Last community sail of the summer at marina in Brooklyn Bridge Park
Volunteer skippers give up their Sundays to bring new sailors to the water. Sailing newbies see city from new perspective
The sailors competing in Sunday’s regatta in the East River off Brooklyn were not your typical mariners.
Some were NYPD first responders, still in uniform, with their families. Others were volunteers for nonprofits supporting immigrants, children or Asian women artists.
The new sailors buckled on life vests and climbed into six of ONE15 Brooklyn Marina’s sleek, 26-foot J/80s. They were sailing courtesy of the marina’s community outreach program, and it was their last excursion of the summer.
Stuyvesant High School student Zeke Deveyra sailed for the first time just last week and now he was hooked, he said. “It’s a bit cathartic being out on the open water and not just being in a city so populated, so condensed — and being able to escape traffic.”
Gary Salmo volunteers with Friends of Karen (www.friendsofkaren.org), a nonprofit that helps families care for a child with a life-threatening illness. “If you haven’t spent any time on the water, you’re missing fifty percent of the view,” Salmo said. “It’s a treasure and a jewel, right in front of us.”
“It’s a great experience, an experience that I normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to try,” said Peter Lanfranca, vice president of the 84th Precinct Community Council. “It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be — but it’s good work.”
“We’re native New Yorkers, and to see the city from the perspective of being out on the water is just such a game-changer,” said Lanfranca’s friend Eric Stein.
A child with cancer who attended previous excursions was too ill to make Sunday’s sail, and health care providers from The Brooklyn Hospital Center who had planned to sail were on call and had to skip the event. The marina said it would plan a make-up sail for those who missed out.
Volunteers are the backbone of the program
ONE15 Brooklyn Marina’s community outreach program is powered by the marina’s volunteer skippers and crew who have given up their Sundays all summer to bring the art of sailing to the community. The program is partially funded by a grant from the NYC Police Foundation, with the sponsorship of the 84th Precinct.
“It’s not about the sailing so much, it’s about building community,” said marina CEO Estelle Lau. The marina has engaged in community sailing for more than five years, she said.
The NYPD’s support allowed the marina to expand the program and reach more groups than ever this year, Lau said. Participants included members of Wounded Warriors and other aid organizations, seniors from Brooklyn’s Heights and Hills, hospital staffers and NYPD groups including the Anti-Asian Hate Crime Task Force.
In all, 36 members of the marina volunteered their time — 14 skippers and 22 crew, some volunteering for as many as ten Sundays.
Why do they volunteer? “Sailing is a sport of giving,” said Stephen Yip, the marina’s executive director of sailing. “Everyone starts off not knowing very much, and somebody has to step up to the plate and show them what to do. Over time, they’re turning around and doing the new sailors a favor, too. That’s what the sailing community’s all about, helping each other develop into better sailors.”
Many of the skippers brought in members of nonprofit groups they are affiliated with. Pat Kozu is chief of staff at Custom Collaborative (customcollaborative.org), which helps “low-income, no-income and immigrant women to get living wage jobs and to start sustainable businesses in the fashion industry,” she said. Kozu is also on the board of Asian Women’s Giving Circle, (http://asianwomengivingcircle.org/) which funds artists working on social justice issues.
Enith Williams, a supporter of Custom Collaborative, came to New York City as an immigrant from Jamaica when she was a child. “These community sails are fabulous,” Williams said. “Every time I go out, I’m reminded that New York is an island. It’s sometimes easy to forget because of all the tall buildings.”
Race turns into an excursion
This reporter sailed with Captain Nathan Shepard (a lifelong sailor who is also a carpenter) and crew member Basia Grocholski (a creative director). Shepard made sure we understood sailing basics and explained the rules of regatta racing.
“The race is a windward mark,” he said. “They picked that because the trickiest thing to do is to go in the direction of the wind. So you’re going to end up tacking upwind towards this mark. Then we’re going to round it and go down, to test your ability to go downwind. The first one who crosses the line wins.”
Crew members practiced heeling the boat and tightening the sails, and learned a bit about which boat has the right of way. By the time we reached the starting line off Red Hook, however, the wind had died. After some floundering around, the race turned into a leisurely sightseeing excursion.
The sun was bright, the weather was balmy, and no one minded all that much.
‘That’s what nature throws at you sometimes’
In the debriefing after the sail (with snacks at Estuary Restaurant, which is operated by the marina), participants shared what they learned about sailing in light wind.
“I still got to learn all the adjustments involved to maximize your velocity,” Zeke Deveyra said. “There are lots of things to consider in terms of positioning, especially where the crew members on the boat are, so as to not weigh down the boat and slow it down.”
“We did roll tacks; we had jib cars forward, trimming the main just with one rope above the pulley — a lighter touch, that seemed to help,” said skipper Ed Rawlings.
“There wasn’t much wind, so sailing conditions were a little difficult, but that’s what nature throws at you sometimes and you just have to constantly adapt and adjust out there,” said skipper Stuart Newling. “We made up a different plan — we switched from racing mode to sightseeing mode, and we found both were fun.”
Williams said she learned, “You can’t sail without wind — but you can have fun.” Her boat took a detour and motored by the Statue of Liberty, “Which is always remindful of what New York City is about. It’s a city of immigrants like myself, a city of people who come here for various reasons.”
“It’s always an eye opener for everybody,” Yip said. “Now people see they live on an island. They get to see New York from a different perspective.”
About 130 members of the community had the opportunity to sail this summer. “We’re going to try to do this again next year, and reach out to even more groups,” Lau said.