By Gavin Menu
Jack Reiser was in his second year as club steward of the Breakwater Yacht Club when a young African-American girl from Selden showed up on the club’s footsteps, scholarship in hand, hoping to become a sailor.
“She wanted to learn how to sail, her parents had no clue, but through Head Start they learned about the scholarships, and the kid loved it,” said Reiser, who was one of the club’s first members 25 years ago. “The parents figured out they could turn their kid into a straight A student because they said they would ‘buy’ her the scholarship. The kid went from a C student to a straight A student.”
There are a great many traditions that revolve around the water on the East End, and in Sag Harbor, in particular, with sailing at or near the top of the list. Long considered a sport for the wealthy and elite, community clubs like Breakwater are breaking that mold as they commit to bringing sailing to the masses, children and adults alike.
And Breakwater’s commitment to that pursuit has moved to a higher level as the 2014 season begins. Sean Elliott, who grew up sailing the waters of Patchogue Bay in Bayport and worked as the sailing director at the Devon Yacht Club in Amagansett for seven years, will head the sailing program at Breakwater this year and assist Reiser in running the program. In an interview at the club on Tuesday, Elliott said the club has added new sailboats to its fleet, implemented what he believes is a critical Counselor in Training program and soon will be welcoming campers in record numbers.
Reiser and Elliott estimate that as many as 400 sailing students will pass through the program between now and Labor Day. Also new this year is the acceptance of children as young as 7 years old. In the past, a student had to be at least 9 to participate in the programs.
“We want the kids at the end of their week here to be able to handle a boat,” said Elliott, who talks a great deal about safety and curriculum, emphasizing that the camp is not simply about cruising the harbor but truly learning to sail. “We’re promoting sailing at a very reasonable rate. You don’t have to join a yacht club, you don’t have to join a waiting list. Here, for next to nothing, you can be sailing for the summer.”
A week of sailing camp at Breakwater costs $325, with discounts available for multiple weeks. A camper who attends Breakwater for six to 12 weeks pays only $165 per week. Adults can also join the club for $250 per season, with opportunities to use the club’s boats, take lessons and spend the summer sailing even without owning a boat.
Breakwater also promotes competitive sailing for both children and adults. The club’s Wednesday Night Sailing series attracts dozens of longtime sailors and a fleet of some of Sag Harbor’s most impressive boats. For kids, the club this year has joined the Peconic Gardiners Junior Sailing Association, which hosts regattas across the East End. A handful of high schools also field teams for competitions in the fall.
“Promoting sailing on the shoulder seasons, in the spring and fall, is going to be great for us here,” Elliott said. “We’re hiring more instructors. It’s growing. We have a lot of the bigger boats now that are looking for crew. There’s one boat, a J-100, where almost the whole crew is made up of instructors or kids from the high school sailing program. We’re trying to tie it all together.”
A crucial component to that progression from young student to experienced sailor is the Counselors in Training program, or CIT, which is designed for students between the ages of 13 and 15. The program was created to ensure that Breakwater has high quality instructors for years to come.
“If we train 13, 14 and 15-year-olds, I have them from their freshman year in high school until they’re done with college,” Elliott said. “And we have the teachers we want to have. It’s a great way to spend your summer, teaching sailing lessons. We want people to come to Breakwater and spend their lives here.”
For more information on the club, which is located at 51 Bay Street, visit breakwateryc.org.