or so and worth way more. If you like powder riding/skiing, look up Luke Stone on Instagram and follow. Storm chaser extraordinaire!

Boat delivery: similar. What’s the weather window for the journey? What’s the expected amount of time? What is the margin of error and likelihood of running into overtime? What are the consequences? What does getting to the boat, and home from it, look like? How is that affected by weather as predicted and as it might change? These are many of the variables that factor into why I stopped doing any deliveries, whether on my own or helping other captains, awhile ago. (For deliveries, the boat itself is often the issue.) Last time I broke from that policy I was, of course, reminded why I had put it into place in the first place, but that’s another story.

This storm chase: the Cascade Mountains in Washington.

  • Target mountain/resort: The Summit at Snoqualmie + Alpental
  • Time of storm: Tuesday night through Thursday night (non-stop snow)
  • Intensity: 50-55 inches total, with most of it the first night into the next day
  • Airport: SeaTac
  • Ground transfer: rental vehicle
  • Lodging: The Summit Inn, across the street from part of the mountain resort
  • Access to mountain if roads unpassable: walk across the road!
  • Access to food if roads unpassable: downstairs, next door, across road
  • Weather windows to arrive before storm and depart after: Green light Go
IN THAT PIC: forecast broken down more specifically, and very helpfully, on Open Snow.

And so, I booked. Lodging was expensive for what it was, but almost couldn’t beat the convenience – especially as there was a restaurant on site that served breakfast through dinner. The resort itself has no lodging, so no ski in/ski out. But I could drive anywhere from a few hundred yards to a few miles to the different bases, and I could walk to one with my snowboard. I did all of these.

I knew that it was critical to get to the hotel before the winter storm got underway. I got down to the wire on that score. The morning of my departure saw a few inches of snow in the City, so I left earlier for the airport and upgraded my Carmel ride from minivan to full-blown SUV. That paid off. But then…

Airport: we left almost on time… only to stop for de-icing. That took awhile, and then they announced they had to go back for more fuel. (?) We’d also have to de-ice all over again. Don’t remember if we got that far along, but no one could forget that they deplaned us and delayed departure for another 3.5 hours. Some happy crap about timing-out and needing to change out some flight crew. Of course, they were supposedly flying in from somewhere else so I took that with a grain of salt.

That was strike two. One more time strike and I would have to bail out. Consequence? Costs of one night’s lodging, plus round trip taxis to JFK (over $100 each way). Not cheap. Plus, the sleep and time lost. It was supposed to be a 7am departure and was now going to be 1pm. If they delayed again, I was going to let them know to take my Sportube off the plane and I’d take it home. (Sportubes are two-part cases for ski and snowboard gear and they’re the best thing I’ve seen on the carousels so far.)

But, they boarded on time and left the gate on time. Yes, they de-iced again despite the snow having turned to rain a long time ago. But, better safe than the other thing. And, with no more hitches, we were off.

IN THAT PIC: two rides… my Jeep for the short week and my Lib Tech Orca snowboard. Toward the top of the pic you can see a string of pale lights: this is on the hill. Snoqualmie has night skiing at several of its locations and claims to have the most in the United States.

This put me at SeaTac in the late afternoon, dealing with rush hour for rental cars and driving. But, I still had enough reserve time to get to the mountain before the winter storm was supposed to start. Despite super gusty winds on the Snoqualmie Pass, and light precip, I was able to safely drive the second half of that ground leg. I’d made the wise decision to forego a proper stocking up on fridge supplies while still in Seattle and settle for some quick bare basics and takeout dinner. (I almost just drove to the lodging, but called to verify I was en route and to ask how late dinner was offered. Restaurant was closed! Gear-shift…)

The airport arrival, shuttle to car rental, and actual driving out of Seattle went quicker and better than anticipated. Sorting out the vehicle was slower but fine. I needed winter tires, all-wheel drive, or preferably both or, again, I wasn’t going. I got the all-wheel drive in the form of Jeep Wrangler Sahara.

That vehicle steered squirrely, but braked very well. It also drove well on snow, and there was a LOT of it up there. The roads were snow covered before the storm and it just got deeper and messier over that night and the next day. In fact, and as anticipated, I-90 closed in both directions once the storm got intense enough. That mean no one was going nowhere far, no time soon. That suited me: semi-private snowboarding at the mountains – if they were open!

Same risk – if they didn’t get enough of the work force to the hill, some or none of it would be up and running. I got lucky: everything opened basically on schedule with small delays with only Alpental not open on day one.

IN THAT PIC: How much snow was there? This much and counting. While it didn’t dump 50+ inches, there was already plenty and it snowed nonstop for 2 days and nights at varying intensities before becoming inconsistent.

What was I hoping to do? Surf powder! And, I got the goods. I didn’t get 50-55″ by any means, but got enough: between 15 and 20 over the 3 full days I had to ride, on top of other high quality recent fresh I’d missed. It stacked up in places to be over 2 feet deep. For the 3 days, I rarely hit ice or hard pack. I almost always had soft to deep snow under my board.

The Summit at Snoqualmie is a mostly locals resort. People day trip or do several days from Seattle and other areas in striking distance. All the locals I met at the bar or on the lift spoke to me about Crystal Mountain, Mount Baker and Steven’s Pass. They all said I had to do those. But, there they were at Snoqualmie with me!

IN THAT PIC: first chair ride up: watching others come down. This guy doing a little cliff drop was with buddies out of the frame (still grab from a clip). Summit Central, kicking things off on the first day.

The first one to discuss this with me was the second person who…

  • I met on the way to, or once at, a ski resort I’d storm chased, and:
  • Rode a fish-themed board;
  • Was Asian;
  • Wanted to buddy up for tree riding!

