On Watch - Justin M. Smith

Later this month, Justin Smith is embarking on a very ambitious journey to raise money for a worthy cause. Justin, age 12, will be sailing his 8-foot Optimist across the Long Island Sound singlehanded, and he is seeking donors to help fund a project to restore the Sound’s ecosystem.

Justin Smith“I really like sailing, and during the summer I primarily sail in the Long Island Sound,” says Justin, who lives in Muttontown, a village in the Town of Oyster Bay, NY. “I thought it would be a great idea to help clean and protect the Long Island Sound – where I go sailing, other people enjoy many activities and an entire ecosystem of fish, animals and plants live – so that it stays nice and clean. The money I raise will be used, in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, to support a ‘bioextraction’ project in New York’s Bronx River, whose waters flow into Long Island Sound.”

“I started sailing three years ago at Seawanhaka Corinthian Junior Yacht Club,” says Justin. “My coaches, Juan Carlos Romeo, Tomas Ruiz de Luque and Attila Hodacs, have really taught me a lot, and I got my McLaughlin Optimist last December.” An Opti Blue Fleet sailor, Justin is a member of the racing team that won the Battle of the Bays Optimist Regatta, which was hosted by Seawanhaka Corinthian Junior YC in August. “I’m doing mostly fleet racing with the Seawanhaka team, but I did compete in one team race this summer, across the Sound at Noroton Yacht Club. I’ve also already started participating in the new Fall Opti Racing program at The WaterFront Center in Oyster Bay.”

“I learned about the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through a fundraising event at Seawanhaka last year,” says Justin. “The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is a country-wide non-profit organization that preserves and restores our nation’s native wildlife species and habitats through its funding and support.”

Among the most critical environmental issues in Long Island Sound are algal blooms, loss of seagrass, and hypoxia, a condition of dangerously low levels of dissolved oxygen that kills fish, lobsters and mollusks. The primary cause is an overabundance of nitrogen, which enters the Sound via discharge from inadequate wastewater treatment plants and stormwater runoff from heavily fertilized lawns.

Nutrient bioextraction, also known as bioharvesting, is a very promising solution. “The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s bioextraction project will place oysters, ribbed mussels and seaweed into the Bronx River, which is going to naturally filter the water, removing waste particles and adding more oxygen to the water,” Justin explains. “Mussels and oysters feed on plankton, and when they grow they incorporate it into their shells and meat nutrients. When the shellfish are harvested, the harvest will remove some of the excess nutrients from the aquatic environment, thereby improving water quality for other marine life. Seaweed also removes harmful matter from the environment as it grows.”

Justin’s solo sail, scheduled for October 20, also relates to his upcoming bar mitzvah, the Jewish rite of passage to adulthood. “My bar mitzvah is January 12, 2013,” he says. “My synagogue, the Woodbury Jewish Center, asks us to perform a mitzvah [good deed, in Hebrew], and this is a cause that I care a lot about.”

Justin’s journey will take him from Stamford, CT to Oyster Bay, NY, a distance of approximately seven miles on the rhumbline. “I’m going to be leaving from Stamford, and I’ll be arriving at The WaterFront Center,” he says. “It’ll probably take more than a few hours to sail across. I’m not really concerned about the distance, but it’s going to be very tiring and I’m hoping I can keep my energy up the whole way through. I will have a support team following me in a powerboat, and I’ll be bringing plenty of water, Gatorade and energy bars.”

Winds from the northwest would be ideal, as they’d allow Justin to reach toward Long Island. Cool autumn days on Long Island Sound, however, often bring strong, shifty conditions. If that’s the case, he’ll have to jibe over a considerably longer distance while hiking hard, possibly for hours on end. “I’ll be prepared for all types of weather conditions,” he states with confidence. He also recognizes the need to be flexible and is ready to change his course or sailing date if necessary.

Justin is actively soliciting donations, which can be made in denominations of $20, $40, $50, $75, $100 (Friend), $200 (Bronze Sponsor), $300 (Silver Sponsor), $400 (Gold Sponsor) or $500 (Corporate Sponsor). “I greatly appreciate all donations and would greatly appreciate it if you could support me by becoming an individual or corporate sponsor,” he says. Several businesses, including shops and restaurants in Oyster Bay, Syosset, Locust Valley and Jericho, as well as Landfall in Stamford, CT, have already signed on to help protect the Sound by supporting Justin as he sails across it.

“Please mail your check, payable to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, to Justin Smith, P.O. Box 176, Locust Valley, NY 11560 or call my dad, Brian Smith, at 516-650-0838,” says Justin. “I also have a Facebook page. If WindCheck readers want to know more about my journey, they can go to ‘Justin Protects the LI Sound’ on Facebook. Your sponsorship and corporate logo, if you would like, can also be posted on my Facebook page and displayed in other press materials for this charitable project!”

Justin, who also enjoys skiing at Mount Snow, is a seventh grader at South Woods Middle School in Syosset. His dedication to his cross-Sound solo sail is reflected in his outlook on studies. “I focus very hard on school work,” he asserts. “My family is very proud of me and they’re going to support me the whole way. I like the skill that sailing requires, and enjoy working toward being a better sailor. I love the water and I love being out there all day.”

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