This article is part of FT Globetrotter’s guide to New York
It was Tuesday, nearing sunset, when our spinnaker sail gave us trouble. Our boat had been racing out of a cove north of Ellis Island towards the southern tip of Manhattan. The spinnaker — a wide, parachute-like sheet — is the crew’s most powerful racing options when running with the wind. But it is also the most cantankerous sail. To keep up with the rival sailboats, we needed to change direction and replace it with a different sail. Our crewmate in the bow grabbed as much of it as she could and hauled it down to the deck, but it caught the wind and fought back like an animal in a snare. Our skipper was shouting. We were losing speed.
Sailboat racing is a sport that, celebrating aggressive budging and quick rigging, gets as feisty as any game on land. Nose around your opponent’s bow and you are winning. It is chess on the water, pitting the crew against the wind, currents and the occasional barge heading upriver.
Many will experience sailing on the Hudson in a far more sedate capacity — as part of a company-charted luxury cruise with clients, or maybe a sunset pootle for a friend’s birthday for selfies with the Statue of Liberty up close.
But whether you are racing or cruising, New York sailing offers views of the skyline and sunsets that you can’t get on land. It also vaults you back in time — before there were bridges and tunnels, when ferrying across the harbour by boat was the only way to get around.
From beginners to skippers, New York offers a number of sailing options. But if you are on holiday in the city and hoping to rent a sailboat for a solo jaunt in the harbour, you are out of luck. There are few options unless you take a lesson or join a club. Better to find some local sailing friends who can take you out.
New York offers three kinds of sailing experiences: lessons, club membership and, ultimately, sailing-skipper privileges for those who are trained to go out by themselves. For beginners and sailing dilettantes, lessons are the cheapest, quickest way to get your feet wet. And for intermediate sailors, a lesson is useful in learning the unique culture of the New York waterway, which includes strong currents, fast barges and too many jet skiers. You might know the right-of-way rules, but you’d better steer clear of the Circle Line cruises that circumnavigate Manhattan. They will run you over.
For people eager to make sailing a part of their New York lives, there are two types of memberships in the places mentioned below. The introductory, general membership will give you full access to facilities, but you will need to start sailing with a skipper. Only skippers can take boats out on their own and lead a racing crew.
Still, ordinary members enjoy the thrill of racing as a crew member. When I moved to New York in 2019, I wanted to find out how to join the sailboats on the water that look so enticing to office dwellers stuck high up in towers in the financial district. For my Tuesday-evening race beset by spinnaker problems, I joined a crew of other sailors from the Manhattan Yacht Club. Established in 1987, this club is believed to be where New York’s recreational sailing was reborn. Before 1986, the city dumped raw sewage into the Hudson river. Today, the water is not perfect, but seals and whales can be spotted in the harbour.
New York’s increasingly popular sailing options also include lessons for kids, as well as socialising for everyone on the days the wind does not puff. So leave your troubles on the dock and check out my top picks for sailing in Gotham.
Manhattan Yacht Club
140 Dudley Street Jersey City, NJ 07302
Good for: Excellent racing and meeting international sailors
Not so good for: The club is located on the New Jersey side of the Hudson. There are ferries from southern Manhattan to a station close to the club, but it’s a trek from other parts of the city. There is parking. And on the other hand, if you do live in New Jersey, this is your best option
FYI: The club also owns a 157-foot yacht with three masts for long-distance excursions. Members can book rooms aboard the Arabella for luxury cruises to Martha’s Vineyard this summer and to the Caribbean in the winter
For my racing excursion with the Manhattan Yacht Club, I was one of five other crew members in a J/24 pitted against about a dozen other club boats. I learnt to sail as a kid, but I’m not a racer. My primary job during the race was keeping my head down to avoid getting whacked by the boom. Though my added weight to the boat ensured we would not be winning any races that night, everyone was welcoming. They even let me sail the boat back to the docks after the race.
With its long history near the financial district, this club probably has the most Wall Street clientele of the sailing options in New York. The history section of its website notes that its membership expands and contracts with the booms and busts on Wall Street. The club hosts corporate regattas that include Wall Street banks such as UBS and Deutsche.
The club offers year-round sailing options. Members travel to the British Virgin Islands in the winter. For those stuck in New York, there is “frostbite racing” in the colder months.
As with the other sailing clubs in New York, the experience is an investment. Regular dues at the Manhattan club are $1,700 per year plus more for skipper privileges.
Lessons are available at the Manhattan Sailing School, the club’s public teaching arm. A weekend instructional program starts at $590.
Sailing, as the saying goes, is what you do in between drinking. So importantly, the Manhattan Yacht Club has lively outdoor grilling and drinking for members after the races. There is also an indoor clubroom that was being renovated when I visited.
