While most people try to beat traffic to get home after work, some take a detour to Sagamore Yacht Club in Oyster Bay, where each Wednesday night they hike up their sails and go racing in the bay.
For 20 weeks during the year, an eclectic group assembles at Sagamore to compete. It’s open to all, and having a boat or even experience isn’t necessary.
“A lot of people think of sailing, and they think of it as an elitist type of sport,” said Oyster Bay’s Darren Martin, who has been showing up with friends longer than anybody can remember. “But it’s really far from that. You have people from all walks of life, all means, and all different-size boats out there.”
Plainview's Mike Gehrling, who organizes the races, says those who have boats and racing experience embrace newcomers and help them learn.
“It’s a sport, and as a sport, everybody tries to achieve improvements while they’re racing,” said Gehrling, who added that the Wednesday night tradition dates back to the 1940s. “Of course we pick on each other when gaffes and mistakes occur, but we're always looking out for each other. It’s a great avenue for camaraderie and sportsmanship.”
Oyster Bay’s Todd Field, who officiates the races, has been sailing since he was 7 and has helped create an atmosphere for people to have fun while also learning from their mistakes.
“I want sailboat racing to be fun for all,” Field said. “I want to be able to challenge the good sailors in situations where they can better themselves. And I still want to keep the venue fun for those who are still learning, or who simply want to have an enjoyable day on the water.”
Field can usually be heard over the radio telling each boat what the route is, or letting everyone know that the committee can’t announce that they can be bribed -- one beer equals a one-minute bonus, for example. That kind of fun keeps people coming.
“It’s such a special thing to have this little respite in the middle of the week,” said Martin as he sipped a drink on the porch. “We’re all friends, but we're busy and we don’t get to see each other as much as we’d like. We really bond and have a lot of laughs on a Wednesday night.”
The Wednesday night sailing races at Sagamore Yacht Club will run through October. For more information, call 516-922-0555 or visit sagamorenyc.com.
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