Enter Dzon, a Seattle guy doing a half-day at Alpental on Thursday. He rode a Burton Barracuda, which I recognized in the lift line as I’d owned one briefly in the past. We got to talking, and next thing I know, he’s showing me around the best routes and stashes in the best order based on when they’d get tracked out. We exchanged numbers for future storm chasing endeavors after doing half a dozen runs over the course of the morning and early pm.

(Last winter, I’d met Jack on the ski bus from Salt Lake City en route to Brighton + Solitude. That was my first dedicated storm chase. Jack and I had coinkydinkily lodged at the same motel in SLC and were planning on hitting some combo of Brighton, Solitude and Snowbird over the next few days. Jack was riding a Rossignol Sushi. I never had one, but my first board was a Rossi Taipan with skulls, flowers, anchors, steering wheels, and a foundering tall ship with a large sea serpent breaking through the hull. Most complicated graphics ever. Turn the board at different angles, and the color changes as well as the graphics. Wicked. Jack and I will eventually hit SLC again at the same time as we keep in touch.)

The Summit at Snoqualmie has 4 different areas (some say 5). 3 / 4 are lined up and interconnected along State Route 906. One can usually ski back and forth amongst them rather than drive or take the resort shuttle. (The shuttle doesn’t run during the week, which was a potential logistical snag in my storm chase planning I hadn’t realized until after booking.) The 4th is a little further down the road and not connected.

IN THAT PIC: view from the back windows of Alpental’s lodge up the mountain behind the access road. A few colorful crests on the walls made for nice decor.

The areas are Summit East, Summit Central, Summit West, and Alpental. The first three are small hills that some would find too tiny for their taste. Alpental is larger, although not intrinsically large. Want stats? Ain’t got no stats. Didn’t really care. I knew the locations were large enough for me, and the main thing was timing good snow during the week. I don’t do weekends except in Vermont, and very carefully planned at that. Point is, they get snow at The Summit: somewhere in the neighborhood of 400″ of average annual. It dumps frequently. Sometimes the snow is wet and heavy. Sometimes, it’s light and dry. This time it started quite light (on top of a previous dump of light powder) and got a little heavier as the cycle did its thing.

So, how does one get around DURING the storm? Drive as little as possible, and only walk where it’s safe. Both were doable. On the first day, I wanted to hit Alpental, but it was closed either due to avalanche mitigation (yeah.) or lack of staff. So, I drove the short distance down the road to Summit Central. That was, of course, after dealing with the fact that my room’s fridge was more like a freezer and had frozen my milk for coffee and cereal solid. Slight delay getting to the hill; missed the initial queue so more tracks were made on the snow before my arrival.

IN THAT PIC: the little car that could… and the little mountain it got me to. One of them, anyway. Jeep Wrangler Sahara, a solid snow driver despite not having actual winter tires. Summit West in the background, the base/hill across the road from my lodging at The Summit Inn.

Small problem; large amounts of powder remaining. Did a few runs there and at the Silver Fir area (has its own lift and runs). Silver Fir is the “5th” hill at The Summit. Central had a little of everything terrain wise – just as advertised. I stuck to runs where there should have been the most powder and/or ability to just plow pow. Being alone I stayed out of the trees other than cutting between a few right at the edge of trails were I could be seen even if upside down in a tree well with only the bottom of my board visible.

wha?

Tree wells! Serious trouble in some areas out west, and the Pacific Northwest is infamous for them. A tree well is the ring around a tree’s trunk that appears to be filled with snow, but only very loosely as the surrounding branches are widest at the bottom and don’t let as much snow get in (while trapping what’s there against the wind removing it). If you wind up sliding or falling into one, you can sink way down. If head first, you can suffocate. It happens every year. Deep snow immersion is a thing, and riding through trees, especially in the backcountry, has elevated risk. Even for experts. Only way to eliminate the risk is to stay on groomed trails. But, one can mitigate the risk.

IN THAT PIC: lots of trees! And, lots of snow. Potentially dangerous combo. Ride or ski with care. If in doubt, stay on groomed/main trails. View if from the parking lot at The Summit Inn, next door to the Chevron station and convenience store, looking east-ish.

After some runs in each spot and an early lunch break at Silver Fir (great little lodge), I decided to take an extended break before hitting Summit West at 2pm when they opened for afternoon and night skiing. That paid off with 3rd chair and untracked pow on a gentle blue with enough pitch to straight line the shallow pow (didn’t get as much here, and they had groomed after the previous dump). But, didn’t touch bottom! After a few of those runs I explored the two black diamond areas off to the side, each of which had trees as well as pow. This was cheating; shouldn’t really be doing trees without a partner. But, others were going through at the same time and the distances between open areas was short. Too tempting.

Day two was when I kicked things off at Alpental and met Dzon. Alpental is small but otherwise the real deal. Most of if is single black diamond terrain, with equal-ish amounts of blues and double diamonds making up the rest. Might be a green or two at the base. There are very few lifts, like at Revelstoke, but a fraction of the terrain as well. The first lift is a high speed and the second, often on hold or closed due to the terrain, is a slow double. So, lines at the Edelweiss chair are usually long. Didn’t get to go up there this time so no doubles for me on this trip. Maybe next time; definitely sometime.

IN THAT PIC: looking up at Alpental, from… Alpental! On the slopes; maybe 2/3 of the way down in the single black diamond areas to skiers’ left off the first lift. I’d tried to traverse far over and get to a great tree stash but couldn’t hold my edge long enough on this run, so settled for what I could get into from where I was. Didn’t suck.

