Joe Sullivan Article March 2023
4/15/2023 4:23 pm
2018 passing Bug Light in Gardiners Bay - Longest SF Race
This summer, God willing, I shall participate in this fantastic competition for the 50th time. 52nd World's Longest Race 2023 Registration
After completing my first circumnavigation in Race #1 in 1971, however, I did not feel that it was fantastic. In fact, compared with “Round-the-buoys” racing, I thought that it was just the opposite, and at the awards ceremony following The Race, I suggested otherwise, but I’m getting ahead of myself, so permit me to start at the beginning.
Barbara and I had been married four years when we moved into our new summer home in Southold, on the beautiful North Fork of Long Island, NY in 1967 with our two sons, Joe and Sean, who turned three and two years old respectively, that summer. Growing up, I had never had a Sailing lesson but in May 1955 as a freshman at Fordham University, three of my classmates and I were recruited to join the Sailing Team, and prior to marrying Barbara nearly 60 years ago, it was the best decision I ever made! Thus, in 1968, we purchased a Sunfish and in 1969, joined Southold Yacht Club.
One sunny afternoon, during the summer of 1970, I was sitting on the screened-in porch of the clubhouse, overlooking Southold Bay and Shelter Island in the distance with Joe Potorski, one of the SYC Flag Officers, and we were discussing possible events, which might generate positive publicity for SYC and its Sunfish Fleet #307. I asked Joe if anyone had ever sailed a Sunfish around Shelter Island? Joe didn’t know but we both agreed that such a long-distance race would certainly be unique and promote Southold Yacht Club and the Sunfish Class among Long Islanders and perhaps the broader Sunfish racing community. Later that fall, the SYC Board of Governors agreed and a Sunfish Race Around Shelter Island was approved for the summer of 1971.
In preparing for the long-distance Race, there was general agreement, that the ultimate sailing distance, including all tacking, would be the equivalent of a nautical marathon or approximately 25-26 miles. Organizers were concerned about safety so a minimum age of 18 years by December 31 was established. We recognized that that decision excluded some very good younger teenagers from participating but the decision was based upon maturity and judgment, and we opted to go with age and experience vis-a-vis youth and inexperience. The Race was promoted extensively, and Southold Yacht Club was pleasantly surprised to attract a fleet of approximately 25 boats for the inaugural “World’s Longest Sunfish Race, Around Shelter Island, NY,” which SYC hosted on August 8, 1971.
The entry fee was modest, and participants received chilled bottles of water and power bars to take with them while racing. In selecting the date for the inaugural Race, however, organizers, including yours truly, misread the tide charts and instead of the tide going out at the Start, it was coming in. To make matters worse, it was very hot and light airs were the order of the day. The Race was sailed counter-clockwise and at the Six-hour time limit, the leader, Don Trueman, representing the Nyack Boat Club on the Hudson River, had reached the children’s summer camp located on the northwest shore of Shelter Island just before entering Southold Bay. As the rules had established, at Six hours, the Race Committee laid out a finish line ahead of the lead boats and after the first 10 finishers had crossed it, the Race was declared “Over” and remaining boats were scored DNF and offered a tow back to the SYC beach.
At the Awards Ceremony inside SYC, I, who had raced and finished second, but found the experience less than ideal, apologized to the two-dozen participants for “This goofy Idea,” only to realize immediately, that I represented a minority of ONE! I was greeted by a mini revolution as the sailors shouted, “No way!” and “This was Fun!” And “Let’s come back next week to finish The Race!” Joe Potorski, who had not raced, was standing with a huge smile on his face and grinning from ear-to-ear!
Later, after our guest sailors had departed, Potorski and I concluded that Sunfish sailors were truly crazy but the club had created something special. In short order, the Board of Governors agreed and opted to make “The World’s Longest Sunfish Race Around Shelter Island, NY” an Annual Event.”
I won’t review every Race but focus upon those situations, which made certain races unique.
Race #2 in 1972 was a case in point. The tide charts had been read correctly and a decent breeze was blowing as the fleet circumnavigated Shelter Island clockwise. We again had a good turnout and halfway across Gardiner’s Bay, I was in a group of about 9 - 10 sailors, who were sailing south and wondering how long it would take to round Mashomack Point and head west on the south side of Shelter Island. Coincidentally, we all noticed two Sunfish, also heading south, but much closer to Shelter Island than the rest of us.
