Cat got your Rhumb?

Pandemic living has some interesting scenarios for learning how to navigate or sail on Zoom.

“The Cat ate my homework” starts to sound reasonable! While I haven’t heard that (or by dog) from a student in our “Live 105” Coastal Navigation courses on Zoom, I’ve seen some strange stuff. Strange is purely subjective and relative, of course.

No; he didn’t eat the homework. But he got in her way…

First: what’s this course? It’s our Start Navigating course, ASA 105 Coastal Navigation. It has no prerequisites, and no prior navigation experience or training is necessary. (It is helpful to have done some boating or sailing for better perspective, but we assume none of that when we teach you.)

PC (Pre COVID), we taught this in small group settings both in Manhattan and New Rochelle. Last March, we switched to Zoom: the first school doing it, and the only one I can actually verify as doing so. It’s gone quite well! It’s almost as if we’re all in the same room together, and allows people in different locations and time zones to navigate together and make new friends and potential sailing buddies.

Anywho, as most people are doing this from home, we get a glimpse of what home looks, sounds and feels like. That includes critters.

CRITTERS: cats in the two right-hand windows on this Nav Zoom. The couple also has a dog that pops up from time to time.

So far, we haven’t seen the proverbial pirate parrot perched on anyone’s shoulder, or carrying off plotting tools as a prank, but a number of cats and dogs have scored some screen shots.

I host and teach all our Zoom sessions. It comes naturally to me, and is fitting as I wrote the book we use for the course. Why not use the ASA book? That’s a loooong story, but short version: got tired of waiting for them to revise and professionally print their very good old book. Had to write supplements for it for topics covered on exam but not in book, for example. Started drafting my own. Almost done; needed a few final copies for first course of a winter season. They gone went and published an entirely new book by another author rather than revise the old one, and instead of the expensive price going down, it actually went UP further. But wait – there’s more! They also had a separate companion book that wasn’t just practice problems or resources, but also part of the text.

PELORUS CONFUSEUS: cat interfering with deployment of a pelorus, to his right. A pelorus is a sighting and direction measuring tool that’s somewhat antiquated, but also important for understanding how to use radar. So, we demonstrate its use in Start Navigating! ASA’s curriculum chumped out on that and dropped it. We didn’t.

But wait – there’s MORE!!! There was also a companion DVD . Took a look at that for about 30 seconds, couldn’t take it any more. Tossed it like a frisbee for the cat who pounced on it. Never saw it again. (Ultimately, after breaking their own arm patting themselves on the back for this rollout, they gone went and did what they said they were originally: revised the OLD one. And, they published that as well, offering both texts. At that point, I’d been using my own for a few years, and have simply tweaked that and never looked back.)

So, cats, and dogs. Here’s one pic in an Instagram post from a live class, PC of course. The pic is a link…

Awwww….. so sad…. This is Jude! He’s a big, clingy baby. This shot is ‘PC,’ so I was working live with a couple in a custom private schedule. it’s one of three in an Instagram post; click pic to see!

My cat attends each Zoom session. He interferes while lounging across the chart, or gets annoyed if he senses I’m paying him no mind and talking to a computer screen that is talking back. Then, he gets very intrusive and has to be escorted out.

This is Buddy! He’s a pain… but can be sweet at times as well. He’s named after an indoor/outdoor cat who came to visit most days one summer by strolling into the Sailing Center’s yard and hanging with us for awhile. Then, he didn’t. That’s cat behavior for you!

Just before our most recent session, I had the chart spread out to review one of the practice plots. Buddy jumped up on it, but it was draped over the side of the coffee table, and he didn’t land cleanly on the table. So, the slash-n-scramble routine ensued. End result: I needed oxygen and the chart looked like this:

BUT WAIT – there’s MORE!… It’s like an actual cartoon, where the Warner Bros’ Looney Tune tears ass through a wall leaving the outline…

I taped up the chart for the class, as I needed one specific plot that’s on it. This seemed like a fun thing to do with the hand-held ‘hockey-puck’ compass at the time.

