Sail On, Longshore

In 1965, John Kantor needed a summer job.  He wanted to be a Longshore caddy — but was rejected.

He walked across the parking lot to the sailing school.  They hired him.

The rest is history.

Longshore Sailing School celebrates its 50th anniversary this weekend.  Hundreds of former employees will eat, drink, dance and reminisce about summers that were fun, fulfilling, and — for many — transformative.

John Kantor (left) instructing outdoors in 1969.

Kantor has been around for nearly all of those 50 years.  Quietly, efficiently — improving what works, and always changing with the times — he’s built Longshore Sailing School into the largest such youth program in the country.

By far.  You might say it blows everyone else out of the water.

In retrospect, getting rejected as a caddy — and hired by the then-nascent town sailing school — was karma.  Kantor grew up on Owenoke — just across Gray’s Creek from Longshore.

“I clammed at low tide, and sailed and raced at high tide,” he recalls.

When the town of Westport bought the failing Longshore Country Club in 1960, it had no idea how to turn it into a town park.

It knew even less about running a water program.

“In the very beginning it was just borrowed rowboats and volunteer instructors,” Kantor says.  “John Mulhaussen took kids from what is now Strait Marina out to the channel.  It was basic boating.”

A couple of years later, 8-foot Sprites — “bathtub boats,” Kantor calls them — were introduced.

1964 marked a quantum leap.  Bill Mills — owner of American Fiberglass Corporation in Norwalk — manufactured Aqua Cats.  He loaned a small fleet to Westport, for an advanced sailing class.  It was the 1st multi-hulled sailing program in the US.

Kantor came on board the next year.

And never left.

By 1969, Longshore boasted 3 junior national Aqua Cat champions.

But, Kantor says, “The town always knew it wasn’t very good at running a sailing school.”

In fact, the Parks & Rec department ran the fiberglass boats into the ground.  They never replaced any, so by 1975 the fleet was in bad shape.

A national recession was underway.  “Recreation is low on most priority lists to begin with,” Kantor says.  “And sailing is always low on the recreation list.”

By 1982, Longshore Sailing School had moved to new quarters.

With several hundred young sailing students each year — and a program run out of constantly collapsing cabanas near the pool — Kantor made a proposal.  He’d buy a new fleet — at his own expense — provided he could keep any profit.

If there was a loss, he’d absorb it himself.

First selectman Jacqueline Heneage agreed — provided he put his name on the sailing school.

“I didn’t want to,” Kantor says.  “But I guess that was a way for the town to wash their hands of it if things didn’t work out.”

They did.  The program continued to grow, almost exponentially.  Now, with 1,400 youngsters a year, it’s monstrous.

“And those are full courses — not 1-shot private lessons,” Kantor emphasizes.  Add in several hundred youngsters, and 2,000 people learn to sail each summer.

When the program outgrew its makeshift building — but the town was reluctant to pay for a new one — Kantor formed the non-profit Friends of Longshore Sailing School.  Former employees — now very successful — funded a 2-story, $400,000 structure.  The school now has 5 classrooms, plenty of storage space, and an actual office.

The program also outgrew fiberglass boats.

“They were hard to maintain on a stony New England beach,” notes Kantor.  “And with people learning to sail, there were always scrapes.  They took beatings, and then got dragged up and down the sand.”

The move to other synthetics has been a godsend.  For years, Kantor stayed until midnight readying the fiberglass for another day.

“Things were so tight, we couldn’t afford to be down even 1 boat at any time.  It was exhausting.

“Now we just hose ’em off at the end of the day, and we’re done.”

Two young students having a great time.

Kantor has watched his business evolve in many ways.  He bought Hobie Cats from the Boat Locker.  Windsurfing was big in the 1980s; then kayaking was the rage.

The latest trend, Kantor says, is standup paddleboarding.

After 45 years, Kantor has plenty of memories.  The best ones are of his staff.

“We’ve had over 1,100 employees over the years,” he says.  Laid end to end, they would reach from the Longshore pool to Elvira’s.   (Insert your own joke here.)

“There are so many very interesting, special people.  We hire them as high school or college kids, and watch them grow.  It’s neat — and gratifying — to see that happen, and help mentor them along.”

