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.
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.
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.)