Attracting non-sailors to sailing can be difficult; more challenging still is making the sport available to youngsters who lack the means or opportunity to get into a boat. But the foundation that Long Island sailor Harvey Bass created as a way to “do a little payback” keeps on accomplishing both, and two of its graduates have gone on to teach sailing themselves.
“I started to look at what I was going to do with the rest of my life,” Bass says of the epiphany he had in 2002 while recovering from esophageal cancer surgery. The then-head of systems operation for the New York City Transit Authority mused about his poor upbringing in Brooklyn and realized his answer lay in that experience. “I really enjoy teaching, and I wanted to help kids who had a background like mine when I was growing up.”
Three years after his surgery, Bass—who also has taught math and other subjects at an intermediate school in Brooklyn and at a private school on Long Island—got involved in running the junior sailing program at Sea Cliff Yacht Club. He couldn’t help but notice that the students were wealthy and not particularly diverse. So, in 2014, he created the Ranger Sailing Foundation to pay for young people from underserved communities to attend the club’s summer junior sailing program.
He chose that name because, “I also wanted to do something to memorialize my father, who passed away at age 67 in 1987.” That same year Bass became a member of the yacht club, where he would later serve as commodore. “I called it the Ranger Sailing Foundation because my father 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. He was all about kids.”
Obtaining donations from other foundations and individuals, Bass, 75, who still co-chairs the junior program, has provided not only the scholarships but money to buy several Optimist dinghies and larger 420s, because participants in the junior program must supply their own boats.
“My greatest accomplishment was that the first two sailors I had—Adam Bonilla and Rafael Cruz Villalobos—got jobs two seasons ago as junior sailing instructors at Port Washington Yacht Club,” says Bass. Both young men were employed at the yacht club again last summer.
Bonilla, 19, had never sailed before the Sea Cliff program. He says that at the start, “I felt like an outcast because my color was different and my accent was different. But after two or three weeks I felt welcome.” Once immersed in the program, he says, he met new people—students and instructors—who became lifelong friends. “It was a great experience. It opened up many doors for me and my friend Rafe. I have many great memories and I’m grateful for that.”
Adam’s father, Oscar Bonilla, says, “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 kind of things.”
Bonilla attended SUNY New Paltz last fall, so the foundation paid for his books for the first year.
Last summer’s scholarship recipients were Ly’Anna Ermmarino and her friend Mayra Chandler, both 12, and Max Martinez, 11, of Glen Cove.
“It was a little scary with the wind and waves combined,” Mayra says, but she learned to handle the Opti. “Now it’s fine. 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 adds. “It’s getting better…I’m having fun.”
Of the three, Max was the only one with sailing experience. “It’s fun,” he says. “It’s relaxing, and I really like the water and water sports.” He said controlling a sailboat comes naturally to him but, “I just want to get better.”
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 who were 14 and older to crew his boat for the club’s Around Long Island Race. Bass says 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.
Interesting in supporting the program? Tax-deductible donations can be sent to Ranger Sailing Foundation, 42 The Boulevard, Sea Cliff, NY 11579.