In his position as a financial analyst at Saybrook Capital, Luke Babcock specializes in building customized financial portfolios for families and institutions nationwide. But in his new position as commodore at the Breakwater Yacht Club it’s all about the East End community. As the 2018 summer is set to begin, Babcock, 47, opens up about the club’s mission to bring sailing to the masses and why Breakwater’s place on Bay Street, which was recently cemented with a new 20-year lease with Sag Harbor Village, should never be in question.
When did you begin sailing and how do your personal experiences on the water transfer to your new position as commodore at the Breakwater Yacht Club?
Growing up spending summers in Bridgehampton, I was more of an ocean-oriented guy, and I still surf as much as possible. We did have a sunfish that we messed around on at the Mecox Yacht Club, but I was hardly an expert sailor growing up, and in fact knew very little of what was going on in the bays just five miles away. When we moved to Sag Harbor, my eyes opened up to this vibrant community of sailors. I literally showed up at the dock on a Wednesday afternoon in 2001 and hitched a ride on the first boat that would take me: that was George Martin’s “Osprey” (a boat that still dominates its division). While sailing can be overwhelming and chaotic at first, the learning curve moves quickly, and before you know it I had a real job on a boat beyond being “rail-meat.” What is really special and keeps us all coming back is a sense of community, whether it be teamwork and competition, witnessing a youngster learn to sail, or getting together with old sailing friends who hail from all walks of life.
Seventeen years, four or five different boats, 300 plus Wednesday night races, eight race week regattas, and one North American Championship title aboard Jim Vos’ Skoot…it’s been a great ride! Now it is time to give something back to the organization that has given me so much. While being commodore is a lot of work, so far it has gone very smoothly … mostly thanks to the great team we have: our full-time staff of Sean Elliott and Marty Knab, and an active and supportive board of directors.
The Junior Sailing program at BYC has been growing. What do you think are the most important aspects of the program?
We have a lot of interest and enthusiasm about the upcoming season. We are expecting 500 junior sailors between June 25 and Labor Day. The program has been growing in recent years under the leadership of Sean, our sailing director. My personal goal as commodore as it relates to junior sailing is to make it bigger, faster and safer. We want to make it bigger in the sense of offering more sailing experiences to a broader group of juniors. We want to offer more scholarships so that all local youth have an opportunity to learn to sail, regardless of cost. And this year we have broadened the program to offer a full-day option and an afternoon marine ecology program. By “faster” we mean making sure to expose juniors to racing, and, for those who are interested, participating in regattas around the East End. Of course, safety is paramount.
In terms of adults learning to sail, Breakwater offers those kinds of lessons as well. Is sailing an easy pursuit to pick up when you’re older?
We have always offered adult sailing lessons, and interest has grown tremendously in recent years. The club owns 2 J/70s, which are high-performance, 23-foot boats which fit four to five sailors. The same boats which are used for lessons are raced by our juniors (against other members) on Wednesday nights. I also encourage interested adults to do what I did 17 years ago and come to the club at 5 pm on a Wednesday night and volunteer as crew…who knows, one day you might become commodore!
BYC champions itself as a true community center. Is it important to you personally that sailing is accessible to as many children and people as possible?
In a community that is surrounded by water and which was founded by mariners, we believe it is essential for Sag Harbor’s residents to retain access to and develop the skills to enjoy the waterfront. In the sailing world, we are what is considered a community sailing center, a growing category of not-for-profit organizations with the stated goal of promoting sailing and racing for all members of the community. While our programs are open to all, we highly encourage people to join, and we are committed to making membership affordable — $30 for juniors, $140 for adults and $275 for families. We offer 100 scholarships to children from local schools. Two other community initiatives relate to science and water quality. We are one of the contributors to the water testing initiative being conducted around the harbor this year. And science teachers at Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle School are using our facilities as a “marine lab” to bring their students and introduce them to real-life marine science concepts.
But we are also a serious racing club. We sponsor races several days a week for at least half of the calendar year. Some of our juniors have gone on to race on college programs. Our members compete in regattas throughout Long Island, the northeast and in the winter Caribbean circuit.
What are some other goals you have for BYC, or changes you’d like to see in the coming year?
This year, thanks to the support of Mayor Sandra Schroeder and Trustee Ken O’Donnell, we renewed our lease with the Village of Sag Harbor for another 20 years, giving us an opportunity to think long-term about what we can offer the community. We are considering plans to improve our physical assets, both on and off the water. As for programs, while our greatest success recently has been our expanded junior summer sailing program, we would like to grow our middle and high school teams that sail in the summer and fall. We are open to students from all local schools and the only cost is $30 to become a junior member. Furthermore, we would love to see new boats join our Wednesday night racing group. We are encouraging cruising boats that don’t normally race to join the fleet, and we will begin a cruising division to match boats with fair competition. Please contact the club at (631) 725-4604 if you are interested in racing, learning and/or joining.