Around the Island

Great Peconic Race: Strong winds, waves and a mellow beach party

BEVERLEA WALZPHOTO BillY Baldwin, left with Jeremy Samuelson, director of Mashomack Preserve accepting gift of $15,000 from the proceeds from this year’s race.
BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO BillY Baldwin, left with Jeremy Samuelson,
director of Mashomack Preserve accepting gift of $15,000 from the
proceeds from this year’s race.

One hundred and four participants paddled competitively in the fifth annual Great Peconic Race on Saturday, September 8. The 19-mile course around Shelter Island started and ended at Wades Beach, with kayaks, paddleboards, surf skis, OC1-OC6, coastal rowers and prone boards all represented.

The race was launched at 8:30 a.m. after a prayer was sung by members of the Shinnecock Nation, asking Gitche Manitou, or Great Spirit, to bless the racers.

With cloudy skies, temperatures in the 70s and winds expected around 10 mph, the September day offered near-perfect conditions for the competition. By the time the 19-milers crossed the finish, however, they were reporting winds of 15 mph and extremely high waves.

Race founder Billy Baldwin called it “the hardest paddle event I’ve ever been in.” He extended his arm completely above his head to demonstrate the height of the waves he’d encountered at Gardiners Bay.

“That was the worst I’ve seen,” he said. “I doubt that the standup paddlers could make it.”

Despite the challenges, Mr. Baldwin finished first of the men in the OC1 division.

The first to finish the 19-mile course was Dan Kirrane, 28, a rower. The Sag Harbor resident finished in 3 hours 20 minutes, in what he said was his first time competing.

MARY ELLEN McGAYHEY PHOTO Dan Kirrane, right, the first place sea kayak finisher, with James Deitz, who finished second.
First to finish, Dan Kirrane, right, with James Deitz, who finished second.

A group from Sag Harbor in a four-person rowing shell won the 9-mile race with a time of 1:08. The team, Lee Oldak, Yvette Milaec, Noel Marran and MacRae Marron are part of the Sag Harbor Community Rowing group, which conducts high school, middle school and adult rowing programs.

Peter Farrar, 73, of Shelter Island, piloted his sea kayak to a first place finish in the short course with Islander Don D’Amato, 74, close behind to take third.  Mr. D’Amato reported there were “many falls, some bailouts” among the 19-milers encountering strong waves coming from the Plum Island as well as the winds. Saftey boats were following throughout the race in case any paddler needed assistance.

Official race results were not completed by Monday afternoon.

Numerous contestants ventured onto the 9-mile course past Jennings Point and back or the 3-mile course past Shell Beach and back, instead of circumnavigating the Island, and then enjoyed the beach party that was open to all who competed or bought tickets. While the paddlers were getting knocked about by the winds and waves, the vibe along Wades Beach could not have been more laid back.

A reggae band played, the Greenport 1943 pizza truck served up pies with every conceivable ingredient, and beverages from Core water and Brooklyn Brewery were on tap. Billy Baldwin, also known as Captain Cookie, brought plenty of cookies from his bakery. Massages were offered for weary muscles, while demonstrations of paddle craft were provided for those thinking of dipping a toe into the sport.

Long Island Strong founders Terrance Saporito and Brian Jones displayed their wares featuring LI Strong logos, which help Long Island nonprofits with their fundraising efforts. Some spectators enjoyed the shelter of the new pavilion, erected this summer by the Lions Club to make the beach more accommodating to visitors of all ages and abilities.

A large, friendly dog relished the post-Labor Day freedom to frolic on the beach. Children climbed atop the unmanned lifeguard stand to get a bird’s eye view of the approaching paddlers. At 2 p.m. there was a 500-yard Kids Sprint along the beach for children under 12.

The race was started to honor the memory of Ted Baldwin, Billy’s brother, who died in 2010 of cancer.

Much of his life was spent seeking adventure on Little Peconic Bay, where he grew up, and where he dared his friends and family to have fun and excitement on the water. Ted was a true waterman, his brother said, from designing a slalom course in Scallop Pond, to water ski jumps, hobie catting around Robin’s Island, jet skiing, parasailing, windsurfing and wake boarding.

When Billy Baldwin spoke of the challenging weather he’d encountered on this year’s course, he said, “But it’s supposed to be challenging — that’s the idea. When people contend with something this hard, they should remember that’s how hard it is for people when they’re sick — every single day.”

Funds raised from this event are being donated to the Nature Conservancy’s Mashomack Nature Preserve and its water education program and to develop a paddle component for it with help from race director Fergus Sloan and Billy Baldwin. Mr. Baldwin presented a $15,000 check to the program before the race and said another $20,000 would be donated afterward.