Sailing: Boger ties record, not a second too soon

COURTESY PHOTO/BRIDGET WALTER, NORTH FORK MEMORIES, SOUTHOLD N.Y. | Bobby Boger, representing the United States Merchant Marine Academy, won in the closest finish in the 42-year history of the World’s Longest Sunfish Race, Around Shelter Island, NY.


Southold resident Bobby Boger, a member of the United States Merchant Marine Academy sailing team, won the 42nd annual World’s Longest Sunfish Race, Around Shelter Island, NY for the fourth time on Saturday. In so doing, Boger tied the record of four wins set by Dr. Dick Heinl, who won it at age 62, 64, 66 and 84.

Heinl, 87, is recovering from knee surgery he underwent on July 5 and was unable to compete. Heinl’s record of 32 consecutive races, however, still stands.

Southold Yacht Club inaugurated this nautical marathon of approximately 24 miles in 1971. This year 17 Sunfish crossed the starting line at noon under the watchful eye of the commodore and race committee chairman, Steve Guyer. With a 5-to-7-knot westerly breeze, the race committee provided a downwind start in the outgoing tide to commence the clockwise circumnavigation.

As the fleet emerged from Southold Bay, the sailors were packed close together, with Boger leading. He was followed closely by three-time winner John Condon of Mattituck Yacht Club, former North American champion Joel Furman of Bellport, Southold Yacht Club past commodore Walter Preston, former winner Joe Sullivan and Celeste Flick, who are both from the host club, and Arthur Leiz of Narrasketuck Yacht Club. The sailors made good time through Greenport harbor and were not deterred by the Shelter Island ferries and the heavy weekend boat traffic.

Forty-five minutes into the race, the leaders jibed from port onto starboard tack and rounded Hay Beach Point into Gardiner’s Bay. The breeze remained steady as Boger, Furman, Condon and Leiz opted to stay closer to the wind along the Shelter Island shore while Sullivan, Flick and Preston remained further offshore, taking advantage of the wind and outgoing current. The latter decision paid off when the fleet passed Ram’s Head about a half-hour later. Sullivan and Flick sailed by Ram’s Head with minimum wind blockage while those inshore were severely blanketed by the 90-degree promontory.

Immediately past Ram’s Head, the wind shifted to the southwest and Sullivan was the first to catch it. He opened a 50-yard lead over Flick, who maintained a 20-yard lead over Boger. For the four miles from Ram’s Head to Mashomack Point, Boger relentlessly pursued the two leaders. He overtook Flick after three miles and caught Sullivan just before the two sailors passed Mashomack Point into Sag Harbor Bay. At that point, the three sailors had a half-mile lead over a closely packed group consisting of Christiaan Honig, Condon, Leiz, Furman and Preston.

As the leaders sailed toward the South Ferry, the wind increased to 10 to15 knots from the west with two-foot seas. Boger, who was able to outpoint and outflatten his competitors, opened up a 100-yard lead as he passed the South Ferry and headed to Shelter Island Sound. In the meantime, Condon, who is terrific in heavy air, found the conditions to his liking and started picking off boats one at a time. Entering Shelter Island Sound, Boger had a quarter-mile lead over Sullivan with Condon close behind in third place. By that time, the breeze had increased to a steady 16 knots with higher gusts from the west and three-foot seas. In their 13-foot 10-inch craft, the sailors were getting hammered by the combination of wind and waves. With four miles to go, Condon passed Sullivan and set his sights on Boger. As the four leaders — Boger, Condon, Sullivan and Leiz — entered Southold Bay on port tack for the two-mile sprint to the finish, a distance of about 100 yards separated each of the boats.

All four continued sailing along the Shelter Island shore, each wondering who was going to come about onto starboard tack first to head to the finish line off Southold Yacht Club on the west side of Southold Bay. Boger tacked first. Two hundred yards back, Sullivan followed suit. Condon thought about continuing toward Port of Egypt and then tacking in order to take advantage of the incoming tide. At that point, he had pretty much decided that Boger was going to win and the risk of continuing straight and not covering Sullivan was too great. He tacked onto Starboard to cover Sullivan, who was about 100 yards to leeward and 40 yards ahead. Leiz continued on port. Boger was 100 yards to windward of Condon and about 50 yards ahead of him.

Suddenly, a huge yacht under full power crossed Boger’s bow and his small craft was tossed like a yo-yo in the boat’s wash. According to Condon, the waves were so high that Boger’s boat disappeared behind them before reemerging on the crest of a new wave. Condon avoided the yacht and looked to see where Sullivan was. Sullivan was coming about off Reydon Shores when his foot got caught in the mainsheet and he capsized. The boat turtled and Condon, who is a teammate of Sullivan on the North Fork Sunfish YRA Team Racing team, muttered to himself, “Come on, Joe, get up, get up.”

Condon then found himself in a close tacking duel with Boger, who had lost a lot of ground. After several tacks, he passed Boger on port and was in first place with a quarter-mile to go. The two boats continued on port tack until they were parallel to the finish line. They came about simultaneously and flattened their boats as they raced the final 100 yards to the finish. When the horn went off, neither sailor knew who had won until the race committee hailed Boger’s sail number, at which time he let out a loud, “Woo-hoo” and did a backward somersault off his boat into the refreshing water.

After four hours and 20 minutes of racing, the difference between first and second place was one second, which was the closest finish in the 42-year history of this event.

Meanwhile, it took Sullivan about a minute to right his boat. “It seemed like an eternity,” he said afterward. Sullivan found himself in fourth place, no more than a boat length behind Leiz. After two quick tacks, he recaptured third place and finished six minutes behind the leaders.

CLUB SALUTES THE LATE LYMAN At the awards ceremony, the yacht club remembered and saluted a friend, KEITH LYMAN of East Marion, who won this event in 2003 at age 79 and who passed away on July 4, a month after his 88th birthday. His widow, ELEANOR, presented the perpetual plaque, which had been named in honor of Keith and fellow octogenarian DICK HEINL.

Plaques were given to the top 10 finishers and three perpetual awards were presented as follows: the WBAZ-FM award to the race winner, BOBBY BOGER; the Peggy Wagner Memorial Award to the first female finisher, CELESTE FLICK; the Heinl-Lyman Octogenarian award to the oldest competitor and the first finisher over 50 years of age, JOE SULLIVAN, age 75.