After a while, a powerboat came by and I recognized it as one of SYC’s safety boats. There were two men on board and one hailed our group…”You guys are going the wrong way! You’re heading toward Easthampton.” One sailor, not I, yelled back, “No we’re not. We’re going the right way. I sailed this race last year!” That gave me little comfort because I had also sailed the Race last year but because we were going in the opposite direction, I didn’t have a clue how far we were from Mashomack Point. The safety boat then turned around and made a Bee-line toward the two boats sailing close to shore.
Sailing the lead boat was 19-year old Jock Campbell on whose heels was last year’s winner, Don Trueman, who at some point hailed Jock and while pointing to our group, asked, “Do you think that we might be going the wrong way?” “No,“ said Jock, “I’ve been racing around Shelter Island with my father in our big boat for years and we’re going the right way!”
In the meantime, the safety boat had gone full speed ahead and found Mashomack Point and returned to our group way off shore. The official on board screamed at the top of his lungs, “You idiots are going the wrong way! Watch where I’m pointing. I’m only going to do this once” and he pointed to Mashomack and then accelerated away. Needless to say, our entire group sheeted in immediately and close-hauled directly to Mashomack Point ASAP!
Don Trueman was an older and more experienced Sunfish sailor than Jock Campbell, and we learned later, that he followed Jock for the remainder of The Race and passed him just before the finish to become the first double-winner in the Two-Year History of this remarkable and challenging competition!
Race #5 in 1975 was definitely UNIQUE! The winner, “Rip” Fisher, crossed the finish line in second place but was awarded the 1ST PLACE TROPHY when the sailor, who did cross first was disqualified. Because the breeze was virtually nonexistent when the leaders were passing the South Ferry, the leader at the time opted to do something very foolish. With no breeze blowing, he entered an empty ferry slip and made forward progress by standing in his boat and going hand-over-hand into, through and out of the ferry slip, which was very dangerous indeed and resulted in his disqualification.
The next two races were particularly special for me, as I won the Race in 1976 despite a very tenacious 17-year old sailor from the Westhampton Yacht Squadron nipping at my stern for the last mile of The Race. I recall praying to God not to win, but to do my best. But I also reminded God that I was 39 years old and once I turned 40 and started going downhill, I might never have as good a chance at winning as I did that day.
As good as I felt in ‘76 however, 1977, topped everything. By then, Barbara and I had four children, adding a third son and finally our only daughter to our clan. We were good friends of the O’Brien family with whom I was distantly related and whom we sponsored into Southold Yacht Club. The O’Briens had a large family. The oldest was a girl, Mary Beth, and she was followed by five very competitive younger brothers. I had known Mary Beth since she was born, and I took her sailing before she was eight years old and eligible for SYC’s excellent Junior Sailing Program. Over the years, she developed very good sailing skills and became very competitive in the sport. The minimum age to sail in “The World’s Longest Sunfish Race” was 18 by December 31 of the year of the Race. In 1977, Mary Beth just made the cut-off and her Dad, Gene, assured me that she was ready to compete.
As I was ready to launch from the beach before the Start, I saw Gene standing at the edge of the water looking out across the Bay. I said, “Gene, where is Mary Beth? I haven’t seen her.” He said, “She’s elected not to race.” I just about died and asked “WHAT HAPPENED? She assured me that she was going to participate,” Gene said, “She’s on the porch at the club. Maybe you can talk her into sailing.” I bolted up the beach and saw Mary Beth sitting in one of the chairs and looking out toward Shelter Island. “Mary Beth, “ I hailed, “You’re going to be late for The Race!” “I’ve decided not to race. Mr. S.“ “Why not?” I exclaimed. “I don’t know,” she replied, “I guess I’m afraid that I’ll get lost.” I then gave her my best pep talk; reinforced how good she is, and assured her that she won’t get lost. Finally, she got up and said, “I’ll give it a try.” “No you won’t” I retorted, “You’ll give it your best shot!” “What if I get lost?” she asked? “You won’t get lost, Mary Beth. Just stay in the middle of the course and focus. You will do fine!”
When I finished “The Race,” hours later, Gene met me at the beach, and with a huge smile on his face, informed me that Mary Beth had won! I was thrilled! But I’m even more thrilled today because while SYC has been honored to have many terrific female sailors participate in this nautical marathon over the years, Mary Beth O’Brien, has been the only female winner in 51 races.