This Friday’s celebration of the program’s 50 years will not be the 1st.  Past reunions have been drawn hundreds.

“I’m amazed that any place could have a reunion of a summer job,” Kantor marvels.

A TV producer is flying in from Los Angeles — for the day.

“They go to each other’s weddings,” Kantor says of his former employees.

Some even go to their own.  Four couples have met at Longshore Sailing School, and gotten married.

A reggae band — composed entirely of sailing school ex-teachers — will play.  An improv comedian — of course he worked at the sailing school too — will entertain.

Five screens will show thousands of slides.

Of course, the next day everyone is invited out on the water.

So what does all this say about Westport?

Life doesn't get much better than this.

“This town is a place to raise kids,” Kantor says.  “They want their kids to have access to the water, without being vetted by a private country club.

“I’ve heard that people move here because of the sailing school.  I don’t know how true that is, but kids dig it.  And parents are all for something their kids love.”

In 2013 — Longshore Sailing School’s 53rd year, and Kantor’s 48th — his town contract is up.

“It’s time for someone else to run this,” he says.

“I’m trying to groom my successors.  I never tire of teaching — just administration.  I hope they’ll hire me to work for them — as a teacher.

“I want to hand off this building, and the finances, in good shape.

“I hope Longshore Sailing School lasts forever.”

23 responses to “Sail On, Longshore

  1. Bob Davis - 45-year Resident

    In the late 60’s, my son Ed took lesson here. He wanted his own boat. While standing at a bar in Chicago, I mentioned this to the guy standing next to me. Surprisingly, he said he had a Sailfish for sale. I said, “That’s nice, but I live in Westport, CT.” He said, “I live in Darien.” I picked up the boat the next weekend.

  2. John Mingay '66

    Thank you Dan..Great article!

    I had the pleasure of sailing with John for many summers as a young boy, “living on the water” in Westport. We would sail anything that had a sail and would stay afloat! Our favorite boats of choice were Aqua-cats, sunfish, Blue jays, and lightnings. Sometimes we even competed. One summer we joined the J.Y.R.A.( Junior Yacht Racing Association),and raced with Stew Silk in his Blue Jay(Stew is the son of famous Life Magazine photographer George Silk). One memorable race series was held at the New York Yacht Club in Larchmont, NY (Original home of the Americas Cup!). As I recall, we didnt pose a serious threat to any of the other boats, but we sure had a good time!

    I recently reconnected with John on Facebook after some 50+ years! I hope the next time I get to Westport we can grab a boat and go sailing once again!
    This country needs more people like John Kantor!
    A person who had a dream, pursued it, and shared it with others!
    Thank you John!!

  3. Carl A. Swanson

    Wonderful story. Along with Laddie Lawrence at Staples, John Kantor has done much to foster change and tradition in this town. I can remember those rickety old boats in the 60’s at Longshore and it was sort of dismal. As a golfer, however, I wonder what would have happened if he was chosen as a caddie??? Might even have a program today and some summer jobs for the beginner golfer. Thanks to John and Dan Woog, both Staples soccer players, I might add. We’ll forgive Laddie.

  4. The caddie program at Longshore was eliminated in 1961 or 1962 due to the introduction of golf carts. The Town of Westport needed additional revenues.

    • Carl A. Swanson

      Kevin: Caddie programs are alive and well at Patterson, Weeburn and Rolling Hills. I am sure Mr. Kantor could have figured out a way to make such a progam viable for both the town and the caddiemaster. There is no better way to learn the game, make a buck, burn some calories and actually have to interact with adults. Weigh this against the revenue from the carts, I go with the caddy.

      • Carl: I didn’t say all golf clubs dropped their caddie programs. Only Longshore ended its needs for caddies because it went from from the country club to “public” link in 1960. I know this because I was a caddy at Shorehaven Golf Club in East Norwalk from 1975 to 1983. The caddiemaster at that time, Bill Gilardi came from Longshore when his position got eliminated there. Plus there were a couple of older caddies at Shorehaven who gotten their starts at Longshore during the 50’s. Boy, I had a pleasure of hearing their wild tales of lugging golfers’ bags at Longshore. It was filled more than clubs and golf balls 😉

        Today, caddie programs are alive and well at only exclusive ‘tony’ country clubs. I heard today’s caddies can earn as much as $140 in one four-hour rounds.

