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Long Island

Oakcliff Sailing Center's start borne out of 'way too many boats'

"I grew up sailing on the South Shore in Babylon," said Bryan "Hunt" Lawrence, a billionaire investor whose large sailboat collection spurred creation of the Oakcliff Sailing Center in Oyster Bay. "I was probably 8 when I got my first boat, a beetle cat. I've always had boats" since then. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Oakcliff Sailing Center had its origins in an unusual problem: Bryan Lawrence had more sailboats than he knew what to do with.

Lawrence, 72, is an investor with homes in Manhattan and on Centre Island.

"We have a partnership that at any particular time owns half or more of 30 companies, all in the energy business," he said in a rare interview.

Lawrence, known almost universally by his nickname Hunt, likes to indulge himself by buying sailboats. "I grew up sailing on the South Shore in Babylon," he said. "I was probably 8 when I got my first boat, a beetle cat. I've always had boats" since then.

As Lawrence's fleet grew, he and his family invited friends, and friends of friends, to sail at what they called Oak Cliff Yacht Club, after the name of Lawrence's house. Five years ago, Lawrence had accumulated 67 boats.

"We had way too many boats," he said. "And so we decided we ought to have at least one foundation. It turned out we have two: Oakcliff and the Waterfront Center [also in Oyster Bay]. Our goal is to put as many racing sailors on the water as possible, and that's hundreds most weekends."

Lawrence wanted Oakcliff to teach and promote match racing -- one boat against another like in the America's Cup. The family reached out to Dawn Riley. In 1992, she was the first woman to sail on an America's Cup team, crewing on winner America3. Three years later, she was captain on America3, heading the first all-female team.

In 2000, as captain of America True as well as chief executive of its support organization, Riley became the first woman to manage a Cup team. Then, from 2004 to 2007, she was general manager of Areva Challenge, the French team competing for the America's Cup. She also competed in two grueling Whitbread round-the-world sailing races.

When Oakcliff officially kicked off its operation in the beginning of 2010, Riley was the nonprofit's executive director.

Lawrence keeps buying vessels -- he and the foundations he donates them to own more than 100 sailboats.

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