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It’s Pretty Basic…Sailors like to Drink

Published on June 11th, 2013

Aboard the honorable William Wall, northeast of Ellis Island – Can anyone entirely explain the unquestionable pleasure of drinking by the sea? Perhaps there is a natural felicity in casually consuming one form of liquid while gazing at another – or perhaps the coastal cocktail is an atavism of our lost amphibian past.

Then again, it could be something simpler, something related to the off-the-cuff remark that Eliot Claus, a lifelong seadog, made the other night on the beverage deck of the Honorable William Wall, a waterborne watering hole moored during the warmer months on the never-ending chop of New York Harbor. “It’s pretty basic,” Mr. Claus, 60, suggested, looking at the skyline, a white wine in his hand. “Sailors like to drink.”

The Willy Wall, as the cognoscenti call it, is – officially – the clubhouse for the Manhattan Sailing Club, an organization that since 1987 has catered to the oceangoing urges of New York City’s nautical community. A two-story barge christened with the name of a Civil War congressman, it is a sort of floating roadhouse where urban mariners and members of the public can gather from May until October and, as seamen like to say, get three sheets to the wind.

“The idea was to build a platform where spectators could come to watch our races,” said Michael Fortenbaugh, the commodore of the club. “If you’re on a boat and the adrenaline is pumping, it’s nice to have a place where, say, your spouse can come and sip her drink in comfort and not be home just twiddling her thumbs.”

The Willy Wall, which winters at the North Cove Marina in Battery Park City, opened for the season Wednesday night. A few dozen people sat around the bar, downing beer and gin in plastic cups as a disorderly regatta unfolded on the harbor below. Thirty sailboats gathered at the starting mark, maneuvering like horseflies, with the Battery as backdrop. When the Race Committee chairman blew his horn, off they went, gliding south toward the Statue of Liberty and the course’s upwind buoy.

If you have never seen a sailboat race before, it is not exactly Nascar. The action unfolds slowly, the boats tacking back and forth in distant silence. This may account for the compensating quantities of alcohol onboard. The Willy Wall’s drinks are relatively cheap. They are served to architects, finance types and the occasional French carpenter, accompanied not only by a rhythmic Reggae soundtrack, but also by an irreplaceable view.

“The best thing about it is the harbor,” said Mr. Claus, a corporate lawyer who spends half the year in China. “You can have a terrible night racing, but still have a great night at the bar.” – NY Times, Read on

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