© Alasdhair Claremont

An enthusiastic sailor from a very young age, Beth Fleisher leads the race committee at one of the friendliest clubs in the Northeast and co-chairs a uniquely challenging – and very fun! – distance race.

“I grew up on the South Shore of Long Island, on the Great South Bay,” says Beth. “My parents took me sailing when I was five weeks old. I was born in September so this was fall sailing, which I still love. That is, if you don’t count the hours on the water when my Mom was pregnant, including a rather ‘interesting’ day at 8 ½ months when there was no wind…and the engine fell off the boat!”

“My father, Martin Fleisher, always had multiple boats, usually more than five. The first boat I paddled on my own was his shooting box, with a double-bladed paddle. The first I sailed solo was a Penguin, when I was five. I learned how to trapeze at six, from the leeward side of my father’s Flying Dutchman. My mother made my first trap harness, which I still have.”

“I’ll never forget the day my father and I were frostbiting Penguins. I was seven or eight. He told me he could feel the boat accelerating. I asked what he meant. He explained, ‘You have the feel of the boat in your ass.’ I remember thinking he was nuts – then concentrating, and feeling the boat slow down and speed up in minute shifts and puffs. That absolutely changed my view of the world, and boats. My own first boat was a Sunfish that I raced. The boat had placed fourth in the North Americans, so I knew it was fast…I had no excuses!”

“After college I began racing big boats on Manhasset Bay, one of few women who did. It was a very Type A crowd; lots of yelling when things went awry. These guys apparently hadn’t heard that a quiet boat is a fast boat! I loved big boats but hated the environment. My friend Ron Fink and I met campaigning another guy’s boat…a loud, tense boat. I started sailing with Ron and he taught me how to sail big boats competitively…Thirsty Thursdays, Manhasset Bay Fall Series, Around Long Island Regatta. We placed well and had fun, too. I learned a fast boat is a fun boat and that yelling doesn’t make speed, it just makes people unhappy to be aboard – a very important lesson.”

Residing in Park Slope, Brooklyn during the winter and summering on the North Fork, Beth’s been a Southold Yacht Club member for two decades. “When I started spending summers out in Southold, I watched the Sunfish racing from the beach and knew I had to get back in a boat,” she says, “especially as it gave me ‘alone time’ from my young, active twin sons!”

“As Race Committee Chair at SYC, I organize all the racing at the club. We do everything from a classic club series to The Family Regatta, when our sailing school students can get out on the water with their parents. It’s very rewarding to get people on the water, enjoying the sport. I’m also a member of the Peconic Bay Sailing Association based out of New Suffolk, where I keep my J/80. I have a nice balance between singlehanded one-design sailing and PHRF keelboat racing.”

“Southold YC is very family oriented. Most members join because their children are taking lessons. The clubhouse is on a beautiful beach on Southold Bay. I’ve made great friends at SYC as we are a very social group. Monday Night Racing, with folks on the water and folks watching from the beach, is wonderful. The sunsets are beautiful, and the camaraderie on and off the water the best!”

“There’s been a very competitive Sunfish fleet at SYC since I was a kid. I remember my father going to Sunfish Masters regattas there. Fifty-one years ago, a group of members had the zany idea to do a long distance race in the Sunfish. It’s turning the usual use of the boat on its head. Instead of multiple short races over a few hours, the World’s Longest Sunfish Race around Shelter Island, New York is a four- to five-hour sail that can be done for fun, highly competitively, or both!”

“The currents and wind shifts around Shelter Island make this a challenging race. There’s a squeeze at South Ferry where, depending on tide, you can get stuck in a wicked back eddy. The island is very irregularly shaped, with heights. The wind changes and clocks, gusts and drops. Figuring out the course is a real brain-teaser. That, and the length of the race and stamina required, both physical and mental, makes this one special. We’re hoping to hold the 50th Anniversary World’s Longest Sunfish Race on July 10 this year. Fingers crossed!”

“I continued the family tradition and got my twin sons, Alasdhair and Benjamin, into boats and sailing when they were in diapers! Ben sailed his Opti solo for the first time at five, and Ali soon followed. They’re 23 now, and sail on my J/80. Ben is an excellent navigator, able to do a lot of tricky calculations so we sail less real estate, fast. Ali, an engineer, can fix anything on the boat. He’s rigged his C420 for solo sailing, and can be seen racing Monday nights on the trap, jib and main trimmed for speed. My husband Chris is our shore support, greeting us when we come off the water. He loves flying. Sailing, not so much. I like that sailing is a sport where girls and boys, men and women, can compete equally, and I hope more talented young women will stay with the sport as they grow older.” ■

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