Longtime sailor Harvey Bass had an epiphany after undergoing successful esophageal cancer surgery in 2002.
“I was working at the Greenvale School, which is a very wealthy private school, and I grew up in a poorer neighborhood in Brooklyn,” the Sea Cliff resident related, “and I thought it was time to do a little payback. I started to look at what I was going to do with the rest of my life, and I really enjoy teaching and I wanted to help kids who had a background like mine when I was growing up.”
“I also wanted to do something to memorialize my father, who passed away at age 67 in 1987,” the same year he became a member of Sea Cliff Yacht Club, where he would later serve as commodore. “He was all about kids.”
It took until 2015 for his idea to jell into a nonprofit foundation to underwrite children from underserved communities to be able to attend the yacht club’s junior sailing program.
“I called it the Ranger Sailing Foundation because he was a decorated Army Ranger who hit the beaches in Normandy in the Second World War and survived a mission that was classified as almost suicidal that day,” Bass, 75, explained.
With donations from other foundations and individuals, Bass, who cochairs the junior program, has provided scholarships for more than a dozen students so far. He also has raised money to buy several 7-foot-9-inch Optimist dinghies with a mainsail and larger 420s, 13-foot-nine-inch dinghies with two sails that can accommodate two occupants, because participants in the junior program have to supply their own boats.
Bass hopes to raise money to buy larger boats that can accommodate several crew to expand his junior sailing program. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to Ranger Sailing Foundation, 42 The Boulevard, Sea Cliff, NY 11579.
On the second day of the yacht club’s seven-week program for students ages 8 to 17, there was hardly any on Hempstead Harbor, just enough for the young boys and girls sailing the rectangular “Opti” dinghies to make a little headway.
It was the first day the beginners’ group got to sail after completing swimming tests and practicing intentionally capsizing the boats on day one. Most of the eight novices quickly got the hang of making the Optis go where they wanted, although several were occasionally confused about which way to turn the rudder when changing course.
Most of the 42 participants in the program’s three levels are children of club members. But the three who are not enrolled through Bass’ foundation.
The club members paid $2,685 in tuition and had to supply a boat for their children. The Ranger Foundation paid all of the expenses and supplied boats for three children.
So, on the first day of sailing, scholarship recipients Ly’Anna Ermmarino and her friend Mayra Chandler, both 12 and heading into seventh grade at Glen Cove Middle School, were making the most of the opportunity. Max Martinez, 11, of Glen Cove, joined the program on the second week after attending lacrosse camp.
Because the rectangular Optis can only comfortably hold one small person, the students were sailing solo while getting pointers from instructors circling in “crash boats.”
The chief instructor for the younger group, Shepard Stone, 26, glided alongside Mayra’s boat and corrected where she was holding the main sheet, the rope that controls the angle of the single sail. Then idling alongside Ly’anna’s boat, Stone told her to move back towards the stern. “That way you will have room to move the tiller both ways,” said the 24-year-old Maine native who has been sailing since around age nine.
With the light wind, the beginners sailed slowly or drifted under a hot sun when the wind died until mid-afternoon. At that point, the instructors yielded to please to return to the club to swim in the pool.
Bass promised it would get more exciting in the coming days when the wind inevitably would be stronger and by the second week they could sail farther on “adventure sails” and compete in races.
Ly’anna remembers being on a sailboat once before in Oyster Bay when she was about two and enjoying it. Already thinking of her future, Ly’anna said she’s excited about learning to sail “because I think it would be a good skill to know and I might have a higher acceptance rate at some schools.” She thinks she would like to continue sailing and compete in races.
Although she was looking forward to going faster on windier days, Ly’anna said “I like it.” So far, she said, she wasn’t having trouble controlling the boat. “Everything’s pretty good.”
Ly’anna added that she has not done a lot of swimming in bodies of salt water “because I’ve always been kind of scared of it, so being here is kind of making me get over my fear.” Capsizing the boat intentionally the day before to learn how to handle that situation if it happens unintentionally while sailing “was pretty scary because it was the first time I have been in the sea or the ocean for a while.” But having done it, she said she felt much more comfortable in the Opti.
Mayra, unlike her friend, had never been boating before. And unlike Ly’anna, she signed up because “I really like the ocean and I like swimming.”
“It’s all right. I like it” was her initial reaction: But she, too, was looking forward to windier days. After the first day under sail, she said she understood the mechanics of controlling the boat “a little bit. I need some work, but I get it.”
What she’s really looking forward to is “going places and moving around more.”
As to whether she would keep sailing after the summer, Mayra said “maybe. I’m not sure. I like sports,” so she might not have time to sail.
On the first day of the second week, July 5, [which Max attended but the girls missed] Stone said, “The first couple of days we didn’t get a lot of wind, and the first day we got wind they were definitely a little freaked out,” he said of Ly’anna and Mayra. “So, I had them both go together in one boat. It seems like they’re starting to get a feel for it and it’s starting to be a lot less scary for them. It seems like they’re having fun now.”
“It was a little scary with the wind and waves combined,” Mayra said after her second week. “Now it’s fine,” she said, adding that she learned to handle the Opti: “I can control it. I learned how to stand up in the boat to steer.”
