Keeping Community Sailing Shipshape -August 2013

by: Joshua Balling

photography by: Jim Powers

During Nantucket Race Week, when hundreds of sailboats of every size, shape and level of construction are on the water, PASCAL ANTONIETTI is almost always on call. Nantucket Community Sailing is the lead organizer and beneficiary of the annual event that this year begins Aug. 10 and runs through the Opera House Cup Aug. 18, so there’s bound to be something for its boats and facilities manager to do: repair a broken spar, rig a new sail, straighten a rudder or trailer a boat from one location to another.

But that’s nothing out of the ordinary for Antonietti, who during the rest of the year is almost single-handedly responsible for maintaining Community Sailing’s ever-growing fleet of boats, both sail and power, and all the ancillary equipment that goes along with it.

Antonietti began working part-time for Community Sailing in 2004 and joined the nonprofit full-time in 2011. These days, he’s ultimately responsible for a fleet that has grown to include eight Hunter 140s, 24 Optimist prams, five RS Visions (a U.K. boat used in NCS’ teen-beginner program, three prams, six Bugs, 12 skiffs, two J-105 keelboats, the largest in the NCS fleet, five Rhodes 19s, two Marshall Cat 15s, 15 420s, three Sunfish, two Lasers, 10 to 12 kayaks, six paddleboards and five windsurfers, all actively used during the summer months. And that doesn’t include Community Sailing’s off-island fleet: a 12-passenger van, 17-foot Zodiac coaching boat, six Optis and three 420s for mainland regattas.

His seasons are well-defined. This time of year it’s all maintenance, all the time. There’s major work to be done. Fiberglass repairs, broken spars and bent rudders are all his responsibility, not to mention little things like rigging sails, transporting boats, repositioning floats and the hundreds of other jobs required to keep a sailing fleet afloat and shipshape.

“There are over 2,000 parts on a J-105 alone to deal with,” Antonietti said. “That’s pretty impressive when you think about it.”

In the winter, there’s budget preparation, ordering supplies and developing safety protocols to review with harbormaster Sheila Lucey for the most appropriate placement of moorings and floats for Community Sailing’s youth programs. Antonietti also spent part of the off-season building new floats for the Opti program in Polpis and Monomoy, and getting the fleet ready for the high-school sailing program, which runs from March to June.

“It’s a full-time job,” he said with a laugh. “During the winter I’m by myself, and between March and October, I have one assistant.”

There’s no time to take a break or cut a corner. If Antonietti and his assistant don’t stay on top of their jobs, Community Sailing – founded in 1994 to provide affordable access to sailing and other water sports to islanders and visitors, and which now serves over 1,000 children and adults a year – wouldn’t be able to offer the programs it does to as many people as it does.

“The boats get a lot of abuse. They are used all day, every day. The fleet, particularly the skiffs, take a lot of wear and tear, and need regular maintenance and upkeep,” NCS program director Emily Taylor said.

“We don’t have extra boats. The programs are sold and instructors hired based on everything being operational. That’s where Pascal comes in.”

Open lines of communication and efficient organization allow Antonietti to get the job done, and the NCS maintenance department to operate like the well-oiled machine it’s become under his watch. He’s quick, however, to credit others with helping him do the work.
“Teamwork is so important. You cannot separate my work from Emily’s, from Diana’s (executive director Diana Brown), the office. Everybody works together very closely. That’s the key for success,” he said.

“Race Week is one of the biggest fundraisers for Nantucket Community Sailing. Everyone works so hard to make sure the event keeps growing. There’s not too much extra work for me. I just have to make sure I’m on top of what I’m doing. My part is listening. When anybody needs anything, I need to respond quickly. The way to do that is to make sure the job at the shop is done. That’s not just for Race Week, that’s the way I approach my job.”
Brown couldn’t be happier with his work.

“Pascal is incredibly talented. I think he can repair anything. He has the fine woodworking skills needed for wooden-boat repair, as exemplified by the work he did on his own boat. We don’t have many wooden boats at NCS, so his talents here are more varied – building racks and floats, patching holes in fiberglass, painting bottoms, replacing props and tillers, fixing broken rigging, and in general, knowing what has to be done and the best way to do it for the hundreds of things that can go wrong with boats,” she said. “He works very hard, especially at this time of the year, but always has a smile on his face and is happy to help out in any way he can.”