The main run down the middle is a tough blue that, when there’s enough powder, would be a blast. I stayed along the sides and in the trees as much as possible with Dzon, and chose my tree spots more carefully when he wasn’t there. I put up with tiring traverses to skiers’ left to get into the single blacks and trees in between. For a snowboarder, it’s much harder to hold a traverse on one edge with no poles. (Backcountry riders often carry poles, and borrowing poles from a guide on a heli trip got me out of a tough tree run that was more like x country than downhill, so it’s worth considering.)

For the afternoon, rinse and repeat: Summit West. Did the same runs; there was some extra powder on top but not as much as the day before and it was somewhat heavier. Couldn’t get to the far left (Wildside) as the chair was delayed and then the main one was acting up. I got cold and tired on a long haul up with more time stopped waiting than moving. Disappointing but it happens.

Day 3: more Alpental in the morning, but only a few runs. I was running out of steam. The long traverses were getting to me. (Must get in better shape for this.) They didn’t get a lot of extra snow overnight, but enough for a topping off. That helped.

PM: got over to the Wildside finally! And it was worth it. The whole of Summit West is small, and Wildside is just one side. But, it’s higher and steeper with some variety to the terrain. Locals had all said it’s good, and they were right. I found my jam right away by not coming straight down under the lift but instead circling around back, where I found good trees to the left with a steep drop but plenty of room, and a visible end to it. Looked too flat at the bottom to continue riding out to the main slope, so I bailed early and traversed across the wide open bowl (for lack of a better word). This has irregular, wind-blown snow that was minimally tracked, so it was fun to play around in it on the way back to the lift. The beginning of this area, as hit on the way down, allowed cutting back across to the base lodge seamlessly.

IN THAT PIC: part of my sort of secret stash, Wildside area, Summit West. This was my last afternoon. Screen grab from a video clip. Some pretty steep sections, but with fresh pow! Could surf the pow or do the moguls with sticks in them (trees). This is an interesting if small area, but it’s not too small to enjoy even if you like long lines.

I hung it up around 4:30 that afternoon despite night skiing being open until 9:30, conditions permitting.

Next logistic: getting home! All I had to do was leave early and hopefully not hit bad road conditions. When I planned this chase, I expected rain on Friday and possibly into my departure morning on Saturday. That would have been fine, but I didn’t even get that. The Interstate was open and unrestricted. Small patches of compacted snow/ice here and there but the few vehicles traveling westbound were flying. Not so much heading east from Seattle: Seattle was on its way to The Summit! It was very obvious. I was going the right way at the right time.

IN THAT PIC: right way, right time – for me, not everyone on the left racing from Seattle to The Summit at Snoqualmie. Think: the race to get the last moorings in a crowded anchorage where actual anchoring is not allowed. Must get there early and claim your spot. Timing for deliveries (and cruises) is like land logistics for storm chasing.

Dropping off the rental and airport logistics were a breeze. I enjoyed a solid if not spectacular fish and chips plus salad at 10:30 leisurely with a view out of the Olympic Mountains. Killed some time with a coffee and flew home. Only snag thereafter was waiting almost 1.5 hours for my snowboard case. I’ve had to wait about an hour or longer three times now at JFK. Will make the complaints, fight or not over the meager comp offer if any, and seriously try to avoid JFK on the return flight. The issue is that I book last minute which hampers my options. Waiting another hour to 1.5 after a great trip is annoying but a small price to pay.

Would I do this particular chase again? Yes, as long as the coast is clear to get to Snoqualmie before the roads might close. I was considering the vbastly larger Crystal Mountain for this trip but it looked to be getting considerably less snow than Snoqualmie this time around. I didn’t check what they actually got. But, Crystal was close to 100% open recently when I checked, and with over 5,000 acres, there would be untracked pow all day for days if one hunted for it. Snoqualmie has closer to 2,000, but it does fight well above its weight class – especially with Alpental in the mix!

“Dining”

IN THAT PIC: The Summit Pancake House, ostensibly a different business but attached/walk through from hotel lobby and same people going back and forth. Open… inconsistently, and apparently, almost buried here. Almost had to try the pancakes through. Almost.

Never did eat at the restaurant on site: the Summit Pancake House. On the first morning, I was going to try the pancakes but bailed when they couldn’t tell me whether they had real maple syrup or just the ultra-processed shit. Not paying good money for crap. That soured me on trying them for dinner – if and when they were open for it. So, I ate my muesli that I’d packed and made my own pour-over coffee.

Lunch: on the hill day one at Silver Fir. They had nice looking lodge food, and their terriyaki chicken with broccoli was excellent. Day 2: ? I think I just tossed down some cereal. Can’t remember day 3.

IN THAT PIC: dork with his phone leash capturing the Alpentaholic etching on the stainless. They sell Alpentolic stickers – not Alpentaholic. Would have bought the latter. Alpental base lodge during a coffee/breakie sandwich break between runs.

Dinner: 3x at Commonwealth across the street from the Summit Inn. Looked good, came recommended by locals, and it didn’t disappoint. Bar scene was nice and tables were mostly longish community seating with half of it high tops near the bar area. Food was solid; good beers. Didn’t dive deeper than that. On the first night they said they were indeed open before I strolled over, but added “as long as the power stays on.” So, I hustled out the door.

Back-up/emergency plan: Chevron station next door to the Summit Inn almost never closes, and has snack food plus some frozen pizza and burrito stuff. Something constituting hot food to tie one over. Next time, I’d shop better in Seattle on the way out as there’s a Town and Country (Basically a Whole Foods) that’s an easy, quick detour with mini-mall parking. This is where I did my quick stop completely by accident: once I heard the lodging’s restaurant was closed, I pulled over to find something and got lucky. Have to take the luck out of it next time.

