Transat, Anyone?

The IMOCA’s have been in New York City for a minute after racing across from France. Soon, they sail back, after showing us how to sail these yachts.

They’ve been berthed and operating in several locations in NYC since their arrival, and our own home port, Miramar Yacht Club in Sheepshead Bay, did a lot of the hosting.

The Transat x Miramar. As well as being our home port, Miramar hosted the logistics and support teams for the Transat sailors who raced from France to New York.

What’s the Transat?

It’s a venerable distance race – across the North Atlantic, to be specific – that’s been going on for a long time. The current class of boat used is the IMOCA 60, an all-out monohull with foils. Yup; it gets up out of the water and routinely sails at speeds in the 30’s with top end documented performance breaking the 40-knot threshold.

Some of the fleet! Foreground: Maitre CoQ, who gave us a private tour one afternoon. This was at Moonbeam Gateway Marina, in Jamaica Bay, almost swimming distance from our digs at Sheepshead Bay. We drove a Zodiac RIB from the support team there and back.

This is one design racing at its toughest: single or double handed races across oceans and seas. And, it’s part of what qualifies sailors to compete in the Vendee Globe: the singlehanded, around-the-world race. The only thing tougher than this might be the Mini Transat, where they race 6.5 meter boats singlehanded. They’re not foiling, so the race takes longer. Singlehanded, on a 20-foot boat, with spinnaker when conditions permit. World’s. Toughest. Race.

Not to take anything away from the IMOCA’s, however, as the high speeds of foiling create other difficulties. These boats are a sight to behold, even when simply tied to the dock. We got a close up glimpse of them, plus a private tour aboard Maitre CoQ, last week. I’d never been that close to one before much less aboard.

Fun facts to know and tell:

The boats are on display/ parade / etc this weekend in NY Harbor, and apparently did an exhibition race on Friday (which we didn’t learn about in advance unfortunately). I had a class out on Friday; I thought I saw a few in the distance, but wasn’t sure, and what I saw was way below the upper Harbor anyway out in Ambrose Channel.

The Class Association has strict one design rules, so the boats are much more identical than different.

Sail inventory is limited to 8, and it can take an hour and a half to switch out a sail underway.

While there are berths on each side for the sailor to sleep in, it’s often best to sleep sitting up in the special spring attenuated chairs that alleviate much of the pounding. Ouch. Sleep is in very brief cat-naps a few times a day (for 9 days or more!).

Food: everything is brought aboard prepared in two medium sized bags, and heated up as needed over the engine compartment. The leftover packaging reduces to two small bags after the ocean crossing.

The diesel engine has only 40 hp, but has two alternators for its main purpose: charging batteries. The transmission is secured in neutral before the race with special ties. When the engine is in gear for parking or transporting in between races, it’s shifted with lines that are basically strings, and throttle is applied that way as well. Quite awkward!

There’s an escape corridor and hatch underneath the hull in case the boat goes over all the way (turning turtle) and doesn’t recover itself.

The boat we were on (didn’t see others up close) was largely Harkenized! (“If you know, you know.”)

Yes, Virginia, some winches DO turn counter-clockwise! Specialty item, for sure, but the large drums in the cockpit of the boat we visited spun both ways depending on where mounted.

The IMOCA’s start their race back to France next week!

For more about this exciting class, upcoming events, and some insights into some of the sailors themselves, see these links:

https://www.imoca.org/en

https://www.newyorkvendee.org/en?https%3A%2F%2Fwww.newyorkvendee.org%2Fen%3Futm_source=meta&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=2024_04_FB_vendee_liberty_show&fbclid=IwAR39wErjhwBIVbXKxw5ZV6vNtbyAdsNgluQ4UFWAFGWAYj8ZipbY7sZNj0E_aem_AZY21ZARV7zA6LE6RG-fYVm3zMAj4vMqpq3N76JfSar2CezwFX4WpQK8uG6TcnPXWl4AZbDpAtpxSx0tqKmJas_8

It’s ON! Sailing started.

Learn to sail, ASA 101 + 102, began on March 16 and 17, the earliest we started teaching people how to sail a boat.

We didn’t plan it that way. Hard to plan at all with early-season weather. But, sailing happened this past weekend. We got a solid full day on Saturday, and half a day of sailing on Sunday before the light winds turned very quickly (as predicted) into Victory at Sea conditions, as we say. Students got a taste of strong, fast gusts and learned that while it can be stressful when learning, the boat didn’t care and the instructor had a few whoo-HOO moments!