One°15 Brooklyn Sail Club
159 Bridge Park Drive, Brooklyn, New York 11201
Good for: High-speed, modern boats and easy access from Brooklyn neighbourhoods
Not so good for: If you don’t live in Brooklyn, sailing here could be inconvenient
FYI: When you are tired of sailing, try the marina’s two eateries — a bakery and a restaurant
“This is Brooklyn. This is different,” said Stephen Yip, executive director of sailing at One°15 Brooklyn Marina (the global marina brand owned by the Singapore-based SUTL Group) when I visited for an afternoon of sailing. Located on the waterfront near the Brooklyn Bridge, the club is less than 10 years old.
Yip knows the Manhattan Yacht Club well, having previously been an instructor at the Manhattan Sailing School. Now, he says, One°15 sailing is eager to take the clubbiness out of sailing. For one thing, there is no club room lined with trophies.
While it might feel different from a yacht club, One°15 has a lot of fast boats to brag about. Its Melges 24s and J/80s are definitely the race cars of the harbour. For the experts, these boats do not have spinnaker poles that need to be deployed, removing the need for this rigging hassle during races. When Yip took me out for racing, the boats were flying in pretty light wind.
One°15’s races take place south of Governors Island towards the mouth of the harbour, where the wind blows unobstructed. As the sun sets after the race, the lights in the financial district’s towers light up for some amazing views. Back at the docks, crew members gather for drinks, dinner and a race debriefing at Estuary, the marina’s restaurant.
First year of membership is $1,300 for 12 months plus more to be a skipper. For those unsure if they want a commitment, the club also offers discovery and introductory membership options for $350 and $800 respectively. Teenagers can take sailing lessons for $900 if their parents are members.
West 26th Street & 12th Avenue, Pier 66 Boathouse, Hudson River Park, New York, NY 10001, and 348 Dyckman Street, New York, NY 10034
Good for: Affordable entry-level sailing
Not so good for: Extensive racing options
FYI: Book lessons (or a membership orientation) online. Lessons spots fill quickly in midsummer, but with two locations you should be able to find time on the Hudson
If you want to learn or practise sailing without committing to a club, then Hudson River Community Sailing might be a good fit.
I joined for a lesson at the HRCS’s Inwood location at the top of Manhattan. Here, you won’t have to worry about annoying jet skiers, which buzz around sailboat racers off Manhattan’s southern tip. Plus there are no tall buildings around. The notorious “wind shadow” skyscrapers in midtown and the financial district do not block the breeze up here. And the views from further up the Hudson are worth the trip. Fancy buildings give way to green cliffs that stretch up into the Hudson river valley.
If you would prefer to sail closer to midtown Manhattan, HRCS’s Chelsea location has the same boats. I went there in June to watch the annual LGBTQ+ Stonewall Sails Pride Regatta. But as soon as we got out on the river, dangerously strong winds forced our boats back to their moorings.
My sailing lesson was more placid. My instructor was a local high-school student who got into sailing thanks to HRCS after lessons for New York City state-school students. There is also a summer sailing camp for kids, as well as kids-only racing. For adults, a weekend of sailing lessons costs $595. Private lessons cost $450 for two hours. The Inwood location offers some pick-up races on Sundays at no extra cost, which might be the best option in the city to develop racing skills at a good price.
Annual memberships for a crew member start at $1,550 and drop to $1,125 if you renew. New skipper rates are $1,650. Both options are well below the rates at the clubs. Excellent prices for summer sailing.
Finally, HRCS offers a special sailing programme for veterans. And in 2021, it piloted sailing education and recreation for children and adults with disabilities.
North Cove Sailing
300 Vesey Street, New York, NY 10282
Good for: A kids’ sailing camp that is easily accessible in downtown Manhattan
Not so good for: A smaller number of boats go out to race
FYI: Book lessons online. The venue offers beginner’s lessons, as well as separate classes for those who have passed a basic keelboat certification course
As New York’s financial district increasingly becomes more residential, there is a growing need for kids’ stuff in this part of town. Soccer fields and tennis courts are sparse. But there is plenty of space on the river. North Cove Sailing, which is part of Brookfield Place, offers a kids’ sailing camp — no experience necessary.
For adults, there are also lessons (including private ones), racing and convivial après-sail drinks. Sailing director Maureen “Moochie” Corrado told me that club members have anchoring privileges, meaning their boats can plop down in designated parts of the New York harbour. This is a special treat that most clubs in New York do not offer, she said.
North Cove’s sailing prices are in line with the other options in New York. For new members it costs $1,700 and $1,500 for renewals. Skipper privileges cost $2,300 — also comparable to the other venues. While that might seem pricey to some, consider that skippers practically own a sailboat and can go out on the water whenever. You have access to a sailboat without the hassle of storing it somewhere for the winter. And don’t forget, gym memberships at Equinox or Chelsea Piers cost well over $2,000.
Tell us about your favourite New York sailing club in the comments below. And follow FT Globetrotter on Instagram at @FTGlobetrotter
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