Boat delivery, storm chase – more similar than not in the planning stages. I’d rather mess up the planning on a storm chase than on a delivery however. Being stuck at the lodge or the airport is safer than being caught in an actual storm on a boat.

IN THAT PIC: looking out from Alpental lodge over the covered bridge to and from the main parking lot. It crosses a creek and it’s beautiful; the views in some spots through the trees are spectacular.

102, Where Were You?

We’ve actually been doing the new 102 in our learn how to sail / ASA 101 for decades. Who knew? All of our past students; soon that might be you!

UPDATE to original posting: our Director, Captain Stephen Glenn Card, is now certified at 202, meaning he’s authorized to teach and certify students for 102, and one of the earliest instructors to earn that rating.

We’re setting up ASA 102 schedules now for March and April, before our full 3-day 101/102 courses begin. Prerequisite: 101 or comparable experience and skills. Can also do this as private instruction. Contact us to discuss, or read on for more about 102.

I’ve lost more time than I care to calculate with an abacus or slide rule explaining what 102 was over the decades.

There IS no 102.

Me…

There is NOT one.

Myself…

ASA missed that one.

and I.

So, it was with a combination of surprise and relief that ASA recently announced they’d filled in the gap. What is it?

IN THAT PIC: Screen grab from ASA’s site showing what 102, Keelboat 2, is about.

It’s largely core, critical basic sailing skills that were never mandated in the 101 standards. It also has good content that, while not mission critical, is important enough that we’ve always included it in our 101. And, by always, I’m talking over 50 years of family therapy – er, experience – which began well before “101,” or even ASA, existed.

We sort of saw this coming. In 2020, I wrote a prescient post with this title: “‘102:’ When 101 Didn’t Add Up For You.” ( This rant was about how our course was complete, most others weren’t, and why we were planning to add a clinic to finish what other schools started.)

What’s in the new 102 that wasn’t already in 101? (Again, we’re talking ASA’s standards, not ours.) Major skills in 102:

  • heaving to (2 methods)
  • approaching moorings (2 methods)
  • getting out of irons
  • sailing backwards
  • steering with sails and weight
  • quick-stop MOB (as an addition to figure 8 already in 101)
  • reefing (barely discussed in the online 102 course; not on test)
IN THAT PIC: Screen grab from the ASA 202 IQC online course (was live; available to instructor candidates to use for exam prep once registered for the exam). Here, the boat (a Harbor 20 if not mistaken) approaches a mooring on a reach. Note the circus clown/gymnast trying to push the boom out to stop the boat. Just don’t. Note also the mooring lines laid on top of the buoy; someone has to reach down and grab it by hand. Where’s the boat hook, Bob? Amateur hour IM(not so)HO. Either use a pick-up stick on the mooring line, or use a boat hook.

Most of the rest of the content is about sail shape, trim, lift and power, and weather helm.

Of all the things above, here’s what we don’t already cover:

  1. sailing backwards (we discuss but don’t do as the technique is dangerous)
  2. quick-stop MOB (as we disagree with it and think it’s dangerous)

That’s it! While 102 goes into more detail on sail shape than we do, we cover all the same stuff in our 101/Start Sailing course.

I think it’s a disservice to students and an insult to their intelligence to not start courses with sailing theory: how sails use wind to create power, and how that makes a boat go. Therefore, I’m a fan of keeping that in students’ minds and refining it. This is the “why” that governs all the “wha?” So, when ASA announced that sail shape was an integral part of 102, I was on board with that.

IN THAT PIC: Screen grab from the ASA 202 IQC online course. Here, the narrator summarizes sail trim sailing upwind in a moderate breeze. I screenshot that as they had some confusing inconsistencies in their explanations and advise, and I wanted to make sure I knew what they wanted to see on the exam.

What else is in 102? Some examples…

  • How to use a winch and winch handle safely (covered in 101 but I guess worth repeating)
  • Basic nomenclature (redundant).
  • How to tack and jibe properly in detail: timing, weight placement, who does what when, etc. (Good; refines the basics.)
  • Heading up and bearing off in more detail (also good, although it’s so simple 101 should have taken care of it)
  • Ducking when getting around a moored or anchored boat (excellent; we already teach duck or tack. For some reason, they never say tack. It’s often the better choice.)
  • And more!

I disagree somewhere between mildly and militantly with some of the curriculum and techniques; you saw that above with their mooring approach and using the main as an airbrake. Having said that, the idea is to give students more skills, more comprehension, and more ideas about their sailing future. We can work with this.

Another example:

ASA says that heeling causes weather helm. Agree. (The wrong choice of sail plan can also do this.) But, why? They say it’s because the CE is out to leeward, or sideways, of the CLR. CE is Center of Effort (geometric middle of the combined sail plan in use). They say this causes rotation that turns the boat into the wind.

IN THAT PIC: Screen grab from the ASA 202 IQC online course. Here, the narrator compares boats with different angles of heel (sideways lean). He opines that when the sails get over to the side, their force rotates the boat around the keel in the water. Nah! IM(not so)HO.

We say: nah, bruh… It’s the heeling itself that causes the weather helm. Why?

Unlike the ones depicted above, real boats have real curves. Pushing a boat’s curved, buoyant surface down into the water on the leeward side makes the boat follow that curve. Surprisingly similar to pressing down on the edge of a ski or snowboard and “decambering” it (depending on type of shape of course), and locking into a carve. The plank follows the curve. Our students who ski or ride at intermediate or higher levels get the analogy. Those who don’t get the explanation without the analogy.

