Marking a century under sail

Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society courtesy photo
Yacht club members pose in front of the club’s bath houses in 1915.

The wind was blowing steadily from the west at a little more than 10 knots when a group of kids gathered on the beach in front of the Mattituck Yacht Club Monday morning, surveying the weather conditions.

It was the day of the club’s annual “Race to the Dunes,” a morning-long excursion to a high bluff in Southampton, and just one of the events in a summer-long celebration of the yacht club’s centennial.

Fourteen-year-old Molly Kowalski was watching the water, preparing herself for the crucial moment when she’d launch her boat. This was her fourth year taking the trip to the dunes and she was ready for excitement.

“Sometimes there’s been no wind, but this year there’s a decent amount of wind. Fun stuff,” she said.

Two boats down the beach, Jack DiGregorio and Christian Villani prepared to push their boat into the water, planning a launch strategy that would quickly propel them to the front of the pack.

Just to the leeward side of the two strategists, Cavan Gardner and Matt Wilton were also about to launch.

“It’s gonna be a straight run,” said Cavan, brimming with excitement, as the kids pushed off into the bay.

It’s been 100 years since a small group of yachtsmen banded together to form the Mattituck Yacht Club. During that time, the club has trained many generations of sailors. And has gone through many incarnations, from a group of motorboat enthusiasts roaring through the 1920s to the time when it barely met during World War II though the heyday of construction in the early 1950s, when the club building was erected.

In its current incarnation, the club’s members all sail on Sunfish, 14-foot sailing dinghies that are renowned for their stability and the ease with which they can be sailed.

Every sailor in the club, from 8-year-old novices to the old-timers competing in the Kraebel Cup this Sunday, knows the Sunfish inside and out. At the club’s core is a sailing instruction program that teaches kids ages 8 to 17 how to sail and race competitively and, eventually, become junior sail instructors themselves.

The club has been holding centennial events throughout the summer, but the biggest bash of all takes place this weekend. The festivities kick off Friday evening, Aug. 6, at Laurel Lake Vineyard, where club members and alumni are invited to attend an anniversary bash.

“We’ve been soliciting and reaching out to as many past members as we could,” said Paul Romanelli, a club commodore who has been arranging the festivities.

If kids’ events are the core of the Mattituck Yacht Club’s longevity, it’s the kids who have come through the ranks of the youth program and continued sailing as adults who are the backbone sustaining the operation, members say.

On Saturday, the club will hold contests, games and a barbecue for families, and on Sunday members over 30 will compete in the Kraebel Cup, formerly known as the Old-Timer’s Race. That race was named for George Kraebel, a past member and electrician who did a great deal of work on the clubhouse prior to his death in 1999. It kicks off at club headquarters at 11:30 a.m.

This year, the club was also accorded the honor of hosting the National Sunfish Championship, held on its grounds two weeks ago.

“It took a two-year effort,” said Mr. Romanelli. “It’s kind of like a city applying for the Olympics. You have to provide food, water, showers and housing. It took a while, but it was great that they gave us an opportunity. It’s a great year for us to do it.”

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