Under the watchful eye of old masters
From Ocean Navigator #122May/June 2002
There's something about being in august surroundings that puts us on our best behavior. But, in all my years of teaching for Ocean Navigator, I have never stood before a class in such an inspiring setting as in early February in the Commodores Room of the New York Yacht Club in midtown Manhattan. The course was our weekend Celestial Navigation seminar, and the room was full with 18 eager students and two well-prepared instructors, David Berson and me. Everywhere we turned, the ponderous visage of a turn-of-the-century past commodore stared out from a heavy oil portrait — keeping us in check lest we forget our declinations and hour angles. Staring out from each of the four walls, these past denizens of the 18th- and 19th-century yachting community worked their magic on the students as well, for everyone seemed to quickly click on the concepts as we went through the weekend. A break meant more than just a walk for some fresh air, for around every corner, indeed behind every propped-open door, could be found memorabilia of yachting and adventuring, including the original club burgee that accompanied the expedition to find Dr. David Livingstone (I presume?).
But, the real highlight of the weekend was lunch in the Model Room, a shrine to all that yachting once was and continues to be. Taking the two mahogany steps up into the high-ceilinged room, I placed a hand on a post with a plaque commemorating the original land grant for the club from J. Pierpont Morgan. The huge stained-glass skylight shed light into the center of the room. Then, turning to the left, the gallery windows facing the street brought to mind some flag admiral's quarters onboard a fighting three-decker of the early 19th century. But, it was the walls that truly inspired awe, every floor-to-ceiling inch brimming with dozens and dozens of half-hulls. Historic names like Candide, Dorade, Robin and Puritan. Even better, surrounding the perimeter of the room were large glass cases containing full-scale models of every America's Cup challenger and defender since the first contest back in 1851. It was enough to make any sailor dream and drool. Needless to say, Dave and I dispensed with the traditional noontime talk about sextants and how to calibrate them. I can't wait to do it again and catch up on all that I missed.