ASA’s idea that the sail forces (CE) have a rotational component misses how lift works: the net sum of the sail plan (CE) has a final, single velocity: direction and power/speed. The direction is diagonally sideways to the boat, but in a straight line. It tries to pull whatever it’s attached to IN THAT STRAIGHT DIRECTION. The shape of the boat plus the keel underwater resist getting pulled sideways, for various and interesting reasons we cover in day 1 of 101. (ASA’s 102 course explains how the keel develops lift to stop that; good. This belongs in 101!) In fact, when the boat heels, the force is no longer horizontal to the water’s surface. It’s slightly to moderately downward as well. That not only increases heeling, but decreases the net drive forward as the energy is wasted. Instead, it increases the rotation of the boat caused the boat’s curved shape itself!

ASA points out that when pushing the main and boom all the way out and forward to sail backwards, it tends to turn the boat the other way (rotation) and therefore one probably has to offset the rudder slightly. That’s a rotation I can get my head around. They wisely point out that the rudder should be held firmly with two hands, although they don’t illustrate “why” well enough. We cover that concept in our cruising courses as, with engines that are BBB rated (Balls Beyond Belief), the rudder will slam hard over as the pivot point is behind the rudder rather than the udder way around when goin fowad. It’s dangerous in both cases: tillers swinging hard over, and wheels spinning freely, can bust you up quick. Plus, the entire steering system can be damaged and disabled.

And, so, I “took the lesson” as my fencing coach in college would have said, and then took the test…

IN THAT PIC: Congrats – I passed! 94. Not as high as I’d like to have seen, but as 90 was the minimum for an instructor, I’m fine given how much I disagreed with plus how much was confusing. So, I get 202 added to the list of my certifications: 102 Instructor.

So… how are we going to handle this 102 stuff? That’s in the works now. Plan A is to simply offer the 102 with the 101 for new students. As it’s not a prerequisite for anything else, and therefore “elective,” they can choose to take the exam or not. Same education either way. If they choose to, they can pay the fee for the extra ASA textbook when it’s ready (not at the time of this writing) and do the exam.

We’d also offer it as a stand-alone clinic/course for our grads who are rusty, or for highly qualified graduates of other schools’ 101 courses. That’s the logistical bear to burden us. We’ll figure something out.

But, it’s nice to know that we’ve been doing this, more or less, all along… giving you more of what you go to sailing school for!SM

Frostbiting v. Florida (& Other Conundrums)

Fly down to the beach? Fly out to the Rockies? Drive up to them thar Catskills? Or, ponder how to sail on a milder day right here in Brooklyn? Plenty of choices.

I wanted to drive up to Belleayre Mountain in the Catskills yesterday. They were forecast to get 4-6 inches of pow overnight with another few possible during the day. I even got the ticket on line and refilled my Ski3 card for direct-to-lift access. But, it wasn’t to be.

IN THAT PIC: screenshot of the summary forecast for Belleayre Mountain in my OpenSnow app, before expanding that below. OpenSnow is a top-tier app for mountain weather predictions. It’s gotten me some epic (Ikonic?) storm chases. Free trial; $30/year thereafter and worth soooo much more.

Yes, they got the goods: 7 inches as of the morning check! But, I didn’t sleep well enough and despite actually getting up at 5:15, went back to bed within 20′ and said F it. Maybe the next day. (Little to no fresh pow would be left, but packed powder all over and no stampede to get to it.)

IN THAT PIC: forecast details expanding on the pic above. This makes it easy to see the timing of things, and the consistency and trend, which determine not just when, but IF you go. This was two days out. Final forecast was for 4-6 overnight and another 1-3 during the day. Actual snowfall as of early Monday morning when they first measured it? 7 inches.

Plus, I was stressed about getting ready to fly down to Florida to visit my partner’s family. Yes; looking forward to it, despite not being much of an FL fan. But, I’d play tennis to help get in shape for snowboarding, maybe cast my fly rod from the beach for practice and, you know… never know what’s right there within casting distance in salt water, where anything can swim anywhere it wants to.

I love the fam, so there’s that. And, I enjoy flying for some reason. But, I have to knock stuff out and get caught up before I go for 5 days and then wind up behind again. So, no. Didn’t take the whole day today to shred groomers.

Usually, when I fly down to the Virgin Islands (BVI) to run Sailing Center trips, it dumps up here upon my departure. Then, when I return, it NUKES and sometimes delays my flight getting back. I miss it and figure I’ve got it coming to me another time. This time around, I missed some storm chasing opportunities in a variety of places not because I’d left, but because I wouldn’t have enough time before my flight south. So it goes…

For this trip, it’s looking very quiet snow wise for the time I’m away plus some more for good measure. Maybe that means what comes later will be bigger and badder. But, if not, what about local sailing?

IN THAT PIC: all quiet on the inlet. View from Sheepshead Bay out into Rockaway Inlet, with the bridge separating that from Jamaica Bay in the background. Saturday morning, December 9. Those are cormorants or loons on top of the mooring ball.

It’s been relatively mild here in NYC. On Saturday, I was dressed in a fleece top and sun hat while doing crankcase and lower unit oil changes on our Carolina Skiff and checking the Tartan Ten on its mooring. By around 2pm, it was just about T-shirt weather for about an hour. Miramar YC was having a whiskey tasting, and allegedly also a pipe pairing. I had to pass as I was driving back to MannyHanny.

Saturday was a great temperature for sailing… but not really enough wind. Dead on the Hudson and NY Harbor; light down in Sheepshead Bay and Rockaway Inlet. There’s almost always more wind there, even when it’s light all around. Four to five more knots and I would have postponed some of the chores and dragged some people out for a sail. But, there will be other opportunities. Always are. (Want in on that? Hit us up to be e-blasted when we see a weather window!)

