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Tag Archives: Longshore Sailing School
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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.”
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.”
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?
“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.”
Westport has been awash in 50-year celebrations. Mitchells, Staples soccer, Staples Players, Orphenians — all reached the half-century mark within the past year.
Next up: Longshore.
Few Westporters realize that our town jewel camethisclose to being something else entirely. In early 1960, the 169-acre property — the privately owned Longshore Beach and Country Club, with a golf course, tennis courts, pools, marina, inn/restaurant and play areas — came up for sale.
The typical Westport response — build houses! — was strongly considered. But First Selectman Herb Baldwin and his kitchen cabinet decided to make a bid, on behalf of the town.
They had to act quickly. In just 18 days they put together a $1.9 million package — then earned approval from the Board of Finance and RTM. The latter vote was 38-0. (The RTM doesn’t even name bridges or approve jUNe Day unanimously.)
A month and a half later — on May 28, 1960 — Longshore Club Park opened to the public. It’s gone through plenty of changes — it took several owners to get the Inn right; the golf course and tennis courts have been revamped; a much-loved but rickety apartment building was torn down; a sailing school and rental shop now flourishes; some trees have been cut down, others planted; the swimming pool was renovated; a handsome entryway was built; an ice skating rink was added, and the way-cool (but decorative only) lighthouse is long gone — but everyone and everything else has changed in 50 years too. (Except the Quonset hut behind the Boat Locker on the Post Road.)
To mark the occasion, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff has appointed a 50th anniversary committee. We (full disclosure: I’m on it) will celebrate the milestone appropriately — through public ceremonies, exhibits, a website and publications. We have started collecting materials, and despite the early stage we can tell it’s going to be a very cool project. At the 1st meeting, we saw memorabilia ranging from towels from the old private country club, to 1920s aerial photos showing just a rough 3-hole golf course near the Inn.
Westporters will learn much about Longshore over the coming year. It looks like the celebration will culminate with a grand event on May 28, 2011, honoring the end of the public park’s golden anniversary.
Hall & Oates will not appear. (If you don’t understand that reference, read the history of Longshore — whenever it comes out.)
“06880” will report back, from time to time, on Longshore’s 50th. Meanwhile, the next time you drive past the park — or into it — look around. Enjoy the spectacular view.
And think what this town would be like if — 50 years ago this winter — our civic leaders had decided that $1.9 million was just too much to pay for 169 acres of land.
(Got photos, home movies or other Longshore materials you’d like to share? Email email@example.com)
Quick: Name 4 Westport institutions that turn 50 this year.
Everyone knows Mitchells, Staples soccer and Staples Players.
If you didn’t think “Longshore Sailing School” too, join the club. The lesson-and-rental place — located just beyond the pool, at the gorgeous juncture of the Saugatuck River and Long Island Sound — is one of Westport’s most overlooked treasures.
For its 1st 15 years, the sailing school was a Parks and Rec program. In the mid-’70s, budget woes almost sunk it. But former employee John Kantor rode to the rescue. He made it a private enterprise. It quickly caught a strong tailwind.
The building now houses a year-round office with 3 full-time employees. There are 4 covered classrooms, a “great room” filled with photos, and a special weather station.
Longshore Sailing School offers 4 basic classes, from beginner to advanced. That formula works. But Kantor and his staff constantly tweak other offerings. Kayaking is now huge.
While most students are youngsters, adults take weekend classes. Two-thirds of them never sailed, but always wanted to. The rest seek a refresher.
Despite its success, Longshore Sailing School faces the same choppy economic waters as the rest of Westport. Parents are waiting a while to enroll their kids in summer classes.
Operations manager Donny O’Day — a 24-year-old in his 13th year with the school, as a student and employee — is confident that both sign-ups and daily rentals will surge. “A lot of people who went to Martha’s Vineyard won’t be there this year,” he notes. “Longshore Sailing is something they’ll definitely enjoy doing.”
In its 50th year, the school is trying new tacks. On Saturday they partnered with the Westport Historical Society on a kayak/canoe trip up the Saugatuck.
An early June “throwback weekend” will feature original rental prices (and what O’Day calls “hideous navy and peach striped shirts”).
Longshore Sailing School is important to the town — and to its staff. “It’s the summer job you never forget,” O’Day says. “We had so many old employees at our 45th anniversary, we may limit the next one to managers only.”
And, he says proudly, all 9 new staff members this year are former students.
Happy 50th, Longshore Sailing School. May the wind be at your back for 50 more.