Our Director is the guest expert on choosing where to learn how to sail for Iconic Alternatives’ summer series
I’ve been a Bond fan since I was a boy. My folks had all the original print books by Ian Fleming, and they took me to a double feature of Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice when I was too young to be knowing anything about Pussy Galore. @parenting!
Fast forward to this summer. Iconic Alternatives, a lifestyle site themed largely around certain screen actors (including the major players in the Bond market), is doing a summer series on relevant activities, and how to best get started in them. They chose our Director, Captain Stephen Glenn Card (yup, me), as their Expert for learning how to sail. Fair.
Might not be fair to put my image on the same web page as Daniel Craig as Bond, but he was driving a boat and had a smug, confident look on his face. So did I…
More importantly, this series is worth taking a look at if you’re contemplating taking up any of those actvities. The first two: learning to sail, and SCUBA diving.
My family has owned and operated two sailing schools over the course of about 52 years. I know a thing or two; not my first rodeo. I was more than happy to share some thoughts about choosing a sailing school.
Rather than be redundant, I’ll link you to the feature on Iconic Alternatives’ site…
Depends where you are and what you’re doing, but learning how to sail or sailing in a club is right around the corner!
So, yesterday evening, I was double checking the temps and precips at several spots to juggle competing concerns… fleet prep and launching, and also a potential last shot at some snowboarding. Interesting stuff! Had to double check to be sure… don’t take my word for it!
Yup… we are totally inverted temp-wise. Partly sunny everywhere, although it had just rained a bit in NYC.
Hunter NY (Catskill Mountains): 56° (nb: it was 59 shortly before I screen shot these)
Killington, Vermont (about 1/3 of the way up to Canada): 66° (and yeah, it was at least 67 shortly before)
This weekend is the last of the season for Hunter and Windham in the Catskills. Stratton in Vermont hasn’t announced a closing date yet, but they’re getting kinda close. Magic is already done. But Killington? 83 trails open yesterday – a few more than just a few days ago due to moving snow around and grooming. With a little luck, I might still get up for a day and a half or so without neglecting anything here in the colder south!
The cherry blossoms are popping. That means the fishing picks up, and it means that sailing weather gets more consistent soon. Sailing Club sessions are available almost as soon as we splash the first boat! Classes start in a little over a week, with Start BareboatingSM (ASA 104) on the 17th. Start (ASA 101, learn to sail) begins May 1. We used to always start in April with that: mid month. We took some bruises with weather delays, but it worked. Until, of course, it didn’t.
Global warming and related climate/weather changes have made April too iffy to jiffy reef (reduce sail) and suit up/show up for April beginner lessons. It’s not so much a matter of cold; that can factor in, of course, but most students who come for lessons have done some skiing or snowboarding, and many are regulars. They have the gear. But, too much wind is counterproductive or even unsafe for beginners. Add cold and rain, and it’s freakin miserable sitting in a boat with cold wet hands on ropes and steering sticks (tillers). Plus, hard to keep a dry butt.
June is arguably the single best month for beginners to learn to sail. It averages out two key variables: volatile weather, and time to continue practicing and enjoying as the season goes. Having said that, people learn successfully throughout the boating season. Any month can have a few stinker days that aren’t productive enough, and lead to a make-good. Our courses aren’t over until they are – when students have the skills they need to go skipper the same boat they just learned on! Otherwise, what’s the point?
“Shots and masks, masks and shots, and shots and masks!”
what George Carlin might have said about the state of things. I’m sure he’d have referenced those shots being in asses, too, but who knows.
Two of our most prolific instructors have gotten their first shots now, and it’s all on the near term horizon for those who haven’t, so there’s that. Masks have become readily available, and it’s easier to find something that fits you. As warmer weather approaches, we soon transition from actually liking the masks on cold days to probably wishing they could come off on the warmer ones.
We’re still offering our “Live 105” coastal navigation courses on Zoom, but it’s transitioning soon to Sailing Club and courses.
Last season, we went through this with the masks. We started sailing in March! True, it was a private client here and there and group lessons began later this season. But, we had the whole spring-through-fall experience with them so can offer some thoughts.
Buffs and competing products are not so good for this. True, they offer good sun protection. But, they don’t work as well at filtering air, and they don’t shape around the nose. That means COVID in, COVID out. But, they can still be used as a neck gaitor. Just keep them down and put a proper mask on in their place, or put the buff over a proper mask if it’s not too tight.
