You’ve sailed around the world and cruised the Amazon River aboard your 70-foot ketch. In your mind, what does it take to be a good sailor?
Nothing matters if you don’t understand how your boat responds to wind, tide and your sails. It’s all about the physics of momentum. Virtually every accident is avoidable. Generally, it’s because you have too much sail up or don’t know exactly where you are and hit something, or you don’t know the Rules of the Road and you hit somebody, or you don’t pay attention to weather forecasts. I’ve always thought that boat drivers should be required to have licenses.
Read the other story in this package: Geraldo Live!
Is there anyone you would say was your chief boating mentor?
At FortSchuyler I was taught seamanship by an old salt, a retired merchant seaman whose name I’ve forgotten and who terrorized me into learning my knots, nautical terminology and celestial navigation. Other than him, I’m basically self-taught, learning from my own frequent mistakes on a trial-and-error basis. Regrettably, I’ve never raced or even made a substantial passage under any other skipper, although if I could have I always dreamed of sailing with Ted Turner on board Courageous and have always appreciated Dennis Conner, although he could occasionally be a snob.
You’ve mentioned two sailors with well-known ties to the America’s Cup. What do you think of the Cup competition — hype or hot stuff?
We were in New Zealand for the 2000 races, and I covered the 1983 series in Newport. It’s a very exciting event, and it brings new fans to the sport. But I must hasten to add that it is a gross disappointment that the United States is fielding only a single entry for the next series. What happened to the New York Yacht Club? Have they lost their nerve?
You grew up on Long Island and say there was something special about watching the old fishermen on PeconicBay. Do you have any early memories of being on the water?
Aside from the Staten Island Ferry, which I took with my dad as a small child living in Brooklyn, years later — after we had moved to West Babylon — my friend Frankie DeCecco and I borrowed a flat-bottomed, ratty, old wooden duck boat, filled it with two empty bushel baskets, and set out on the Great South Bay on the south shore of Long Island. We were in 10th grade, and we were going to be professional clammers. It took us two days to fill just one of the bushels. Both of us were near to having sunstroke and earned about $10 each.
If you could own any boat in the world, what would it be?
I fantasize about everything from an old J boat like Shamrock to a custom Feadship with a canoe stern. Both have dignity, elegance and are true seafaring yachts with world range. I’ve been a guest on board big powerboats and have enjoyed the experience, and dream of someday having a classic Feadship, just because there is less heavy lifting than on board a big sailboat. But I doubt it will happen at least until I retire, because there’s not enough free time available to justify the enormous expense involved. Owning a big boat is one thing; maintaining it and the crew is another.
As an owner of a Hinckley Picnic Boat and a 70-foot Sparkman & Stephens ketch, do you have a preference for sail or power?
With a big sailboat, you can go anywhere and live independent of the earth indefinitely.
Do you have any favorite non-fiction boating books?
Joshua Slocum’s “Sailing Alone Around the World” because he was first. “The Perfect Storm” because it could have been any of us. “Adrift” by Steven Callahan. “Ashley’s Book of Knots” because if you can’t tie a bowline you shouldn’t leave the beach. And Jimmy Cornell’s “World Cruising Routes,” which was our bible on board Voyager during the 1997 to 2000 circumnavigation.
How about novels involving boats or the sea?
Although the Patrick O’Brian Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series is probably more authentic, my nostalgic favorite is C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series because it was my first. Also, “Two Years Before The Mast” by Richard Dana because of the coming of age evolution of this unlikely sailor, and Melville’s incredibly powerful tale of good and evil, “Billy Budd.”
Your home is adorned with nautical paintings. Do you have a favorite artist?
Thomas and James Buttersworth. I have several works by each, and all capture their exquisite sense of sail, the weather and the sea.
As a bit of a history buff, which seaside cities do you find most fascinating?
I adore Marion, Mass. Also, Castine, Maine, is charming and even more historic than Marion. My favorite urban anchorage is Portofino, Italy. Also, I obviously know every buoy and cranny in New York. It’s a vastly underrated harbor.
Is there any boating advice you’d like to share?
If your wife and kids don’t share your passion, find a different hobby or reconcile yourself to spending a lot of time alone. Remember: The price of the boat is usually your least expense. Know what you’re doing under extreme conditions because you can’t call 911.