Essential workers, sick children learn to sail in Brooklyn Bridge Park
Marina, sailing club use harbor excursions to lift spirits and skills
Healthcare workers, children facing life-threatening illnesses and NYPD first responders were among the roughly two dozen people who buckled on life vests and boarded 26-foot sailboats on the Brooklyn waterfront to learn the fundamentals of sailing this past Sunday.
The sailing lessons marked the launch of a community outreach program by ONE15 Brooklyn Marina, located in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The excursions are partially funded by a grant from the NYC Police Foundation, with the sponsorship of the 84th Precinct.
Under the guidance of the marina’s Sail Club volunteers, participants learned skills like reading the wind, trimming sails, steering with a tiller and tacking. They took home with them not only new abilities, but a new perspective on the city.
This is not the organization’s first community sailing outreach, says Estelle Lau, CEO of ONE15 Brooklyn Marina.
“We have engaged in community sailing since the inception of the marina and believe even more strongly in the power of bringing our community together to engage in waterfront activities and see the city in a new way,” Lau said.
“The last year has shown us the importance more than ever of the power of community to foster our individual mental and physical well-being, so we feel fortunate to be able to offer a healthy, safe activity that is appropriate for everyone to experience,” she said.
The foundation grant will allow the marina to defray some of the costs of the programming, said Sam Barrett-Cotter, ONE15 Brooklyn Marina’s dockmaster.
“Community groups organize themselves to reserve a Sunday morning and we look after the rest. Boats and facilities are provided by the Sail Club, and club members volunteer their time to skipper and crew boats for the sailing trips,” he said.
“This is not just to take you out sailing and take pictures of the great view, the Statue of Liberty — we really want to teach you how to sail,” said Stephen Yip, executive director of sailing at ONE15 Brooklyn Marina. “We’ve given everyone a primer, our skippers are trained to the task to show you how we operate the boats, and each one of you on the boat will be given a chance to rotate through all the different positions.”
Seeing the city from a different perspective
“I’ve never sailed before,” said Muhammad Ayaan, age 8. Muhammad was accompanied by family members Fnu Rehan, age 12; Muhammad Hasnain, age 7; father Qamar Zaman and mother Tayyaba Tabassum.
Muhammad and his family, originally from Pakistan, now live in Bensonhurst. It’s been a hard year for families like theirs. They were invited to the program through Friends of Karen (www.friendsofkaren.org), a nonprofit that helps families care for a child with a life-threatening illness by providing emotional, social and financial support.
In the debriefing after the sail (with sandwiches and snacks courtesy of Estuary Restaurant, which is operated by the marina), Fnu Rehan said, “The captain let me drive a whole 10 minutes! When the boat was tilted, I put it straight, and I learned also how to put up the sail and how to put it down.”
Jacob Bagan, age 8, and his family were also connected to the event through Friends of Karen. Originally from Poland, they now live in Westchester.
“I even got to steer!” Jacob said, adding that the most important thing he learned on the sailboat was “balance.”
“Jacob has been ill, and Friends of Karen has been helping us. They know our family and they really care,” said Jacob’s mom, Mariola Bagan. The event was “an amazing opportunity to be out with the family. I could kind of forget about everything and just enjoy the day. Jacob loves fishing, he loves the water, he loves swimming.” She added, “Our instructors were amazing!”
Jacob’s father, Robert Bagan, said he sailed on small boats back in Poland, “But not the big ones like this.” Jacob’s sister Julia, who is turning 5 next week, was so relaxed on the boat she fell asleep, her mom said.
Other participants included members of the Asian Hate Crimes Task Force, health care workers from The Brooklyn Hospital Center, representatives from the NYC Police Foundation and the 84th Precinct, and family members.
The event fostered “camaraderie, teamwork and good fun with the Police Department, showing that we are here to help everyone,” said NYPD Officer Thomas Ruggiero, neighborhood coordinating officer for the 84th Precinct.
“I think it’s a great program,” said Lt. Jonathan Hom, with the 7th Precinct. Hom was there with his wife Rachelle Ocampo and their one-year-old baby Alex.
“It gives people the opportunity to get out on the water and see New York Harbor from a different perspective. You get that sea breeze — it’s a different feeling to see all of the city from the water,” he said.
“I was really excited because I never sailed before,” said Ocampo, a public health- community engagement professional. Ocampo said she was more of an observer on this excursion because she was holding baby Alex, “But it was cool. I was able to see the city and enjoy it with my husband and my baby for the first time. This definitely opened my eyes and it’s a great opportunity.”
Dr. Dhruv Patel, chief resident at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, and Dr. Neil Patel, a third-year OBGYN resident there (not related), said they have been on boats before but have never sailed and were excited to try it. “I thought we were just going down to the pier for a bit,” Neil Patel said. “It was a bit of a surprise” to learn they would actually be sailing the boat themselves.
Pam Roberts, senior director of Healthcare Access at TBHC, and Dr. Philip Battles, a dental resident there from 2019 through 2020, were also there. “I was there during the pandemic … I volunteered to do community outreach, and here I am,” he said. “I learned that if big ferries are coming and you hear five horns, get out of the way!”
The connection to Friends of Karen was provided by Tom Jocelyn, president of Scientific Electric Company. Jocelyn is a Friends of Karen board member who is also affiliated with the marina. He has been volunteering with the marina and Estuary Restaurant on food distributions throughout the pandemic, including using company vans to deliver food to front line workers at The Brooklyn Hospital Center.
“I did all the electrical work at the marina and I’m also on the board of directors for Friends of Karen,” Jocelyn told the Brooklyn Eagle. “So it all came together and the circle is complete.”
Stuart Newling was one of the captains who volunteered his time.
“The club is really all about teaching,” he said. “I came here knowing very little about sailing and people mentored me and helped me learn … And even after eight years of sailing at the club, I’m still learning things every day.
Another captain, Elizabeth, and her first mate Eva (last names weren’t given) skippered Det. Kha Dang from the 88th Precinct/Asian Hate Crimes Task Force; P.O. Jun Wu from the 84th Precinct, Dr. Dhruv Patel from The Brooklyn Hospital Center and this reporter.
Elizabeth was a font of sailing information and local lore. We learned how to judge wind direction and how to steer using the tiller (it’s the opposite of what you think), how to announce and respond when a tack was coming up, and how to move to the high side of the boat after the boom swung to the opposite side.
We sometimes sailed alongside other participants, and they looked like they were having just as good a time as we were. The two-and-a-half hours passed all too quickly.
Another skipper, Joe (who also asked to be called by his first name only), had media, NYPD and health care professionals in his boat. “They were all new to sailing, so they really enjoyed getting out there and learning what the wind can do and about life on the Harbor,” he said.
“It’s a lovely sailing club,” Joe said. “It’s a great resource. There are really so many ways for non-boat owners from every walk of life to get out on the Harbor quite easily and enjoy sailing here. I didn’t realize it when I first came to New York 20 years ago. I kind of stumbled upon it and it became a huge part of my life.”
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