Surgical masks: in our humble opinion, they suck! They are ill fitting and only good for blocking direct spray. They usually leave gaps on the cheeks and around the nose.
N-95 and K-95: depends on the fit. At least they’re white, so they don’t get as hot as anything dark. Obviously, the material has proper filtration. So, if they fit, and don’t leave gaps at the nose, you’re golden.
Cloth masks: good if they conform to the bridge of the nose. That requires a metal fitting that can pinch over the bridge. No got? No use.
Cloth or other fabric with an inner pocket for disposable filters: these are the ultimate in our opinion, as long as the filter used is good in filtration and fit. I found a style from Ski The East that have more breathable fabric – tighter weave on the outside, and the inside layer is a little too breathable. But, there’s a large inner pocket for a filter, and a large seam that goes around the edge of the chin and jaw. The filter area starts there and goes up to the nose clip. Strangely, they supply a filter that doesnt’ fill the space and is too small. But, if you get packs of filters from another source that fit the area, you get comfortable masks that can fit properly and balance breathability with protection.
They come with elastic ear pieces that are adjustable, and one can tighten the top and bottom independently or together to customize the fit.
I liked my first pair so much I bought two more. I even used it snowboarding: I put it on, then put my balaclava helmet liner on around it and keep the face part down. I now need to re-order filters. I found ones at REI that are for an Outdoor Research mask product that I do not recommend (Adrenaline Sports Face Mask), having tried it as well as observing another masker’s successes and failures with it, but the filters will fit the Ski the East masks and probably many others of similar style. See links below.
Why worry about this when outdoors? Well, remember the Rose Garden super spreader event? remember there’s this thing called wind? It’s when the air blows – sometimes your way? Yeah. Being outdoors is better.. until it isn’t. Indoors, with proper ventilation and filtration, can be better (although it usually isn’t). One of our clients is a Delta pilot and says he feels far safer in the confines of a plane than in any other indoor scenario, given the turnaround time on filtering air: every 3 to 4 minutes!
And more about air travel, versus driving: some experts are going out on a wing and saying it’s MUCH safer. And, we’re talking Covid context. Here you go…
Or, lose their fishing rod… or, catch COVID. But we can all prepare well to avoid or mitigate any of that. We mitigate every time you come to learn how to sail with us.
The inspiration for this post? A recent funny a/f Instagram clip we came across and reposted. Fishing fails. Four different clips of people failing spectacularly at fishing.
I have free license to laugh. I’ve lost rigs to hooked fish twice in my lifetime, and came damn close another time. I’ve paid my dues; I know what can happen.
The first time was in my teens. The fam was in the BVI (Virgin Islands), and I was at least as interested in fishing as sailing at the time. I caught some live bait that afternoon and kept the little fish alive in a bucket pending live lining for something larger off the dock that night. Lo and behold, some other kids down there had the same idea and we were all tossing our bait to the shadow line off the dock to see what came by. It was quiet. One kid was having trouble with his tackle, so I offered to help. I put my rod down and went to help. As I walked back, I saw my pole torpedo off the dock out onto the surface of the water, where it didn’t sink – but actually glide along teasingly for a moment, leaving s little wake. Then it suddenly shot off into the night so fast it just disappeared. Gone. Done. Had to laugh; I had that kind of humor even back then.
And, no… no one actually EXPECTS to fall overboard. But we do sometimes, and that’s why we wear life jackets or PFD’s. During our Start SailingSM courses (learn to sail / ASA 101), students always wear PFD’s. What if it’s hot out, light wind, warm water, and everyone can swim? You STILL wear them. We invest in high-quality automatic inflatable jacket with manual overrides. That way, you don’t even know you’re wearing them.
We sail in very controlled settings, with an eye on the sky as well as the radar and weather apps. We don’t take you out when bad weather is approaching, and we get off the water before conditions deteriorate if we’re the slightest bit concerned. But, developing good habits during class carries over into the future of your sailing. Hard to get separated from the boat if you’re tethered to it; hard to drown if you’re wearing a personal flotation device.
