Sailing Peconic Bay: Sixty Three Years

Written By: Bennett  Lavenstein

It was the summer of 1952, hot and humid, and a young boy 7 years of age arrived at the house on Foster Avenue in Hampton Bays. Little did he know that would be the beginning of an avocation of sailing that   would last 63 years. It was a simple time, the summer of 1952 when our Chrysler Windsor sedan pulled up after a 9 hour drive from Maryland to the family house on Foster Avenue, a simple plain shingled cottage opposite a simple Currier and Ives appearing boat yard. The smell of the sea weed, the sand on the road and the walk down the untraveled dead end road that lead to the Coast Guard Station at the site where German spies were left ashore on Shinnecock Inlet in the 1940’s only to be captured several doors away from the family cottage! My uncle had a simple wooden sloop, he would arrive on Friday night from Manhattan on the train , picked up by my aunt dutifully awaiting his arrival at the Hampton Bays Train station, a now historical site. Almost upon arriving home, he doused his suit, his white shirt with open collar, his half loosened narrow dark tie, changing immediately into a bathing suit replacing the city garb and off we were  to the boat yard across the road for an evening quick sail in Shinnecock Bay. Of course there were motor boats and wake and as a young child and poor swimmer, I held the gunnels with all my strength. The waves, the white caps, the heeling of the boat was a new experience for the young landlubber mind. As the years progressed, sailing took place on the lakes of Maine, the coast of Maine and around Southwest Harbor and Annapolis but the sensation of that little boat remained ingrained in memory. And the sailing bug had taken hold. Fast forward  some 30 years later, when most fortuitously Long Island sailing again presented an opportunity and adventure on an annual summer basis at another family house . Now it was the North Fork, sailing out of Cutchogue Harbor into Great Peconic Bay, around Robbins Island and yes even competing in the Wednesday night Round Robbins Island Race, in a little American 14.6 open day sailor. Winning in our class! Coming in first in our class with my brother in law now at the helm, well behind the big boats, with no other competitors to challenge us, or claim foul, only one hour behind the big boys! So who else sailed in Cutchogue Harbor of note? Who else could give us the inspiration to sail as well as we could, to jibe, to come about, to broad reach? Well ,down the beach from us on Nassau Point was the debarkation point for Albert Einstein’s sailing venture. Famous for falling asleep in his little 15 foot wooden sailboat named Tinef, Yiddish for “ junk” , floating around Peconic Bay ,he was brought to shore by watchful neighbors. Clearly he was a better and more formidable physicist than a skillful sailor but in that summer of 1939 sitting on his porch 3 doors from ours, overlooking Cutchogue Harbor the origins of the Manhattan Project took form. A project that would launch in August 1942.

So now in 2015, 63 years after that introduction on Shinnecock Bay to a wonderful sport, now an older skipper,    with the glorious East end sky, the ever changing winds and tides and currents prevailing in Great Peconic Bay will venture out again humbly   trying to master the skills of seamanship of sailing , an avocation and addiction that started in these Long Island very same waters. Still messin about in boats.