Sayville ferry captain spreads his nautical knowledge with Northern Nav clothing


Tim Leigh-Manuell wears many hats: father, ferry captain, earth science teacher and web designer. Now he designs his own hats for his Northern Sailing Clothing company.

Why would he get into fashion in his 40s? The answer: His desire to pass on decades of nautical knowledge.

“My brother-in-law and I bought a boat, and I quickly realized he didn’t know much about boating,” Leigh-Manuell said. “And I realized that I actually knew boating. So I started teaching him these little tricks and everything like I was teaching him how to get the boat out.

“We were having a few cocktails on our boat one night, and I kind of decided to put all my skills together, teaching, being a ferry captain, my web design skills,” said he continued. “And I decided to put some of the lyrics that I was saying to my brother-in-law on the back of a t-shirt.”

Among the lessons Leigh-Manuell now offers on clothing are diagrams of boats with appropriate labels and sayings such as “brown, brown, run to the ground” and “blue, blue, run through”, collision regulations that ensure safe travel for boaters. There are also mnemonic devices the part-time ferry captain learned as a teenager from the captains of the Sayville ferry service, including “red, back right.”

“It’s a navigational term that when you come back to port the red buoys – or the red triangles in this case – should be on the starboard side,” he said. “It was the first saying I ever learned, as I took my first ferry across the water.”

“The benefactors are already doing good things”

Seadog’s wisdom is just part of Leigh-Manuell’s mission with Northern Nav. Its “local legends” collection screams Long Island gems, such as Jones Beach; “Crazy Charlie”, a busy buoy in the entrance to Fire Island; and the South Shore Clammers, for whom he has a soft spot.

“I grew up on the South Shore, and a lot of my family at the time was clams and that’s where their livelihood came from,” he says. “So, I pay a little homage to the clams of the South Shore.”

The fashion designer has taken his line beyond the island, offering designs like the “Southernmost Point” buoy, a well-known Key West legend, and a Jersey Shore lifeguard boat and tower.

“My goal is to make local legends everywhere,” he said, after mentioning that he now sells his wares at two shops in Jersey. “I would love to say ‘Here’s a cool place nobody knows about’, put it on a t-shirt, and hopefully spark the interest of other people who love to travel and see new things.”

Anyone shopping for Northern Nav clothing will likely notice the “On the back of” pledge on every tag.

“‘On the back of’ was our promise to donate a portion of our sales to benefactors who are already doing great things,” Leigh-Manuell said. “The first year we chose Save the Great South Bay. This year, we’re doing The Neighborhood House, for families bereaved by people who have died of drug overdoses.

“We are kind of changing, but there are so many great organizations, we really want to try to help everyone,” he continued. “The hope is that as we grow, obviously the share we give increases and we can help more and more organizations looking for funding.”

Teaching the next generation

When he first took on this new project, Leigh-Manuell’s wife, Elizabeth Leigh-Manuell, and children, Kate and Charles Leigh-Manuell, accompanied him.

“My wife and I sampled nearly 50 different shirts to try and pick one out,” he said. “She looks at every design and says ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ We call it “The Mom Test.” As if it would sell or not, she gives a thumbs up or thumbs down.

“My son always helps me pack stuff. He runs to the post office for me. My daughter, her friends are modeling,” he continued. “It’s kind of a huge group effort.”

This year, more than ever, Leigh-Manuell’s roles as father, ferry captain and teacher are merging. Her daughter recently started working as a deckhand for the Sayville Ferry Service.

“It’s a refreshing thing to see the next generation come along, which includes my kid and his friends,” Leigh-Manuell said. “Over the years I have always enjoyed training new deckhands to become captains and then watching them go out into the world.”

Jpic op: Facebook/Northern Navigation

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