February 5th Newsletter: Winter Sailing in the Ensigns!

John K heading out on Intrepid

As the days get longer, we are seeing more really lovely opportunities to go sailing, and members are starting to go out.  Certainly this winter has been far warmer than the last two winters. Winter sailing in the Ensigns is often wonderful but preparation is key.  In the winter the Ensigns are inside on the first pier as you drive in.  Park across from Cove Mini-Golf.  

Bear in mind the winds have more force in colder temps.  For example – in 30 degree temps the wind has 5% more force then when it’s 60 degrees out.  By no means should you go out when the winds are over 15 knots or the gusts are over 18 knots. Look at the marine forecast, the weather discussion (especially the aviation section for the max gusts) and also check the buoy reports if questionable. I normally check the New Haven and King’s Point reports.   

The options for assistance are very limited in the winter. The SSC tow boat is out of service. Most of the local marine police boats are out of service. Of course the USCG is always available if a life threatening emergency but they are coming from LI and will take at least 40 minutes to get over here. Plus they only help if a true Mayday situation.  

For winter sailing, you must have a subscription with a towing service. Tow Boats US (local number 516-702-9791) has only one boat running from Jan 1 to April 1 out of Oyster Bay. SeaTow (203 526-5414) likewise has only one of their three boats in service in the winter months – operating out of Bridgeport, so they would be our recommended option. If you want a SeaTow membership, we can provide a special discount code.   

In any case, assistance is limited and will be a while in coming. Getting wet can be deadly. One should be especially careful not to take risks in a falling tide. Make the first half of your trip upwind – it’s always easier to run off the wind if it’s tougher than you expected. Also remember it’s often best to anchor out an Ensign instead of trying to drag it off if you do run aground.  Even better – wait out the tide and bring her back yourself.  If we have to send someone out to bring in an Ensign, you have pay for the time.   

For clothing – Ski type gear is your best bet.  Imagine you will be stuck on a chairlift for a few hours. By all means bring a bag with extra clothes so you can layer up if needed. Also bring some food and water. Wind and water proof shells are really important.   

I once was out in January with my kids. We anchored and went ashore on Sheffield. The tide shifted the position of the boat and we were hard aground by the time we got back at 3 pm.  Furthermore we were 2 hours from low tide.  It was in the 30’s but the temps dropped quickly as the sun went down. Fortunately – on our hike around the island – we  always pick up garbage and one of the things we found was a Tyvec type plastic cover – used to cover 4’x8′ piles of plywood.  We made a little tent and we were actually pretty comfortable!  By 7:30 pm we were heading back in.   

Something else worth bringing is a pair of binoculars. Besides lots of unusual waterfowl (many of which live in the Arctic in the summer) you will often see Harbor Seals – typically on the Rocks at the western end of Sheffield.  Initially it might appear that the rocks are moving – but as you get closer you can make out the seals sunning themselves.  Binoculars are a big help – as they swim away if you get closer than about 300′.  

Once I found a Harbor Seal hanging out on the docks!

SSC member John K has gone out several times this winter and has taken pics of some of the interesting waterfowl present.  Note that these are often birds that summer close to or above the arctic circle. 

The most common waterfowl we are seeing are Buffleheads. These small birds are quite skittish and hard to photograph but beautiful. The picture below is one we found online.  Buffleheads spend the summer close to Hudson Bay in central and western Canada and migrate here for the winter.  Interestingly, they nest only in trees, using holes created by Northern Flickers or Woodpeckers. They are the smallest of the diving ducks, and can spend 12-25 seconds underwater in search of clams, crabs, shrimp, snails etc. 


Another frequent visitor with an unmistakable call is that of the Common Loon.  We have seen (and heard) several of these in the Norwalk Harbor. Although these birds are beautiful in the summer, the winter plumage is a more grey/brown with white necks. They are also diving birds, and live on pristine, crystal clear northern lakes, where they catch small Sunnies and similar lake fish. The ones we see probably spend the summer as far north as Greenland or Newfoundland. Although amazing swimmers and divers, they need 100 to 300 feet or more to take off from the water. The pic below was taken by John K (Instagram @johnnytrek)

Common Loon

On January 15th, John shot this lovely picture of a male Long Tail duck, a visitor from the Arctic. The winter plumage of this duck is especially beautiful, and unlike the ducks listed above, this duck is threatened and in deep decline.  The summer  nesting range includes much of Greenland, northern Newfoundland and north of Hudson Bay.  It is the deepest diving of all the ducks, and can reach depths of 200′ in search of fish, crabs and other crustaceans. The female is a much less distinctive brown. They prefer the open water, so you often need to sail out a bit to find flocks of them bobbing on the sound before they dive on their extended missions.

Long Tail Duck

Tag @soundsailingcenter on Instagram

John K on Sound Sailing Center

We thought we would share this letter from John K, a long time SSC member in the 35 class (and also frequently takes out the Ensigns).  Rates go up shortly, but there is still time to sign at at 2019 rates.

“As the new year gets underway, I think about resolutions, mostly to address the list of unfinished business from the previous year!  

Part of the list certainly includes sailing and thinking about what voyages to take, ports to visit, races to do, and folks to see. That’s what is so outstanding about Sound Sailing Center. It helps make sailing hopes and dreams become realities.  All of the activities that I read about in sailing books and magazines are attainable with the diverse and comprehensive programs that Martin and the SSC staff put together and make so approachable and fun.

The winning team from Sound Sailing Center receives their 1st place award the STIR Regatta.  John K is 2nd from left.