IN THAT PIC: Some of the swans at the beach that day. There are quite a few more outside the edges of the shot. Two of them were flapping away in tandem – synchronized swatting or something. Did you know they sail? They’ll travel downwind by flaring their wings to provide surface area. Feet steer.

I’m a life member at Hunter Mountain in the Catskills, which is the most well-known of them. My folks bought a house on the Mountain when I was wee. Either it came with life memberships, or there was a promotion so good my Dad was glad to buy for the whole family .Mom? I asked her later in life if shed’ ever tried skiing. “I did it once. That was enough.” Damn…

Dad was really into it, and I went to ski-school and stuff until they sold the house. Then, we maybe did one more trip in Vermont before they pulled the plug and that was it for snowsports for me and I wasn’t quite 10. It wasn’t until after I’d taken up snowboarding 14 years ago that I discovered there were other hills to ski/ride on in the Catskills. I heard of Windham first. A client from the school turned me onto Belleayre during the pandemic. He’d bought season passes for his family as a way to get out and do stuff in fresh air without being too crowded, and they were cheap. The mountain was almost empty and they had semi-private skiing. And, they liked the hill.

I’ve been there twice now; wanted to go more, but I rarely go to the Catskills now as it’s usually better for me to drive the extra 2 hours and be in Vermont. But, I prefer Belleayre to Hunter and Windham. Hunter, especially, has a lot of potential compared to Belleayre. It’s larger, has longer runs, has more tough terrain, and has its truly beginner and expert areas separated from the main mountain. Plus, they expanded the resort into a new area and added an extra high-speed chair in that area for some of the most efficient lap-making one could conceive of.

Yes, but…

Hunter isn’t being run the way it used to be. It’s been sold several times, and now everything kicks up to Vail Resorts. They seem to have bought it for market share in the Epic/Ikon struggle over the skiing Universe. They don’t run as many chairs as often, don’t make as much snow, and don’t open up the new North area or existing West areas to as much capacity as needed. Plus, their new glade in the North area seems to never be open – which it needed badly, as there were essentially none before this. They don’t seem to care.

Belleayre?

IN THAT PIC: the Belleayre trail map. It’s very left & right, like Brighton in Utah. That’s where the comparison begins and ends, but for a small northeast hill, it fights above its weight class with a nice balance of terrain and legit glades. Plus, they seem to put some effort into their terrain park.

It’s state owned/operated like Gore and Whiteface, and there’s some connectivity in pass and ticket sales, including the state’s Ski3 discount card. My take, in no particular order:

  • It’s cheaper. A full price walk-up-to-window ticket with no discounts is $104, and if you purchase as late as the evening before, it’s less. Buy a few days earlier, and it’s much less than that. Plus, they have a frequent skier discount card that’s worth considering if you’re not sure a season pas is worth it.
  • It’s run well! They have their act together and act like they care. (Same for Gore and Whiteface, in my opinion, after one visit to each on my two shots up north to get my COVID shots during the pandemic up in Plattsburgh.)
  • Belleayre seemed to get more trails open earlier than Hunter and Windham this season, and they blow a lot of snow. Plus, they get comparable real snow. (This time, they got significantly more.)
  • They have GLADES! Real ones. If you like trees, you’ll love Dreamcatcher and some others. I went up twice; neither time had there been a dump before I went. Both times, Dreamcatcher was open. And, it had good snow and some of it deep! (It’s one of their double diamonds and it’s the largest of their glades.)
  • Don’t like glades? No problem. They have plenty of groomers for all ability levels. If you’re a true expert, and especially if you’re an extreme terrain skier or rider, Belleayre might leave you feeling flat. But if you’re most things less than that, you should be able to enjoy Belleayre.
  • They have a nice mid-mountain lodge with a great bar and nice views from it. Doesn’t hurt that they have decent coffee.
  • They have a gondola! That means when it’s running, you can usually skip it to cut down on lift lines. Plus, they have one high-speed quad that runs in another area and lets you lap a large portion of the mountain quickly.
  • There’s less hill work on the local roads driving to and from the hill. That’s important in crappy weather.

Caveat: No lodging right on site, however, unlike Hunter and Windham – so, if you’re going to hit it during a real dump or just after, and you have to drive a ways, it might not be the call.

And, back to sailing! What if you want to just sail here in the winter?

Check out “frostbiting.” It’s short course racing in the winter, and there are a number of ways to play. Most of it’s on dinghies: they can flip over and you’re likely to get wet at some point even if you don’t flip. If you’re up for the challenge of dinghy sailing in the winter, game on. Dry-suit time. Unless, of course, you’re racing Dyer Dhows at Mamaroneck Frostbite, where it’s hard to get spray on you and also harder to flip over. But, if you do, you’re getting very wet. So, a dry suit isn’t a bad idea here either.

IN THAT PIC: Dyer Dhows rigged up and ready to..? Not sure if they’re about to drop in or if some cold sailors ran in to warm up. I remember clearing snow off the boats before rigging and splashing back in the day. Pic from Mamaroneck Frostbite Association’s site.

Dyers are NOT self rescuing. Back in the day, the chase boat would come rescue you and drop you off at the committee boat. That was a houseboat with a wood-burning pot-belly oven for heat. Wring out the wet clothes, warm up, and go back out. After bailing out your swamped Dyer, of course. Never again for me. I’d rather get the exhilaration of a fast dinghy, and have a good chance of a “dry capsize” where one jumps up on the rail and never actually gets wet. Most dinghies people race are self bailing, meaning water that gets in goes back out on its own. That includes the Sunfish, which is arguably an inefficient design, but it works – and it’s fun and fairly forgiving. That said, it’s harder to right one when it does flip, but at least it’s self bailing/rescuing. At that point, you might want to brace yourself thusly…

IN THAT PIC: fire (in background) and firewater in front. Whiskey tasting at the Miramar Yacht Club (home port to New York Sailing Center).

