Groupon can be a great thing, although personally I don’t believe they’re worth $20 billion. Awhile back, Miss Fancy Boots and I picked up a Groupon for a “Taste of Sailing” with Hudson River Community Sailing, a local non-profit sailing organization. While we have both been on a sailboat before, this would be a different, more intimate experience, and also give us a chance to learn how to actually sail the boat rather than just ride along. I was particularly excited because I’ve previously conquered just about every watercraft besides sailboats and oil tankers. Plus, since access to golf courses in Manhattan is like trying to find a Bud Heavy at a Celiac’s Convention I figure I could use a new [expensive] hobby.
So Monday I met MFB at the Pier 66 Boathouse (conveniently located next to the Frying Pan) promptly at 5:45pm for our first sailing lesson. We knew ahead of time there would likely be two other people in the boat plus our instructor/captain. I surveyed the crowd that was there when we walked up and had already picked out my preferred captain. Pat was wearing a Vineyard Vines pink polo with light blue shorts, rainbows, and Ray-Ban Wayfarers. The other guy looked like he just came in off the hiking trail to join summer camp. Guess who I preferred? We found out our boat-mates would be a nice couple who ironically lived only a few avenues away from our old apartment in Washington Heights, of course they lived on the west side of Broadway.
So I should probably start by saying this experience would not have been nearly as fun without such an awesome guy as Pat as our leader. Here’s Pat’s story, which pretty much every time he told more of it I found myself saying, really?! He grew up on Martha’s Vineyard, where he learned to sail from his parents and has been doing so ever since. He’s completed two– yes not one, but two– trans-Atlantic sails. He studied undergrad at Bates College and in his time off taught the high school program for Sail Caribbean. He did research for a couple years as well. While living in Boston he coached a racing team of blind youth. Yep, that’s right, blind kids sailing a boat with him as coach only able to provide directional assistance and strategy advice. Oh and now he’s about to start his second year of med school at UMass. At times I thought MFB might just up and leave me right there on the boat for him! What an crazy awesome life story he has so far, but the best part was how humble, grounded, friendly, and down to earth he was about it all.
Back to the sailing. I started off manning the tiller, which is the handled extension of the rudder. In other words, I was steering for about half of our mile and a half upwind sail. You would think, “oh that can’t be too hard, just hold it steady.” Wrong. When you’re fighting a strong current and wind coming from the south, the direction you’re sailing, and you’re tacking back and forth to try and make any kind of forward progress, keeping the boat just on the edge of the wind and keeling over enough to carry speed, but not have the sails too flat is a heck of a workout! I was constantly fighting that tiller and adjusting to keep us on course and in the wind. Thankfully, it got easier as the sail went on and MFB had an easier time than I did since we started at the peak of high tide facing the strongest current, which subsided as the tide receded. Once I came off the tiller, Pat let me work the jib sail during our remaining tacks upwind. This was the most fun part of the evening, getting to jump back and forth across the boat, releasing the rope from the cleat on one side, ducking under the main sail boom, and pulling the the rope taught to swing the jib onto the other side during our tack. It was pure rhythm, speed, and skill combined into one movement, and luckily I was able to get it on the first try.
Once we reached our southern most point it was time to turn her around and head for home with the wind at our backs. Sailing broad reach we had to use the tack’s cousin, the jibe to make our way back home to the pier. This time I got to man the jib sail again while Pat took care of swinging the main sail boom back and forth. There was a bit more movement and coordination involved as we were both moving back and forth across the boat, but we were able to work together well and we made great time getting back north on the river. Sailing with the wind at your back and a favoring current made for a much smoother and relaxing sail, which left plenty of time for pictures of the skyline.
It was a bit cloudy so our sunset wasn’t the greatest, but there’s nothing like being on the water, especially after a hot summer day. It instantly took me back home to all the experiences on the water in Hampton Roads and the Outer Banks, bliss. MFB and I had a great time on trusty ole Boat 4, and we celebrated by grabbing a bite to eat and drink at the Frying Pan post sail. I can definitely say I’m hooked and can’t wait to go again!
Until next time, Cheers!