Pets are optional, of course, for this course. But if you’re managing work, family/kids, or those perpetual 2 year-olds… pets… bring it! It’s all manageable on Zoom.

For more about our “Live 105” sessions on Zoom for Start Navigating, here you go…

Santa Sails! And other tall tales…

A few holiday inspired pics for our peeps.

We hope you’re all enjoying the holiday season despite the encumbrances bestowed/inflicted upon us. We do what we can.

Jingle… booms?

@mariebarrue decked out and rocking the deck of her Laser. This is a screen-grab from a clip we re-posted on our Insta). We’ve said it before, and will keep saying it: there’s nothing like a Laser, one of our top favorite designs of all time.

“There’s nothing you can’t do on a Laser!”

Captain Stephen Glenn Card

What makes them so special? Versatility, impeccable sailing characteristics, highly transferable skills, and just sheer fun. Everyone who can ought to spend some time on one. And, it’s not as difficult as some pics and clips portray it. Just like skiing and riding, one doesn’t need to do icy double-diamonds to have fun on the surface.

A Festivus for the rest of us!..

Who hasn’t seen this facade? Okay; but who’s seen it with an actual freakin’ Festivus pole?! Your correspondent did, last winter… and cleared people away for this shot.

Still don’t get it? It’s Tom’s Restaurant near Columbia U, the facade made famous by the Seinfeld series. Festivus is an alternative holiday created by character Frank Costanza (George’s father). It includes the pole, of course, plus airing of grievances, followed by feats of strength. Example: the man who schlepped this pole down from Washington Heights to pose it properly.

Kilroy sighting!

“Have your boots and your rifle? Good – you can walk into combat!”

Clint Eastwood’s Marine drill sergeant cum battle commander in “Heartbreak Ridge”

The Burton Kilroy snowboard. Note the face doodle at the letter ‘N.’ This iconic image dates back to WWII, where it spread wherever the US Armed Forces went. A similar graphic adorns the transom of our Pearson 10M, Kilroy Was Here. There are two basic variations on the them. We chose the one that was chosen for the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. There’s a narrative of the doodle’s history, to the extent it’s fully known, and visitors are invited to find the Kilroy tags at the monument.

Christmas ain’t complete without a wreath…

The socially-distant, mask-compliant pig outside the lodge at Windham Mountain Resort, the ‘other’ mountain in the Catskills! (Well, there’s also Belleayre, but who’s counting…) Hunter is better known; Windham isn’t exactly a secret however. They seem to go toe-to-toe. Windham had more acreage until Hunter leapfrogged it with a 5-trail and 1-lift area expansion. That lift is a high speed 6-pack, so one can seriously lap that area. However, it gets little to no direct sun so stays icy/scratchy longer. (Personally, I like to see where I ski. Or board, which is what I actually do, but more often than not I board with skiers.)

One foot or two; always woo-HOOOO!

Vrinda Hamal (@vrinhamal) one-footing almost on the beach at Los Roques, Venezuela. Note the beach umbrellas! She’s on a kiteboard, and she’s quite extraordinary on one.

Kiteboarding is on our backburner list of things to try. We almost pulled the trigger on one of our Virgin Islands trips (BVI) not long ago, but the next season saw it all wiped out with the hurricanes. It’s coming back; one outfit on Anegada was doing it this past winter but we discovered it too late to try it out. Another time, perhaps…

Whatever you’re doing during this holiday season, stay safe – and have fun. Cheers!

There’s a new Skipper at the helm!

Women just steer better, but 3rd time’s the charm for Joe Biden.

…where are we going with this? Well, the obvious announcement as called by all news outlets on Saturday is, well – obvious. Assuming no legal challenges affect anything (and so far, they appear to be non-starters), Biden will be the next President and Harris the next VP – and first woman in the role.