Why don’t we “frostbite” on the keelboats from the school? Well, we will! We’re going to go out from time to time this winter when weather allows. But, it has to not be actual frostbiting weather. That means seasonally mild temps and winds. So, it will be fewer and farther between than a typical frostbite racing program, and no racing. Just one, maybe two boats out with a few people having a good time. Fill a flask with the firewater of your choice; just don’t drive afterward.

How to get in on that? Hit us up to be included in an e-blast about it.

Want to do true frostbiting, with the racing and the cold & wind sometimes, and the potential for getting wet? Here are a few places to consider…

Mamaroneck Frostbite: a single-purpose seasonal organization that goes way back. I used to do this from 1979-mid 1980’s. They race Dyer Dhows as do some other clubs in the region. Not surprisingly, they’re in Mamaroneck, NY.

Cedar Point Yacht Club: a year round racing club in Westport CT that encourages newbies as well as seasoned vets. They have a frostbiting program. Details not on their site (at least nowhere I looked), so go to their site to contact them. They race Lasers and RS Aeros.

Centerpoint YC Frostbiting: CPYC is a year-round membership club with a frostbiting program in the ‘off’ season. They’re on Long Island’s North Shore. They race several classes of dinghies: Lasers, Penguins, and JY 15 sloops.

Weather and whether… that’s the continuing conundrum. Just go out and do something.

Name dot-com got our name wrong…

…but they’re fixing that part of their blog piece, done with GoDaddy, about our family history teaching people how to sail.

GoDaddy teamed up with Name.com at some point, and to help pitch the .club domain extension, they spoke to us. We use one ourselves; it was part of a re-branding and SEO campaign. Got the word “club” into the domain name that way; that was to be more relevant to those searching for sailing clubs (as opposed to just schools). We’re both, although we now refer sailing club clients to our host facility, Miramar Yacht Club, so we can focus just on instruction.

No, we’re not called “New York Sailing Club.” That’s something else. We are, as you know, New York Sailing Center. How funny (and f@$%ed) is it that Name got our name wrong?! But, it’s really not a drama. Perhaps by the time you opened this, it will have been fixed. The link was correct, and they basically got the interview part very right.

So, here it is! A few very minor details aside, this is what I told them, and this is what they wrote. Here you go.

For Stephen Glenn Card, the New York Sailing Club isn’t just a rental boat business for tourists who come and go. Instead, the boutique boating school in southern Brooklyn is a family legacy dedicated to educating the next wave of ocean-lovers about the true art of sailing.

“The idea is to properly teach people how to sail so that they’re truly able to take out the boat they learned on without us,” says Steve Card, owner and operator of NewYorkSailing.Club. 

It all started in the 1960s when his father, Glenn F. Card, an ad executive and licensed captain, bought a small sailboat. He didn’t have time to use it so he put an ad in the newspaper to rent it out. “Demand was robust,” says Steve. “So much so that he got another boat, then three. It boomed. So, he started Sail-A-Season.” 

IN THAT PIC: Pops back in the mid ‘90’s, enjoying a spontaneous sail on a knockoff of a Sunfish. Both Pop and I started dinghy sailing relatively late in the game, and loved racing them.

The business was modeled as a fractional sailing plan; and it soon began to take off and compete with Glenn’s day job. “He was an original Mad Man!,” Steve recalls of his father. “So, he added a sailing school, gave up the day job, and put his copywriting skills to work on his own business, New York Sailing School was born.” Over the next decade Glenn would retire and sell the school. (Ed. note: Dad had the school from 68 to around 87.) After he passed away, Steve felt compelled to act on his own passion for turning rookies into skippers. “I started my own school and followed in his footsteps,” says Steve.

The New York Sailing Club—which also coaches people on how to charter, buy, and even race in Brooklyn, is based in the Miramar Yacht Club, far from the crowds of Manhattan. In 2003, Steve launched a new set of experiences: sailing trips in the British Virgin Islands, where sailing enthusiasts can escape the wintry Atlantic. By 2006, he expanded the sailing trips to Mediterranean destinations like Italy, Greece, and Croatia. “Students get a great balance of training and vacay on these trips,” Steve adds. 

IN THAT PIC: Pop took this shot when I was a wee lad. He must have shot it from the port (window) of the aft cabin on a Virgin Islands cruise with mom. That meant she was steering.. and that meant she was pissed! Old and faded, but the subject still stands.

The business continues to grow and evolve, but Steve admits the market has gotten choppy with more competitors. “We’re fighting against businesses that give shorter courses for less money,” says Steve. He advises true, aspiring sailors to invest in accredited and quality schools. “Pay a little more, travel a little farther, and actually learn how to sail,” he says. After all, when it comes to sailing the seas, safety is critical. 

Steve has advice for entrepreneurs who want to take their businesses to the next level. “Make sure you can wear the hats properly, and be ready to adapt and reinvent yourself,” he says. “Technology will change; the client base will change. Be ready to change with it.”

For Steve, the changes in the competitive landscape also called for fresher marketing strategies. Up until the 1990s, the family would largely rely on classic ads in the New York Times’ Weekend Section. But with the dotcom boom, he knew it was time to launch startsailing.com in 1998. Just a few years ago, he decided to rebrand with a shorter name, new logo and website. The creativity behind the next iteration of his business website was largely driven by his own clients, who happened to be experts in branding, web design and SEO. The tech-savvy customers also advised them to choose name.com as their registrar. 

