Lots of lakes but with less sailing

A sailboat on the lake is the very picture of summertime. In Morris County we are fortunate to have numerous lakes and quite a few sailing organizations, but while it can be blissful, conversations with those involved in the sport reveal, it is not always smooth sailing.

Interest from new sailors has been on the decline in recent years on Cedar Lake in Denville. According to John Davidson, founder of the Cedar Lake Sailing Club, there are only four active members, compared with eight in 2007, the year the current incarnation of the club started.

At that time, all the members were sailing novices undeterred by their lack of experience. Now, it seems, there is greater reluctance in taking up the sport.

“No youngsters showed up to learn or try out,” said Davidson. “We offered free demonstration rides in an assortment of different types of sailboats and free instructions starting on Memorial Day weekend, but have since abandoned free demonstration ride day as too few to none showed up to take advantage. We continue to promote free lessons from spring to fall via our lake’s newsletter, but almost no takers in last few years. It’s a very puzzling ‘no response’ for such a enjoyable activity. As I see it, it’s my disappointment and their loss.”

Davidson said Lake Parsippany, which was contacted for this story but did not respond, has had greater success. He speculates this is due to the fact that Lake Parsippany does not limit participation to lake residents as does Cedar Lake.

This is Davidson’s second go-around with a Cedar Lake boat club. He restarted a racing group in 1979. Around 1995, most of the teen-age members dropped out. The current version of the club holds races and practices on summer weekends and an End-of-Season Cup as a special event.

“The appeal to sailing to me is relaxing and peace of mind that it offers as soon as you leave the dock and out into lake and then the challenge that differing wind conditions require of you to respond,” said Davidson. “On a sunfish, our main sailboat used, the sailor must respond both in body and mind to the wind changes. When the winds are up (10-15 mph) it can get pretty exciting as the sunfish will actually get up and hydroplane like a surf board.”

In White Meadow Lake in Rockaway Township, Robert Torcivia has restarted the sailing club and has big dreams for it. The lake had been without such a club for 10 years. The previous version, according to Torcivia, “petered out when the last commodore retired and moved away.”

As for the interest level, Torcivia reported,”We have about 30 curious POA members (Property Owners Association) on our Facebook group, but only about five sail, post or reply to posts regularly.”

He would like to set up classes, but first needs people to let him know their goals and the time they have available for lessons.

Torcivia said, “I think a lot of people expected there to be a purchase of boats for them to use, which is the long-term goal. But we need to get a good idea of how many people are serious before we can start building a fleet.”

The more immediate fleet-building goal is for games rather than races, which would require several of the same or very similar boats.

Torcivia said, “Games would include things like No Quarter, or Broadsides, which are pirate-themed games. Kids love those. In Broadsides, one boat has to position itself behind another in order to capture a float that all boats are towing off their stern. In the golden days of sail, that would be the position a pirate would want be in to open fire on the rudder and take the other boat. No Quarter is very similar, but there are two ways to win: the winning merchant boat picks up the floats off three docks positioned at the far ends of the lake, and ties them onto their stern. If a boat can get three floats and return to the clubhouse without a pirate stealing any, they win. The winning pirate, of course, steals the most floats.”

When races are eventually introduced to the lake, Torcivia sees it being watermelon and pumpkin races. He explained, “A great way to practice ‘crew overboard’ drills. A pontoon boat loaded with small watermelons (summer) or pumpkins (fall) dumps a few dozen in the center of the lake. You have to wait about an hour for them to spread out, then we sound the horn and the boats race to pick them up. Only rules are you can’t use a net, and you can’t take your sails down at any time. The boat back with the most melons/pumpkins wins. Use fruit so if one ends up lost in the lake, it’s biodegradable.

“It really requires a lot of skill to pilot a sail boat close enough to pick something up in the water. You have to be able to get close, and you have to be able to slow the boat just right. Those fruit are also about the same size as a human head floating in the water, so it’s great training for a vital safety skill.”

He added, “Ideally we would like to have father/son, mother/daughter, father/daughter, mother/son kind of races. It’s a great sport for families to do together and so few things are. Sailing is fabulous for families as it allows your kids to work as a team with each other, and with their parents. I don’t know of too many other things that can do that.”

Looking further ahead, once a fleet of boats is established, Torcivia would like there to be at least one annual race that is a charitable fundraiser in which a local organization, such as the Lions Club, could get involved.

Torcivia said, “Our primary goal right now is to get as many sails on the water as we can. Our rag-tag fleet will certainly engender something better, but you gotta start somewhere. We are very happy to collect up any old boats people no longer want. Have trailer (and fiberglass!) will travel! Ideally, I’d like to get as many shared boats as possible on the lake in the next two to three years. Just so we don’t have to turn anyone who doesn’t own a boat away. I want sailing to be available to all the kids and parents.

“Most boats spend 90 percent of their lives tied to a pier. So it’s really crazy not to share ownership and costs. Eventually if we had six identical sloops (I’m hoping for FJs) that we owned together as a club I think we could have a very small annual cost per family and have a lot of fun activities, raids and races.”

Though seemingly grandiose, Torcivia’s sailing club aspirations may not be so far-fetched. Already, there have been a few boat donations, including a Luger 16 in need of restoration, for which a club member has volunteered. White Meadow Lake POA treasurer Jerry Tauber donated a 14-foot catamaran and told Torcivia that it made him feel great to know that kids would learn to sail with their fathers on it, because that is where he used to talk with his kids when he did not want them to be able to get distracted or run away.

Of the approximately 30 families in the White Meadow Lake Sailing Club, Torcivia estimates that less than 10 own boats. Anyone who want to sell a sailboat (under 16 foot with all the pieces) can e-mail Torcivia at SailWML@yahoo.com. The WML Sailing Club has a Facebook page and is open to all WML POA members in good standing.

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