I’ve been sailing for over 30 years, first learning at the Hoofers Club in college on Lake Mendota with a Tech Dinghy, and then owning various sailboats while a member of sailing clubs in New York, New Jersey, and Indiana, and eventually becoming an ASA Instructor and USCG Captain.  All the sailing clubs have certain benefits, accommodations, and requirements, as does boat ownership.  For this area though, SSC offers the best of both worlds without the constant and time-consuming effort needed to properly maintain and care for an owned boat. Easy and ready-access to a wide variety of 22′ to 40′ boats, instructor-led skill building, daysailing, corporate outings, racing (local and club fun, as well as infamous Bermuda, BVI, and STIR, which we won with Martin at the helm in 2017), overnight excursions, blue water voyages, sunset harbor sails,  crew camaraderie, and cool social events make SSC a one-stop destination for all my family’s sailing needs.

With SSC boats in Norwalk, Mystic, and during the winter in St. Thomas (USVI), there is always a new port or adventure nearby to be experienced year round. And not just any boats, SSC has classic boats from legendary designers Alberg and Herreshoff, people who, like Picasso for painting or Frank Lloyd Wright for building,  revolutionized sailing with creative, attractive, solid, roomy, safe, and seaworthy boats that are a real pleasure to sail.  Plus, there are bigger boats, like the Pearson 37, Contest 36, VAR 37, Hanse 400, or my personal favorite the Sweden 340, that can easily accommodate a couple or small group for a multi-day or overnight excursion to some very cool harbors in the waters around New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island.

Looking forward in 2020, I’m anticipating another great year of being part of the truly special SSC club, doing the Newport Bermuda and sailing more than last year with family and friends.

See you on the water! ”

Bareboat Class 2020

Two students are signed up for the Bareboat Class that starts on Sunday, March 22nd, with one space left (the class was full, but one couple had to drop out last week).  Interested in doing a bareboat charter and experiencing a variety of the Caribbean Islands?  Ready for the Caribbean warmth?!!  If so, our Bareboat Class will give you all the needed skills to sail or Charter in a beautiful and interesting environment.  It’s also possible to take the class with a 2nd person joining you as an observer.  

The class is an intensive 4 day program covering everything from clearing in and out of the foreign country (the British Virgin Islands) to Med Mooring, with lots of navigation practice, reefing, anchoring with one and two anchors and docking.  We even cover little tricks like bringing a dingy through the surf.  Plus there’s time for relaxing and enjoying the great food and drinks the Virgins are famous for. 

On Thursday March 26th we set up Varuna for racing, and may do a practice race, with the St Thomas International’s Regatta running on Friday to Sunday, the 27th to 29th.  The students continue to run the boat before and after the race, so the learning continues. 

Many members fly down for the race, and enjoy some of the best sailing and parties one could imagine!  The Member rate is $756, or $840 for non-members.  Accommodations range in cost from $60 to $160 a night.  If you wish to join us for either the Bareboat Class or just the racing, please contact us now!

2020 STIR / Newport to Bermuda Race!

Our Newsletter of  January 31st covered the upcoming races, the STIR and Bermuda race in more detail.  Note that we will be meeting on this Friday at 6pm in Redding to discuss the races – contact us asap if interested.  We will again campaign Varuna our Var 37 in the St Thomas International Regatta, which we won the last time we entered it in 2017   On Thursday March 26th we set up Varuna for racing, and may do a practice race, with the St Thomas International’s Regatta running on Friday to Sunday, the 27th to 29th.  This Regatta is huge fun, with amazing parties and beautiful scenery.

The Newport Bermuda Race starts on Friday, June 19th (Father’s Day Weekend). This is the one of the three major ocean races in the world (the others being the Sydney/Hobart and Fastnet race). Generally a 4-day race, the Newport Bermuda is almost three different races.  The start of the race, with generally around 200 boats on the line, is a thing to behold.  Smaller boats start first, so you are treated to the spectacle of some amazing yachts heading out to sea.

Just after the Bermuda Race Start!

For 2020, we will return to the race with ‘Monhegan’, our J44, a classic racer/cruiser that was specifically designed and built with the Newport Bermuda race in mind and still rated one of the best sailing yachts of all time.  The cost is $3,294 for Members, $3,660 for non Members. Returning Bermuda Race participants get another 5% off.  The cost includes SSC training and at least one practice race.  Members have priority, but have to let us know within a week.  On Friday, Feb 7th we will have a 6pm meeting to review the STIR Regatta and Newport Bermuda Race.

Team SSC on Monhegan, 2006 Bermuda Race start.

For detailed information about the race and a registration form, please call or email us today.  For more information about the race itself, please go to;
Bermuda Race.

2020 Calendar 

February 5th  6pm
Meeting in Redding CT – St Thomas and Bermuda Race
March 22nd -26th  
Bareboat Class / Cruise  
March 27th-29th
St Thomas International Regatta
April 18th Intro to Sailing and Basic Keelboat Classes Start! Sign Up Now!
May 2nd
Commissioning Day, practice reefing and MOB drills, view all the SSC fleet including the new to the fleet Jonmeri 40 and the Newport Bermuda boat, the J44.
May 9th
EDLU distance Race, possible tune up regatta for Monhegan
May 10th
Mothers Day!
May 16th
SUNY Safety at Sea seminar
May 22nd-23rd
Block Island Race, probably the best Bermuda tune up race, with often every sort of condition.
June 1st
NYAC ‘distance’ race – formerly the Stratford Shoal race
Jun 19th-Jun 26th
Newport to Bermuda Race!!