The second time I lost a rig overboard? I was in my 30’s. I was on a private fishing charter with a friend from my saltwater fly fishing club, the Salty Flyrodders of New York. It was out of Montauk, and we were on a Boston Whaler Outrage (large rig; probably over 20′). Captain Ken Turco (RIP) was putting my friend Mark and me on the fish. It was wall to wall false albacore, and it was easy to hook up. They were bombing small bait on the surface, so there was really no surprise about what would happen: see fish, drive over to fish, don’t actually run through the fish, cast to the fish, hook and fight the fish.
So, we did. Fish on with each cast. We decided to experiment with how quickly we could bring each one to the boat to release it and catch another. The quicker it’s done, the better it is for the fish, as stress and oxygen debt can later kill a fish that actually swims away apparently unharmed. So, we started tightening down our drags more and more with each fish released. (Drag on a fishing reel is the braking mechanism that allows controlled slippage of the line from the reel so a fish doesn’t simply snap the line or the rod.)
False albacore are small tuna. Small, but strong. They do one thing when hooked: swim away fast and far. Hence, proper drag tension. We were getting tired fighting one after another with tight drags. And, my hands were very stiff and tired. And so, after hooking the umpteenth fish, I bobbled the rod. And almost caught it; but not quite… and it bounced off the gunwhale and into the water. I hesitated; could have jumped in and grabbed at it before it sank. But that’s not an easy reflex. I lost the opportunity, and the rod.
I just stood there for a moment. Ken and Mark eventully looked around to see how I was faring and to make sure our respective fish didn’t cross lines and tangle. They saw I had no rod. “No…” said Mark. Ken was slack jawed. I said nothing. I turned to Ken’s rod rack, grabbed one, started stripping line off, and was soon onto another fish.
Awhile later, I almost dropped THAT rod as well. That one I would have had to pay for. That’s how non-stop the action was with albacore, bluefish, and even a nice striped bass for me to score a ‘northeast slam.’ Made the cover of the following week’s Fisherman magazine, Long Island/Metro NY edition, for which I wrote a column and some articles at the time.
SAFETY FIRST. When we teach sailing, and when I used to teach some snowboarding as well, we’d discuss safety first. Then, the idea was to have fun. Finally, maybe people would learn something: but nothing happens without the feeling of security, and most people aren’t learning if they’re not having fun.
On snow? I’d teach people how to fall safely before they even got to strap one foot onto their boards. (For first-time lessons, at any rate.) Seriously: I’d demonstrate how to fall both forward and backward, and then they’d do it. I made it fun. They knew they were going to fall sometimes learning; we brought that out into the open. Once they learned that they didn’t have to fall hard and get hurt just taking a basic lesson, they relaxed about it. Then, they didn’t fall. (Not much, anyway!)
We take the same approach to sailing lessons.
What about the pandemic? We sail – with MASKS!
THE PANDEMIC IS GETTING WORSE. Yes, we have vaccines. Yes, more are likely to be developed. But, there are mutated strains now that are far more transmissible, and also now understood to likely be more dangerous once we’re infected by them. There’s a chance that one or more current or future mutations will be resistant to current vaccines. That, plus pandemic fatigue, and blatant disregard for proven science and math, is why the United States is the world leader. Not in response to the virus, but in mashing up its response and leading to a ridiculous number of deaths, most of which could have been avoided.
The simplest things remain true:
Keep your distance from others. You can’t infect, or get infected by someone whose breath you’re not breathing, either in the moment or shortly afterward. That’s the social distance thing and avoidance of crowds, or entering &/or remaining in areas where many people have been.
Use a proper mask, and wear it well. The CDC has yet to change their public guidelines, but many health experts are now saying it’s time to up the ante on the mask front. Either double up the cloth masks (wear 2), or upgrade the masks being worn (N95 or KN95). Personally, I’m back to a respirator for the laundry/mail room in my building, in Uber/Lyfts, and for the rare times I’m on a subway. Otherwise, I use multi-layer cloth masks that fit well, have an adjustable nose section, and a FILTER in between the cloth layers.
On a few occasions last year, we denied enrollment to students who expressed in advance that they were either uncomfortable or unwilling to wear masks. We rode herd on people who did attend and got sloppy about using masks, including the threat of kicking them out with no recourse or refund. We take this deadly seriously.
Are there times people can take their mask off? Yes – but only when it’s abundantly safe to do so based on where they are in relation to other people and what the wind is doing. What about inside? We spend almost no time inside, even with learn to sail. (It’s a sport learned by doing, not hearing people talk about it.) But when we are inside, we distance, ventilate, and WEAR MASKS PROPERLY.
