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Orient Yacht Club is more than just sailing

Members of the Orient Yacht Club, founded in

Members of the Orient Yacht Club, founded in 1933, enjoy a Thursday night adult sailing race followed by a potluck dinner. (Aug. 2, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Sitting on the dock at the Orient Yacht Club with a sweeping view of Gardiners Bay, it’s easy to understand why members there might not want to share it.

“It's a terrible place,” joked Walter Strohmeyer, 83, as he enjoyed the setting sun and the company of friends at the club on Thursday night. “No one wants to come here.”

But actually, many people do. The club, founded in 1933, currently has a wait list of people who would like to join - and a waiting period of about two years, said Barbara Friedman, of Manhattan, who has been summering in Orient for 18 years and is on the yacht club’s social committee.

“People come here for the access to the waterfront and for the community,” Friedman said. “It’s great for the kids, especially if they are into sailing.”

“We are not sailors,” she added, though her 17-year-old son took lessons there and is now an instructor. “We just come for the social activities.”

Sailing was the main event on Thursday night during the club’s weekly Lightning Race, when a few teams of adult members raced the 19-foot sailboats within viewing distance of the club.

But only three boats were in the water at start time, and one was disqualified from the race for a late start. So many in attendance were there for what followed: a weekly community dinner for members of the club.

Paula Thorp, a club member who organizes the dinners, said they started about 10 years ago, picking up from an old tradition at the club.

Her husband, Frank, said the dinners started long before his wife got involved.

“Sixty years ago, the kids raced on Thursday nights,” said Frank Thorp, of East Marion. “The moms would all come and bring us dinner. That’s how Thursday-night dinners got started. I was a teenager then.”

Paula Thorp said about 115 people attend every Thursday and each pays $5. Thorp supplies the main dish - some kind of meat she picks up from the grocery store that is marinated and grilled up on the dock - and guests are required to bring a covered dish for as many as 10 people.

Peter McGreevy, the Orient Yacht Club commodore, said the Thursday night dinner brings many of the 175 member families together to enjoy the perks of the club and each other.

“It’s a very diverse group of people,” said McGreevy, 45, of Mattituck, adding that the club is probably half year-rounders and half summer residents, and the majority have houses in Orient. “This is what brings them all together.”

He said the club gives out trophies for the Thursday night races at the end of the season.

Kevin Gallagher, 73, of Southold, sat around a table Thursday with his wife, Dee, Strohmeyer, and another Orient resident, Betty Rowe, 81.

The Gallaghers, also members without a boat, joined the club to enjoy everything the Thursday night dinners embody.

“This is fantastic,” he said. “What could be better than this?”

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