The sailing season is over and now I’m bored. My favorite hobby is going to (mostly) have to wait until Spring 2014. Well, not entirely true – my wife and I will be joining Hudson River Community Sailing for their second annual mini-flotilla in the Grenadines. Having access to that trip in itself is more than worth the cost of my annual membership. The seamanship workshops given during 2013 by HRCS at the boathouse are also worth the price of admission. And of course, the availability of boats to sail on during this last summer, a chance to unwind after a day of silly office cubicle politics – that boat access was, for me especially this year, a real treasure.
My first experience with sailing was at the age of eighteen at a boathouse on Long Island where I learned how to sail and then taught sailing on Hobie dinghies to kids eight years and above, as part of a Town of Hempstead recreation program. I did that for a few summers, and soon after my brother and I bartered with a friend for an old Sunfish which we sailed on the Great South Bay and Long Island Sound. Then I moved to New York City (around 1997) and for the twelve years I lived in the City I put sailing aside. Two of my favorite things to do (sailing and hiking) just seemed too inaccessible in the City, and they were replaced with office work, happy hour, and gourmet picnics where my friends brought things like homemade mustard. The friends were great, the activities… not so much.
Very unfortunately, it was not until my wife and I moved to Central New Jersey four years ago – and finally re-discovered sailing via some refresher courses on Barnegat Bay – that I finally discovered HRCS late in the season of 2012. At the time, I had recently found out my wife (who had never sailed before) loved to sail, I had gotten the taste again for my old much-loved activity, and I was on a mad-dash to find as many places to do it as I could. I found and signed up for a sunset sail with HRCS, the 2012 season ended, and I spent most of the 2012/2013 winter trying to hide my renewed excitement about future sailing from my wife, trying to avoid scaring her off sailing entirely before I had a chance to get her out on a boat again.
The 2013 season came and I slowly nudged my wife to get out on some boats with me, and as we did she continued to love every minute of it – even the days with no wind – and we began talking about things like cruising sabbaticals, replacing our suburban house with a boat, and Caribbean vacations where we would skipper our friends around the islands for a week. I got back on my mad-dash to get as much experience and training as I could, and during this last summer did new sailing at a few spots on the Jersey Shore and the Chesapeake, the west coast near Santa Monica, Lake Nockamixon and of course the Hudson River.
I got a lot of training, and sailed with a lot of skippers this season. HRCS was unique. Of course the accessibility of boats after work is nice. But that’s not what makes the club special.
The club is run by a group of super-dedicated and well-experienced sailors (and interns!) whose primary goal is to do exactly what I did when I started out as a lifeguard on Long Island: teach kids about sailing and seamanship. The adult and public sailing programs support the education programs, and that is totally awesome. That’s something I can be proud of – a kind of pride you don’t find at happy hour or at a gourmet homemade mustard picnic in hipster Brooklyn.
But even aside from all that’s done for the kids, I can say that as a mid-range sailor who recently spent time with a lot of sailors in a lot of varied conditions, HRCS is a great place to learn better sailing. Each skipper I’ve sailed with has taught me a huge amount, the challenges of the Hudson River have given me confidence that would have taken years to find elsewhere, the land workshops – which are focused on improving exactly the skills you need for these particular boats in these particular waters – are something that every rental or membership sailing school should be doing, and the random opportunities to do things like haul-out boats, take a trip to the Grenadines, or help skipper a public sail – these are all more valuable than I think most sailors realize.
All that is a long way of saying, I am writing to show my support for Hudson River Community Sailing’s proposal to continue operations at the Pier 66 Boathouse. I’ve seen a lot of what’s done good and not so good in New York City. HRCS is done good!