I’m not yet eligible for the vaccine due to age and occupation. It worries me. But, just as with mitigation measures for activities I choose to do, I can mitigate the risk of exposure and infection with distancing, masks, and in some cases, just NOT doing it.
DON’T DO THIS…
Here’s a smart, pithy article on the latest about masks, with some historical quotes and some links for more info…
Well, they never really left – but our classic full-keel Swedish design and Friday afternoons are resurgent. If you know how to sail, come have some fun in our Sailing Club with either/or, or both.
We hadn’t launched our International (‘Swedish’) Folkboat last season for various and boring reasons. But it’s back! Demand dictated it.
Friday afternoons are also demand based. We had some regulars for Friday afternoon and evening sails. These Sailing Club members could only break free then, or just needed to as a way to end their work weeks on a high note and begin the weekend early. Life changed and so did demand. We tended to get out of Dodge early on Fridays to beat traffic and have a break before busy weekends.
Last Friday? All the boats went out at once! Busy afternoon. Delightful conditions, too. That can’t be predicted, but on average, there’s more wind in the afternoon and temperatures cool down in the evening. Beat the traffic to go TO sailing, not leave it. Always made sense. We have more weekday pass members in our Sailing Club this season and that’s part of what’s driving Friday sessions.
The Folkboat? It dates back to WWII! Not ours, of course – it’s a fiberglass one built by the premier manufacturer Marieholm in Sweden in the 1970’s. But the design was from a contest in Sweden. Three different designs were chosen as ‘winners;’ one man was tasked with taking the best of those designs and amalgmating them into one fnal boat – the Nordic Folkboat, which became the International Folkboat we now know.
It’s popular wherever there’s wind. Over 5,000 have been built, and that number probably only reflects major production from established builders and doesn’t even count kit or home-built boats that were off the radar.
Silent Reach basically fell in our lap and we couldn’t pass up the chance to have one of these in the fleet. Despite their rep – eats up heavy weather; countless trans-Atlantics; a few well documented circumnavigations – these boats are fine in Long Island Sound! They do well in light breeze, and point surprisingly well. Go figure. Better yet; go sailling!
Here’s an article from Practical Sailor, a sailing review rag that predated all this internet stuff and still goes strong… scroll down past blank image to link:
Here’s a link to Amazon to check listings for the book – new, used, or Kindle…
The new Clinic from NY Sailing Center; it fills in the gaps left by the sailing school you went to instead of ours to learn how to sail a boat. Oops…
Years ago, we basically stopped offering rentals to the outside public, and restricted it to our own graduates. Anyone can join our Sailing Club, but before they can skipper one of the boats, they must prove they can handle it. We include one short private lesson for new members to help get them skippering.
Here’s an example: someone who joined our Club, who had 101 training and had other experience. What he didn’t do? Includes but not limited to…
Sailing a boat without an engine;
Sailing off or back onto a mooring;
So, in the clip below, you’ll see him doing the singlehanding part. roughly, but safely. We coached him through this after teaching him how to get off a mooring without a motor. When he was ready to come in, we coached him on that. Roll video:
So, why did we stop renting to gen-pop? They were all failing the rental checkout. Most schools had transitioned to courses that were only two days long, and it just isn’t enough. That’s a time-tested fact.
The other day, I chimed in on the ASA Private Instructors’ Forum on Facebook. (ASA is the American Sailing Association, the industry association we belong to for accreditation and certification. All legitimate schools in the US belong to ASA or US Sailing; most are ASA. ) There was a post relevant to this topic. The original poster mentioned that a school he had worked at did their learn-to-sail course in only 2 days, and he felt that 3 days was necessary. An ASA staff member commented, indicating that 3 to 4 days or sessions are typical for a proper learn to sail course. (Half day sessions can be quite productive.) I added this:
The trend toward 2-day courses has devalued the certification. I stopped renting to the general public years ago out of frustration with rental checkouts and wasted time due to this. Students who attended 3-day programs, where each day was spent mostly sailing, usually passed our checkout. NO student who did a 2-day course EVER passed our checkout. We wanted them to succeed and become rental customers. None of them passed muster. 2 days just isn’t enough, especially when the “unofficial” official industry standard is 4 per boat (we do 3 and some other schools do as well). We gave up; we don’t rent to the outside public. They can join our club program, get a free private lesson, sail with others, and be re-assessed.
