Boating

Andreas Simoni and Andrew Smith row in double scull for the Port Jefferson Rowing Club. Photo courtesy Mary Smith

By  Sabrina Artusa

The Port Jefferson Rowing Club sent four boats to the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships, where all four boats competed in the top heat.

Teammates Andrew Smith, 18, and Andreas Simoni, 18, rowed especially well in their double scull, consistently ranking at the top of their heat in the time trial on June 6 and the semifinals on June 7.

Both athletes began rowing competitively around a year earlier in the Port Jefferson Rowing Club, a nonprofit aimed at bringing novices into the sport.

The pair kicked off the competition by placing second in the time trial, completing 2,000 meters in 6:25.52 — 25 milliseconds behind first place and more than five seconds ahead of the next boat.

In the time trial, the boats don’t line up and begin at the same time as they do in the semifinals and finals, but start intermittently. Each boat gets what Smith compared to a “running start”: after leisurely rowing along, the boat is signaled to begin racing after passing a certain point.

As a result, Smith and Simoni were unaware of how they performed compared to the 23 other boats. When they realized how they fared next to other state champions across the country, they were ecstatic.

“It felt amazing. It was so awesome,” Smith said of the moment when, after returning to the dock, they overheard their neighbors say a team called the Port Jefferson Rowing Club got second place. “You just do your best and hope that you made it,” he added.

In the semifinals the next day, the pair maintained their top-notch performance, ranking first in their heat of eight with a time of 6:48.64.

On Sunday, the day of the final competition where Smith and Simoni were set to compete in Final A, the pair encountered a mishap that, unfortunately, cost them a medal.

At the beginning of the race, Smith slid off his seat, and both rowers had to stop rowing until he was resituated. The incident was attributed to an equipment mishap.

“I was just proud that I made it there and of the times. The times showed that we would have done much better if not for the equipment failure. We possibly would have gotten first or second,” Smith said. “I was just proud that my boat made it to nationals. It was very stiff competition.”

At five years old, the Port Jefferson Rowing Club is relatively new compared to clubs in other states where rowing is more popular. Despite this, the team has achieved success under their three coaches: James Finke, former assistant coach at Harvard University; Jarek Szymczyk, who coached single men’s sculls at the Rio Olympics; and Anna MacDonald, a coach at Stony Brook School.

“We definitely train hard,” said Finke, founder of the club. “We balance between training hard and having a lot of fun.”

“Here, our mission is to make rowing more visible and more attractive to these athletes,” he said.

The club may be intended to attract novices to the sport, but Finke believes that what his team lacks in experience, they make up for in technique.

“Our main philosophy on coaching is making sure our kids have superior technique on the strokes.”

Simoni, who has committed to rowing at the University of California, Berkeley, and Smith began rowing together a couple of months ago after achieving similar times in a singles competition.

“When we got in the boat together, everything clicked and everything felt very good. We just fell into sync and just rowed,” Smith said.

Hugh Macdonald, another member of the club, ranked well in the competition. He scored second in the under-17 singles race but caught a fever before the final, according to Finke. Macdonald raced in the final despite feeling unwell and ranked seventh.

The girls in the under-15 quad race, Sylas MacDonal, Honora Riley, Olivia Timmons, Tatiana Garrison, and Zihe Zhou, also finished fourth.

Stock photo

Boating, whether for fishing, leisure or sport, is a cherished pastime that brings joy to many residents all over the Island. However, with the thrill and relaxation that come with boating, there is an accompanying responsibility that must not be overlooked — safety! This is why National Safe Boating Week, observed from May 18-24 this year, holds such significance for our waterfront communities.

National Safe Boating Week serves as a vital reminder of the importance of adhering to safety protocols on the water. Statistics from the U.S. Coast Guard highlight that the vast majority of boating accidents are preventable. In 2023 alone, there were 3,844 boating incidents, resulting in 564 fatalities. Alarmingly, 75% of these deaths were due to drowning, and 87% of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets. There was also a total of property damage of $63 million.

These statistics are a valuable reminder that simple precautions can save lives.

