Having grown up in the metropolitan area and spent childhood vacations in the Catskill Mountains, it comes as a surprise to me that I have enjoyed being on the water sailing more than other summertime pleasures here.
As a kid, my friends and I hiked and ferried across the Kill Van Kull in good weather from home, in Bayonne, N.J., to Staten Island, where we followed an unsanctioned path along a brook through residential backyards to a large city park. In later life, explaining my new love of sailing, I would say that I had been afraid of rowboats in one of the lakes in Clove Lakes Park. I never learned to row very well.
Sailing became a pure local pleasure. Even before I married into the Rattray family, whose forebears included inshore and offshore watermen as well as farmers, my husband-to-be introduced me to a classic breed of boat — an antique catboat made by the Crosbys of Osterville, Mass.
For 20 years, sailing and cruising in the waters of Long Island Sound were prime. Catboats, with beams about as wide as the boats are long, are stable enough for kids, and for a while we also owned a boat with freeboard high enough to keep them doubly safe. We did frostbite racing for a number of years, too, in small, devilish boats of the Penguin class, but I never got to do more than hike out, playing second fiddle to the helmsman.
I’d have to think hard to remember how many old wooden boats we owned over the years, but the last was a less traditional catboat made in Yugoslavia, which I sold for a song after my husband’s death. I had no idea that the buyer, Sanford I. Weill, had his photo on the cover of The New York Times Magazine after he sold his company, Shearson Loeb Rhodes, to American Express at just about the time I offered the boat for sale. (I’ve paid closer attention to Mr. Weill’s business acumen and philanthropic activities since.)
It took about 10 years before I found myself on sailboats again, and I have my second husband, Chris Cory, to thank for it. Together, we eventually indulged ourselves in a 32-foot Pearson sloop and in summer cruising to what, for me, were such faraway places as Martha’s Vineyard. I reconciled myself to our owning a boat made of “plastic” because it got us where we wanted to go and had such amenities as hot water for showers. I also discovered the joy of being at the helm on a broad reach in a respectable wind with the sails full.
Sailing was on my mind this week after the hot weather disappeared and fresh, sweet breezes came in. We don’t own a boat anymore, but I’ve promised myself that we’ll go sailing again before long.