Their original web address now redirects to their new .club URL, NewYorkSailing.Club. “Our .club domain was part rebranding and part SEO,” he says. He says any club-oriented business should opt for the TLD. “My clients thought the domain extension would be picked up favorably by Google as it did for others, and we went for it. At the time I wanted to better emphasize our club sailing plan.”

Choosing Name.com as the web registrar made it simple for Steve to further establish his business’ online presence. “Challenges are mostly how many hats one has to wear,” he says. “Our domain registration process was easy and we’ve had no difficulties since.”

IN THAT PIC: look familiar? I shot that in May on our most recent BVI trip. Inspired by Pop’s shot above. Not as good as his, but a nod to pop nonetheless.

What is it like to carry on your family’s local legacy in sailing, and train the next generation of sailing instructors? What’s the most important lesson you hope they take with them?

After my father sold his school, I took over the marina business. But the school was the true family tradition. I’m very proud and satisfied to have carried on the business, but almost better still, recreated it … My father had mostly very good success with finding and mentoring excellent instructors.  I was even pickier, and slower to bring people on board.  That kept the standards higher. Eventually, I chose and trained new instructors who had the potential to be great at it.  So far, I’ve had a 100% hit rate on that. 

I am most proud of pursuing a second branch for the school that no one else was able to make work before: Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. So, to copy detractors of Joe Biden, “I did that!” My dad couldn’t do it, a chief competitor failed more recently, I pulled it off, and it’s the future of our school now. Very proud of this.

IN THAT PIC: me racing an actual Sunfish dinghy in the Sebago Fall Series, Jamaica Bay, Brooklyn And, yes – that’s an actual horse on the beach!

What’s it like to run a business in southern Brooklyn? How do you attract tourists away from the crowds of Manhattan? 

While tourists might well enjoy taking a tour of the NYC waterfront via the Circle Line or the Staten Island Ferry, it’s these very things—plus the Fast Ferries, cruise ships, barges, etc., —that make sailing so difficult and disappointing in the Hudson and East Rivers as well as New York Harbor. We cater to NYC locals as well as from many other parts of the New York Tri-State area. Brooklyn continues to evolve as the hot area in NYC. As for running a business here, it’s amazing. It’s a very inclusive and hospitable community.  

I know you offer everything from sailing lessons to evening sails. What’s the most unique or popular service, or what do customers seem to enjoy the most?

We have two specialties that other schools do little of. First, we do a lot of private lessons, both on our boats and on those owned by our clients. We can sail and teach on anything, whether it’s high-performance racing dinghies or large cruising yachts. Secondly, we offer navigation courses on Zoom.  When the pandemic hit, I jumped on that as a solution for our coastal navigation course. It was popular, and it works: it’s almost as good as being in the room with the students, and it’s vastly more convenient.  We keep the same small group size for individual attention.

What’s the most beautiful place you’ve sailed and why?

Hard to pin that one down. I’d say Anegada in the Virgin Islands, and Ventotene in Italy.  Both are a little remote in their respective territories, and both are worth the extra time to get to.  Anegada is a completely stunning and unspoiled Island that’s like the Bahamas in the BVI.  Ventotene is a ruggedly beautiful outpost off the Golfo di Napoli. Old Roman Harbor is just that: ancient, with few modernizations. Walking up and around this island is a must, along with the amazing beaches. 

IN THAT PIC: Anegada in all its splendor. The north shore beaches are world class here, with excellent snorkeling, SCUBA and just plain swimming.

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome as a business owner?

The weather. We’re a strictly weather-dependent, largely seasonal business.  Weather can make or break us, and climate change has been catching up with the sailing industry. We moved to Brooklyn partially due to this, as the weather and wind are better.

On your homepage you have a section titled “Blog: Recent Rants” which I love. Why is blogging important to you as a business owner?

Blogging helps me keep the site fresh, but also lets me speak my mind.  I like to include educational and public awareness content, and I like to write my way. I don’t give myself full creative license on the (mostly) static pages of the site.  In the rants, I can ramble and roam!

IN THAT PIC: off Old Roman Harbor, Ventotene. Expand the pic to see just how tight the entrance is, and the sailboat lurking around the corner (revealed only by its mast)! Two people are on a zig-zagging staircase making their way up to the piazza.

What’s your top advice for others who lead a long-running, family business? 

Be ready to reinvent yourself.

What’s the most important thing people, especially those new to sailing, should know about sailing?

The web has made more and more activities available to everyone. Explore options on the web and then get out and try them! People are constantly amazed when they find our site, and get a flavor of what it’s like to learn and continue with sailing, including how accessible it can be.  Sailing has a reputation of being expensive and exclusive, and many organizations have been helping to change that. The internet is integral to this mission.

BELOW: One last shot…

Pop and I leading a pack after rounding the jibe mark at a Sonar regatta on Long Island Sound in the 1980’s. His school introduced Sonars to sailing instruction and he was a large dealer for them. Now, I’m teaching on the boat that inspired the Sonar: the Ensign! I went old-school, and I’m loving it.

IN THAT PIC: Pop and I on 238, with a 3rd as crew. Pop’s steering and I’m handling both the sheet and guy for the spinnaker. John just end-for-ended the spinnaker pole. We led that pack, but not the fleet.

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:

BUILD A BOAT.

BUILD A DREAM.

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:

https://www.brooklynboatworks.org/

https://www.miramaryc.com/

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:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/obituaries/2023/05/24/buddy-melges-sailing-dies/

https://www.jsonline.com/picture-gallery/news/local/2023/05/19/buddy-melges-photos-flying-dutchman-scow-soling-americas-cup/11907904002/

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.

VIDEO CLIP:

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.