Captain Stephen Glenn Card, Director and HBIC,* NY Sailing Center.
(*HBIC – Head Bozo in Charge.)
Two other members of the forum ‘liked’ my comment. No one disliked or commented on mine.
At least 2 schools in our region claim to have a 3-day course that is actually only 2 days of instruction. One does a few hours of classroom the night before the weekend of the course (after work; tired; bored after a few minutes). But, they only give 2 days of on-water instruction and sailing. Another does 2 days of mostly on-water, then lets students practice on a 3rd day. But, there’s no instruction going on after their 2-day 101.
So, where’s 102? Doesn’t exist. Not yet; not formally. But we’re going to offer a new clinic: “102: for when their 101 wasn’t enough for you.” This will be a clinic to have fun filling in the gaps left by other schools. It will be at least a day’s worth of time, probably broken up into two shorter sessions on two visits to the Sailing Center. Tuition? Not sure yet. We’ll debut it later this summer.
If you want to do it right the first time, here’s what we provide in 101:
3 full days of instruction, each mostly to entirely on the water.
2 half days of supervised and coached practice. An instructor is around the whole time, and is alongside during sail hoisting and ‘take-off’ before coaching as needed via radio and chase boat for the remainder of the practice. But, the instructor isn’t aboard. Students are sailing without one. This is the logical progression.
More time if needed for either instruction or practice. For example, if weather delays eat away too much time from a scheduled course, we simply schedule a free make-up session. If students aren’t feeling confident after the first practice, they can get more instruction for free before doing more practice. (This has NEVER happened.) If they want more supervised practice before renting or joining our Club, that’s fine – they get it. (This happens rarely; less than once per season.)
We also get people who join us for their next course, 103, after not taking 101 with us. They’re rarely ready for 103, and it becomes remedial. They weren’t done with 101!
You can pay a lot less at other schools to take their ASA 101 course. Of course, you get what you pay for. And then you pay more later. Or, you can just get it right the first time with us. Your move!
For more about our Start SailingSM 101 course, navigate your way here…
A veteran and highly respected sailor, John Fisher, was lost at sea on March 27 during the Volvo Ocean Race’s long, dangerous leg in the Southern Ocean. He was knocked overboard by the mainsheet during an accidental jibe. And, he was not tethered to the boat at the time.
This was the second overboard accident on the same boat, Scallywag, in this event. The other sailor also wasn’t tethered, and was not wearing a life jacket. The conditions were much calmer so they got him back aboard safely in 7 minutes.
Things often happen in twos in both the Volvo and Clipper Races. And, the deaths are starting to pile up.
So, why wasn’t he clipped in? Why couldn’t they rescue him? Why do race organizers send the sailors on a long dangerous leg in the southern Ocean, where one of our own graduates at NY Sailing Center was washed overboard but pulled back by his tether during a Clipper Race? Why do they go?
Well, we know that part. People drawn to participate in such events are always going to go wherever the challenge occurs. The other questions are all worth discussing. And, I’m not seeing or hearing discussions on what I see as the prime issues raised by these accidents.
First: Why are people not ALWAYS wearing PFD’s (life jackets) AND secured to the boat with a tether? First one: duh. Should require no discussion. These boats are going fast, often, if not typically, over 20 knots. They’re sailing in open ocean waters with waves and swells. Even in relatively calm conditions, it takes time to turn around, and at speeds of 15-25 knots (and we’ve seen posts that they go over 30 but I’m not convinced as of yet), the boat gets away from the person in the water quickly. The waters are often cold. People should always have a PFD on.
Second: Why are people not ALWAYS secured to the boat with a tether? It’s a critical last line of defense. John Fisher wasn’t clipped in. He unclipped to go forward to do some task that he or they felt was important enough at the time to go forward for. He might have been about to clip back in to another jackline (security line or webbing that the personal tether attaches to). If that was the case, why aren’t the boats rigged to allow “make before break,” as they say with combined battery switches? Many boats have that when it’s not practical to rig a continuous jackline. Perhaps this boat was and it was user error. Wasn’t there; hasn’t been posted; don’t know.