“It’s just a little scary sometimes when there’s a lot of wind,” Ly’Anna added. “It’s getting better. It’s getting easier than it was in the beginning,” she said of sailing the Opti where she wants. The bottom line: “I’m having fun.”
Stone kicked off the breezy first day of week two by having the young sailors launch from the beach, sail out to a buoy and return to make sure they could safely handle the boats before proceeding out for a day of sailing on the bay.
Max and the others accomplished it reasonably well as Stone shouted encouragement and gave directions from shore. “Pull in the sail a little more,” he yelled to Max and a few of the others.
Max, who will be attending sixth grade at Glen Cove Middle School in the fall, is a relative sailing veteran. He started two years ago on a weeklong program at the WaterFront [CQ] Center in Oyster Bay, sailed for four weeks in a program on Hempstead Harbor last year and also sails regularly with a friend.
“It’s fun,” he said. It’s relaxing and I really like the water and water sports – jet skis, paddle boarding, kayaking and all that stuff.” He said controlling a sailboat comes naturally to him but “I just want to get better.”
Harvey Bass is proud of his young sailors.
“My greatest accomplishment was that the first two sailors I had – Adam Bonilla and Rafael Cruz Villalobos – got jobs last season as junior sailing instructors at Port Washington Yacht Club,” he said. Both are still employed there.
Bonilla, 18, of Glen Cove, had never sailed before the Sea Cliff program. “It was a great experience,” he said.
“I met new people and they became lifelong friends, both students and instructors. It opened up many doors for me and my friend Rafe. I have many great memories and I’m grateful for that. In the beginning, I felt like an outcast because my color was different and my accent was different. But after two or three weeks I felt welcome.”
Adam’s father, Oscar Bonilla, said, “He loved it. He was so excited. I feel proud of him.” Asked if he could have afforded sailing lessons for his son without the scholarship, Bonilla, a delivery driver for a beer distributor, said “No way! I can’t afford those kinds of things.”
Bonilla, whose brother Brian subsequently participated in the program, will attend SUNY New Paltz in the fall, so the foundation is paying for his books for the first year.
Bass’ varied career
Bass started his career teaching math at an intermediate school in Williamsburg in Brooklyn while studying for his MBA. Then he was hired by Baruch College and later worked as a fraud investigator for the New York City Human Resources Administration. Then he became the head systems administrator for the city Department of Investigation and eventually worked for the New York City Transit Authority, where he also headed the system’s operation.
He became a consultant after retiring in 2004. A two-week project for the Greenvale School led to him working there full-time, starting in IT and then returning to the classroom running a discovery lab for pre-k and nursery school children and robotics for older students. He’s now completing his doctorate in information science while continuing to teach at the school.
Bass was 25 when he first went sailing. A friend from City Island in the Bronx told him he had bought a Hobie catamaran. The pair assembled the beach cat and launched it. “We did not know tacking from gybing, turned it over a few times and figured that maybe we should take some lessons.” They found a Coast Guardsman who “took us out on a 26-foot sailboat that had no motor, so we really had to learn how to sail,” Bass said. “I’ve been sailing ever since.”
He bought his first large sailboat in 1975, a 23-footer, and two years later traded up to a 28-footer. His current boat is a 37.5-foot Hunter named No No Nanette after his wife and the Broadway musical.
Bass joined the Stuyvesant Yacht Club on City Island in 1975 and then moved his boat to a mooring in Manhasset Bay in 1982 before joining the Sea Cliff club in 1987. After becoming co-chair of the junior sailing program in 2004, he inundated the club board of directors with so many suggestions for improving the program that he was given a seat on the board. He worked up from treasurer to commodore in 2012 and served for two years.
Bass said, “I’d like to give a big shoutout to the club for recognizing that it has a responsibility to the community.”
Commodore Robin Maynard, the first woman in that role, said “The yacht club is thrilled to partner with the Ranger Sailing Foundation to be able to provide the opportunity to sail to underprivileged children. They fit in great with the other children. It’s been a great experience for everyone.”
In addition to sailing in the junior program, some of the older and more accomplished young sailors have been invited to join Bass on his boat for evening races. In 2007, he took six sailors from the program that were 14 and older to crew his boat for the Around Long Island Race, which is sponsored by the yacht club. Bass said it was the first time a boat competed in the race without an adult crew, and they came in second. He subsequently has taken young crew members a half-dozen times on the race.
Of the scholarship recipients, Bass said, “I’ve stayed in touch with a couple of them. Some of them have stayed with sailing and some of them moved on. Kids want to do a lot of things, and parents want to put their kids into hockey, tennis and golf, so you have a lot of competition.” Those who have raced on the bigger boats tend to stay with the sport, he added.
Bass operates the junior sailing program on a simple philosophy: “They’re children, and they need to have fun. If they learn to sail, that’s terrific. Some move on to racing because they’re motivated to do that. But we don’t emphasize that here. At other clubs, everything is built on racing. A lot of times that turns kids off. The idea is to keep it interesting and challenging.”