East Hampton charity ready for Block Island paddle fundraiser

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On Saturday, if the wind is blowing in the right direction, about 45 people will get up early and gather by the Montauk Point Lighthouse, then go into the water with their paddle boards and kayaks and head for Block Island, 18 miles away.

But, if the wind is blowing toward Long Island, they will instead get on a ferry, sail to Block Island, and then paddle back to Montauk with the wind at their backs.

They will leave about 6 a.m., because the timing of a seven-hour open water paddle is really important. Last year, bad weather caused the fundraising event to be canceled, after it had been postponed three times. This year, the starting date was moved from the first Saturday in September to avoid storms.

"You have to be off the water before the afternoon winds pick up," explained volunteer Evelyn O'Doherty. "You have to schedule the trip according to the incoming tide, and you only move as fast as the slowest paddler. We really do stay in a group," she said.

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Along with regular training sessions -- the group ranges from 18 to 60 years old -- the sponsor, Paddlers for Humanity, has urged each person to make an 8- to 10-mile open water practice this week to be sure they can finish the trip.

And, there is one more thing the paddlers have to do before the event: Each must get at least $1,500 in pledges to support the charity, which has given away more than $700,000 in the past five years, much of it to local groups such as the East Hampton Day Care Learning Center and The Retreat, a women's shelter.

Fred Doss, co-president of the East Hampton-based group, said the Block Island paddle began as an informal activity nine years ago. It turned into a fundraising event five years ago.

O'Doherty has done several other, shorter paddles with the group. But this will be the first time she has entered its Block Island trip -- the biggest event of the year for Paddlers for Humanity.

"It's tough on the legs and shoulders to paddle out that far," O'Doherty said. "You're standing on the water, so you're feeling the energy of what's happening underneath you. You're really connected to the environment," she said. "In the past, groups have seen whales in the distance."

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