Sean Meszkat bounds up the dock to greet me with Max Reo close behind. Both men are sailing instructors at Hoboken Sailing School, in the Pier 13 Shipyard Marina. At the end of the dock a row of pristine white sailboats bobs in the water.
The fleet includes an Archambault and several Club J/24s, used for the school's two-day, 18-hour course. They are also available for Hoboken Sailing Club members to take out.
Marina manager George Bennett joins us on the dock. He tells us that the Hoboken Sailing Club formed two years ago, but the Hoboken Sailing School just launched this season.
“A lot of people who wanted to join the club were saying, ‘I’d love to join, but I don’t know how to sail,’” Meszkat says. “George said, ‘Maybe we should also start a school.’”
The class was born from the need to train newbie club members, but it’s open to anyone who’s interested. Hoboken Sailing School is an accredited US Sailing school. “It’s a pretty intensive course,” Bennett says. “The idea is that once you go through the course you should have the knowledge and skills to take the boat out. Now you have the skill set to join the club.”
“The course is incredibly complete,” Meszkat says. “If taken seriously, you will have been given everything you need to sail that boat. How much did you absorb and how confident are you? That’s the variable. You are in New York Harbor. That might intimidate some people.” Confidence can be a big learning curve when you’re sharing the harbor with barges and ferry traffic, but he assures me that the course teaches students “the rules of the road.”
“If you learn here, you can pretty much sail anywhere,” Bennett says.
“If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Didn’t somebody once say that?” Meszkat jokes. “This location is fantastic, the Hudson River and New York Harbor. I’ve been sailing here every day for nine seasons, and there’s always something new. It’s always exciting.”
Seeing for Ourselves
Meszkat and Reo step gracefully onto the rocking J/24. They dance around each other in the tight space in a choreography they’ve been practicing for four years.
“I was fortunate to meet Sean and George while working together at Liberty Landing Marina,” Reo says. The 2016 Rutgers graduate got his start in sailing in the college’s club team but says that the Hudson educated him as well. “I would say that I came up on this river. Although Rutgers gave me the foundation, I refined my skills here.”
We motor away from the dock. Reo unfurls and raises the white sail. The wind carries us away from onlookers enjoying beers and food-truck treats on the pier. The water is unusually calm since it had rained earlier today. We see only a handful of pleasure boats among the ferries and tour boats.
We pick up speed as we head into the harbor. The boat can go up to 6 knots. “It’s amazing how fast that can feel,” Meszkat says. Club members race each other weekly. “It’s only seven and a half miles per hour, but it feels pretty fast.”
We head toward the Statue of Liberty, sailing straight into the wind. Meszkat and Reo begin tacking in a zigzag pattern to set us on our course toward Liberty Island. “Normally the student would be doing all the work,” Meszkat says.
Prior to the two-day course, students complete the online portion of the program, arriving at the dock knowing the terminology and basics.
All in a Day’s Work
It’s hands-on from there, which means a lot of Meszkat’s workday consists of enjoying the journey while keeping a watchful eye on his students as they pick up the ins and outs of sailing: the physical and mental feat of getting the boat to go where you want it to go, regardless of what Mother Nature and New York Harbor send your way.
We pass Ellis Island and enter the shadow of the Statue just as the sun begins to set. Both men say that they don’t get tired of the view. It’s a view that most recreational sailors get to enjoy only after work or on weekends, but it’s a typical day at the office for Meszkat and Reo.
Meszkat worked as a retail stockbroker before becoming a sailing instructor. “I started to get a little older, and I wanted to do what I wanted to do,” he says. During the winter he works as a ski instructor in Vermont.
We come about and make our way back toward Hoboken.
“This is the only place where the sun sets in the east,” Meszkat says, pointing out the sun reflected in the Freedom Tower’s blazing facade. The boat cuts through the dueling sunsets and into the choppier water of a ferry’s wake.
“These are very strong, capable boats,” Meszkat says. “These boats are Porsches.” He likens the typical sailboat to a minivan. “The club is a fantastic concept because a lot of people want to go sailing, but they don’t want the responsibility of owning a boat. You don’t want a minivan that breaks down on July 3rd.”
Back at Pier 13, as I stand on the dock, I can still feel the waves rocking. A man with his young daughter, both club members, enter the gate as we’re leaving. They ready a boat to catch the tail end of the sunset. I reveal to Meszkat that I’m a bit jealous, which he says is not unusual: “Almost all of our students have gone on to join the club.”—07030