At Sea with Partiers and Pirates
From row boats to race boats, Westchester waters are full of spectacular vessels and the nautically inclined residents who navigate them.
Photography by Phillip Ennis
The wind in your hair, the spray on your brow, the sun sparkling on the water—boating sounds awfully inviting when it’s 95 degrees outside and you’re landlocked on I-287 behind six lanes of traffic trying to fit into three lanes of highway. Wouldn’t a day slicing through the waves be refreshing? Westchester boaters know what it’s like to zoom under the Tappan Zee at speeds that would make Henry Hudson’s jaw drop or to sail around the world in a style that Ferdinand Magellan would die for. With the picturesque Hudson River on one side and the expansive Long Island Sound on the other, Westchester is the perfect place for boats and the people who love them. We found five local mariners who use their boats for parties, races, family sleepovers—even to outrun modern-day pirates in the Indian Ocean.
Tear of the Clouds
Anton Wilson, a 65-year-old inventor and documentary film producer whose credits include work for ABC-TV and Geraldo Rivera, may pilot a go-fast boat, but he talks like an interior decorator when he describes the look of the custom-made, cigarette-style vessel he zooms up and down the Hudson. “I wanted the deck to reflect the sky, sunset, and water with blues and fuchsias and blending metallics and pearlescents so light reflects off it in different directions and it changes hues as it passes you.”
Wilson lives in Croton-on-Hudson, which makes it convenient to hop into his boat at Half Moon Bay Marina, zip down the river for lunch with friends, and be home in time for the early news. “The Hudson is like the Grand Canal in Venice. For half the year, I use the river as my highway.” And he operates his boat at highway speed—and with higher-than-highway gas prices. “At wide-open throttle,” he says, “my boat gets one mile per gallon. That’s a gallon a minute!”
Dick and leslie York
Sailing across Long Island Sound to Port Washington for lunch may be the epitome of excitement for some boaters, but Dick and Leslie York like to travel a tad farther. They went about 32,000 miles farther, in fact, when they scratched their Magellan itch in a 46-foot sailboat, Aragorn, with an excursion that took them around the world in three years and seven months.
“My wife and I had always talked about sailing the Mediterranean,” York, 66, explains, “but to get there from here, you have to sail upwind. It’s much easier to go the other way, which is to head west and go around the world. Isn’t that a great excuse?”
York began sailing when he lived in White Plains in the ’70s. In 1983, he bought his first cruising boat and sailed a lot with his kids, but moved to Chicago a couple of years later. “After fifteen years out there, I got extremely lucky and was able to retire,” he says. York had helped to start Discover Card there, then returned to the Larchmont Yacht Club. Today, he and his wife Leslie live in Rowayton, Connecticut, when they’re not living on their boat somewhere around the globe.
They started their around-the-world trip from Larchmont Harbor in 2003, sailed to Antigua to join a group of like-minded sailors bent on circumnavigation, went south through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and then through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea. This wasn’t a race, so they stopped frequently. York estimates they spent four days on land for every day at sea, living on the boat while exploring places like Bora Bora, Bali, Vanuatu, and Djibouti.
“Life is about people and we met some great ones around the world,” he says. “You’re living on the boat, so you buy your food in the local market, you do your laundry with local people, you fill your cooking gas where they get theirs.”
Not everyone was wonderful, however, especially the pirates. “We had three fishing boats try to trap us west of India near the Laccadive Islands, but we were able to outrun them,” says York, who also had some minor encounters through "Pirate Alley" off the coast of Somalia, where piracy is a growth industry. “We were in a convoy with five other boats, so they didn’t bother us. If we had been alone, they probably would have.”
Charlie Melchner, Sr.
A dozen years ago, Charlie Melchner, Sr., now 70, decided to finally make a big water-related purchase after a lifetime running Mahopac Marina. He and his wife, Lillian, intended to buy a vacation home, probably on Long Island, where they could revel in visits from their three kids and six grandchildren and other- wise enjoy the good life. The family got together, though, and suggested something else.
Melchner’s family vacation home turned into a 50-foot Sea Ray Motor Yacht named Diamond Lil. It sleeps nine and cruises the East Coast powered by twin 635-hp motors. It’s fully air-conditioned (heated, too), and has a nicely equipped galley.
“From the middle of April to the middle of October, we’re on the boat,” says Melcher, who also uses the boat to introduce new customers to the marina. “From here on the Hudson River, you can do all kinds of great three-day vacations. You can go down the Jersey shore, visit Montauk, even go up the river and cruise the Erie Canal. We have such a great boating location for adventures.”
These days, fuel economy can be a consideration, but Melchner says it’s very manageable with a little forethought. “We work with the tides on the Hudson and the six- to ten-mph current to decide where to go.” Since the Hudson changes direction with the tides, a little planning makes a big difference in fuel consumption. “For a day cruising with friends, we generally move along at seven or eight knots, which isn’t fast, but it will allow you to cover some distance over five or six hours. At that speed, you burn about six gallons an hour.”
Melchner lives on Lake Mahopac but keeps his boat at Half Moon Bay Marina in Croton-on-Hudson. “The Palisades are absolutely beautiful, especially in the fall. And then there are the sunsets looking across the river. We’re very lucky to live in this part of the world.”
Paul Hoffmann, Jr.
“Dynamite is a glorified party boat,” declares Larchmont real estate developer Paul Hoffmann, Jr. “There is a party on the boat every weekend, all summer long. If my wife and I aren’t using it, my boys are.” His sons, Trip and Erich, are 31 and 27.
Hoffmann, 67, says that, on a typical weekend, he and his wife, Michele, are on the boat from 10:30 in the morning to 5:30 in the afternoon—almost all of it party time. “The boat was designed to be ninety-eight-percent maintenance free. It’s literally a matter of filling the freezer with ice, making sure you have enough water on board, and casting off.” After a week managing the commercial real estate properties owned by his fourth-generation firm, George Hoffmann & Sons, Hoffmann is ready to party down. (He does admit to using it occasionally for business lunches during the week.)
In the largest party Hoffmann says he can remember, there were 12 guests on the 29-foot boat. Dynamite has a full galley with stove, microwave, freezer, and hot and cold water. It sleeps four and has two showers. There is a retractable top and side curtains for the cockpit, too, Hoffmann says, “so when there’s bad weather, you can still go out, stay dry, and party.”
Dave Donelson lives in West Harrison and mostly enjoys OPB—other people’s boats.