47th Annual World’s Longest Sunfish Race Around Shelter Island, NY

Posted July 17, 2017

As told by 2017 Winner, 62-year old Jim Koehler, to Reporter Joe Sullivan.....

Like life, the Around Shelter Island Race this year had its challenges. Traffic and other logistical problems caused me to be three-minutes late for the Start. I was discouraged but part of the event is the love of doing it, and sailing with approximately 30 other boats around Shelter Island is a thrill. Fortunately, long-time Southold Yacht Club member, Peter Young, helped me get to the Starting Line and encouraged me by saying, “Jim, It's a long race. You have plenty of time to catch up!"  So, off I went. 

The outgoing tide was favorable and we had a trailing wind of about 6-mph. The Race Committee chose a counter-clockwise direction and I could see the other boats about 300 yards ahead of me.

I sailed up the middle left past Paradise Point. With the ebb tide, this paid off and I picked up four boats. By the time I got to the South Ferry, I had pulled even with several boats, which had stayed out in the channel. The breeze picked up to approximately 10-mph as we headed on a broad-reach, still on starboard tack, toward Mashomack Point.

As I gybed at Mashomack, I was in sixth place not far behind last year’s winner and New York Regional Rep Lee Montes, and Rob Eberle, who hosts the Around Harker’s Island Race in North Carolina, and was sailing around Shelter Island for the first time.

This is when I made my move to the outside. The breeze had freshened and favored all the sailors close to the Island. This had merit as the angle of the breeze wasn’t blocked that much by the island, and it was flat, fast water. However, I felt strongly that I needed to be in the outgoing current so I favored sailing offshore.

Well ahead was a dark hulled boat that I didn't recognize. It turned out to be John Eckart. I found out later that John had won “The RACE” three times in 1982, ’84 & ’85. The breeze was wonderful and all the boats pretty much planed the entire east side of Shelter Island. Staying offshore in Gardiner’s Bay, I was able to work the waves and sail fast. Eventually, about two-thirds of the way along the east side, I pulled even with John. We spoke some and he said, “That's quite a comeback!”  I replied, “Thanks, but there's a long way to go.”  When we passed Ram’s Head, I was able to get a few boat lengths on John and we continued to plane until we reached Hay Beach Point.

In the Ebb tide, I immediately pressed to get across the harbor entrance towards East Marion on the North Fork. After doing so, I took a series of short tacks staying behind the Jetty just east of Greenport.

When it came time to pass the Jetty, I could feel the Molasses tug of the ebb tide and thought “Uh Oh!”  I sailed far enough to just pass the jetty and clear it as I immediately tacked back to hug the Greenport shore. I desperately wanted to stop at Claudio’s and have an appetizer but I opted to keep sailing.

Getting by the North Ferry was tricky as there were lots of active motor boats as well as the ferry boats. I was fortunate to get through this mess ok while keeping as close as possible to the Greenport side.  

The right side was favored in Southold Bay and that’s when the “OK, just keep the boat going” mode kicked in. Locating the finish line was difficult but I finally saw the large yellow buoy and the Finish Boat and heard them hail my under four-hour time as I crossed the line. That’s when I knew that I had won “The RACE!” The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away so I just kept sailing. 

The big side note with this is that my left hip had been injured during the post-Sandy reconstruction at the Dinghy Shop. Recently, I had Stem Cell therapy done and it has enabled me to keep doing what I love best…. Sailing my Sunfish!

I have competed in this event several times and have had moments when I thought  “UGGHH!” But, it's a long race and anything can happen. This was my time to have everything fall into place. 

The World’s Longest Sunfish Race is FUN and a CHALLENGE! It's like THE WOODSTOCK of SAILING. People come to it from all over the country and Southold Yacht Club does a beautiful job.

Edit. Southold Yacht Club Commodore Susan and her husband Peter Honig were escorting the fleet on a good-size cabin cruiser, which was serving as a “Safety boat.” Though far behind the leaders, I, too, caught up with several boats, which had passed me earlier, by staying offshore in Gardiner’s Bay and considerably wide of the fleet as we passed Ram’s Head. As the fleet was planing from Ram’s Head to Hay Beach Point, I noticed the cabin cruiser about 30 yards to leeward of me and I remarked to myself, “That’s one heck of a wake behind that boat!” At the post-race buffet reception, Peter Honig asked, “Joe, how fast have you ever gone in a Sunfish?” “I don’t know,” I replied. “Well,” he said, “We were clocking you and the others when you were planing in Gardiner’s Bay and you were doing 7.5 knots!” I’m guessing the wind was blowing 12-14 or so at the time, but there is no question, that we were all flying!

