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I was out of town for most of this summer, and one of the things I missed most were our regular sails on the Seaport Museum’s schooner Pioneer, one of downtown’s best kept secrets. (I’ve publicized it in the past on another site.)

Last Friday night made up for lost summer days, though. We had the perfect September weather for being out on the water from 7 to 9 — watching the sun go down, the lights come on. We had great wind out to the Statue of Liberty and, as usual, I couldn’t help but think about generations of immigrants pulling into port or Verrazzano sailing through the narrows and pronouncing the whole to be a “beautiful lake.” From the middle of the harbor it certainly appears you’re surrounded by a ring of land.

Sailing off Manhattan seems a quaint reminder of the city’s maritime origins; when you’re on the water after dark and encounter another schooner or sailboat, though, creeping up on you in the dark, you can’t help but feel like you’re part of a secret society — the ones who still know Melville’s magnetic pull and respond with the appropriate sign and password. 

pioneer2.jpgOne bittersweet aspect of the evening: it was our first time to sail on the Pioneer since the passing of Captain Don Taube over the summer. He was a neighborhood fixture at the Seaport on and off for almost 40 years — one of the last of the old salts, someone you might encounter in a Joseph Mitchell sketch. Close to 200 people showed up a couple weeks ago on board the Museum’s tall ship Peking to tell stories about him — many of which are collected here.

I don’t (yet) know much about sailing — I go out as a passenger, not a sailor — but I have learned this summer the appropriate farewell to a fallen shipmate: “Fair winds and following seas.”

For information on joining the Pioneer‘s outstanding volunteer crew click here.