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The Unwavering Importance of Gay Sailing Clubs

Published on July 19th, 2016

When talk turns to growing the sport, it’s usually about keeping kids sailing beyond their teen years, or engaging women and non-white racial groups. It is never, that we can recall, about reaching out to the LGBT community. This report in OUT magazine is by Chadwick Moore…

It’s a rainy Thanksgiving night in Brooklyn, and a friend has invited me into the home of strangers for supper. Laid out on the kitchen table is a spread of bacon-wrapped squash, honey-baked ham, turkey, green beans, brussels sprouts, and all the fixings. In the living room a dozen men are seated in a circle on sofas and folding chairs, plates neatly placed squarely on their laps. Curiosity strikes their faces when one of them rises to his feet.

“I think he’s choking,” says one guest, a doctor, who looks across the room at his boyfriend, also a doctor, who returns the look with a shrug.

The choking victim is our host, and he’s stumbled into the middle of the circle with his face switching patriotically from red to blue to white.

“Are you choking?” asks another guest. The men look around the room at each other. “Is he choking?”

“Yeah, he’s definitely choking,” says another guest.

All the men here have two things in common: their homosexuality and their deep love for sailing. They’ve crossed land and sea, traveling from their houseboats — anchored in New Jersey or Long Island — or their Manhattan apartments, to be together for the holiday.

One person is missing. A great cannonball of a man, who was carving the bird in the kitchen with one hand and holding his lap dog with the other, has picked up on the bother in the adjoining room. He crooks his neck around the corner, tosses the dog and the carving knife, and barrels through the hallway.

“Step aside! I’m a flight attendant!” he shouts. “I save lives!”

He thrusts the host’s head toward the ground, and, with a great, flat-palmed whack between the shoulder blades, a brussels sprout launches from the host’s mouth onto the floor, where our hero’s lap dog scuttles over and devours it.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Dingy,” says the host to the dog through gasps and coughs, the dog still licking up the gooey spot on the carpet.

Uncomfortable laughter and a golf clap cut the tension. The host will live, and he takes his seat.

“Why didn’t you use the Heimlich?” asks one guest.

“No one uses the Heimlich anymore,” says the flight attendant. “It’s outdated.” The doctors nod.

This is my unofficial introduction to a handful of the roughly 150 members of the Knickerbocker Sailing Association, a gay sailing club serving the New York metropolitan area. Gay sailing clubs proliferate around the globe, and there are two other clubs, Boston’s Yankee Cruising Club and the Open Seas Yacht Club in Annapolis, Md., on the Eastern seaboard.

What makes Knickerbocker different, members say, is the club’s openness and egalitarian approach to membership. The club consists mostly of crew, rather than being mostly or exclusively made up of boat owners. It welcomes different types of sailors, too: those who go out for leisure and those who race. Its members also span ages, economic backgrounds, sexual identities, and race — sort of.

“Let’s face it, sailing is generally pretty white,” says Steve Kelley, a Knickerbocker member. “But we really want that to change.”

Full report… click here.

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