This post came about initially as I searched for a ‘skipper’ reference. “Hey, Skip!” “You got it, Skip.” Whatever. But nothing like that came up. Instead, when searching on Biden & ‘Skipper,’ I found this:

Magdalena Skipper, the Editor at Nature, did that post. Guess what? She’s the first woman to head up the journal! Took the helm in 2018. So, there’s that.

All this reminded me of a time-proven fact: women learn to steer better. They just do. I’ve been teaching sailing since 1981, and observed it before then. Women take naturally to learning to steer a boat than men do. Not every woman, but the overwhelming majority. Why ? Probably because…

  1. They listen.
  2. They don’t try to force things when they should be finessed.

Here’s a clip from our Instagram of a woman solo-tacking. She’d never tried it before…

Look through our Insta for more pics and clips of women steering and sailing in general.

One of the world’s premier watch manufactures, Ulysse Nardin, has an artist’s series that are largely on the provocative side (shown in a previous Blog Rant of ours about timepieces and the history of determining longitude at sea). Here’s one apropos to the topic at hand…

To any women who wonder whether they can learn to sail, and might be feeling any apprehension about it – DON’T! You got this. And when you come to us, we got you. You’ll be a skipper in a few days, and we’ll prove it to you by letting you out to solo on your own.

Living with Thunderstorms – & Not Dying in Them.

It’s that time of year; weather is warming up, and thunderstorm activity is heating up as sailing club, school and rental activity opens up. We revisit this topic every year as a public service. One reason: people still don’t seem to ‘get it.’

In that pic: screen capture of radar images on Wednesday, June 3, in the late AM. We had a private lesson booked that day with an experienced sailor. The forecast was for thunderstorms – not a chance, or a likelihood, but just… thunderstorms. And, they warned of potentially damaging winds and hail. Not a garden variety summer forecast, which is “chance of showers and thunderstorms” or similar language.

Oh, no… it’s ON!!!!

Below, I’ll share how the day of June 3 unfolded forecast wise, and also stories about two needless tragedies in the past that happened when people didn’t pay attention to the forecast.

The first step of the day is to check the forecast. That should be done several times as the day progresses to look for updates. The next step is to check the radar. Easier than you might think; just look at the pic above. Pretty clear that something is brewing. And, even if the forecast winds up being off, the radar doesn’t lie. It doesn’t take a meteorological degree to read a radar app. It just takes a little time and experience.

On two occasions since I’ve been operating New York Sailing Center, which I founded in the fall of 1997, there were particularly violent thunderstorm systems that passed through the region and resulted in a fatality at some other school/club. NOT AT MY SCHOOL/CLUB. At others.

The first was in 1998, before we all had smart phones and radar apps at our disposal. It was old school; check the forecast, check the sky, and listen to the VHF radio weather band for updates. The forecast was doom n gloom: thunderstorms, some of which could be severe, and which had a large outer perimeter of strong wind (meaning no way to see it coming). And, the storms had already started upstate and killed a few people.

Make no mistake; winter is coming…

Sky getting gray as we return to the mooring on Wednesday, June 3. Radar? Showed rain passing to north and east, and squalls approaching in the distance from the west and south. Might miss; might not. So, we cut the lesson short and played it safe.

So, I kept everything on a super tight leash that day in 1998. We had one class with a veteran instructor. We talked about it and decided to confine the boat to the anchorage. No further than the outskirts of the anchorage. The anchorage is small. More maneuvering, then! Marina customers were warned of the storms if they showed up. A few did and just turned around and went home. One woman chose to sit on her boat at the mooring for awhile and then go home.

Eventually, after frequently checking the sky to the north and west, I didn’t like the look and feel. I started radioing the instructor to come in, and saw he was already approaching the mooring. They took one shot, and fell short… and then it hit. BAM. Nothing to be seen in advance. Just wind laying the boat over and flogging the sails. They didn’t have a chance to sail back to the mooring; no way. The boat was basically blown down onto the next pier, and the instructor wisely off-loaded the students and left the boat. I went out with a few experienced people and two solid motor boats, and towed the sailboat off and moored it. It took two boats just to pull it off and suspend it into the winds, which were at least 60 knots and possibly as much as 70. When it subsided a bit, we moored the boat.