If Mr. Fisher was tethered in, he probably would have survived. Because he was not, he had little chance of being recovered at all, and even less alive. I’m seeing arguments in different forums where one sailor will criticize decisions on board as well as the entire event as organized and ruled by race management. The flip side sees sailors calling these shameless, bitter, angry rants that show that the first sailor doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and defends the personal liberties and sense of adventure of the people on the water.
And, the person who just died.
But the basics are patently obvious so I won’t further belabor them here. I just wish that the defenders of the race and the participants – and the dead – would get their head out of this perspective and see the bloody obvious, and discuss something they’re not, and should be given their experience with this kind of extreme sailing, to wit…
THIRD: Here’s something that’s less obvious. The gear sometimes fails. That wasn’t the case here. However, in both the Volvo and Clipper races, and in other races and non-race passages, tethering systems have broken and sailors were in the water with the boat sailing away. The faster these boats go, the more shock load is put on the connections when they come taught. At 20-25 knots, I can’t even imagine what the PSI load would be based on the average weight of a sailor plus water resistance with safety and survival equipment. Occasionally, it’s not enough.
I hear and read about different types of connections – which are stronger, which are more practical, how to balance the dual needs (including how to not flay ones knuckles on the gear aboard the boat).
What I’m not hearing about is this: shock absorption. If the tethers were rigged with something elastic to gradually absorb the shock load, the load on the components would be less severe upon ultimate impact. That could only help. Of course, it might make the tether more awkward. I suppose it could, indirectly, lead to a greater risk of fouling onboard and actually causing someone to get twisted, off balance, and go overboard in the first place. I’m not going to pretend I’ve worked this all out.
But, it needs to be done. I propose that either…
The tech be improved with a method of shock absorption if feasible;
The boats be mandated to stay below a specified top speed. The faster they’re going, the more risk, as it’s caused by increasing wind (which, in open water, is soon accompanied by larger waves). It’s easy to track; the boats are accurately tracked by satellite at all times.
The Southern Ocean is a brutal area to sail. Perhaps the race should minimize time and distance spent sailing here, or avoid it altogether. That’s been bandied about on various forums. Regardless, the obvious safety measures of always wearing PFD’s and always being clipped in must be mandated (if not already), and observed. And, as people WILL be tossed, knocked, or washed overboard anyway, the equipment must be improved or the boats slowed down. Or, both. We can have high quality racing and have much better safety as well.
But first: people are still not always wearing PFD’s or tethering themselves.
Who wouldn’t agree with the need for starting with that?
Here’s an article on the tragedy that has the most detail we’ve been able to find…
Well, yeah – we went out on that super warm day in February, but that doesn’t count. We officially kicked off our 2018 sailing season on March 31 and Easter Sunday, April 1. No foolin! On both days we chose our Pearson 10M, Kilroy Was Here. (Our Pearson 26, Second Wind, was an option as well.)
The Longest Season in the NortheastSM – another way we give you MORE.
Anywho, Saturday saw light and variable breezes to start out, including a little motionless hang time. It’s all good in the Sound and its surrounding bays and harbors… there’s little current, and very predictable commercial traffic. Soon, enough wind picks up to sail meaningfully, even as little as 5 knots. (Don’t try that in NY Harbor and the Rivers.)
Later, the southwesterly picked up just like a summer sea breeze, but cooler of course. We made it to Stepping Stones Lighthouse, our modest goal, before that and rode it almost to Fort Totten off Little Neck Bay.
We passed the light again, then decided that was plenty of fun and rode the building breeze back in to get docked up. This was a Club sail with two members present- Adam (graduate of several of our courses who went on to bareboat in the BVI based on that), and Piers, a recent learn-to-sail graduate who’s going to take 105 next weekend and 103 & 104 as the season progresses.
Easter Sunday was a teen outing put together by a long-standing client and friend of the Sailing Center, Jim, who has a small daysailor of his own. The young adults had a blast, all taking turns steering, and eventually letting Jim have a shot.
We did the true City Island-style Lighthouse Loop! Okay – technically, not – we didn’t go around Stepping Stones. Not worth it; tricky passage and waste of distance and time. But we went just past it and turned and looped alongside. Good enough. Then, we went very close to Gangway Rock, cutting between it and it’s very nearby gong buoy. How close? THIS close…
Then, on to Execution if the wind held and the teens steered well. And both did their duty. So, we went all the way around Execution and its red nun on the far side, and then tacked to head back to City Island Harbor and then around into our off-season slip for Kilroy on the Eastchester Bay side. Lovely ride.
