By KATIE HOOS
The sun casts a bright beam of light on the water and a group of small sailboats moored on the calm waters of the Long Island Sound dot the coast of Hudson Park New Rochelle. Janusz Machnica is bringing a 23-foot Sonar sailboat into the marina while his business partner, Marc Hohenstein, gears up for another afternoon of instruction.
Soon, a group of novice students will begin a six-day class that will transform them from landlubbers to certified sailors, all under the direction of Machnica and his crew at the New York Sailing School.
New York Sailing School, located at the New Rochelle Municipal Marina, is just one of nearly a dozen schools along the Long Island Sound where students can learn to sail and navigate the coastal waters.
The sound’s serene and scenic character, as opposed to the commercial atmosphere along the Hudson River, attract old salts and novice sailors alike, and has created an environment rife with sailing schools offering a variety of classes from beginner to more advanced.
“We see pretty much all beginners, people who have never sailed before,” said Hohenstein, a 65-year-old sailing instructor and photographer from City Island who bought his own boat before ever learning to sail. “Some just want to learn for fun, and after they take the class, some do buy boats.”
Hohenstein said the school also attracts some visitors from local Sound Shore yacht clubs, including the prestigious Larchmont Yacht Club.
“The husband wants the wife to learn,” he said. “But mostly it’s people who come out of curiosity.”
Founded in 1968, New York Sailing School is owned by Machinca, 60, a former instructor at the school who took over the business in 1995 and moved it from its previous location in City Island to its current residence in New Rochelle in search of a better locale.
“It’s a terrific location,” Hohenstein said. “It’s convenient to Metro-North and a safe area to sail in. There’s a lot less
current and a lot less traffic than the Hudson. You have cruise ships coming out [in the Hudson River] in New York City, but you don’t have that in the Long Island Sound.”
The school, which has eight sailboats and several part-time instructors, offers a variety of classes beginning with the most basic of courses, like the six-day class that teaches adult students how to sail a keelboat—a small to mid-sized recreational sailing boat—up to classes for more experienced boaters and those looking to test their skills on the water. The two-day coastal cruising class focuses on advanced sailing techniques, system maintenance of a cruising boat, docking and navigation on the 31-foot Mirage while the bareboat charter class is an overnight course aboard the school’s 39-foot Oceanis, where more experienced
sailors learn the how-tos of chartering a larger yacht, including navigating a crowded harbor, keeping logs and monitoring weather changes.
Once students successfully complete the courses, which range in cost from $650 to $850 per person, they are granted a certificate from the American Sailing Association, the nation’s sail education authority, which shows they are authorized to operate the specific boat they used during their course.
New York State does not issue boating licenses, so ASA certifications are required for operating different types of vessels.
Along with New York Sailing School, there is a plethora of other sailing academies lining the shores of the Long Island Sound that sprouted up in the area for its pristine sailing conditions.
Martin van Breems, owner of the Norwalk-based Sound Sailing Center, said if you can learn to sail on the sound, you can sail anywhere.
“Sailing is not just trimming the sail,” he said. “It’s also about navigating the water. If someone learns to sail in a place without many islands and obstacles, it would make actual sailing difficult outside on New York.”
The Sound Sailing Center keeps class size down to three people per class and instructs children and adults of all ages and levels of instruction.
Chris Nihill, owner of the Port Sailing School in Port Washington, Long Island, said he chose the sound as the ideal location to open his sailing school in 2004 because it’s easy to navigate.
“The Hudson River is open to a lot more commercial traffic. Only experienced sailors are allowed to be on the Hudson,” he said. “It’s easier to rent and sail [on the Long Island Sound.]”
The Long Island Sound is an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean, stretching from Connecticut to the north and Long Island, New York to the south. The sound has more than 200 miles of beaches and several cities along its coastline, including New Haven, Stamford and Norwalk in Connecticut and New York City, Rye and New Rochelle in New York.
-With reporting by Conor McKoy and Taylor Khan