For years, the East Hampton Town summer sailing program was beloved by many, giving people 12 and older a fun and affordable way to learn to sail on Gardiner’s Bay, but for the second summer in a row the popular program is off the calendar, leaving people to wonder if it will ever return.
“The town intended to continue offering the program last summer and this summer, but was unable to fill the program director position” when the former director relocated out of state, John Rooney, the superintendent of the town’s Recreation Department, said earlier this month. Despite the town’s efforts to find a new program director, it has been unable to fill the position, in large part because of “limited local affordable housing, and the commute time from elsewhere due to increased traffic,” Mr. Rooney said.
“Our hope is to find a director and staff so that we can offer the program again.”
The sailing program, which ran for decades, cost $225 a week in 2021, the most recent year it was offered. Each week a group of 16 participants ages 12 and up met at Fresh Pond Beach in Amagansett (and also in Montauk until 2013) to learn on small sailing dinghies owned by the town — JY15s and 420s. The program took place Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and began with a water safety test to ensure that each student could swim. That was followed by a guided demonstration on how to rig a sailboat, what to do when a boat capsizes, and how to tack. Then, counselors, most of whom were students at East Hampton High School, would partner with a group of two to four novices and set sail on Gardiner’s Bay. Eventually, the participants learned to captain the boats themselves.
“We took what we learned and applied it to games out on the water, allowing kids to have fun” instead of “just learning the logistics of sailing,” said Keira Atwell, a sailing counselor for three summers.
Because of her introduction to sailing at Fresh Pond, Emily Kennedy, who had been a counselor too, realized how important the sport was to her. “I was able to develop skill and friendships with the instructors and other campers, so the program became a consistent portion of my life.” As she prepares to enter Bates College in Maine this fall, Emily plans to join a sailing club so that she can continue to pursue her love of sailing.
“I always recall the summers that I worked [at the camp] as the best summers of my life,” Keira said. “I couldn’t believe that it was something that I got paid for; I spent every day of my summer on the water teaching other people how to sail.” When the program “was in its prime, it was incredible, and the summers there were unforgettable,” Keira said. “I really hope that in the near future an effort will be made to reinvent the program. I want kids who live out in East Hampton during the summer to be able to experience what I did during my childhood.”
Mr. Rooney made it clear that anyone interested in running the program next year should contact his office at 631-324-2417.
Although the town is not able to offer sailing this summer, Mr. Rooney pointed out that there is a new open-water swim training program for ages 18 and above, which he said is “ideal for those looking to expand their swimming skills in open water and those training for triathlons or open-water swimming events.” The usual summer offerings such as pickleball, basketball, junior lifeguarding, yoga, tennis, and games and crafts continue to be offered. Registration can be done through the East Hampton Town Recreation Department’s web page.