Boats and Drones

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For today's adventure, we're sailing the Long Island Sound. Shawn and I join two of our coworkers on a fine seafaring vessel, the S/V Morning Call, for our first-ever sailboat ride—what could go wrong?

The Gear

DJI Inspire 2, Power Vision PowerRay

How You Can Do It

There are plenty of options for sailing in and around New York. If you don't have direct access to a boat, you can sign up for a sailing school like Hudson River Community Sailing or sailboat tour, both of which can be found with a quick Internet search. Costs vary and tend to be on the expensive side, but the thrilling experience and scenic views make it all worthwhile. Cost: $$$

One of the great things about living in New York is our proximity to the water. For Adventure Week, Shawn and I wanted to take advantage of that close vicinity, so, for our third excursion, we decided to go sailing on the Long Island Sound. To document our experience, we brought along the standard collection of photo and video equipment; plus, we were able to get our hands on some pretty cool drones: the DJI Inspire 2 and the PowerVision PowerRay.

Captain Todd's boat, the Morning Call, in harbor. Shot with the DJI Inspire 2.
Skipper Todd's boat, the S/V Morning Call, in harbor. Shot with the DJI Inspire 2.

Sailboat transportation was provided by our B&H Explora teammate, Todd Vorenkamp, who agreed to take us out on his boat, the S/V Morning Call. Fellow writer, B&H employee, and optics expert Christopher Witt rounded out our crew.

Shawn Steiner
Shawn Steiner
Brett Smith
Brett Smith
Christopher Witt
Christopher Witt
Members of our intrepid crew: Shawn Steiner, Brett Smith, and Christopher Witt

The morning of our trip, we arrived at the harbor to help ready the boat. As we prepped the vessel for departure, it dawned on me how very little I knew about sailing. I had a lot of questions, like: How many sails are there? Why is that thing called a boom? What is a jib?

Captain Todd explaining the nuances of sailing to me as we rowed out to the boat. Thrilling stuff.
Skipper Todd explaining the nuances of sailing to me as we rowed out to the boat. Thrilling stuff.

Something else I didn't know—or never really considered—was that many sailboats also rely on diesel engines. I first became aware of this factoid when Skipper Todd, visibly exasperated by my constant prodding to "hurry up and deploy the sails," explained to me that you can't just unfurl your sails in harbor—you must get out to open seas first.

"So, how do we do that?" I asked, which led to a lengthy discussion about sailboat engines and fuel; the differences between marine diesel and regular diesel; and so on and so forth.

If this had been a novel, Skipper Todd's overly detailed discourse on boat engines and marine fuel would have struck me as something of a Chekhov's gun, but instead I thought, "Oh, sailboats have engines that run on fuel. That's weird. Oh well, I'm sure I'll never have to think about that again."

Boats moored in the harbor. Shot with the Inspire 2.
Boats moored in the harbor. Shot with the Inspire 2.

While I waited for some actual sailing to commence, I powered up the drones to make sure they were ready for their eventual deployment. First, I ran through my preflight checklist for the Inspire 2, then I booted up our ROV, the Power Vision PowerRay. 

The PowerRay prepares to dive.
The PowerRay prepares to dive.

Underwater drones are having something of a moment right now, and the PowerRay has established itself as one of the top underwater vehicles on the market. Featuring 4K video capture, precise controls, and real-time 1080p HD streaming capabilities, the PowerRay seemed like the perfect ROV for our trip. However, as I would eventually learn, despite the PowerRay's impressive camera setup and features, the murky and sometimes occluded waters of the Long Island Sound do not make a very viewer-friendly underwater environment.

Right as I was finishing up with the drones, our engine suddenly cut out. A moment later, Skipper Todd emerged from below to announce that we had a problem.

"What's wrong?"

"Fuel leak."

Oh right. Chekhov's gun.

Shawn steadies the Inspire 2 as we prepare for the rarely seen dingy drone launch.
Shawn steadies the Inspire 2 as we prepare for the rarely seen dingy drone launch.

While the good skipper attempted to repair the busted fuel line, Shawn and I decided to make the best of our stalled situation and send out the Inspire 2 for some aerial footage.

The Inspire 2 in graceful flight
The Inspire 2 in graceful flight

Although I've flown many drones in my day, never anything as nice—or big—as the Inspire 2. The pièce de résistance of DJI's very prestigious lineup, the Inspire 2 is an absolute movie-making marvel. Equipped with a professional-grade Zenmuse X5S, it can capture stunning 5.2K video and hi-res 21MP stills. It also can flat-out move. I switched over to Sport mode to open it up, and the Inspire did not disappoint, jumping from zero to way-too-fast in a matter of seconds.

Some wide aerial shots from the DJI Inspire 2

Several failed attempts to patch the leak, and it was starting to look like our sailboat adventure was over before it truly began. Miles from our port, the question changed from, "How do we fix this leak?" to "How do we get back home?"

Shawn, in what I contend was a fit of early onset sea madness, decided he should use our escape dingy to row to the nearest shore. At the time, it's unclear whether he intends to get help or to simply flee the scene, but what is clear after watching him clumsily flail the oars for a few minutes is that Shawn is not a very good rower and he is quickly swept away.

Shawn’s foolproof plan to row to safety did not take into account that he does not know how to row.

So now we're leaking fuel. We're stuck miles from harbor. And our youngest crew member is fast floating out to sea. Worse yet: There's no wind, so even if we wanted to deploy the sails and go after Shawn, it wouldn't matter.

Skipper Todd, not wanting to deal with the HR nightmare that is losing an employee at sea, temporarily cedes the repairs to coach Shawn back to the boat. It takes some doing, but the plan works. After nearly an hour of rowing, Shawn gets close enough to throw him a rescue line.

Shawn's rescue kicks off a reversal of fortune. Not long after he is back onboard, Skipper Todd manages to patch the leak. Moments later, the wind kicks up. We can finally sail!

Shawn and I kick back on the hull and enjoy the scenic views as we zip around the Long Island Sound. It's not the longest ride, but the combination of speed and scenery make it totally exhilarating.

Safely back in the harbor.
Safely back in the harbor

After 30 minutes or so of sailing, we start back to port. Although our adventure didn't go quite as planned, the experience was incredible and leaves a lasting impression I won't soon forget. Oh, and the sailing part was great too.

Questions about sailing? Shoot us your questions and comments in the section down below. And don't forget to check out all our Adventure Week experiences and helpful articles at B&H Explora.

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