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Summer adventures: Learn to sail away

Sailing instructor John Leonowicz guides new sailors Marie

Sailing instructor John Leonowicz guides new sailors Marie Auguste and Sandro Casimir of Bay Shore as they raise the sail on the WaterFront Centers Sonar sailboat in Oyster Bay. (June 12, 2011) Photo Credit: Michael E. Ach

Marie Auguste and Sandro Casimir's first lesson is turning out to be smooth sailing after all.

Although rain was in the forecast when they boarded the sloop around 2:45 p.m. on a recent Sunday, the weather's perfect now -- for sailing at least. Low-hanging clouds block the sun's rays, and the waters of West Harbor in Oyster Bay are calm.

"Boating is relaxing," says Auguste, 34, after she and Casimir, 36, both of Bay Shore, settle into the small stern of the 23-foot sloop Mirth, which is moored in the harbor.

Setting new horizons

Auguste had decided to take a sailing lesson after she found a half-price coupon on the discount website Groupon. At that price, she invited Casimir to try his hand at the tiller with her. Born on the island nation of Haiti, both are used to being surrounded by water. She has taken scuba diving and water skiing lessons -- but there's one type of lesson he's never taken. Casimir says, "I can't swim."

That's no problem, says sailing instructor John Leonowicz, 55, of Elmont. With a gentle breeze blowing, the boat is unlikely to heel far enough for anyone to wind up in the bay. And they'll all be wearing life preservers.

Staying the course

The WaterFront Center's "Discover Sailing" course is a beginner's lesson for anyone who has heard of this adventuresome outdoor sport and would like to dip a toe in the water -- figuratively speaking. The requirements are simple -- a pair of rubber-soled shoes to be worn on deck, a rain slicker in case of inclement weather, an anti-motion sickness pill such as Dramamine for those prone to seasickness and a thirst to learn the ancient laws of the sea.

West Harbor, where the lessons take place, is an "extremely well-protected" body of water, Leonowicz says. Even when a storm approaches, boats can quickly sail back to safety. The center itself is a busy sailing school that attracts novices as well as veteran sailors.

A veteran skipper

"There's a lot of preliminary work that goes with these boats," says Leonowicz, a sailor for 35 years. He instructs Auguste and Casimir to remove the covers from the mainsail and jib, and shows them how to hoist the two sails that will power the boat. He also teaches them how to tie a bowline, the all-purpose sailor's knot.

Preliminaries over, the shore recedes as the sailboat moves through the busy harbor.

"All right, we're sailing," Leonowicz says. "That's all there is to it."

They pass moored sailboats, youngsters racing their boats and Centre Island mansions on the opposite side of the harbor. The boat glides silently at 5 or 6 knots -- about 5 miles an hour, Leonowicz estimates.

Smooth sailing

Now comes the fun part: learning to sail the boat.

Carefully skirting the harbor shoreline -- the Mirth draws about four feet of water -- he teaches the couple how to tack and jibe. These, Leonowicz explains, are basics that every sailor needs to know.

At the end of the two-hour lesson, Auguste says she might take a second lesson. Or instead, she might opt for another adventure -- say, flying aboard a single-engine airplane.

But Casimir seems to be at home right now on the water. Relaxing against the side of the boat as Auguste steers, he spreads his arms.

"This is amazing," he says. "This is like a whole different world."


Discover Sailing


WHEN | WHERE By appointment, The WaterFront Center, 1 West End Ave., Oyster Bay

INFO 516-922-7245,

COST $60 a person (free ages 18 and younger with adult). Limit four students per trip.


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