Harvey Bass: Mentoring The Next Boating Generation

By Charles Fort

In retirement, Harvey Bass has made it his mission to get kids to share his addiction to sailing.

Harvey Bass introduces kids to sailingHarvey Bass introduces kids to sailing one scholarship at a time through his Ranger Sailing Foundation.

At some point in our boating lives, someone took us on our first sail. Maybe it was a parent, a close relative, or a friend, but someone had to give us that first taste of wind-powered boating.

Sailors know that first sail can change a life. But getting into sailing is way harder to do when you're a disadvantaged kid growing up in New York City. Kids whose parents can't afford to buy a boat or join a yacht club aren't very likely to be exposed to sailing, unless someone steps up. Harvey Bass is that kind of person.

Bass, who started his professional life as a math teacher and later retired from New York City Transit as a chief officer for systems, now works in retirement as chief systems administrator and robotics instructor at a private school on Long Island. He lives in Sea Cliff, New York, and regularly races the Around Long Island Regatta (ALIR) on his Hunter 37.5. Bass has owned sailboats for 40-plus years and used to take his math students sailing to, as he puts it, "reinforce the relevance of mathematics to sailing."

A former commodore who was in charge of the junior sailing program for the Sea Cliff Yacht Club for 10 years, Bass sometimes brings along youth sailors who've come up through the junior program sailing Optimists on the ALIR for a taste of big boat racing. The regatta is the club's premier race – 205 miles, combining ocean, harbor, and sound racing – takes anywhere from one to three days to complete. Bass and his young crew do pretty well, often coming in second or third in their division. But what makes Bass even more special is his involvement with a new program he began that brings disadvantaged youth to sailing.

Some of the parents and administrators at the private school are also board members of the Boys & Girls Club of Glen Cove, and an idea was born from that intersection. Bass created a foundation to raise money to buy more training boats and provide junior program scholarships for kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs. Called the Ranger Sailing Foundation after Bass' father, who was a decorated Army Ranger in World War II, the group raises money to buy Optimist kits, that the kids help build, as well as to fund scholarships.

The scholarships pay for everything during the seven-week program. All the kids have to do is be able to swim and get transportation to and from the club at Hempstead Harbor. The kids show up knowing nothing about boats or sailing, and the first day they go through swim checks and get comfortable in the water. But by day two, they're happily playing in mastless Optis and figuring out how to reboard after purposefully capsizing the boats so it won't come as a surprise when it happens under sail. Soon, the kids are learning real sailing and racing each other around the buoys.

The first year of the program, there were two boys, ages 11 and 12; last year there were four, all paid for by scholarships from donations, all sailing with other kids whose parents have sailboats or belong to yacht clubs. Sailing is a great equalizer, and whether a kid is from a wealthy family or not is less relevant than who can tack better.

The program teaches responsibility, too. Kids have to work together at the end of the day to care for the boats. The program also fosters independence and confidence. Optis are generally too small for adults to sail, so kids who have never been in a boat eventually learn to sail a half-mile away to a harbor marker on their own.

Bass's foundation wants to serve more kids. He's encouraging girls to apply for the program and is hoping to buy more Optis to expand. If the kids stay with the program, the hope is that eventually Bass can bring them along on the ALIR and expose them to a different kind of racing. But in the end, the purpose is to get kids into that first sail and hopefully create the next generation of sailors.

Tax-deductible donations for Bass' 501(3)(c) foundation can be sent to Ranger Sailing Foundation, 42 The Boulevard, Sea Cliff, NY 11579. 

— Published: December 2018

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