The first finisher from the host Southold Yacht Club was 53 year-old Jeff Anderson, who incidentally capsized his boat off Hay Beach Point when the wind lessened and he attempted to hitch up his pants. Cat-like, he righted his craft in a matter of seconds and passed some more boats on the beat to the finish to place Fifth overall.

In addition to the ferries, the one to two-foot waves, adverse current and 12-15 mph headwind during the beat back to Southold Bay, other distractions included four or five what I would call “Parachute sailboats” on foils, which 

traveled across the waves three-four times the speed of a Sunfish, plus a fleet of 12 Herreshoff 12 1/2’s rounding their gybing mark, which was situated in the middle of our windward leg. Amazingly, all in both fleets abided by the Racing Rules of Sailing and there were no incidents. 



PLACE   SKIPPER                  AFFILIATION                  ELAPSED TIME

1.           Jim Koehler        South Bay Water Sports Assn.            3:54:15

2.           John Eckart        Massapoag Y.C. (MA)                         3:58:18

3.           Lee Montes        Wet Pants Sailing Assn.                      3:59:01

4.           Ted Cremer        Sayville Y.C.                                        3:59:49

5.           Jeff Anderson     Southold Y.C.                                      4:00:11

6.           Rob Eberle         MOBYC (NC)                                       4:01:49

7.           John Condon      Southold Y.C.                                      4:02:37

8.           Peter Wells         Wet Pants Sailing Assn.                      4:02:44

9.           William Sesack   Wet Pants Sailing Assn.                      4:03:02

10.         Bart Hale             Southold, NY                                       4:04:37

11.         Joel Furman        Bellport, NY                                         4:04:49

12.          Christiaan Honig Southold Y.C.                                      4:05:21

13.          Joe Sullivan        Southold Y.C.                                      4:14:59

14.          Jim Cornacchia   Southold Y.C.                                      4:16:33

15.          Paul Zinger         Menantic & Shelter Island Y.C.s           4:17:12

16.          Jack Hodgson     Southold Y.C.                                      4:17:44

17.          Douglas Rose     Southold Y.C.                                      4:22:18

18.        Kathryn Campbell Southold Y.C.                                      4:23:06

19.          Ruth Hakanson   Shelter Island, NY                               4:26:27

20.          Rob Finora          Old Cove Y.C.                                     4:30:40

21.          Scott Heinl          Seawanaka Place Yacht Sqdn.           4:36:09

22.          Thomas Talbot    Old Cove Yacht Club                          4:39:07

23.          Dick Heinl            Seawanaka Place Yacht Sqdn.          4:41:40

24.          John Colby           Shelter Island Y.C.                             4:42:46

25.          Walter Preston     Southold Y.C.                                     4:55:33

26.          Sean Cleary         Southold Y. C.                                    4:56:25

27.          Bill Mautner          Southold, NY                                      5:00:10

28.          John Trainor         North Shore Y.C.                                5:12:30

29.          Jessica Oswalt     Moriches & New Orleans Y.C.          (RET BF)

29.          Henry Miller          Southold Y.C.                                      (DNC)

29.          George Zinger      Menantic & Shelter Island Y.C.s          (DNC)


Three perpetual plaques, which remain at Southold Y.C. were presented, as follows:

WBAZ, 101.7 FM PLAQUE:  Winner - Jim Koehler


HEINL-LYMAN OCTOGENARIAN AWARD:  First Master (50+) and Oldest Participant –  Jim Koehler (62) & Dick Heinl (92)

By winning in three hours & 54 minutes, Jim Koehler becomes one of only seven sailors to win “The RACE” in “Under 4 Hours.” Two sailors have done it twice so Jim Koehler’s time is the eighth best winning time in the 47-year history of the event.


1. 1999 – Todd Klingler                Narrasketuck Y.C.                3:23

2. 2007 – John Condon                Mattituck Y.C.                       3:27

3. 1989  - Dick Heinl             Seawanaka Place Yacht Sqdn.    3:30

4. 1995 – Ken Mockridge              Moriches Y.C.                      3:37

5. 1976 – Joe Sullivan                   Southold Y. C.                     3:45

6. 2000 – Todd Klingler                 Narrasketuck Y.C.               3:46

7. 1996 – Chris Houston                Ambler, PA                         3:49

8. 2017 – Jim Koehler           South Bay Water Sports Assn.    3:54

9. 2013 -  John Condon                 Mattituck Y. C.                     3:58

At the post-race reception, Race Committee Chair Beth Fleisher and her committee, Celeste Flick and Brian Burke, thanked the sailors for coming and the scores of volunteers, who helped make this event the highlight of the summer racing season. And kudos were given to the three of them for an outstanding job!

                2017 Winner Jim Koehler (photo by Celeste Flick)

                              2017 Start (photo by The Suffolk Times)

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