5 Questions: Jim Birmingham

Jim Birmingham (Photo provided)

By Alison Rooney

Jim Birmingham is one of the five captains of the sloop Woody Guthrie who teach an eight-session, classroom-based sailing class at the Beacon Sloop Club that begins April 11. See beaconsloop.org.

What is a sloop? And why does it need five captains?
It’s a sailboat with one mast that has a sail forward and back. So, actually, most pleasure sailboats are sloops. We have five captains because we offer free public sails five times a week. It’s the best deal around.

Who typically takes the sailing class — novices or sailors wanting a brush-up?
Some people are interested in the Sloop Club and crewing or sailing on the Woody Guthrie. Some have had a taste of sailing. And others have a boat and want to get more familiar with it, or they’re thinking about getting a boat and want to get their feet wet, so to speak.

How do you simulate conditions and situations in the classroom?
In the first class, we go over the parts of the boat and terminology. Other classes deal with safety and emergency conditions, navigation and charts, tides and currents. We use a lot of diagrams and props. For example, the captain who teaches the session on winds brings in a fan to demonstrate how an upwind affects the sail and how even though the force is blowing against you, the dynamics and forces propel you. We will try to arrange a sail on the Woody Guthrie now that its three-year restoration is complete.

Do you earn any type of certificate by taking the class?
You don’t need certification to sail on the Hudson. In fact, you don’t need a license for a motor boat. Pretty much anyone can jump in a boat — it’s surprising.

What is special about sailing on the Hudson?
It’s gorgeous, and the Newburgh Bay is just a bit wider than most other areas so there’s really “room enough to sail.” Dealing with the tides is unique, especially using them to help you float down the river.

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