US Sailing Recognizes Menantic Sunfish Fleet Commodore Pete Bethge

Posted December 10, 2018

Thought it might be of interest to the US Class that Pete Bethge, Commodore of Menantic Sunfish Fleet (Fleet # 168, Shelter Island NY) has just been awarded US Sailing’s National One-Design Award for Leadership recognizing individual initiative, enthusiasm, organizing ability and leadership in creating the one-design fleet building program of the year.  The following is part of the nomination letter, as well as a photos of Commodore Bethge.

Menantic Yacht Club, located on Shelter Island, NY, could be considered a Shangri-La for Sunfish sailors.  Racing is held every Sunday afternoon during the summer in beautiful and protected West Neck Harbor, usually with a steady 12-14 knot SW breeze. There are usually 15-25 Sunfish racing in the harbor each week, with a fleet which includes past North American Champions racing alongside Sunfish skippered by a grandfather with a grandchild or two on the boat.  Off-island sailors travel hours each way to enjoy not only incredible racing, but great post-racing pot-luck dinners at fleet members homes every other Sunday. In 2016 Menantic hosted the Women’s Sunfish North American Championships, and had one of the largest turnouts in history - 39 women skippers from across the country. The 2018 racing season is the 52nd year of Sunfish racing for the club. 

The yacht club has no dues, no clubhouse, no dock, and in fact, no facilities at all. However, what the club and sailors do have is Victor (Pete) Bethge, the Commodore for the past 52 years and the sole driving force of this special club. 

Menantic Yacht Club (which has never had any facilities) was commissioned in the early 1930s, originally racing Cape Cod Rockets and Widgeons. Interest in racing waned over time, and the club disbanded in the early 1950’s.  In 1966, Pete Bethge re-activated the club, introducing first Penguins and then Sunfish to the club.  At that time, the fleet, consisting of “summer” people on the Island, usually had between 5-10 skippers every weekend. However, by 2005 the fleet was down to 5 boats who raced only occasionally. That’s when Pete decided that the only way to build the fleet back up was to get new people involved. So he started collecting a fleet of Sunfish that he could loan out to people who might be interested in sailing, but who didn’t have boats. He bought boats, he found abandoned boats, he took boats from people who no longer wanted them.  He fixed them up, bought new parts, and built his own private fleet of 13 boats, loaning them to anyone he could find to get them out racing. If the sailor didn’t have any experience, he gave them lessons and followed them around the harbor making sure they were safe. Each week people would call and reserve a boat for racing on Sunday. The person shows up at Pete’s infamous “Red House”, and Pete pulls all the parts out of his basement, takes the sailor down to the beach to help them rig the boat, and sends them off to the races.  His approach worked, and within 3 years, the fleet was up to 10-15 boats once again. In 2017, the fleet averaged 15 racers each week and had 52 different skippers who raced during the summer season. In the just completed 2018 season, the fleet averaged 18 boats, and had 55 different skippers participating. Pete pays for all the boats, parts, sails, and repairs himself. 

If this is all Pete did, it would probably be enough.  But he does so much more for the fleet. He provides the RC boat, the mark boat, all the RC equipment, and the gas and off season storage costs for both boats.  He also runs the races, keeps the scores, buys the trophies, and organizes after-racing parties at different fleet members homes every other week.  

And by the way, he’s 86.

Without Pete’s herculean efforts, the yacht club and fleet would have died off decades ago. It is now a vibrant, growing fleet consisting of experienced and new sailors alike. All enjoying the best that sailing has to offer - great racing, extraordinary camaraderie, and the joy of being out on the water with friends and family. This is a man who has an extraordinary legacy of sharing his passions - sailing, family, and Shelter Island. A legacy that should not only be celebrated by all, but that should be emulated by many. If there was ever a person who exemplified initiative, enthusiasm, organizing ability, and leadership in creating an outstanding one-design fleet program, it is this man. 

This award will be presented at the US Sailing National Sailing Programs Symposium on January 31 in Jacksonville, FL. It should also be noted that during the same presentation in Jacksonville, the new Sunfish Class Administrator, Ed "Buttons" Padin, will be receiving the Gay S. Lynn Memorial Trophy recognizing his decade of being co-chair of the Robie Pierce Regatta for sailors with disabilities. The Robie is hosted jointly by Larchmont Yacht Club (Padin's home club) and American Yacht Club. AYC's Siobhan Reilly and Bill Sandberg are also being presented the Lynn Trophy.

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