Dancing Hawks
Aqua Culture: New York-North Jersey Chapter: Sail away with me

Since its invention in 1969, windsurfing has lured the curious and speed-inclined. Photo: Dave Cooper

AMC Outdoors, July/August 2003

The names are legendary: Long Island Sound. Great South Bay. The Hudson River. For centuries, traders and merchants have plied their waters. And for the last 23 years, AMC sailors from the Big Apple have been making waves there as well.

The New York–North Jersey Chapter’s Sailing Committee, formed in 1980, is the AMC’s only such group (a similar group in Boston is defunct). Dan Parietti, a founding member and frequent leader, says, “Our mission, which fits into AMC’s educational mission, remains the same: to introduce people to sailing.”

Through full- and half-day instructional outings for adults and families, the group taught more than 75 members the tricks of the tiller last year. After a spring series of classroom evenings in Manhattan, called “Sailing FUNdamentals,” on-water trips take place almost every weekend from early May through early September, providing an escape from the city’s heat.

Most people who come haven’t tried the sport before. “Novices are very nervous at first, but joy quickly replaces nervousness when they realize they can manage the tiller and keep the sails full,” says Chair Toni Cangialosi. “City people don’t think about sailing,” adds instructor Jim Datri. “You don’t realize when you live in the city how wonderful it is until you get out there.” Datri, who owns a 22-foot sloop, says he lives on Long Island “because I can go sailing during lunch.”

Datri and other leaders have also worked with the Fire Island Committee’s instruction program, teaching urban exiles the secrets of the 14-foot Sunfishes owned by that group. John Sheets, who learned to sail on a friend’s 53-foot craft, later taught himself to maneuver the diminutive Sunfish, gaining valuable firsthand knowledge like “if you don’t watch yourself, you get hit in the head by the boom.” He now teaches regularly at Fire Island.

“Teaching sailing is probably the most enjoyable thing I do,” says the real-estate broker, who jokes that he spends his time “in sales and sails.” Sheets spends as much time on the water as he can — using AMC vessels, volunteering on the South Street Seaport’s schooner Pioneer, even making his home on Riverside Drive. He says people are surprised to learn that the AMC offers sailing, and Datri, who sits on the chapter’s membership committee, agrees. But Sheets feels it’s a good fit: “You have to be prepared for a storm, dressing in layers and bringing the right gear,” he says. “It’s similar to a hike, you’re just on the water.”

Still, points out Parietti, there are factors that set the group apart: “We require an unusual type of planning. We have to rent boats 10 days ahead of time without knowing what the weather will be like. And we can take only a small number of people on each boat.” Parietti, who lives in upper Manhattan and grew up in nearby Rockland County, races his 19-foot sloop each week on the Hudson near Nyack, often with an AMC crew.

Besides teaching the secrets of gusts and showing newbies the ropes, leaders also provide relaxing tours and family sails, as well as weekend windjammer trips out of Mystic, Conn. — whose routes are subject to change, depending on the wind.

Whatever the route, one thing is for sure: anxious New Yorkers are happy to sail away from it all. “Being out in nature, getting out of the city, completely relaxes me,” Sheets says. “I have to concentrate so fully that I can’t think about anything else.”

A Few Favorite Places

  • Hudson River, Nyack, N.Y.: “The Hudson is just a beautiful place to sail. I was lucky to have been born and raised in the area, and I sometimes wish I’d taken up sailing then,” says Parietti, who started sailing at 30. “It’s a wonderful place for day sailing. It has gradually become cleaner — you can swim in it now — and the season is six months long.”
  • Watch Hill, Fire Island, N.Y.: “It’s a nice, quiet place to be, away from the crowds on the other end of the island,” says Natri. “It’s within a seven-mile Wilderness area, full of dunes. I like to anchor — it’s a sandy bottom, and you can swim in from the boat. I can be the only boat out there on a Sunday in August, while the other end of the bay looks like a parking lot.”
  • Block Island, R.I.: “It’s an interesting and challenging sail to get there,” Sheets says. “It’s 12 miles off Rhode Island — we leave from Newport or from Mystic, Conn. — and you’re sailing across open ocean. Once you get there, the island itself is beautiful, with a huge harbor and great salt pond. You can ride bicycles or explore. It’s like being away from the civilized world.”

— Katharine Wroth is Senior Editor of AMC Outdoors.

Aqua Culture, intro  |  Boston  |  Narragansett  | New York-North Jersey

Photo: Dave Cooper