A Welcome Return For Sag Harbor’s HarborFest

The men's whaleboat champions from John K. Ott Cesspool Services included, from left to right, Jeff Greenwald, Brian O’Sullivan, Pete Finelli, Eric Bramoff and Kevin O’Brien Jr. Kyril Bromley photos

HarborFest returned to Sag Harbor this weekend after a one-year hiatus owing to the coronavirus, and to say it was a hit with a population that has grown weary of being cooped up would be an understatement. Huge crowds converged on Long Wharf and the waterfront under sunny blue skies to listen to music, sample food from a number of purveyors, browse displays or watch the whaleboat races.

“After having to cancel the festival last year because of COVID, there was just so much joy over the weekend with the community coming together to celebrate Sag Harbor for the first time in a long time,” said Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce President Gavin Menu, who is also co-publisher of The Express News Group. “The entire village was bursting with energy, which is what HarborFest is all about.”

There was everything from a marathon reading at locations scattered across the village of Herman Melville’s classic novel, “Moby-Dick,” to a petting zoo for children, and clam chowder and clam-shucking contests. But drawing center attention, as they always do, were the whaleboat races.

In the men’s competition, John K. Ott Cesspool Service captured first place, and the victory was extra special for Eric Bramoff, the athletic director of the Sag Harbor School District who, at age 43, won his first cup after competing in the competition almost every year since he was 16.

“I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything so bad in my life, and it’s a silly little contest,” he said. “But the weekend is not about winning the Whalers Cup, the weekend is about being with your childhood friends — and your new friends — and experiencing the beauty of Sag Harbor.”

Besides joining friends who have been part of past cup-winning teams, Mr. Bramoff said he was proud to be able to join his father, Warren Bramoff, as a winner of the Whalers Cup.

The Ott team had a five-man crew with Mr. Bramoff and Brian O’Sullivan manning the oars. Jeff Greenwald and Pete Finelli alternated as harpooner, and Kevin O’Brien Jr. handled the tiller on all but one heat, when, as fire chief, he had more pressing matters to attend to in the form of a September 11 memorial service. He was replaced by Mr. Finelli for that heat.

The champion women’s whaleboat team from C’s Home & Office Management included from left to right, Pam Miller, Becky Guyer, Marianne Ward and Tara Fordham.

The races were even more poignant for Marianne Ward, 51, who completed radiation and chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer at the end of July, but was still able to claim her place as rower on the C’s Home & Office Management team and win her third title.

“I’m that kid, who when you tell them you can’t do something, I try even harder,” said Ms. Ward. “So when my doctors said, ‘You shouldn’t be rowing,’ and my friends said, ‘You shouldn’t be doing this,’ I knew I was going to do it.”

Ms. Ward acknowledged that she had experienced a long year, “but now I’m on the other side.” After her diagnosis, doctors told her she would have a fairly routine lumpectomy procedure and preventive radiation. But they discovered the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, requiring a double mastectomy. “I had four months of chemo starting at the end of January, and after a three-week break, I had radiation treatments for six weeks — five days a week,” she said.

Ms. Ward was joined on the boat by fellow rower Becky Guyer, Tara Fordham, who served as harpooner, and Pam Miller, who worked the tiller.

Ms. Guyer is also a cancer survivor, having been diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2020. She had surgery in March, just as the pandemic hit home, and had followup radiation treatments that spring.

“I live and die for these boat races from the first time I did it. I had never rowed before, and our boat won and I was hooked,” Ms. Ward said. “It’s a homegrown event. I don’t know why I didn’t do it in my younger years.”

In the best race of the weekend, the Sag Harbor Fire Department Dive Team took home the Firefighters Cup after narrowly defeating the department’s Gazelle Hose Company. The Dive Team consisted of rowers Scott Fordham and Mike Guyer, JR Wilson on tiller, and Rich Simmons, who threw the harpoon.

Il Capuccino Ristorante and chef Jim Renner took first place in the Clam Chowder contest that drew a number of local restaurants and over 300 people who sampled their wares, voting Mr. Renner’s chowder the top of the bill.