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Long Island Waters: Sag Harborís Special Allure

Originally Posted: July 03, 2008

Ben Amato

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Luxury mega-yachts lined up at the Waterfront Marina in Sag Harbor. Photos by Ben Amato

Sag Harbor - "The real calling is the water, the natural beauty," said Bob Sullivan, an instructor and the co-owner of The Sag Harbor Sailing School. Looking out at the calm, blue Noyac Bay, just west of Sag Harbor, it is easy to see his point of view and envy the life he has forged for himself. Ten years ago he was in advertising, living in Manhattan, trekking out on weekends for salt water fly fishing and sailing. Now he and partner Mark Tompkins run a very successful business introducing hundreds to the nautical wonders of our island.

"The waters are underutilized and that is one of the intriguing aspects. Ninety-eight percent of the boats are tied up most of the time. Few take advantage of the beautiful bays and the fantastically undeveloped shoreline. It's entirely residential, maybe because of zoning or how well everything is maintained. The homes fit in with the environment." He motioned in a westerly direction, "We have Morton Sanctuary," a national wildlife refuge just a short sail from Sag Harbor. "Things there have been the same way they were for hundreds, thousands of years. We have such a variety of waters out here. Shelter Island is very social. Greenport is a bustling harbor town. Sag Harbor is historical. The Morton is wildlife and undeveloped and Noyak Bay has a steady prevailing wind." That is bliss to anyone who relies on rope and canvas as a means of travel.

Bob Sullivan and Mark Tompkins conducting a sailing class at The Sag Harbor
Sailing School.

Whether you own a boat or are drawn to the East End waters by car or train, the bays and islands of Sag Harbor offer all an opportunity for beauty and excitement unique to Long Island's East End. A walk on the Long Wharf, at the corner of Main Street and Bay, introduces you to the nautical side of this 300-year-old sailing town. First gaining prominence as a major whaling port in the 1800s, it is mentioned often in "Moby Dick." Sag Harbor was home port to many a sea captain whose houses remain to this day, along with the Whaling Museum and the Old Whaler's Church.

Today, massive luxury yachts dock right on the edge of the town, making the Waterfront Marina the home of the "Cayman Navy," as described by dock master Nancy Hayes. From her small office, she and her staff make sure the hundreds who call the marina their summer home are taken care of with everything from fine food, fresh supplies, maintenance, repair, babysitting, and friendship. "The people that come in make this place special. So many are good friends. Tuesday nights they come up to the house for finger food and cocktails." But in this one marina, she has seen a change. "It was once 90 percent sail but now it is 95 percent power boat." The largest is the "Intuition II," a converted 193-foot Dutch Pilot Ship owned by Pat Molloy, the proprietor of the Waterfront Marina and several other local marine businesses. "The marina is the fullest ever in my 23 seasons here. For the most part it is the same people and the waiting list is enormous - years long and they come from all over, Europe and Riverhead. We had a wedding here. Bellamy and Nina were married here, right in front of my office. The father of the bride walked the bride right down the dock."

Pearson Ensigns sailboats that the Sag Harbor Sailing School uses for charter and
for classes.

But you do not need a luxury yacht or a wedding to enjoy the maritime delights of this town. The Village of Sag Harbor has many transient docks and moorings to choose from. Adjacent to the Long Wharf is a series of floating docks available for transients on a first-come-first serve basis, with short stays and overnight rates. It is managed by Rob Walkers, the Village dock master and local science teacher. The Village also operates Marine Park, a short walk east from the town. To the west is a mooring field operated by the town of North Haven.

Captain Ken Deeg runs the launch service for Sag Harbor and doubles as "The Answer Man" for anything that floats. He manages the mooring field, placing huge mooring anchors across the northern and eastern portion of the harbor and also outside the breakwaters. "There's no anchoring inside the harbor but beyond the break, the anchoring is good. We can handle anything out there, 100 to 150 feet. I've put in 2,000-pound moorings by crane - and my tender services all the way out to the exterior mooring field. It's a good harbor, a safe haven in storms - boats have never broken loose."

Ken came to Sag Harbor via the Coast Guard, stationed at Montauk Point. The last three summers he has worked the harbor, providing water taxi service for all that call and can help everyone with his knowledge of the different boatyards and marine-based services local craftsmen offer. He even helps private boat owners charter their boats out. "There's about five large sailboats open to charter. My friend Graham, a British guy - he has a 60-foot Swan - a lady charters out her catamaran, the Serenity - and there's Lelanta." This is a huge steel double-masted schooner.

Boats tied up at the Sag Harbor Yacht Club.

