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Tag Archives: Longshore Sailing School
Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith loves many things about Westport. Kayaking is near the top of his list.
However, all is not ducky on the water. Read on…
Why is there a 3-year wait for a permit to store a kayak for the summer near a launch ramp in Westport?
That question came to mind when I stopped by the Parks & Rec office at Longshore to renew my annual handpass and beach sticker. They’re the tickets to many summer pleasures, and a big reason why Westport is such a great place to live.
I love getting out onto, and into, the water along our beaches, tidal creeks and river banks. For years I kept a small motor boat at Longshore.
Then I downshifted to a kayak, schlepping the big yellow sit-on atop my SUV to various ramps around town: Compo Beach, Longshore, the state launch on the Saugatuck under the I-95 bridge, and the Mill Pond, where I took the scenic route past the oyster shack, through the tunnel under the Sherwood Island Connector, and along the tidal creek to Burying Hill Beach.
The past few seasons, following a car change and increasing age and laziness, I’ve been fortunate to keep my kayak for the summer at Longshore’s E.B. Strait Marina, courtesy of a neighbor’s slot, who liked taking his young daughter out on my old 2-seater.
It’s an easy put-in for a saunter up Gray’s Creek, a jaunt out to Cockenoe, or a venture around Longshore Sailing School to the Saugatuck River. For years I’ve harvested golf balls shanked from the practice range, free for the picking at slack tide.
Fun fact: There are nearly as many enthusiasts of paddle sports – kayaks, canoes, paddleboards – as golfers (around 25 million in the US, depending on which trade group does the counting). Tennis trails both pursuits by quite a bit.
There’s no lack of supply for Westport’s golfers or tennis players. That’s great, and I’m among them. But 3 years to wait for a spot to stash your kayak for the summer?
I’d like to know why the town has not figured out how to accommodate such an expressed demand for an increasingly popular, and very low impact, recreational pastime. Believe me, I’m still kicking myself for telling my neighbor I’d try to get the permit in my name this year.
I can see how adding parking spots for the train station lots, or boat slips at the marina piers, could come up against hard logistical limits. But how difficult would it be to add a few more wooden trestles to the existing lots at Compo Beach or Longshore?
Better yet, I suggest the town consider adding storage spaces and launch sites around town, for residents to use and help fund. I can think of several spots, including Compo Beach marina near the boat ramp and facilities, and Burying Hill Beach, which also has facilities and ample parking along New Creek (and which is chronically overlooked as a town asset).
A great new place to launch from would be the lower parking lot at Longshore, which occupies precious frontage on the Saugatuck River and is now mostly used to accommodate wedding-goers at the Inn. Pilings from an old pier remain along the shore; it wouldn’t take much to repurpose a part of the lot as a put-in for paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks, with some seasonal storage.
It may require coordination with the state, but as the striving crews of the Saugatuck Rowing Club and the enterprising folks at Downunder can attest, the river is prime territory for today’s waterborne pursuits (at least when the tide’s right).
The town should bolster access to the Saugatuck for recreational fun. I’m pleased to see that the small park on Riverside Avenue near the VFW has been spruced up, though parking remains an issue. That pocket park could, with the Town’s support, be another fun new spot from which to explore a pretty stretch of the river.
Excuse the rant. But once you’ve enjoyed the views and sport of Westport from the water’s edge, you want more.
And I don’t see why taxpaying town residents should have to wait 3 years to have reasonable access to it.
I asked Westport’s Parks and Recreation Department for a comment. They replied:
As the kayak facility is a popular and relatively inexpensive activity, demand exceeds supply. Therefore, there’s a wait list. It ranges between 1 and 3 years, depending on activity and turnover rate. Last year, 57 kayak positions turned over.
Short of building more racks (which we did about 8 years ago), the trend will continue with a 1 to 3-year wait. We currently have 58 on the wait list for the 192 kayak positions at Compo and 30 at Longshore.
Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh added:
We are putting together a site plan for Longshore, and will look to add kayak spaces there. We can also see if there is a more efficient way to design and stack kayaks at Compo.
I believe that we understand the problem. Unfortunately there is not a solution for this summer. In a way it is a good problem: more demand than supply. We will get on it.
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.)
This morning’s post about Westport’s seaplane past brought an instant response from Scott Smith.
And a photo:
The former chair of Longshore’s 50th anniversary as a town park got the image from John Kantor, longtime owner of Longshore Sailing School.
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.