It was over quickly. It always is. But it takes little time to cause mayhem. We got away with a torn sail and a fright. Down in New York Harbor, they weren’t so lucky. One large club/school had allowed at least one member to go out with his family. The boat took a complete knockdown, and the man was in the water and separated from his family. He wasn’t wearing a PFD. His body was found a few days later in Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn.

Fast forward to August, 2010. Morning forecast: about the same as the 1998 incident. Thunderstorms. Severe. Moving fast. Clear band of strong winds. This time, however, we had smart phones and radar.

I kept the one class we had that day pretty close for our morning sail. I intended to do a short n sweet lesson, get off the water way early, and watch it all blow through during lunch and some extra classroom. While on the water, I got a call from a recent graduate hoping to come out for one of his practice sails that afternoon. Sorry; no. Bad forecast. He pushed; I explained the severity of the forecast. He tried some more.

“No fucking way! I’m not going to let you come out here just to die in some violent thunderstorm! You’ll come out another time – live to sail another day!” The first sentence is an exact quote; the second is approximate. The message is clear.

What happened then? We sailed back to be safe. Sky still looked fine. Checked the update radar while waiting for our launch ride. Whoah…. it was the largest Darth Vadar Death-Star-looking doom ‘n gloom ball of red, orange and yellow I’d ever seen – before or since – on a radar screen. It was moving south and clearly going to hit all of Western New Jersey, Westchester, NYC, and Nassau, Long Island. All of it; all at once.

Updated Radar imagery from Wednesday, June 3. Note the wall of band of red/orange just south of our area. That’s violent weather. The yellow with orange/red above? Not to be taken lightly either. Only takes a splash of red to dash your head on the rocks.

So, I shut down the operation until further notice. Told my launch operator to go somewhere inside for lunch on the avenue and stay there until I told him to return. I took my class to do the same, with some classroom props.

It did hit. We were basically done with lunch and b.s.-ing about other stuff. Suddenly, it was very dark. Stuff was flying around like that scene from the Wizard of Oz. Darker; windier. Eerily, we couldn’t really hear it as the place was well sound insulated and we were in the back looking down the hall at the front door. And, almost as soon as it started, it was over.

We paid up and walked back to the marina. None of us had ever seen so much random debris blown around by a squall. The waterfront was worse; the waterway itself was a shit show of stuff blown offshore by the storm. There was zero wind. Sun was back out. Surreal.

And then, I got a text from one of my instructors. He let me know that another school (again, not ours) had a class out during the storm. They lost one person. Literally. The body was found a day or two later. This was disturbingly close to home, in lower Westchester, within sight of my school on a clear day. it was day one of a learn to sail course (compared to day 3 for mine that day). They went out in the afternoon (as opposed to my coming in at around mid-day). No one aboard was wearing a life jacket, or PFD. (We spend extra money on comfortable automatic inflatables with manual overrides, and make people wear them.) The boat had no lifelines, which are wires or ropes that are elevated above the deck going around the boat. (Not all boat designs have them, but it’s riskier when they don’t – especially for beginners.) Everyone on that boat wound up in the water; all but one made it back to the boat.

All but one.

I knew several sailors who got caught out in that same storm. They all fared well, but got quite a fright. I heard of others who got caught as well (also survived). The common denominator? And, what was reported in the news regarding the fatality in Westchester?

“It happened so fast.” “You couldn’t see it coming.”

But, you could. On the bloody radar! And, you KNEW it was coming. Why wait to see it? Does that sound simplistic? Well, it really is that simple.

In that pic: all gone – out to sea, but I pity the fool who got caught out in that. It intensified as it neared shore and got over the water. Wednesday, June 3.

