‘Magic’ as Paddlers Span Montauk Lighthouse and Block Island

The distance between the lighthouse and Block Island is said to be 18 miles
It would have been better, given the full moon, had they left later, Fred Doss of Paddlers 4 Humanity said on the paddling fleet’s return from Block Island. Jane Bimson

Forty-two intrepid stand-up paddlers, plus two on prone boards and five in kayaks, spanned 18 miles of the open ocean Saturday morning between the Montauk Lighthouse and Block Island’s New Harbor.

“It’s magical out there on Block Island Sound,” Lars Svanberg, who led the group, said during a conversation at The Star Monday morning. “Most people would never attempt this on their own. . . . The most magical moment, I would say, is when we gather at the mouth of the New Harbor inlet and all paddle in together as people on the shore — the crowd gets bigger every year — greet us.”

This year’s crossing — Paddlers 4 Humanity’s 13th — took longer than usual, owing to full moon tides that didn’t provide the accustomed push at the end.

“We left at around 6:30, but, because of the strong tides, we probably should have left at 8:30 or 9,” said Fred Doss, who, with Svanberg, Ed Cashin, Dan Farnham, and Emily Hammond, sits on P4H’s board of directors.

The water was calm, by and large, and the wind was out of the southeast, said Svanberg, who added that he would have preferred it to have been out of the west.

The distance between the lighthouse and Block Island is said to be 18 miles, “though we probably did 20,” Doss said. The crossing took about seven hours.

The youngest paddler was Tom O’Donoghue’s daughter, Maeve. Sixteen-year-old Elijah White, a star on Bridgehampton High School’s boys basketball team, the Killer Bees, did it as well, as did three Bridgehampton teachers, Jeff Neubauer, Meredith McArdle, and Kameron Kaiser.

Bridgehampton is one of the schools — Springs and Montauk are others — that benefit from Paddlers 4 Humanity’s grants, which, in sum, said Doss, are intended to better children’s lives here. 

In the 13 years that P4H has been in existence, “We’ve raised $1.85 million,” said Svanberg, adding that “a lot of these programs we help fund have come to rely on us. . . . What’s most amazing to me is the amount of money the paddle raised. We’re hoping for $140,000, which is quite a bit when you consider that there were 49 participants.”

“While we appreciate everyone’s efforts, three of them, Geoff Haenn, Katie Osiecki, and Pino Daddi, deserve shout-outs because each of them raised between $6,000 and $7,000,” said Doss.

I-Tri, BuildOn, Project Most, the Retreat, and PIBS, most of them familiar names here, are among the child-centered programs Paddlers 4 Humanity supports.

“A few years ago,” said Doss, “we narrowed our mission slightly to focus on programs involved with mental health issues, such as anti-bullying and early intervention programs, though the mission is still relatively broad. . . . The after-school program Project Most has named its arts and crafts program for us, we’ve helped expand Bridgehampton’s Positive Intervention Behavioral Support [PIBS] program, and because of the Retreat’s involvement with kids who come there and the advocacy work the Retreat does in the school system, not only are the kids benefiting, but their families are too.”

BuildOn, said Doss, “is a nonprofit in Connecticut whose mission is twofold, to run after-school programs in this country and to build schools in developing countries. We got a local chapter into East Hampton High School a few years ago, with Bill Barbour as our teacher liaison. Each year, 17 or 18 kids from East Hampton go to a developing country to help build schools — they’ve been to Nicaragua, Malawi, and Nepal — and to experience life as it is lived by the majority of people in the world, something they might never have experienced otherwise, and something they’ll never forget.”

Svanberg said that P4H — donations can be made through its website, p4h.org — also has been helping to provide low-income children in the Catskills’ Sullivan County with free dental services.

The crossing wasn’t a race, they said, in reply to a question. “Obviously some paddlers are faster than others, just as you have marathoners who run at 10-minute and 6-minute paces,” said Svanberg, who’s competed at an elite level in open water SUP races, “but we try to keep everyone in a pod. If you fall back by a half-mile, the Ocean Rescue Squad has Jet Skis with sleds on the back that will pull you up to the front.”

Despite bucking tides, no one had given up, Doss said. “They were all troupers. Everyone was smiling. It was a remarkable group of paddlers and volunteers. One of the volunteers on our main support boat, Dan Farnham’s boat, became teary in thinking about the camaraderie and spirit. She said it was overwhelming.”

The Montauk-to-Block Island crossing took about seven hours, somewhat longer than usual, because of the strong tides. Jane Bimson