Why then didn’t we plan it? The early shoulder season is tempting, but way too unpredictable and volatile. My father’s school always started in April. It was ‘spicy’ sometimes. When I started my own school decades later, I began courses in mid April. It worked… until it didn’t. Too many weather delays.

So, I switched it around. We would start with advanced courses in April, and learn to sail in early May. The first season I tried, it, we lost the first scheduled weekend of Bareboat Cruising to a storm. It was forecast to blow stink and chuck buckets on the first day, and simply be way to windy the second. I headed up to Vermont on Thursday night and was snowboarding a foot of powder the next morning at Killington instead. The predicted conditions down in the Sound prevailed. No one sailed.

IN THAT PIC: happy camper, as they all seem to be. Day One of the first course of the season.

The next season, we scheduled more conservatively. Nothing in April. Learn-to-sail began in early May. For Memorial Day Weekend, weather isn’t always perfect but it’s traditionally reliable for classes. So, we scheduled three of them: two boats of students for 101 / learn-to-sail, and one for Bareboat Cruising (3rd level, 104, and don’t get me started on that math but you may do so yourself in this Blog Rant).

How did that work out? The first two days were unsailable due to a nasty nor’easter, something we’d never experienced that late in the spring. We got one day in out of three. That set off complications with rescheduling, as the rest of the late spring/early summer was pretty shitty as well. Welcome to climate change!

So it goes…

Kurt Vonnegut

So, what made me think it was even a remotely good idea to start classes in MARCH!?

We’ve occasionally done a private lesson, usually for a group of 2 or 3 students coming together, in the ‘pre-season.’ It’s always a case by case, last-minute thing. In this case, we’d had a mild winter in the northeast. Nothing had changed. One couple, plus several different individuals, were interested in starting in March/April for various reasons. The couple is going on a private Virgin Islands (BVI) trip with us in late April, and another man needed to knock out his 101 if he were to join a relative doing a 103 course in May in another region.

Everyone understood there were no promises about when we’d complete the course if we started – only that we would complete it. Everyone was free last weekend. The weather looked reasonable, if not great, for beginning. All three had some exposure to sailing, and one was quite experienced and mostly bringing his wife up to speed with him so they could do 103 together with us in BVI.

And so, a schedule was born.

IN THAT PIC: Ensign sloops lined up waiting to splash at Miramar Yacht Club, our host facility. This is the boat we teach 101 & 102 on.

Both days were beautiful with partially cloudy skies and plenty of sun. It was cool out, getting chilly on Saturday afternoon, but that was due to a summer phenomenon: the afternoon sea breeze! Sunday was almost too light to sail at first, but by the time we got sorted and on the boat, it was enough to sail and practice meaningfully. As it was forecast to intensify rapidly at some point, we kept an eye on the updates and stayed close as it got closer to ‘oh, no!’ time. That happened when we were already just about in, and only had to negotiate a few moored boats en route to our own mooring.

They got to experience some strong, wicked-fast gusts that they would have had no business being out in without an instructor (and without the first day’s training). They had both, so they got to try it out. I had to sail the boat onto the mooring, but they got to fool around with steering and sail trim before that.

Two days with good sailing in March, even though one was only half, was a great start. Next weekend is out due to another nor’easter! Who knows what the following will bring, but there’s the first half of April and the weekdays in between it all to finish up. And then it’s off to the races. Or cruises. But the foundation will have been laid.

IN THAT PIC: copy-camper from same day (and family).

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.

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.

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/

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.

Product Review: Hangtime – Hold that phone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.instagram.com/reel/CqNkAk1J_ZJ/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

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

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

IN THAT PIC: gallery page for the Smart Catch

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

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

LINKS…

Hangtime Gear Koala

The Smart Catch

Weather & Whether: Forecasting Basics

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, a story…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were; I did.

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

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

The apps?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else is popular?

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

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

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

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

Old school?

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.instagram.com/reel/CpgK7hQPLF7/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

Stratton: heading down Upper Standard from the peak…

https://www.instagram.com/reel/CpyQhJMt_ke/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

App Links:

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

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

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

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

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

Happy hunting!