Sailing the Island of Manhattan

Sailing the Hudson with legendary views of Manhattan is a must-do even for Manhattanites.

As a Manhattan resident, the Hudson River is such a tease for me. Since being in Austin, where I tried stand-up paddle boarding in Lady Bird Lake, my summer obsession has been to float on water. Nothing biblical, just a little one-on-one with the Hudson. But like most New Yorkers, the idea of sewage river water even touching my toes makes me fear the toxic worst. I’ve watched the brave few – immune souls, who make the septic leap – but I’ve had yet to test the waters myself. Until now.

We Manhattanites often forget we reside on an island, yet as part of 72 islands spanning over 700 miles of coastline, New York is actually part of an archipelago.

With learning to sail my official summer 2011 mission, a little research revealed a few sailing schools in Manhattan including the close haul and beam reach of Atlantic Yachting. There are half a dozen sailing school options in the city – all roughly the same $400-$600 price. It was a chance invite to go on an evening sail as a friend’s +1 with Atlantic that sold me. A night zephyr sail is amazing with New York’s skyline lit up, the backdrop of moonlight and the only moving boat to be seen for miles.

Owned by the Pincus brothers: Alex and Miles, and managed by Alex’s fiancée, Gabrielle Cran, Atlantic is laid-back and warm, yet professional and replete with fully knowledgeable (witty and musically talented) captains and crew. At just six years old, Atlantic has a boutique feel, which is refreshing when attempting something new. It’s located at the 79th Street Boat Basin and cast against what looks like (from afar) to be a stunning and glittery Hudson River. Simply put, it’s a nice spot to learn to sail in a two-day weekend crash course.

Courtesy of Atlantic Yachting

I set out with three other novice sailors: Hannah, Tony and Rich, along with our instructor and sometimes captain, Spencer. (Sometimes, as in because this is immersion sailing, we quickly become the captain with the rudder left in our hands.) Together we cast off and raised our main and jib sail on our J/24 keelboat sailing at varying degrees toward the wind and trying our hands at trimming the sails.

During the two days at river, I never saw any seriously offensive or remotely terrifying sewage drifting by. Instead, with our sails full of wind we took ownership of our stressful week previous and just let go. We lucked out on Saturday with a perfect day of sailing with nice winds and current. On Sunday, however, it was a windless day so we learned some sea shanties from Spencer and Rich pulled out some Bob Seger sheet music and recorder and we turned the motor on.

With the Pincus crew we sailed beyond the George Washington Bridge. Under Spencer’s leadership we headed south of the Intrepid. Spencer doesn’t advise sailing on the East River because the current is very strong, and there’s a lot more shipping and cargo traffic. What you encounter on the Hudson are recreational boats and big luxury cruise ships. We quickly learned what happens when getting in the way of a backing up Norwegian Cruise Line – one very loud horn blast. (If we’d been really in their way, we’d have gotten five rapid blasts.)

Sailing isn’t exactly an inexpensive hobby, but at least it is kinder to the environment than most blasting over waves on Jet-Skis or super propelled by fuel injected, high-performance engines. Moving fast across water with the motor off, but going full throttle with wind power is a different kind of thrilling that flooring a jet ski or speedboat can never offer. Sailing au natural is to work with the wind and the water. To do that without leaving a carbon footprint (excluding any manufacturing process) – if you indeed sail as a purist along the New York waterways – is to channel your inner Magellan. With that satisfaction in tow and the wind blowing through my hair, I accepted that there might be something of an inner yuppie itching to emerge and pop my collar.

If you go: Basic Keelboat with ASA certification is $540. There’s also private chartering and a kids camp as well with Atlantic Yachting. Go to for more information.