Did we mention the fun?..
Want to get in on it?
Our Sailing Club has Skipper memberships for those of you who are ready to just go. We also have Social/Crew memberships for those who are not. Want to bridge the gap? Of course, as a school, we have courses, clinics and even private instruction. We have what you might need not just to skipper a day sailor in Long Island Sound, but to cruise the whole thing or charter a Bareboat yacht in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, or anywhere else charter companies exist for that.
As we’re deep in the throes of a cold start to the winter – polar vortex/arctic blast kind of cold – thoughts are somewhat removed from sailing. But not entirely.
While on the slopes enjoying fresh pow over the holidays, and warming back up to techniques shelved during the boating season, I was reminded of the concept of turn initiation. Don’t ski or ride? Don’t even sail yet? No problem – we’ll break it all down and maybe even get you stoked in the process.
“Turn initiation” is the technique used to get a ski or snowboard to go from flat on the snow to beginning a turn to one side. Anyone who can link turns on either kind of plank knows what I’m talking about. It’s like this: we make certain motions to suggest to the equipment that we want to turn instead of going straight. After it starts listening, we add more motion to shape and complete the turn to the extent we want. Regardless of what kind of turn we make, we have to start it – and eventually end it.
Same with boats! Techniques, and consequences for ignoring them, are different. Thankfully for sailing, there are usual no real consequences.
If you ski or ride, but are beginner to intermediate, it’s time to think about this again as you begin your snow sliding season. You experts out there don’t think much about it, but warm up your technique and self-critique as you get your form back each season.
Back to sailing and turning a boat. Let’s leave special techniques like steering with sails, and with body weight, out of it and focus on the thing we all use all of the time: the rudder. (Don’t even sail yet? That’s the fin that we turn back in forth behind the boat to make the boat turn, like a paddle stuck in the water and angled to one side. Makes the boat turn.)
At the most basic level, we angle the rudder to one side or the other when we want to turn a boat. Some boats have a stick attached called a tiller, found on smaller boats and almost mandatory to learn with. Once the boat is in the upper 20-foot range, and especially at around 30 feet, it tends to have a wheel instead. As the rudder is angled more to one side, the pressure of the water hitting it pushes it back the other way, taking that end of the boat with it. The boat pivots in the middle, and turns. (The direction the fin aims is also where it want to go once it gets moving.)
So, to make a slight or narrow turn, the rudder does not need to angle much to the side. To make a sharp or tight turn, the rudder needs to move pretty far over. Turn initiation is really the rate of motion to get it started, so that the whole process works better.
On a board or skis, if we suddenly wrench the plank over to the side, we often catch an edge in the snow and catapult or slam. No fun. But if we get the edge to gently start engaging, and then add more edge and pressure, we can smoothly get the plank on its edge and into a turn. Can’t usually skip steps: have to START the turn before shaping and completing it, before ending it.
I haven’t skied since I as a boy, but I’ve watched a lot of skiers. Good skiers are graceful in their transitions. I’m a pretty solid boarder – somewhere in the advanced range by objective standards I’ve come across. I’ve watched a lot of boarders too. I won’t pretend I know how to turn skis. But Im supposed to be expert at understanding how to turn a board, as I’m a certified instructor. So, I’ll talk about boards.
For most turns on a snowboard – and some experts say all – we initiate by twisting the front of the board slightly so one edge is pressing into the snow and the other starting to lift. Think of holding the ends of an ice cream stick with your thumbs and forefingers. Now, think of holding one end level, but rotating or twisting the other end slightly. That’s the general idea. In the air, this does nothing but flex the stick. But on snow, one edge of that stick presses into the snow, and starts to take the rest with it to that side.
Of course, we add some at the other end, and make more of a turn. And, release. And, rinse and repeat, maybe mixing it up from time to time to not get bored.
How do we translate this to turning a sailboat?
Think of the rudder as the edge. initiation is turning the rudder ever so slightly to suggest to the boat that it should stop going straight, and to pivot. Once it listens, we gradually increase the rate of turn but angling the rudder more. But at what rate? And how far?
This is the beautiful part, elegant in its simplicity.
