Ask About Sailing in New York

August 5, 2009 at 4:58 pm 1 comment

This week, Bob Roistacher, the chairman of the New York City Community Sailing Association — which offers affordable sailing lessons, racing, cruising and day sailing — will respond to readers’ questions about sailing in New York harbor.

Mr. Roistacher founded the nonprofit New York City Community Sailing Association, SailNY, in 1996 as a project to open New York harbor’s waterfront to recreational sailing for those who could not afford the two, commercial, sailing organizations then extant. A literary agent representing writers of serious non-fiction, Mr. Roistacher has a long record of work in New York City affairs, beginning with his first job out of Columbia University, in the office of Mayor John V. Lindsay, on environmental, educational and social welfare issues. He was also staff of the mayor’s legislative coordinating committee.

Mr. Roistacher first sailed at age 7 on the South River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, with his father. As a member of the Columbia University Sailing Team, he raced dinghies and taught his fellow students to sail. SailNY, a member of US Sailing, teaches a learn-to-sail/basic keelboat course on its 27-foot Solings — for many decades, the Olympic three-man keelboat. SailNY also teaches cruising courses on chartered boats as large as 50 feet from bases as varied as Vancouver, British Columbia; Rock Hall, Md.; the Caribbean; and Split, Croatia.

I have been told by friends that there are a number of places in city waters where the current is much stronger than the wind or even likely engine power. Is there a good source for understanding where these spots are?

— Posted by Boatlessfor now

Yes, look at a chart (for mariners) or map (for landlubbers) to see where a channel of water narrows. The Venturi principle (remember your high school physics?) explains why a fluid would have greater speed in the narrow passage than on either side. So, notoriously, Hell Gate, where the East River is constrained between Wards Island and Astoria, the ebb can approach five knots — nautical miles per hour (a nautical mile equals 1.15 statute miles). Also on the East River, where its already strong current is further constricted by Roosevelt Island, the current veritably rips. Larger sailboats, usually with auxiliary engines, may transit the East River off Manhattan and Brooklyn, but it is not a felicitous place to sail.

I am a member of the Stuyvesant Yacht Club on City Island. We are always seeking new members who will actively support the club, including associate members who can make use of our fleet of Ensigns. What advice can Mr. Roistacher offer to build a successful sailing organization in New York?

— Posted by James McGinnis

I have always admired the spirit of the Stuyvesant Yacht Club, much as I do the Nyack Boat Club, where egalitarianism prevails. When I was an undergraduate at Columbia, we raced our Tech Dinghies, then the standard college racer, from Stuyvesant’s facilities.

SailNY is not an organization that wants to build a successful organization: we wish to grow sailing. But yacht clubs are hurting, because sailing was a declining sport well before the current recession. My best advice to those who wish to grow a program is to attend US Sailing’s annual National Sailing Programs Symposium.

For someone around Manhattan who has already completed a basic keelboat course or the American Sailing Association courses, what is the best way to get more practice without breaking the bank?


— Posted by Certified but Need Practice

The commercial sailing organizations can break your bank with initiation fees and high annual rates, but you can sail and race for an entire season with a nonprofit like SailNY for only $350. Move to Boston, so you can join Community Boating, the granddaddy of community sailing organizations, for $240, including instruction.

Just as most people don’t realize that Brooklyn is on Long Island (many surveys have reflected this), despite its nautical and very salty location ( especially southern Brooklyn), why is it that numbers-wise, many New Yorkers fail to appreciate and enjoy its maritime influences?

— Posted by Vic the Brooklynite

Unlike almost any other city on the water, New York — not just Brooklyn — has lost its relationship with much of its natural environment. While recreational boating thrives in San Diego, Seattle and San Francisco, New York City planners, after they rediscovered the waterfront when commercial uses declined in the 1950s, only consider it a convenient location for parks, restaurants and real estate development. Indeed, much of the Hudson shoreline on either side is built with explicit hostility to recreational boating.

The kayakers have done much to create accessibility to the water itself, but sailing requires more extensive facilities that municipalities all along the lower Hudson have declined, with few exceptions, to make. For example, Pier A in Hoboken was built at great cost by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey precisely so that no boat could dock at it. Much of the Hudson River Park is built without fendering or other amenities to accommodate boating. Community Board 2, whose territory includes the West Village, declined to allow a commercial marina below Pier 40 at West Houston Street, because a marina would interfere with sunset views, according to at least on person who testified at a hearing.

A sea change about our waterfront is greatly wanted. Compare the density of recreational boating in, say, Annapolis, Md., with New York City: almost every available waterfront parcel is related to boating of some kind. In Hudson Harbor, you can go miles between places where a boat may safely land.

Any good sailing options here in Brooklyn ?

— Posted by Brooklyn-Sail

There are only a few private yacht clubs on Sheepshead Bay. But there is a venerable sailing organization, the American Small Craft Association, known as Tasca, on Meadow Lake in Corona Park, Queens.

Coincidentally, I also learned how to sail on the South River, in Galesville. After starting a sailing team with some friends at Southern High School I also went on to sail for Columbia. What is the process for someone like me, with substantial dinghy experience and a fair amount of keelboat (mostly J24) experience, to take out a keelboat in New York Harbor? Thanks.

— Posted by devin

You will have to join one of the several sailing organizations in Manhattan, Jersey City, Hoboken or Weehawken. Some New Jersey facilities are only about 10 minutes by bus from the Port Authority Bus Terminal at West 41st Street and Eighth Avenue.

Can I anchor a sailboat in the Hudson River without any license or other permission? Clearly I can’t tie up at the 79th Street Boat Basin, but can I drop anchor a bit north?

— Posted by Free Boater

You may anchor almost anyplace where you do not interfere utterly with maritime traffic. Note the barges anchored midriver in the Hudson off Manhattan or in the Upper Bay.

However, the stretch along Riverside Park to about West 125th Street is a “special anchorage” under control of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, as is most of Sheepshead Bay. You will need a permit from the department to anchor there. Almost anywhere else is arguably legal, though you may have a problem if you wish to debark.

We live in Rhode Island and would love to sail our Bristol 35.5 down for a weekend. Are there moorings available anywhere near the city? We are members of the Sakonnet Yacht Club in Little Compton, R.I., and the New Bedford Yacht Club in Padanaram Harbor in Massachusetts.

— Posted by Richard

Given your pedigree, you may anchor at the New York Yacht Club on West 44th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas. Just kidding: you are evidently not a member. The West 79th Street Boat Basin and the Hudson River Park have a few guest moorings. None of the commercial marinas on the New Jersey side maintain moorings, but you may be able to rent transient slips. See your cruising guide.

 New York Times


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