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Dark and Stormy: One Sailor's Story

Article by Matthew MacLean

Photography by John Videler

Originally published in Westport Lifestyle

Having grown up in a coastal town, I’ve been influenced by the aesthetic of the sea and the Long Island Sound since I was a child. But it wasn’t until now, as an adult, I decided to solidify my coastline credibility and learn to sail. I knew the basics, which is to say the difference between port and starboard and a few useful knots. Anything beyond that took me well outside my comfort zone. 

My real sailing education happened at Sound Sailing Center in Norwalk when I met Martin Van Breems. A true sailor’s sailor, he has been on the water his entire life. Martin has sailed alone across the Atlantic and made countless passages to the Caribbean. He received an award from the Coast Guard for rescuing mariners stranded at sea. He even invents and manufactures his own cutting edge, widely adopted sailing hardware. Few instructors have more knowledge and experience.                    

After over 30 hours of lessons and confident in my newfound skills I decided to test my abilities. I convinced a handful of friends with boating experience ranging from some to none to join me for a long weekend of sailing. Our plan was to leave Norwalk Harbor on Friday afternoon, cross the sound to Northport on Huntington Bay, then sail out to Port Jefferson the following day. The weather was threatening and high waves were expected but fair winds and smooth seas do not make for better sailors. 

While we prepped the boat the landlubbers of the crew joked good-naturedly and popped the first beers of the day. My fellow sailors and I reviewed the charts and planned our course, conscious of the ominous sky and the nearby marina flags snapping in the wind. The tide was low, increasing our chances of hitting submerged rocks. 

They say there are three types of sailors: Those who are going to run aground, those who have run aground, and liars. We would have to be extra careful. Our first hint of danger came in the channel. Two fishermen returning to port eyed us incredulously as we sailed by them. By the time we passed the light at Greens Ledge the boat was climbing heavy, rolling swells and rushing down the other side to meet the next wave. The bow sent sea spray into the air as it cut through the water, drenching us all. The landlubbers stopped joking, exchanging the beers for lifejackets and anything solid they could hold on to. 

Our passage across the sound was rough. The wind whipped the rain across the deck, stinging our cheeks. It was an exhilarating experience and a reminder that the few miles between Connecticut and Long Island are more than a bit of blue on the map. We felt the raw power of nature, harnessed it, tamed it and came out safely on the other side.

That evening, seated together for drinks and dinner in a warm Northport tavern, we talked excitedly about our trip and relived the day’s voyage.  We were euphoric in our shared experience and anxious to get back out onto the water. We stared into the maelstrom and passed through it to be rewarded with craft beer and shared apps. Everyone on board felt more confident the next day, and we spent our time talking and laughing as the miles faded away in our wake.

One of Martin’s goals with Sound Sailing Center is introducing new people to the sport of sailing. Judging by the reaction of my shipmates, he’s won several new converts. While we were never more than twenty miles from home, something about being on the boat made us feel as if we’d traveled much further. Riding the wind and waves makes even a weekend trip feel like an adventure.

By the way if our wives ask, it was smooth sailing the whole time.

Sound Sailing Center

54 Calf Pasture Beach Road 

Norwalk, CT 06855


  • Going out to sea.
  • Martin Van Breems
  • Martin Van Breems
  • Martin Van Breems overlooking his fleet.
  • Martin Van Breems
  • Martin Van Breems preparing a sloop to get underway.
  • Martin Van Breems
  • The bike is a quick way to get around the marina
  • The post-storm sail home. Photo by Roman Zeitlin
  • The post-storm sail home. Photo by Roman Zeitlin
  • Resting by the dock. Photo by Roman Zeitlin