Enjoy a Day  on the Bay with Rockaway Sailing

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 Activities are limited in the age of coronavirus, but there’s no better place to social distance than on the sea. And Rockaway Sailing can take you there. Longtime sailor Pete Heinz is sharing his love of sailing with lessons and cruises around Jamaica Bay.

The Rockaway Times recently got a firsthand experience upon “Walk on the Sun,” a 24-foot J-24 sailboat named after a line in a Bruce Springsteen song. And while Springsteen may have been “Born to Run,” Heinz was born to sail. For nearly 50 years, Heinz has been hoisting the sails and letting the wind take him on adventures. Coming from a family that ran its own sailing school and boatyard in Port Washington for 25 years, Heinz grew up with sailing in his blood and for the past two years, he’s been carrying on the tradition by sharing the experience with others through Rockaway Sailing.

Although living in Richmond Hill, Rockaway has long been his beach, but Heinz wanted to bring more attention to the bay, which presents the perfect conditions for smooth sailing. “I thought this side of the bay was underutilized considering how good the wind is all the time,” Heinz said. And with increasing interest in the Rockaways in recent years, he decided it was time to bring more attention to sailing.

In 2018, Heinz launched Rockaway Sailing, offering both cruises around the bay and basic lessons. While business was slow to start, with people looking to get out of the house after months of quarantine, Rockaway Sailing has gotten more attention this summer.

Heinz moors his boat off of Broad Channel and picks up his passengers by Bay Breeze Park on Beach 88th Street. Passengers jump into a raft on the beach and Heinz rows toward the star of the show—his sailboat, where they climb aboard for the adventure of their choosing.

Offering both daytrips and sunset tours, during cruises Heinz will take passengers around the bay for a two-hour adventure. During the tour, passengers may get a closer glimpse of the Broad Chanel homes on stilts, which remind Heinz of New England. “You’d never imagine you’re in Queens when you see those,” he said. He’ll then sail under the Cross Bay Bridge, bringing guests to a greater expanse of Jamaica Bay, where they can catch a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline, and if they’re lucky, a seal sprawled out on a sandbar, as the RT saw on our late afternoon trip.

For those looking to learn more about sailing, Heinz also provides lessons. While he doesn’t offer certifications, students can learn some valuable information that comes from many years of sailing experience, such as how to read the winds, becoming familiar with direction and reading the tides to know when they’re coming or going. Heinz also explains the mechanics, everything from trimming the sails to dropping an anchor and steering the boat, so that people can get a better understanding of sailing.

Educating others is in Heinz’s nature. As a teacher for 20 years, currently teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) at a public school in Corona, Heinz has long provided valuable lessons to his students, and he’s even incorporated his love of boats and mechanics into extracurriculars to give students skills that could come in handy. “I never thought of myself as privileged until I started working in Corona. Parents are so paranoid about street crime now that their kids aren’t hanging out outside. I learned so much about life, mechanics and engineering, just hanging out with my friends, riding bikes, than I ever did in the classroom and I see that my students don’t get to do that so much,” he said. “I like teaching about the things that have made my life better.” So, Heinz and fellow teachers started a Saturday program, teaching a group of students how to build row boats. Together, his students helped build two rowboats in two years, but with pricey materials like wood and fiberglass difficult to come by, Heinz switched over to something a bit more common—bikes. “We joined up with Recycle a Bike and they donated 20 bikes or so to rebuild with the kids. It’s a Saturday program where they learn a little about engineering and with this, they can get exercise, help alleviate traffic problems and maybe a kid can even get a job at a bike shop with the skills they learn,” Heinz said. “It’s a good way to enrich the lives of my students.”

In the future, Heinz hopes to further enrich the lives of youth by establishing a kids sailing program. With the help of his own kids, a 17-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son, who also have a background in sailing, Heinz hopes to host a four-day program, to teach kids how to sail.

In the meantime, owning a sailing business has been enriching for Heinz. “I love sailing, and this has allowed me to support the boat, and I love talking with new people. I’ve met a lot of interesting people,” Heinz said.

To book your cruise, lesson or for more information, check out: www.RockawaySailing.com  or call 917-900-5638.

Photos by Katie McFadden and Nicole Taylor-Lang.

 By Katie McFadden

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