Breakwater Yacht Club Commodore Bud Rogers Looks to the Future

Bud Rogers, commodore of the Breakwater Yacht Club. MICHAEL MELLA

Bud Rogers is in his first year as commodore of the Breakwater Yacht Club, but he has the kind of expertise and longtime familiarity with the community sailing center that makes him a perfect person for the job.

Mr. Rogers became a member at Breakwater shortly after it was created in 1988. The Sag Harbor resident is a father of four grown children, and he passed on the love of the sport to them.

He first learned to sail at a community sailing center in Mamaroneck, and went on to work at various sailing camps, furthering his knowledge and sharing it with others.

Mr. Rogers owns and races several boats, including his current J109 keelboat, “Big Boat,” which is an active participant in the club’s popular Wednesday night races. He has competed in big events away from Sag Harbor, including Block Island Race Week, Newport Race Week, the 2005 J80 Worlds in Falmouth, England, Key West Race Week, the Maycroft Cup, the Whitbread, and more.

Mr. Rogers’s competitive resume is impressive, and those who know him well at Breakwater describe him as an icon for many reasons, saying his generosity and enthusiasm for the sport are unmatched. Whether it’s helping someone fix their boat with a spare part from a vast collection of sailing supplies, organizing a regatta and encouraging members to attend, or even helping to plant some flowers or clean up around the club, Mr. Rogers seems to have his hand in almost everything, and is willing to pitch in no matter how big or small the task. His love of racing is unparalleled as well, and members say it’s not uncommon for him to race five days a week.

Mr. Rogers spoke with the Express last week about taking over as commodore this year after serving as vice commodore for Luke Babcock for three years, about what makes Breakwater Yacht Club special, and about what he’s most excited for this summer.

Q: Tell me about what being commodore of Breakwater Yacht Club entails, what your responsibilities are.

I chair all of the meetings of the board, as well as meetings of the membership, and occasional special meetings if we need to amend any of our bylaws.

Our key governing body is the board of directors, which has 16 individual members, and they do a lot of the heavy lifting. They’re all active participants in the club, and that’s the way you want an organization to run.

The other guy who is key to keeping the ship afloat, so to speak, is Sean Elliott, our sailing director. He’s the public face, and the guy you see when you go down to the club.

I get to shoot the cannon once a year when we do the commissioning, which is one day in the spring when we declare the club open for the sailing season. I give about a three-minute speech from the deck and shoot the cannon. It’s a bit of a tradition that has no particular meaning, but it’s fun.

The commodore’s job is to spark new ideas and cultivate those that come from other members of the board, and make sure things get done. Because of the nature of the people on the board, they’re all active participants — there’s not a lot I have to do to push people. There are a lot of self-starters.

Last year was particularly challenging, because of COVID, and I was vice commodore at the time [under Luke Babcock]. We had to do a lot of serious thinking about what we could and couldn’t do. Most of the time the challenges are a bit less serious.

Q: What do you think makes Breakwater Yacht Club special or unique when compared to other clubs in the area?

We’re not a yacht club in the same way that other clubs are. We’re not a private club; we’re a community sailing center, and we’re a 501c3 charitable organization. Our mission is to bring sailing to as many adults and children on the East End as we possibly can.

We sponsor a lot of racing, and our pride and joy is our youth sailing program that runs three seasons a year. Membership fees are kept low — they’re nowhere near what a private club would charge. We’re just a different kind of organization, and therefore our focus is a bit different.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to operate that way and make sailing accessible to such a large segment of the community and people who might not otherwise have that access?

The club was formed by a group of people who were racing sailboats in the harbor, and right from the beginning they wanted to do something for the community. When you join the club, you understand that’s what this club is. We own a certain number of boats and make those available to our members, and try to teach them how to sail and get out on the water.

Q: Tell me a bit more about the youth sailing program, which has grown and flourished over the years.

The club sponsors Wednesday night sailing, and sailing on Sunday mornings and Sunday afternoons, and that’s all fun and everyone enjoys themselves. But a much bigger part of what we do is run youth sailing.

We have a fleet of small dinghies, JY15s and 420s, and a certain number of Lasers, which are small boats people can use and that we use in our youth sailing program. In the spring and the fall, we’re supporting high school sailing, with competitive teams that race against other high schools in the area.

Last year, we couldn’t do [interscholastic competition], so instead we ran an after-school sailing program like our summer program, offering the chance for kids to learn more about sailing, either as beginners or intermediates.

The summer program is our crown jewel. We get literally hundreds of kids who pay for a week at a time, and there’s quite a bit of organization that goes into keeping that program running smoothly, so we’re teaching them at the level they need to be taught at. We put an awful lot of kids in sailboats out on the water in the summer, and Sean is key to making that happen.

In addition to charging people to send their kids to the Breakwater Youth Sailing summer camp, we also give out scholarships. This year, we went to Sag Harbor Elementary School and said that every kid in fourth grade gets a week at sailing camp. If you want to come sailing, you can come sailing. We also offer scholarships to other local schools and organizations to get a more diverse group.

It was really great, the number of kids we got from some diverse places last summer who otherwise wouldn’t have considered sailing, and some of them were very sweet in the things they said to the instructors.

Q: Tell me a bit about your own personal history with sailing. Who or what got you into sailing, where did you learn to sail, and explain why you think it’s such a worthwhile sport to pursue?

I actually first learned how to sail at a community sailing center run by the Town of Mamaroneck and the Boy Scouts. I was 15 years old, and that was a little late, which meant I had some catching up to do.

I discovered that it’s an awful lot of fun, and that it requires not only skills but the ability to work as a team. Most boats require more than one person, so it’s usually a group activity. Even when you’re on a single-handed boat like a Laser or Sunfish, you may be by yourself but more than likely you’re out on the water with other people, so it becomes a wonderful social activity in that sense.

The first boat I bought was a Laser, from Bruce Tait. He was instrumental in getting me out on the water. He probably doesn’t even remember that — it was around 1980 or 1981.

Sailing can be a wonderful social activity, but it can also be a very solo activity. It’s also something that’s not gender specific. Some of the best sailors in the world are women, and our races include a fair number of women, which is great.

It’s also something you don’t age out of. You can’t play football forever, but you can go sailing pretty much forever. And that’s a great thing.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish or see happen at Breakwater during your time as commodore, however long that may be?

Luke served as commodore for three years, so I expect this to be a two- or three-year time frame, which is sort of the typical tenure.

This is a very exciting time for Breakwater. We’ve managed to do a lot to improve our platform, and we’ve really enhanced our summer sailing program and grew it last year, COVID not withstanding. We took on all the protocols the state suggested, and because we’re an outdoor activity we were able to run a full program.

Over the winter, we accomplished a couple of things, the two most important of which were doubling our dock space, working with [the Village of Sag Harbor], which was very supportive; the trustees and mayor agreed to let us, on our own nickel, remove a fixed pier, and we got access to twice as much dock space, so more of our boats and members’ boats can be right there. It makes it a lot easier for someone to get out on the water, and it becomes a center for people to congregate before and after sailing, so it enhances the social aspect.

And we acquired two donated J24 sailboats, which are older keelboats but they’re a great platform for teaching sailing to adults who may not be comfortable in a small dinghy. So here’s a boat where they can get out and sail with three or four other people, and have at least one or two accomplished sailors with them who can bring them along, and, hopefully, by the end of the summer, they can take the boat out with their family and friends.

It’s a great way to introduce people to sailing, especially for adult nonsailors who may or may not want to race but just want to get out on the water.