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Menantic Yacht Club’s commodore takes national honor

COURTESY PHOTO
Commodore Pete Bethge about to start a Sunday race of the Menantic Yacht Club on West Neck Bay.

In October, Menantic Yacht Club (MYC) members Joe Sullivan and Melissa Shepstone both had the great idea to nominate Club Commodore Pete Bethge for the 2018 US Sailing One-Design Leadership Award.

Melissa, who is Pete’s daughter, and Joe collaborated on the nomination submission. They must have done a good job, because on December 7, US Sailing official Lee Parks sent Commodore Pete the following email: “Congratulations! You have won US Sailing’s National One-Design Award for Leadership recognizing individual initiative, enthusiasm, organizing ability and leadership in creating the one-design fleet building program of the year. Having raced in the Sunfish Women’s [National] and experienced Menantic Yacht Club personally, I was thrilled to receive the nomination from Joe Sullivan and ecstatic when the selection committee chose you as the winner!”

Commodore Pete has earned many sailing honors in his short life (86 years young and counting), including election to the US Intercollegiate Sailing Hall of Fame, and winning the Green Stars in the Star Class, both in 1975.

He was also one of the founders of the Around Long Island Regatta in 1977, and participated in the Sunfish World Championship race in Italy in 1986. However, nothing makes him prouder than Shelter Island’s own Menantic Yacht Club, in which his leadership was formally recognized in 2016, when the MYC was chosen to host the Women’s National Sunfish Championship. Thirty-nine sailors from all over the United States participated, the most ever in a Women’s National.

The MYC was founded in the 1930s by William Dickerson as an informal, fun, open-to-all alternative to a formal yacht club. Now, as at its founding, the MYC has no dues, no club house and all are welcome. In the 1930s, club members sailed Cape Cod Rockets. A little over 50 years ago, Commodore Pete revived the club, which always had a one-design dinghy fleet.

Under Pete’s leadership, Sunfish became the boat of choice.

In the early 2000s only three or four sailors would show up at Pete’s red house with the split rail fence in Silver Beach on any given Sunday during the summer and race Sunfish for a couple of hours.

However, over the past 15 years the MYC has grown exponentially. Now anywhere from 15 to 30 sailors participate in the Sunday races. If a sailor shows up and doesn’t have a boat, no problem, since Pete has long maintained a fleet of used Sunfish to lend out. If a sailor doesn’t know how to sail, also no problem, since Pete, and other club members such as long-time member Dave Olsen, have always been very generous and patient about teaching newcomers.

All a sailor has to do to race on a summer Sunday is give Pete a call to borrow a boat, or show up in West Neck Harbor at 2 p.m.

Pete has seen to it that not only is the sailing competitive, but that the club members adhere to the “Corinthian spirit” of sailing, a high standard of sportsmanship. In the case of the MYC that means sailing competitively, but at the same time in a friendly manner, always giving a helping hand and advice when needed.

Last year, Pete initiated a rule that to qualify for the season, a sailor has to participate in at least 50 percent of all races plus run the Race Committee one weekend under his watchful eye, which has proved a helpful learning experience for all.

Commodore Pete has been involved in sailing since early childhood, spending summers at the red house in Silver Beach where he still lives. At 14, Pete and a friend sailed his 16-foot Long Island One Design from Port Washington to Shelter Island, with only a watermelon on board for sustenance. With a little help from the Coast Guard, and a little MacGyver-ing along the way — long before MacGyver was created — the pair got through Plum Gut, continued sailing through the night and made it to Silver Beach the next day.

At the end of that summer, Pete sailed the boat back to Port Washington without any assistance, but suffered a minor malfunction when a shroud broke off near Stony Brook. He beached the boat and hitch-hiked into Port Washington, obtained new parts, hitch-hiked back and continued sailing.

Until recently, Pete maintained his fleet of boats, ranging from six to 12 in any given year, with no help. Now friends and family give a helping hand. He still makes sure that the fleet is ready on summer Sundays for anyone who requests a boat. In addition, Pete supplies the Race Committee boat and the stake boat, and runs the weekly races with his wife, Sallie, by his side.

Pete keeps his loaner fleet going by buying and selling used Sunfish and accepting Sunfish from donors. He regularly scours the Island looking for boats and then repairs them at his personal expense.

Although the MYC has no club house, Pete and Sallie’s red house still serves as the main gathering point. It is located just steps away from the rigging area, where one can generally find Pete tinkering with his fleet. Pete and Sallie host an after-race party at the red house once a year, as well as the annual skippers meeting.

On January 31, Commodore Bethge will be honored at the awards ceremony held in conjunction with the 2019 National Sailing Programs Symposium in Jacksonville, Florida.

Anyone can attend, just register at nsps.ussailing.org.

Upon learning of his award, Pete, with typical modesty, emailed: “It’s obviously an honor for me, but really for all of Menantic!”

Congratulations Commodore Pete on this well-deserved award, which could not have been awarded to a worthier nominee. Every member of the MYC is proud of you and grateful for your leadership.

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