Remember the DUCK boat incident a few years ago? We did a blog rant about that. Same shit; different details. Only that time, many people died. I’ll link back to that blog post below.

The lesson: people don’t seem to learn the lesson. Here’s how I suggest you manage the risk of getting caught in a squall or thunderstorm on the water during the summer, which is when most of them happen, and also when most of you would likely do most of your boating.

  • start the day with the forecast online, cross referencing at least two sources.
  • If there’s some risk of thunderstorms, consider skipping boating that day.
  • If you go anyway, check the update forecast upon arrival at the marina.
  • Start checking the radar at that time as well. If it looks dicey, don’t go!
  • If it looks like it’s far off, or just not developed, stay close and check frequently – at least every 20′.
  • As soon as it’s looking worse, assume the worst. Head back. If you have an engine, turn it back on (yes, you should have checked it before). Stow sails.
  • Moor or dock the boat. Double check the radar and forecast.
  • If still no good go home! If the risk went away, it’s your call.

I’m not a meteorologist. I’m not a weather forecaster. I’m not a climate scientist (although I know one who’s a PhD candidate at Columbia). But, I am an expert and well-seasoned mariner. And, I have to make decisions all season that affect other people: whether they get to play or not that day. it comes down to whether they’re safe or at risk of death. And so, I check the weather and radar pretty obsessively.

“What do we say to the God of Death?”

“Not today.”

Arya was bad-ass enough to slay the Night King. But even she knew the universal truth:

“Don’t f*%! with Mother Nature!”

RESOURCES:

The Radar web site (not an app per se) that I like to use for the northeast…

www.pluff.com

Our Blog Rant about the DUCK boat tragedy…

All-female Learn-to-Sail this weekend

One more spot in Betsy’s boat for learn to sail, and the lucky enrollee will save $200!

Quick stats…

  • Our Start Sailing course (ASA 101/Basic Keelboat)
  • Saturday – Monday, July 2-4
  • 3 honest full days of instruction, almost all on-water
  • 2 half-day supervised practice sails scheduled later
  • ASA 101 Certification included
  • $595 (normally $795)

If you or a woman you know want to snag this spot, hit us up.

Clipper Race: story from one of our students who did it.

We previously reported on the tragic death of two sailors in the current, ongoing Clipper Race. This long, multi-stage race around the world is unique. It’s one-design racing with a fleet of a dozen 70-foot sailing yachts. They look a little like scaled up versions of our 21-foot Beneteau sloops, but most of what they have in common with our little guys is twin rudders.

Most serious distance ocean racing events use boats with twin rudders, including the Mini-Transat, with 6.5 meter boats singlehanded across the Atlantic! However, almost all other boats use a single rudder. Twin rudders are best for these long races, and also best for learning. (For more on how that works, and why ASA decided that the twin-rudder design we’ve been using since 1998 was their idea of the ultimate learning machine, see more on our web site.)

The fleet has departed Seattle, having completed a grueling leg from China, and is en route to New York by way of the Panama Canal.

A student from our school, Fabio Peixoto, sailed in a prior Clipper race. We asked if he’d share his experience and perspective, and here’s what he had to say…

“The Clipper race is considered the longest sailing race around the world. It is not only that, but it is also the only sailing race around the world open to amateurs! Everyone in the boat is a paying passenger, except the skipper. This feature makes it a very unique race and it gives the opportunity to amateur sailors like me to have an experience as close as possible to the Volvo ocean race.

The Clipper race stops in many ports, including New York City. When I learned about it I decided to check. This was back in 2010. I contacted them through their website and had a face-to-face interview with the sailing director when the boats arrived. The interview went well; I think they just want to make sure the candidate is not insane, and I decided to go ahead and book my first few training sessions.

