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Rocking the Boat sailing program garners national acclaim

Rocking the Boat students sail on the East River

Kristina Siriotis

Rocking the Boat students sail on the East River

Hunts Point organization impresses America’s Cup

Just one year after adding a sailing program to its roster, Rocking the Boat has been recognized by an international sailing organization and singled out to receive a donation of four new Hobie Cat Waves, recreational catamarans that are known for speed and ease of use.

The sailing team has garnered the attention of the America’s Cup organization, and were one of three programs in the city invited to the America’s Cup regatta last weekend, in New York for the first time since 1920. The donated boats came from the America’s Cup Endeavor Program, which focuses on youth sailing.

“So soon after just starting a formal sailing program, to be recognized in such a significant way along with two other much more established sailing programs is a huge honor and a thrill,” said Adam Green, Rocking the Boat founder and executive director.

A Hobie Wave differs from the team’s current sailboats in that it has two hulls with a tarp stretched between them. The America’s Cup boats are also catamarans, though highly technical, high-speed ones, and have become the favored racing class.

A day after the America’s Cup event, Sir Ben Ainslie, a sailor from the British team, came to visit the sailors in Hunts Point. Ainslie answered the students’ questions and rowed in the Bronx River on skiffs built by kids at Rocking the Boat.

Marilyn Gonzalez, 16, an apprentice for the sailing team, said that she now sees more options for her future on the water. “It makes me realize that you can make a career out of sailing,” she said.

At the America’s Cup race on the Hudson River, the students had front-and-center seats reserved for them by event organizers. They also participated in simulations that gave them an idea of what sailing on professional boats requires. Rocking the Boat was also one of the beneficiaries of a fundraiser held on the weekend after the races.

Sailing instructor John Petrillo has observed that his students enjoy the fact that sailors are far and few between in the Bronx, which makes them feel like pioneers in the community. At the event, he said, the students took pride in the fact that famous sailors and sailing organizations knew all about sailing in Hunts Point.

One year in the program has made a huge difference in students’ technique, and also their confidence on the water, Petrillo said. On their first day out last spring, the students could not hide the fact that they were starting from scratch. As their instructor tightened the lines and smoothed the sails in the strong wind, the kids looked on with amazement. As the boat heeled and water splashed up over their heads, they had their first taste of being out on the water and in control of a sailboat.

The program now has seven apprentices, three program assistants, and 18 brand new students who began their sailing education this spring. Sailing, Petrillo says, stands out for its highly social aspects.

“What’s great about learning to sail is that you essentially learn to play well with others and be a leader,” he said. Out on the water, each member of the crew must work in synchronization to keep the boat steady and on target as winds shift suddenly, or the wake from a tanker requires quick maneuvering. Crews of three to five students take turns captaining the boats out on the East River.

During a windy sail last summer, apprentice Zania Seneriz, 16, found herself and four others in the water after a strong gust capsized their boat. Petrillo called to them from the nearby speedboat with instructions. Seneriz and one other student managed to turn the boat right-side-up again. Later, when they docked, Seneriz stormed past her instructor, furious that she had ended up in the water.

The next day, Petrillo had them practice flipping boats—and Seneriz loved it.

“At first I would get frustrated and walk away completely,” said Seneriz. “What it’s taught me is patience.”

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