  5. Carl A. Swanson

    Kevin: I caddied briefly at Patterson in the early 1960’s. Twenty bucks a loop which was dang good money back then. Today, after just playing in the member-guest at Patterson, they get 60 bucks a loop, 120 double. I realize the impracticality of having a caddy program at Longshore but it sure would create many memories to others as we share today.

    • Carl: Dan Woog should pen an article about the caddie program at Longshore. I heard there are some old-timers who still caddy, but at Birchwood. Ever been to Mario’s ? Ask for “Harpo”, a regular fixture there. He’d tell you everything.

  6. Carl A. Swanson

    Kevin: Thanks. A good friend, Joey Karmanoksy, caddied at Longshore in the 40’s and had some stories but is gone now. Was at Mario’s Saturday night and will give Harpo a hello next time in. Dick Siderowf came out of Birchwood and might have been top ten amateurs of all time.

  7. Sean P. Doyle

    Gentleman: I would really like to get your memories of all the caddies you can remember, not only to document for our Golf at Longshore from 1931 to the Present, (future publication) but to also find those still with us to get their stories. Is Harpo at Marios the linch pin that ties this all together.

  8. Sean P. Doyle

    Anonymous: It is Sal Gilardi, we have Pat Lucci on video remembering the times he played with Sal, Bob Hope and Burt Lahr. Club champ in 1935…. great stuff.

    • Must be a different Gilardi. My caddymaster was Bill Gilardi. He told us he used to work at Longshore. Bill passed away in 1984.

  9. Sean P. Doyle

    Kevin, would you be willing to include your memories of caddying at Longshore and other stories, in our archive?

    We could set up a convenient time and spend 15 or twenty minutes taping your memories.

    • Sean, I was never a caddy at Longshore. As I stated above, I did nine years of carrying bags for members at Shorehaven Golf Club back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. As I can recall, there were two older caddies who had gotten their start at Longshore. One of them really stood out in my memory: his name is Dominick Panichella. According to the other older caddy, Dom was The “Number 1” caddy at Longshore throughout the 1950’s. He transferred himself to Shorehaven in 1962 because Longshore was phasing out the caddie program there. He continued to caddy until the late 70s when unfortunately he began to suffer from arthritis and dementia. Sad to say that once a colorful character became reduced to a soulless basketcase. He retired to wandering around the Saugatuck area all day long for many year before passing away in 1999.

  10. John Mingay '66

    It’s amazing how an article titled”Sail on, Longshore”, describing the early days of a sailing program and celebrating its success, can turn into the”History of Caddying at longshore”!

    As Kevin stated..maybe Dan should “pen a separate article on the Caddie program at Longshore”.

  11. Carl A. Swanson

    Sean: Tommy Newhouse was George Buck’s assistant pro during the 60’s and may have been a caddy for his parents lived on the course next door to Sal Romano’s old place. He was on the ’65 Staples golf team. He is still involved with golf in Florida and can be reached via his sister,

  12. Not a peep from Jeffxs?

  13. Innocent Bystander


  14. Sal D. Lucci

    I wanted to confirm and clarify some of the comments that have been made. In the 1950’s both Sal Gillardi (born 1908) and his younger brother,Bill Gillardi (born 1914), worked at Longshore. Sal’s title was caddie master and Bill was the assistant golf pro.

    Kevin’s recollection that Bill left Longshore when it became public in 1960 must be correct, since I have found a directory that shows Bill at Shorehaven in 1961.

    At this time they were both living in Norwalk, but they actually grew up in Saugatuck on Charles Street (Note:The homes on Charles St. were eliminated when I-95 came through).

    The only point that I need to correct is that Longshore did indeed continue to have caddies in the 1960’s after it became public, and in fact, into the early 1970’s. They were not the experienced or mature ones, but rather a younger group of kids interested in golf. If my memory is correct, this group included Sandy and Scott “Hoover” Wilder, Billy Deegan, Paul Mogren and I think the Hollingsworth boys.

    I had the pleasure of working as a ranger/starter for Sal Gillardi for 8 summers.

  15. So sometimes is good to be rejected, John Kantor started like that 🙂