Everyone can sign up for the race, from complete novice to Olympian sailors and everyone has to go through the same training process; a 4 level training session, around 32 days total. You can split the sessions anyway you want. I did the first 2 levels in 2 weeks in November 2010. The third session was in April 2011 and the 4th session in June. The race started on July 31st, 2011.

The training happens in the Solent, south of England. It is very professional, intense training. The instructors are old race skippers or new ones in training. We go out in any condition – no wind or gale force wind. We should because during the race we will have to face whatever Mother Nature throws at us. A lot of novices who sign up with romantic views of sailing give up after the first level. Sailing is wonderful, but it has its rough patches. But most people who are sailors know what to expect and have a great time! It is awesome to train in those big, racing boats under any condition. You feel like a professional!

I signed up for the first half of the race. It would be a little over 4 months of racing, from July 31st to December 13th 2011. We started in Portsmouth, England and had our first stop in Madeira Island. Then we stopped in Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Geraldton, Australia, Tuaranga, New Zealand and Gold Coast, Australia, where it was my last stop. The race continued to China, crossed the Pacific to San Francisco, crossed the Panama canal, and sailed to New York, before crossing the Atlantic again and finishing in England. The complete race takes one year. Half the boat is booked for circumnavigators and half to leggers.

I can tell you that the race was an amazing experience! I have nothing but praise to the Clipper race! It is a very well run race, and they are very professional. I have sailed through squalls, gales and storm force winds. I have also seen amazing marine life, two lunar rainbows and, I believe, a green flash. I highly recommend the race to sailors who want to gain offshore experience. Offshore sailing is one of the last true adventures in the world!

The current Clipper race is their 20th edition. There have been many injuries before, including during my race. It is inevitable given the conditions that we sail; broken ribs, broken legs, concussion, etc. However they have never had a fatality in all those years. Unfortunately it seems they ran out of luck; there has been already two deaths in this race. Coincidence or not, in the same boat, Ichor Coal.

The first casualty happened right on the beginning of the race, on their way to Rio. It is still not clear the reason, but it seems that right after a reefing procedure, Andrew Ashman was hit by the main sheet or the boom and fell unconscious. They tried to resuscitate him in vain. The boat was diverted to Porto in Portugal to drop off the body.

This was the first death in 20 years and the conditions seemed to indicate an unfortunate causality. However, on April 1st 2016 another sailor on the same boat, Sarah Young, fell overboard in the Pacific during rough conditions. She was not tethered when a big wave washed her overboard. After one hour of searching, she was found. Unfortunately she had already died of hypothermia and/or drowning. Due to the distance to land, a decision was made to have a sea burial.

The first death seemed to be an unfortunate case but the second one shocked me. Specially because I went almost overboard in very rough seas in the Southern ocean. It was 2 AM and we were going through a gale with gust to 60 knots. I had just finished driving for one hour when the skipper took over. I was sitting next to him and then I decided to go down in the cabin to have some water. As soon as I unclipped to go under the traveler, a huge wave hit the boat. I felt this very strong water pushing on my back. My left hand was holding the binnacle and I wasn’t letting it go for nothing! The only thing I was thinking was “F****, I am not clipped in!” Fortunately I was able to hold myself and the only damage was a little bleeding on my nose from hitting the skipper’s leg and a bit of a twist to the binnacle frame. If I went overboard at 2 AM under those conditions, it would be very hard to find me. And even if they’ve found me, bringing me back into the boat with that sea state would be extremely difficult!

Even after these two tragedies, I still have trust in the Clipper race. Their training program is excellent and there is a big focus on safety! We are reminded of clipping-in all the time, not only during training, but also during the race. Andrew’s death seems to have been bad luck, but Sarah’s could have been prevented if she was tethered to the boat. I do not know if it was her fault of if she was in the process of changing jack lines, like in my situation in the Southern ocean. I just know that accidents happen, especially in extreme sports like offshore racing. I hope that the rest of the race goes smoothly and I wish the best to all racers! There is no adventure without risks.

Fabio Peixoto