Sunday, October 19, 2003

Sailing

Yesterday, we took some of the students on a special sailing trip, sponsored by Reach The World and the Manhattan Sailing School. About a decade ago, in our district, a student drowned in a swimming pool on a school trip; as a result, the district doesn't even want to hear about trips involving water - boating, swimming, even walking near water. Never mind that the chaperones on that trip must have been complete idiots (not only did they not notice that the student had drowned, but they managed to get all the way back to the Bronx without the boy!). Thus, this trip was completely optional, held on a Saturday, each child had to bring a parent, and they had to pay for their own transportation, all of which cut down on attendance significantly. I took the train up to the Bronx in the morning, met the group, and we traveled down to Battery Park City to the marina. We had about 16 children total.

The Manhattan Sailing School has a classroom in a flat, wide, stable motor boat moored in the marina. The kids thought that was the boat! Imagine their surprise when I pointed out the little 24-foot sailboats we were going out in! "I'm not going on that!"

Heather Halstead, the director of RTW, gave a brief lesson on sailing safety: One hand for you, one for the boat. Listen to the Captain. Then we split up into groups of 5 kids, a captain, and an adult crewmember, put on bright yellow lifejackets, and boarded the boats. We had two boats, with two captains, and Heather (an experienced sailor), and then the most experienced sailor was.... me! So I was crew for the second boat. Note that "most experienced" in my case meant, I've been on sailboats 3 times before.

For the first trip, I went out with Captain Zach and 5 seventh graders. My first task was to untie the ropes holding the boat to the docks. Then, as we left the marina, I stood by the mast and kept lookout for other boat traffic. When we approached the breakwater, I gave a long toot on a plastic horn to announce our presence to any boats nearby. A little ways out, we cut the motor and I helped raise the sail. Ropes are called "sheets" on a sailboat. One student let out the sheet holding the main sail, while I fed the edge of the sail into a groove on the mast. This went rather badly, as I misfed the sail, and when we tried to lower it a few inches to fix the problem, the captain forgot to tell me that the sheet was prevented from slipping by a little cleat on the side of the mast. He had to come to the mast and fix the problem, though it wasn't my fault - I was pulling down on the sail as hard as I could, but without taking the sheet out of the cleat, I'd have to be Hercules to get it down.

From there, things went better. We raised the jib sail and sailed back and forth across the Hudson a few times. The day was cold but sunny, and we had a beautiful view of the Statue of Liberty, lower Manhattan, and other boats out for the day. He let the students try steering the boat, giving them a building on the shore to aim for, learning to use the tiller. The kids loved it! They also loved dipping their hands into the water, and the thrill when the boat tipped so that one side nearly touched the water! I took lots of pictures, which I can't wait to develop.

Finally, we lowered the sails, motored back into the marina, and then I had to tie the boat up again, and help the kids leave the boat: "Request permission to exit the boat, Captain Zach!" "Permission granted!"

The second trip was much like the first, though I was better at my job and more confident. The kids eagerly used their new sailing vocabulary and pointed out nearby boats based on their position relative to our boat, as though it were a clock. "Ferry at 5 o'clock, Captain Zach!" At the end of the trip, many kids wanted to go back out, and so we're going to get them some information about a summer sailing program the Manhattan Sailing School does for city kids. I picked up some information for myself about taking lessons, though at $540 for a basic sailing course, I'll have to start saving now to take lessons in the spring.

Fun, fun, fun, though today my shoulders and knees are sore and my hands a little roughed-up from all the work with sails and sheets.

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