In 2008 Bill Bahen founded Hudson River Community Sailing, New York City’s first nonprofit community sailing center. This year Bahen and his crew put nearly 5,000 New Yorkers on the water.
“The idea of creating access to the waterways in urban centers is not unique,” says the easygoing Baltimore native, citing Boston’s 80-year-old Community Boating, Inc. as one example among many in America’s major port cities. “But I think that Manhattan failed to engage young people on the water using sailing as a medium.”
The reasons for this range from a historic lack of recreational infrastructure along the river to the long-held belief that the city’s waterways were little more than commercial cesspools. Improved water quality and the subsequent reinvention of the Hudson River waterfront as a public green space have since widened New Yorkers’ perceptions of the river as a valuable resource and set the stage for organizations like HRCS to redefine it’s significance in people’s lives.
“NYC is probably one of the best port towns in the world,” says Bahen. “The idea that these young people don’t know that they’re on an island and they don’t understand that there’s the East River and the Hudson River and the Harlem River and those make up the hard borders of Manhattan, that’s just amazing to me.”
By creating access to sailing Bahen hopes to change the perception of sailing as a sport reserved for affluent New Yorkers and to use it as a means of creating opportunities for the city’s young people.
“If they learn how to sail here and we get them a job at some summer camp or some other community sailing program or some yacht club someplace, those could be game-changers.”
My story about HRCS ran in the May 2011 issue of Sailing Magazine.