Tag Archives: John Kantor

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.)

Longshore Seaplane: The Sequel

This morning’s post about Westport’s seaplane past brought an instant response from Scott Smith.

And a photo:

Last seaplane - Longshore - from John Kantor

Click on photo to enlarge.

The former chair of Longshore’s 50th anniversary as a town park got the image from John Kantor, longtime owner of Longshore Sailing School.

Scott writes:

John gave me this photo of a seaplane taxiing away from the sailing school dock. He described it as “the last seaplane” that took off from that area. Note the police vessel standing by.

Scott adds that Lucia White — a well-known artist, now in her 90s — told Scott that her brother was a seaplane pilot in the 1930s and ’40s. He once flew one of the Bedford family’s planes to Florida. When he was a few days late reporting back, Lucia’s mother raised a fit with Mrs. Bedford.

Wondrous Weekend

This weekend has been many things: scary, snowy, white, bright and beautiful.

It also brought out the best in “06880” photographers.

All around town, you’ve been capturing amazing images of this very lovely town.

Here are a few final shots. (Click on or hover over to enlarge.)

Light at the end of the storm. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Light at the end of the storm. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

We think of John Kantor as the sailing school guy. But he loves Longshore in all kinds of weather., as this photo clearly shows. (Photo/John Kantor)

We think of John Kantor as the sailing school guy. But he loves Longshore in all kinds of weather, as this photo clearly shows. (Photo/John Kantor)

Not far from Longshore, Saugatuck Shores' Canal Beach looks equally lovely. (Photo/Gene Borio)

Not far from Longshore, Saugatuck Shores’ Canal Beach looked equally lovely. (Photo/Gene Borio)

There were ducks galore on Saugatuck Shores...

Enjoying the water of Saugatuck Shores…

...and one lone guy in the air. (Photos/Gene Borio)

…and one lone guy in the air. (Photos/Gene Borio)

The sun set colorfully over downtown. (Photo/Michael Baltierra)

Red sky at night: good news, right? (Photo/Michael Baltierra)

A special nighttime view of the Post Road, looking east. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

A colorful nighttime view of the Post Road, looking east. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

Gloria Floats Away

John Kantor reports that “Gloria” — Westport’s beloved oyster boat — broke her mooring off his Longshore Sailing School Friday night. She drifted onto nearby Hendrick’s Point.

Her owner — oysterman Alan Sterling — died in early July.

Gloria’s been on her own ever since.

(Photo/John Kantor)

(Photo/John Kantor)

Honoring Doug Sheffer

It took 4 different gatherings to fully celebrate Doug Sheffer’s life.

The 1st — in honor of the 1968 Staples grad killed last January in a Colorado helicopter crash — took place at the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork, where his generosity and energy had inspired generations of students.

The 2nd was at the hangar of his helicopter business, where fellow pilots and members of Colorado’s search and rescue teams paid tribute to Doug’s amazing flying ability. The 3rd drew over 100 members of the Aspen/Snowmass ski schools.

Doug Sheffer

Doug Sheffer

The 4th — also at the Waldorf School — was held earlier this month. His younger brother Jonathan spoke of Doug’s skiing, boat racing, sailing the Atlantic, hiking the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, windsurfing in Maui and flying on a trapeze, as well as his earlier days at Staples: wrestling, working on the Staples Players tech crew and playing the clarinet.

As an adult, Doug acted, directed, choreographed and ran the lighting booth during Waldorf plays.

John Kantor — owner and director of the Longshore Sailing School, which Doug ran as its 1st general manager — described his sailing to Bermuda, and racing in Antigua as waves crashed over the bow.

Doug was so nimble and light, John said, that “he was the first to be hauled up to the top of the mast in the bosun’s chair for race adjustments.”

Doug Sheffer, in front of his beloved helicopter.

Doug Sheffer, in front of his beloved helicopter.

He traveled to 6 continents, and both poles. And, his daughter Brooke said, he wanted to go with his family into space, with Richard Branson.

A 5th memorial service will be held for Doug Sheffer this summer, here in Westport.

(To read a much fuller description of Doug’s memorial services in Colorado, click on the Aspen Business Journal.)

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.”