Importance of life preservers

One of the simplest yet most effective safety measures is wearing a life jacket. Modern life jackets are designed for comfort and ease of use. Ensuring that each passenger on your vessel is properly outfitted with a life jacket is a basic yet critical step in boating safety. It is not just about compliance with regulations, it is about safeguarding lives.

Boating safety courses

Understanding how to operate your boat and navigate the waters is crucial. Boating safety courses are widely available and provide essential knowledge on navigation rules, emergency procedures and boat handling. These courses are not just for beginners. Even experienced boaters can benefit from refresher classes to stay updated on the latest safety practices and regulations.

The U.S. Power Squadrons offer a plethora of courses for those seeking boating safety advice, information and knowledge. Visit their website, www.usps.org/sss-boating-courses, for more information. Additionally, New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation has over 55 years of experience teaching captains to operate their boats safely. It offers an in-classroom course option designed as a comprehensive study of boating safety to teach the fundamentals of safe boating operation at parks.ny.gov/boating/boating-safety-class. 

Don’t drink and drive

Alcohol is a leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Like driving, operating a boat under the influence impairs judgment, balance and coordination, significantly increasing the risk of an accident. Our community must recognize that boating under the influence is not only illegal but also endangers everyone on the water. Designating a sober captain is a responsible choice that can prevent tragedies.

Be prepared

Being prepared for emergencies can make a significant difference in the outcome of a boating trip. This includes having a well-equipped first-aid kit, signaling devices and a fire extinguisher on board. Additionally, boaters should file a float plan with a friend or family member, detailing the trip’s destination, purpose and timeframe. This simple step can expedite rescue efforts in case of an emergency. Regular vessel safety checks are essential, too.

We share the responsibility of promoting and practicing boating safety. Even after National Safe Boating Week, let us commit to making our waterways safer for everyone. By embracing safety measures, educating ourselves and others and fostering a culture of responsibility, we can ensure that boating remains a joyous and safe activity for everyone. It is, after all, one of Long Island’s main attractions.

Photo from the Whaling Museum

COURSES AVAILABLE FOR STUDENTS AGES 10 AND OLDER

The Whaling Museum & Education Center, 301 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor recently announced a spring series of NYS Certified Safe Boating Courses for students aged 10 and older. These courses provide essential knowledge about safe boat operation, regulations, and responsibilities of boat ownership. Upon successful completion of the course and exam, participants will earn a Safe Boating Certificate.

The course meets the New York State education requirement for the Personal Watercraft Operation Permit, Youth and Adult Boating Certificate. New York State certified instructors present the course in the Museum’s workshop. Participants may view the museum’s exhibits during short breaks throughout the 8-hour course.

Participants may bring a bagged lunch for the lunch break. Adults over the age of 18 have the option to walk into Cold Spring Harbor village to purchase lunch or coffee at any of the businesses or restaurants Main Street has to offer. Minors are not permitted to leave the museum during the course unless a parent or guardian is accompanying them.

Upon completion of the NYS Certified Safe Boating Course, students will receive a temporary safe boating card valid for 90 days. For students aged 18 and above, obtaining the permanent card requires sending the completed form and a $10 check to NYS. However, individuals under 18 will automatically receive the permanent card without any fee.

Upcoming course dates are scheduled for Sat, April 13; Sat, May 11; Sat, June 8; and Sat, July 13. Each course will begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 4:30 p.m.

“We’re thrilled to continue offering this important course to our community,” said Gina Van Bell, Assistant Director of The Whaling Museum & Education Center. “Boating safety is paramount, and this course will provide participants with the knowledge and skills they need to stay safe on the water. Dozens of Long Island residents have already their certificates with us through this course at the museum, and we’re excited to offer more opportunities to get certified this spring!”

The program fee is $35, which includes access to exhibits at the museum for the day. Payment will be collected at the museum before the program begins, and both cash and credit card are accepted. Registration is required and can be completed online at cshwhalingmuseum.org/events.

For more information about the NYS Safe Boating Course or to register, please visit cshwhalingmuseum.org/safeboating or contact Gina Van Bell at 631-367-3418 ext 12 or [email protected].