Unsung Hero #15

Another summer ends, just like the 56 before it. Dozens of youngsters go back to school with a skill they never had. Thanks to the Longshore Sailing School, they know how to sail. They’re confident on the water — and that confidence extends off it too.

Plenty of adults who never thought they could steer a sailboat went through the school’s courses too.

John Kantor no longer runs Longshore Sailing School. But he was part of it for nearly 50 years. And it still bears his imprint.

Kieran O’Keefe is one of many grateful sailors. That’s why he nominated Kantor as this week’s Unsung Hero.

John Kantor

For almost 5 decades — quietly, efficiently, improving what worked and always changing with the times — Kantor built Longshore Sailing School into the largest such youth program in the country.

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 run  a water program.

Kantor got on board in 1965. The rest is history.

With several hundred young 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.

Longshore Sailing School today. (Photo copyright/Stefen Turner)

The program grew exponentially, to 2,000 pupils a 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 funded a 2-story, $400,000 structure.  The school now has 5 classrooms, plenty of storage space, and an actual office.

Those employees have kept in close contact with Kantor. He mentored them —  — and watched them grow — from high school to college and beyond.

Four couples met at Longshore Sailing School, and got married.

Odds are, their kids will end up learning how to sail there — at John Kantor’s legacy — too.

(PS: John Kantor’s influence extends far beyond Westport. The Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda modeled its sailing school on Longshore’s. According to Westporter Ali Hokin, “John, Longshore Sailing School and The Boat Locker were integral to the success of the sailing program and boats available to guests. The resort was devastated by Hurricane Irma. A relief effort is going on now, in this magical but currently suffering part of paradise.” To help employees, their families and the surrounding community, click here.)

10 responses to “Unsung Hero #15

  1. Sandra Calise Cenatiempo

    Dan, I really appreciate all the Unsung Hero’s! I usually recognize the name of the Hero but never know much about their background. They are all amazing people!!!!

  2. Interesting if you have the time to read…

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. All four of our children and more recently our four Westport grandsons have had the privilege of learning to sail at the Longshore Sailing School. During the 1970s Janet and I learned to sail Atlantics at the school. This was often a highlight of our summers. Thanks to John Kantor for making this wonderful facility available to Westporters.

    Pete Wolgast

  4. David J. Loffredo

    LSS is the absolute crown jewel of Westport! I learned how to sail there as a kid in the 70’s, so happy 30 years later our three girls did as well.

    BEYC is one of the best places on the planet, and we are all so upset with the devastation in the BVI’s and beyond. We hope and pray the Hokins can find a path to rebuild, it certainly looks like that part of the world has a very difficult task ahead of them.

  5. All three of our sons worked at Long Shore Sailing during the summer. Best job a kid could have. Interaction with peers, adults and the public – plus real daily responsibilities – provided an invaluable life lesson. Thanks, JK.

  6. Kathryn Coster

    So thrilled to see this piece…I worked for John at LSS in the early 80’s…good times, great memories…well done JK !!! I too am beyond saddened by the devastation of BEYC. Jim and I honeymooned there in 1981 …it is an incredibly special place…hoping it can recover and be returned to all its’ splendor. Thoughts and prayers go out to all impacted by this ferocious storm.

  7. Woah didn’t know John is no longer involved? Did he sell it? If so, to who and when?

  8. A very fitting designation for “JK”. Both of our children learned to sail at LSS and then learned how to work as a part of a team and built lasting friendships at the sailing school. Actually, my husband learned to sail back in the 60’s under John’s program as well. Thanks for recognizing John and his Longshore Sailing School program.

  9. John Kantor is a great guy as was his Dad TK
    (And Dierdre) Kantor and great sailors and fine people. Just saw John “helping” to finish up season at LSS and he helped me out a lot to buy a (used) Hobie Cat — like my youth days– to sail around Westport Waters in brisk fall winds. Check out their post Labor Day sales. Excellent condition! Easy! Best sailing school
    And yes, will donate to help his affiliated program loss from Irma. The unsung hero did not mention that …

  10. Let us now further praise this unfamous man: His work over the years with USSailing, as a board member as well as the years spent heading up its community sailing education projects took much of his winter down time. He, along with John Burnham, then editor of Sailing World and Cruising World, CW’s publisher John Bonds and this scribbler helped produce material that created and guided community sailing programs all over the nation.