Antonietti learned his job by watching others and doing. He’s not a born sailor. He didn’t grow up on the water. He lived a whole different life before moving from France to Nantucket with his wife Eleanor, whose family are multigenerational summer residents.
Her grandfather was George Constable, who dominated Indian-class sailboat racing on Nantucket for over 60 years, and whose feats in the Indian Coskata were apocryphal and legendary, including a 30-mile nighttime sail from Edgartown on the Vineyard to Nantucket.

Antonietti had always dreamed of giving up the corporate life in France – he ran a small company that manufactured ecologicallyfriendly chemical cleaning products – to work with boats, particularly wooden boats.

“I totally turned the page when I got here. I regarded yachting like my next job. I had always been very curious about sailing and the water, and never had time to do it in France. I jumped in to see if I could make something out of it, and I did,” he said. “It was very scary to just jump in. I was not sure whether it would be sustainable, but it worked out. Or it’s starting to.”

His initiation to the world of boat maintenance began with Chad Hudnut at Community Sailing four days after arriving on Nantucket in 2004, and continued under Chris Westerlund in his sailboat-maintenance business, and Eric Finger doing finish work on the island’s Alerion fleet.

On his own time he restored Coskata, his wife’s family’s 83-year-old classic wooden sailboat that sank after dragging anchor and striking a submerged object during a 2004 nor’easter.

“My own boat was a very good school for me. It helped me understand what working on wooden boats was all about. I’m trying to get Community Sailing more involved with a wooden-boat program. I’d love to teach kids how to fix a Beetle Cat in the off-season. But that’s not on the agenda just yet,” he said.

Antonietti always seems to have a side project going. Aside from his myriad duties with Community Sailing, he found time this winter to assist in the restoration of a Monomoy surfboat acquired by the Egan Maritime Institute’s Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum. He helped Connor Wallace and others get the boat seaworthy, and it will eventually be used in the Egan Institute’s Sea of Opportunities program intended to acquaint middle-school-age students with maritime-oriented careers.

He’s also an avid sailor, when he has the time, racing Indians on Saturdays, although Coskata was not yet in the water as of mid-July. He annually joins Harvey Jones on the W-46 Mustang during Race Week, and sailed with Wendy Schmidt on the Swan 80 Selene during the 2009 Heineken Regatta in St. Maarten. He seems to be a natural.

“I kept a low profile, and picked it up gradually,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe I just have a feel for it.It’s like cooking. There’s much you can improve, but you cannot learn. It has to be there. I was never really taught, I just put myself on a sailboat and tried to understand why the skipper did what he did, why the tactician did what he did. I learned by doing. That’s what happened with Coskata, too.”

If only he had time to put her in the water.

Pascal and Eleanor have three children: Thibault, 11; Gillian, 10; and Luca, 6, all budding sailors. Pascal will be the first to admit they picked up their love of being on the water from Community Sailing, not necessarily from him.

He is understandably proud of his role with the organization that this year filled 30 percent of its youth-program slots with island children.

“I love my job, but I really love to see the smiles of my kids. I took Thibault out in Coskata, and was not a great teacher, but since he went to Polpis with Community Sailing, he loved it. It’s important to have kids comfortable in the water. It opens my mind about what I’m doing every day. It’s not just about bottompainting, or fixing a boat. It’s about those kids out on the water,” he said.

Antonietti is also looking forward to the future. Community Sailing has plans to build a brand-new boat shop on three acres of land it leases on Shadbush Road behind Nantucket Memorial Airport, where it currently stores its boats in the off-season.

It will be a far cry from its current one-bay garage on Arrowhead Drive, where there’s not even enough room in the sail loft to completely unfold a J-105 sail. Plans call for a three-bay, 5,000-square-foot space large enough to work on three Rhodes 19s at one time. It will also be built to the latest in green standards, with the option of wind and solar power, and vast improvements to its washwater-recycling system.

The project, expected to cost between $1.5 million and $2 million, could begin by fall.
“It will really allow us to take to the next level what we’re doing now. All the boats will be stored and worked on in the same place. It will save a ton of time,” Antonietti said.

Joshua Balling is the associate editor of Nantucket Today and the assistant editor of The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821. Like Antonietti, he doesn’t spend nearly as much time on the water as he’d like.

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