But Capt. Ken favors the super-yachts that populate the harbor. "They come from all over, overseas...they have no real home port, traveling from one destination to the next - and the big ones are also open for charter, but mostly corporate." He favors the Mangusta line of luxury yachts, built for speed and elegance. "They are the quick Italians," he said with a devilish tight grin. You could tell what he wanted for Christmas.

"Service is the key to Sag Harbor," said Ken, as he rattled off each marina in the vicinity and their specialty. "The Yacht Yard handles sail. Ship-A-Shore does everything for the power boats - Bo and Bob at Hidden Cove East and West are great - Rich Voich runs a dive service, cleaning the bottoms of the big boats. The Sag Harbor Yacht Club runs the weekly races - Wednesday night is for the locals and Thursday evening is a free race, open to all."

Bob Sullivan at The Sag Harbor Sailing School also realizes that good service is the key to success, both in their classroom and on the water. Their charter fleet of 23-foot Pearson Ensigns and the larger Catalinas are checked twice daily, sitting ready for renters to "come down, throw their stuff in and then they're gone. They get the security of not having a problem out there. Minimum investment of energy for maximum recreational enjoyment."

The walls of his retail store, Sag Harbor Outfitters, are lined with awards from the American Sailing Association and attest to their ability to teach you all you need to know to be safe under sail. They were among the 12 national winners in the Outstanding School category and co-owner Mark Tompkins won for Outstanding Instructor, one of 12 chosen out of 3,000 eligible. They offer five different classes from Basic Keelboat to Coastal Navigation and even a class for young teens on basic sailing. This operates as almost a summer camp, with the kids learning about both sailing and the natural environment of Noyak Bay and the surrounding waters.

American Beauty II tour boat sitting at the Long Wharf in Sag Harbor.

The Sag Harbor Sailing School charters many of their boats out for day sails and vacations of several days to a week. Their Catalinas can provide up to five adults a view of the East End that opens a new world to all who experience it. "You can bare boat it or we can provide a captain. We can even teach a class during your vacation, providing ASA certification."

They also have a fleet of 10 kayaks for those who want to mix exercise with the scenic beauty of local waters. Several other local marinas offer the kayak option but if you are more inclined towards "high-end cruising," then Bruce Tait & Associates is the outfit to contact. They can connect you with luxury yachts to explore the local waters. This year they have just brought in the unique Brenta Italian racing sailboats that combine excitement and elegance in its sleek design and blazing speed. Bruce is sponsoring a match race between two Brenta 30's on July 19.

For those who do not wish to have a paddle, tiller or wheel in their hands, Sag Harbor also offers scenic cruises aboard the American Beauty II. This is a 44-foot tour boat designed to seat up to 38 people for both ecological and sunset cruises. Captain Don Heckman departs three times a day from Long Wharf and has his boat available for private charter, fireworks cruises and children's parties. "My favorite spot is Mashomack Nature Preserve. It is a hot spot for all types of birds, osprey and wildlife. It is just beautiful." A tour of the harbor, Barcelona Point, the Cedar Point Lighthouse and around Shelter Island is always filled with surprises. "I saw a deer and her doe swimming across to Shelter Island the other day. And once we spotted a porpoise caught in a net by the shore. It was a young one, sort of a 'stupid teenager,' who was so involved chasing some food he got caught up and stranded for a bit. We called the Riverhead Foundation (a local organization that provides animal rescue and rehabilitation) but we just waited a while for the tide to turn and he freed himself."

Intitution II and several other boats at the Waterfront Marina.

Sag Harbor is a wonderful port both for the shops, restaurants and galleries that line the town and the shoreline and adjacent waters which remain pristine and beautiful to explore. Make it a stop in your travels by car and especially if you're traveling by boat. The waterside of our island is too wonderful to miss for memories are made here that will last a lifetime.

Helpful Links:
 • The Sag Harbor Sailing School, 631-725-5100, www.sailsagharbor.com
 • The Sag Harbor Yacht Club, 631-725-0567, www.sagharboryc.com
 • The Village of Sag Harbor Department of Harbor and Docks, 631-725-2368, www.sagharborny.gov
 • Captain Ken Deeg, Sag Harbor Launch and Services, 631-466-8180, sagharborlaunch@yahoo.com
 • The Waterfront Marina, Nancy Haynes manager/dock master, 631-725-3886
 • American Beauty II Cruises, Capt. Don Heckman, 631-725-0397, www.americanbeautycruises.com

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Guest (Amy ) from Southampton says::
Thanks for this informative article that was also very enjoyable to read. I'm looking forward to spending more time at the marina this summer!
Apr 11, 2010 9:34 am

Guest (Deborah A.) from Shirley says::
Excellent article!
Jul 9, 2008 11:13 pm


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