We slowly, steadily, move the tiller to the side. One simple, steady motion. Easy. How far? Until we like how much the boat is turning. For how long? Until we’re half way through the turn, at which point we reverse the motion at exactly the same rate.
What if we need the turn to happen quickly? Well, there is no shortcut here unless we’re throwing the boat around with our body weight, and/or using sails to help turn the boat. Again, let’s leave it at rudder only for this discussion. (And even when we’re using other techniques, rudder action doesn’t change.)
Too many sailors just jam the rudder over hard when they want to make a quick and/or large turn, especially for tacking (crossing through the wind quickly and ‘catching’ it again on the other side). Jamming it over skips the initiation. Consequences?
Drag. The rudder is now sideways to the water, creating lots braking resistance. Imagine gliding along in a canoe or kayak, and suddenly jamming the paddle in the water off the back end, with the flat side perpendicular to the direction of travel. Sea brakes! Craft slows down. Think of air brakes on a plane. Overuse them at the wrong time, and the plane starts to drop.
Stalling. Because it’s angled too aggressively to the flow of water, the water doesn’t flow around the far side of the rudder, and and bottlenecks against the near side. Water flow around the rudder allows the rudder to take the back end of the boat with it in an arcing turn, and therefore makes the front go the other way, pivoting around the middle. Stall the flow, and we stall the turn. (This also increases “leeway,” both when turning and when trying to go straight, for those with more sailing savvy. It’s why excessive rudder angle has to be dealt with one way or another when going straight.)
It’s slightly counter-intuitive at first. “I want to turn hard, so why not just turn the tiller/wheel hard?” Doesn’t work that way. You’ll get there sooner by starting slower. A slow, steady, linear motion of the tiller (or wheel) gives you everything you need:
Turn initiaiton. Suggests to the boat what you want to do, and it gently begins.
Shaping. We turn the rudder enough to get the turn shape/speed we want.
Completion. So simple – half way through the arc of the turn, we just reverse what we did with the rudder at the same steady rate!
The tiller moves in a linear fashion, but the boat turns in a crescendo/decrescendo. See? We’re teaching to both logical learners and musical/rhythmic ones! If we graph it out, we’ll see different patterns for the tiller and the boat…
The more rudder angle, the greater the turn. To get there, we simply move the tiller steadily to gradually increase rudder angle, and therefore the rate of turn. Your boat will take over, and the rudder will follow. When you feel that, you’ll know you got it right.
Then, you’ll be ready to shred!
Want to learn more about turning a sailboat? See us at NY Sailing Center in the spring. We start in April.
Want to learn how to snowboard?Already ride, but want to improve or take it to the next level? Our Director, Dockmaster and rambling Editor at Large, Captain Card, is a certified snowboard instructor who loves to teach. Hit him up to discuss getting out on snow. This can be as close as Mountain Creek, NJ (an hour from the GWB), as far as South/Central Vermont, or mid way at Hunter or Windham in the Castkills.
A client of ours is originally from Canada, and two buddies and he did 103 and 104 with us one season before doing their first bareboat charter in the BVI.
Adam’s uncle got involved with a latent lighthouse in Ontario, Canada. He’s on the local preservation committee, and had been trying to get it lit back up. Apparently, it was a somewhat uphill battle as there were concerns about the light shining on shoreside homes at night and being intrusive. The major’s office was involved and favored the light being back on, so that helped.
Here’s an excerpt from the original Notice to Mariners in 1917 that announced the construction of this light!..
For its return, the compromise was to aim the light across the bay at another peninsula rather than sweep across the shore or just aim 360 all around. Our mission: confirm the exact bearing, and show/explain why we came up with the magic number.
(Truth be told, Adam was more than capable of doing this himself, having successfully taken and passed 103, 104 and 105 with us and then applied it in the BVI. But this had to come from us as the outside experts.)
Anywho, Adam enlisted us to be the alleged experts to plot the angle of the light and show how we’d done it.
1. Get the right chart. Adam took care of this: NOAA #14832, Upper Niagara River, ending in Lake Erie.
2. ID the light in question: “Light House,” on Point Abino. No characteristics shown as it’s idle.
3. ID the exact spot the new light is supposed to be aimed at: SW corner of the peninsula across the bay at the other end of Crystal Beach.
4. Measure the bearing painstakingly several times with at least two methods and get a consistent answer: 61 degrees magnetic.