The RACE became very popular and participation grew every year, particularly with the arrival of the “Pied Piper of Sunfish Sailing,” Dr. Dick Heinl, who in 1987 showed up leading a caravan of 8-9 cars from the Seawanhaka Place Yacht Squadron in Nassau County. They all enjoyed the experience and the majority continued to participate in “The RACE” for at least the next two decades. Dick Heinl became the first four-time winner of this nautical marathon, and at age 85, the oldest winner. Dick is now 98 years young and while his last official race was at age 93, he graces us with his presence every year while sailing doubles with his son, Scott. After starting, they come-about before exiting Southold Bay and return to the SYC beach when the entire fleet has exIted the Bay.
In 2003, Keith Lyman, an annual participant from East Marion, NY won The RACE at age 79. At the time, no one older had ever crossed the finish line in first place so Southold Yacht Club created a perpetual plaque in honor of its two most successful senior participants.
HEINL – LYMAN OCTOGENARIAN AWARD
“The older I get, the faster I wuz!”
In 2005, at the 35th Annual World’s Longest Sunfish Race, Around Shelter Island, NY, Southold Y. C. saluted two octogenarians, Dr. Richard Heinl, 80, winner at age 62, 64 & 66 and Mr. Keith Lyman, 81, who in 2003 at 79 became the oldest winner. “In their honor, we annually recognize the Oldest Participant and the First Master 50+ to finish.”
Sadly, Mister Lyman passed away in his late 80’s but unbelievably, in 2009 at age 84, Dr. Heinl set a new age record (oldest winner) while becoming the first person to win the Race four times.
Three years later, Bobby Boger, who grew up sailing at Southold Yacht Club, was the second person to win four times while representing SYC in 2006 and his alma mater, the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point in 2010, ’11 and ’12!
2012 Race Champion Bobby Boger
When he crossed the finish line in 2015, Mattituck Yacht Club’s John Condon became the first Five-Time Winner, having previously won “The Race” in 1997, 2002, 2007, 2013, a spread of
16 years between his 1st and 5th victories.
As impressive as that statistic is, however, John Eckart, representing Mecox Y.C. in Water Mill, NY while winning in 1982, ’84 and ’85 also won “The Annual World’s Longest Sunfish Race,
Around Shelter Island, NY” in 2018 and 2019 while representing Massapoag Y. C. In Sharon, Mass., a spread of 37 years between his first and fifth victories.
2019 Eckart 6th win - Longest SF Race
When sailors, male and female, return year after year and decade after decade to participate in “The World’s Longest Sunfish Race, Around Shelter Island, New York,” it’s obvious that they have fun and enjoy the experience, the challenge, and the camaraderie, which exists among Sunfish sailors everywhere.
The 50th Anniversary Race should have taken place in 2020 but due to Covid 19, SYC erred on the side of caution and postponed the competition one year. As a result, the 50th Anniversary Race was celebrated in 2021; the 51st took place last year, and this year, Southold Yacht Club will host “The 52nd Annual World’s Longest Sunfish Race, Around Shelter Island, NY” on Saturday, July 15. As indicated earlier, God willing, at age 86, I shall compete in and complete my 50th circumnavigation. I opted out of two races. The first was one of the early years of “The RACE” when we scheduled a family vacation without taking into consideration the date of “The RACE!” and the second was when I was 59 and recuperating from prostate surgery. I recall asking my doctor about The Race and him responding “Absolutely Not!” In any event, win, lose or draw, hopefully on Sunday, July 16, I’ll have 50 “World’s Longest Sunfish Races, Around Shelter Island, NY” under my belt, and I’ll retire from Sunfish sailing a very happy camper!
2021 50th Race Start - Longest SF Race
2021 former Champions - Longest SF Race
L to R: Bobby Boger, Joe Croasdale, Bart Hale, John Condon, Lee Montes, Dick Heinl, Joe Sullivan, Sean Sullivan, John Eckart, Chris Williams, Jim Koehler
Over the years, Southold Yacht Club has been delighted to host Sunfish sailors not only from New York, New England and the Middle Atlantic States, but from as far away as Virginia, Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Michigan, as well, so experienced Sunfish racers who will be 18 years old by December 31 of this year are welcome to join us. Because the North Fork of Long Island is a summer resort area, accommodations at hotels, motels and trailer parks tend to be taken early in the season. Thus, if you have serious interest in participating on Saturday, July 15 in “The 52nd Annual World’s Longest Sunfish Race, Around Shelter Island, NY,” please apprise me by email to firstname.lastname@example.org and include your return home address. I’ll see that the Race Committee receives your information so when the Sailing Instructions are ready for distribution, they will be forwarded to your email or home address with registration directions.
Past Commodore - Southold Yacht Club