A Sailing Phoenix From the Proverbial Ashes

By Bill Peterson

Sagamore Junior sailingAbout five years ago, over a couple of beverages at Sagamore Yacht Club in Oyster Bay, NY, I asked a very naïve question to some of the senior members about where to go to get my children into a program to teach them how to sail.

Sagamore Junior Sailing is open to kids ages 8 to 16, and parents’ membership in Sagamore Yacht Club is not required.   © Sagamore Junior Sailing

I was a new member of the club who had just found my way to SYC in order to find a home for a newly inherited 1980 Catalina. I was just a recreational sailor from Brooklyn, but I wanted to get my kids the skills that they needed to enjoy our surrounding waters and maybe have some fun in the process.

“Funny you ask,” was the response of Mike Gehrling, who was serving as our Vice Commodore at the time. “We had a thriving program here years ago, but we don’t even know what happened to our fleet. Are you willing to volunteer to rebuild a program?” I said yes, without really knowing what I was getting myself into, and it has honestly been one of the most rewarding experiences for me and Mike, personally, and a huge win for our club in general.

It turned out that SYC had a thriving program in the 1990s, but due to the “aging out” of our participants, a decrease in younger families joining our relatively small club and kids turning to other “non-outdoor” activities such as “iDevices,” computers and video games, the thrust for our club’s junior sailing platform had just faded away. With a few new, relatively young families having joined the club, that’s all that we needed to know to begin to turn things around!

With complete support from our Board, as well as financial support from our club and personal sponsorship from our members, many of whom had enjoyed experiencing the junior sailing program when their kids participated years ago, we found ourselves beginning a whole new venture. The first addition to our fleet was a dozen relatively new Optimists, which were priced right and in amazing condition. 

Operating on a shoestring budget, we relied upon volunteers, donations and Mike’s endless road trips to acquire a fleet of instructor’s chase boats and Blue Jays with “great potential.” With many volunteer man-hours spent with sanders, fiberglass repair kits and paintbrushes, we had our two- to three-person boats for our juniors.  Last year, before our third season started, we saw the momentum that we were gaining in terms of participants and how many children were returning. By the way, they all seem to get bigger over the first two years, and through the generosity of our volunteers we took the next big leap and acquired four almost-new C420s.

In building out the program, we were so grateful for the historical insight and physical assistance for our entire infrastructure provided by Ray Wulff. Ray’s son, Ray Wulff, Jr., who went through the Sagamore Junior Sailing program in the 1980s, is now a world-renowned competitive sailor. We were also the beneficiary of the marketing, communication and the “spread the word” expertise provided by Tony Miraglia and Barbara Curry. Tony has assisted us immensely in growing the program, and has been very successful in getting his young grandchildren, as well as their friends and neighbors, out on the bay with us. Barbara is our media guru and has guided us well through the new media platforms. Todd Field, who assists Sagamore Yacht Club in the management of their overall racing program, has stepped up tremendously for the benefit of the program. Todd has been invaluable in spearheading the construction of the multiple programs, which have been custom-tailored for our various levels of expertise. Todd has also made certain that we are effectively utilizing our sailing coaches and pairing them up with sailors of varying abilities.

From a financial standpoint, we received so much interest and support from our members and friends that we made the decision to incorporate ourselves as a qualified non-profit. As a 501-c-3, Sagamore Junior Sailing operates as an integrated entity of the yacht club, but we are able to receive tax-deductible sponsorship from individuals, as well as other supporting non-profits. It really has been great to watch the program’s support build upon itself, as well as more and more kids bringing their friends with them to share their love of the bay and the wind!

We are really looking forward to the summer ahead, with instruction for 20 to 25 kids of all experience levels in each of our four two-week sessions. We have secured five great instructors, two of which have been with us before, including our lead instructor Kiersten Fitzpatrick. We are consistently upgrading the sails and the fleet, and the dedication of our volunteers, staff and children has been overwhelming.

We still have slots available for the coming season and the program is open to members and non-members alike. If you find yourself in Oyster Bay this summer, feel free to stop down to the club to see our kids in action! For more information, visit and click on “Junior Sailing,” follow us on Facebook at, or email us at

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