Ralph Perrara was launching his Melonseed skiff at Kingston Point Landing on a day in early spring when I was there, too, walking about, working on my column. The sight of him rigging his sail, up to his ankles in river water, called up Ratty’s line from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind and the Willows: “Believe me my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” It’s an expression of happiness that’s stuck with me since childhood. There it was, come to life, right in front of me.
Encouraged by the literary bond, I asked Ralph about his boat. He told me about the alvina del viento (his “soul of the wind”) and his years on the river with the Kingston Sailing Club (kingstonsailingclub.org), a casual group of serious sailors who’ve been getting together for years to race and cruise. New folks are always welcome, and experience isn’t required. There are skippers to teach whatever is needed to join a crew. It sounded like the kind of fun more people could use, like a neighborhood block party with boats. Ralph promised to send me contact names for the club.
Jody Sterling is the director of the Sailing School at the Hudson River Maritime Museum and the secretary of the Kingston Sailing Club. The relationship between the two is seamless in her life and in fact. I met up with her at the museum to learn more.
During the sailing season, from May to October, the Kingston Sailing Club meets at ten on Sunday mornings on the east patio behind the Wooden Boat School on the museum’s campus, which stretches along the Rondout Creek at 50 Rondout Avenue. You don’t need a boat to become a member. Just fill out a simple application on the website and you could be cruising in no time.
The Women on the Water (WOW) and The Community Sail are both programs designed to match up skill levels to skippers, from downright beginners to experienced racers. Boat ownership is optional, but welcome. Races are every Sunday. Regattas are held in June and August.
Empowering women sailors is part of programming for both the club and the museum. They are partnering on a special event that brings Maiden to HRMM. The 58-foot sloop made nautical history when its all-female crew, captained by Tracy Edwards, was the first to compete in and complete the legendary Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989-90.
The famous vessel is on world tour. The Kingston Sailing Club WOW fleet of sailboats will join the escort flotilla meeting the Maiden by the Esopus Meadows Lighthouse on June 8. It will be welcomed at the museum’s dock. The public’s invited to tour the ocean-racing yacht on June 9 and 10, meet the crew and to learn from these amazing women.
Founded in 1979 and opened in 1980, the maritime museum helped anchor the revival of the Rondout area after decades of decline. Its footprint has grown to include its barn, a large event and work space.
The museum is entered through the gift shop. Docks and boat slips border Rondout Creek. The 106-foot sloop Clearwater is docked in the first slip getting readied for its 53rd season of traveling up and down the Hudson on its mission to save the river and to educate people about the environment.
The museum is not only the keeper of the long and celebrated history of the Rondout as the port of Kingston; it’s the mother ship for all things nautical in the city today, with a range of programs and possibilities that’s staggering.
Thousands of people visit HRMM every year and never get on the water. They come to view exhibits, walk around, watch films, listen to lectures, take a class, go on a tour. You can spend every Sunday afternoon in June in a painting class and leave with an original acrylic on canvas of an historic Hudson River lighthouse.
Want to build your own Adirondack chair? A ship in a bottle? A wooden rowboat? A 13-foot canoe? The Wooden Boat School is your place.
But there are boats and boating here that have been enjoyed for generations. The Rondout Rowing Club has had its boathouse and dock at the museum since the club was founded in 1999. The Kingston High School varsity rowers go out on Rondout Creek in sleek sculls as straight as arrows shooting across the water. HRMM has been their home for years. The HRMM Sailing School is the only accredited US Sailing school in the Hudson Valley with youth and adult classes. They all go out on the deep waters of the Rondout Creek, just as boaters have done for hundreds of years since the Dutch settled the area in the 1600s.
Messing around boats … messing in boats …. Ratty got it right. There’s nothing like it, and in Kingston there’s plenty of ways to do it.