By Jano Tantongco
Junior sailors of all skill levels converged at the Northport Yacht Club last week to hit the open water and race in an effort to help fund the dreams of Suffolk County Make-A-Wish recipients.
Though off to a slow start with a lack of wind, the July 28 regatta helped raise $44,000 through a combination of pledges and sponsorships from local businesses. The fundraiser also includes a swim-a-thon, which was slated to be held after deadline on Monday.
Wearing a salmon-colored regatta shirt, chairman of the regatta Bob Doherty turned around and pointed to the 150 names on the back of the shirt, pointing out the sponsors who’ve donated $250. He compared it to other fundraiser events, where one would typically see several larger donors contribute.
“I don't have any big sponsors. They're all members of the club, members of the community, members of the Town of Huntington,” he said. “It's all local businesses and families. That's what makes this event so special. It's our little Northport community that raises this money.”
The top fundraisers include 16-year-old Johnny Bravo, who raised $3,705; the Donofrio siblings 14-year-old Gianna, 12-year-old Joe and 10-year-old Anthony, who raised $2,800; and Maggie FitzMaurice, who raised $2,400.
Sailors ages 8-17 competed in various races based on skill level and age. Courses involved sailing around tracks outlined with buoys, where sailors made every effort to catch the wind to push them past their competitors.
Race winners were Ellie Woodworth in the OPTI green class; Charise Winter in the OPTI white class; Spencer Kriegstein in the OPTI red class; Blake Rossi in the OPTI Blue class; Ewan McGrory and Chris Contreras in the Club 420 class; Alex Haffen, Caroline Greco and Marli Rittenhouse in the Blue Jay Novice class; Fiona Farrell in the Laser class; and Maggie Kiernan, Ashley Berger and Jonathon Kiernan in the PIXEL class.
“This is our 21st year doing this. I've been doing it with my wife for the past 10 years,” said Doherty. “We've taken it to another level of raising money for Make-A-Wish.”
Doherty retired from the New York City Fire Department 10 years ago, and joined the club shortly after. He was eventually asked to take over the regatta.
“Our club is a club where everybody expected to do some work around here,” he said.
He set a goal of fundraising $50,000 every year.
The event also serves to give kids a taste of the competition without all the pressure.
“There's little availability for them to enjoy themselves because they are limited to a certain spot, they can't come in, they have so many rules,” Doherty said of typical regattas.
Children came from various yacht clubs along the harbor, including Centerport, Huntington Bay, Huntington, Cold Spring Harbor and Sagamore.
Peggy Doherty, Bob’s wife, helps run the event and said they also were inspired to become involved after their friend’s 4-year-old son underwent major heart surgery and became a Make-A-Wish recipient.
“The Make-A-Wish Foundation is one of those good charities that most of the money goes to actually to the kids,” she said.
Instructor at the Huntington Bay Yacht Club, Nicholas Healy, said this was his 10th Make-A-Wish regatta. He brought out 21 junior sailors from his club.
“This is a place for them to see what racing is like on a more relaxed scene, and also it’s for an awesome cause,” Healy, 20, said.
Hailing from the Centerport Yacht Club, 13-year-old Spencer Kriegstein won the first race of the red class of Optis. It’s the fourth Make-A-Wish regatta he’s been to.
“It was a pretty good race, the breeze was light, but we were able to get off the line cleanly,” he said. “I’ve been working with my coach Sean Cornell. We’ve been practicing starts, upwinds, and practicing… with light air because that’s what we get around here.”
For Bryce Winter, of the Northport Yacht Club, it’s at least his fifth regatta. Winning the first leg of the Laser segment, he warmed to be able to “do something for others.”
“I had a pretty decent start,” said Winter, who finished second overall in the Laser class. “The competitors are all great, and it’s really fun to race with them.”