As the start drew near for the Breakwater Yacht Club of Sag Harbor’s final Wednesday night race for the May Cup, Lee Oldak was asked about the pressure. He was loading up his sailing vessel, named Purple Haze.
“No pressure,” he said, “we’re just out to have fun.” After the race, the Purple Haze crew took the cup, with Jim Vos’s Scoot in second place, and Gossip, owned by Gregg Ames and Steven Kenny, in third.
Gordon Ryan developed the course for the sailors and serves as captain of the club’s green race committee boat, Sweet Pea. His wife, Diane, took charge of the pin boat, Cynthia, to mark the course in Shelter Island Sound, Smith’s Cove, and Northwest Harbor. Ryan has organized the race for the past eight years, and all essentials were on board Sweet Pea: a dry-erase marker board with the course mapped out, a radio, a foghorn, and flags of various colors. “It’s all about the flags,” he said.
The race committee boat acts as first responders — for items blown overboard on up to spinnaker disasters, Ryan said. He has earned the appreciation of the sailors for his ability to evaluate wind and water conditions and offer on-the-spot changes of course, when necessary, to improve the race experience. He worked diligently and with a smile this day, continuously checking the wind and tides to get the sailors a broadside-to-the-wind 6 p.m. start.
After the start, the winds shifted to the south and died down, and Ryan shortened the course from six to three leeward legs, as competitors enjoyed warm breezes and a scenic sunset before heading back to the club to celebrate their smooth sailing. The beautiful afternoon, that last Wednesday in May, ended with a much-anticipated chili cook-off.
Unlike many traditional yacht clubs, Breakwater is a nonprofit, “non-elitist” organization with a focus on youth programs and charity work in the community. Started in May 1987 by a group of local businesspeople and sailors who enjoyed racing on Wednesday evenings, the club was founded with 75 original members. It now leases from Sag Harbor Village a waterfront property on Bay Street.
In addition to lessons for kids and adults, the club offers a program for young sailors from East Hampton High School, the Ross School, and Pierson, who sail in the harbor on many weekday afternoons. The students also have opportunities to race other Long Island high school teams in regattas at Port Jefferson and Oyster Bay.
Between May 1 and Oct. 1, the Breakwater Yacht Club’s Wednesday night races often have 30 or more boats at the starting line, with courses for novice and expert sailors. The club’s summer series consists of three racing classes — spinnaker divisions I and II and a non-spinnaker division — with races beginning at 6 p.m. in the area west of Majors Cove.