By Gavin Menu
I sit here today in our freshly minted “Captain’s Lounge,” which is nothing more than an office with two desks that I share with my partner in advertising sales, Terry McShane. On Sunday afternoon, McShane etched his name in history as the first ever captain to win the HarborFest whaleboat races for The Sag Harbor Express.
Terry and his nephew and fellow rower, Thomas McShane, were joined on Sunday by three women in their journey to the men’s championship, which, in some ways, makes the victory that much more gratifying after hearing complaints on the beach that having women in the boat could make things easier because of their lighter weight. I will address this later, but for now congratulations to Danielle Knecht and Sara Mannino Kent, a former Whaler who claims to have shifted allegiance to Southampton, though it was hard to tell by her smile on Windmill Beach on Sunday, and to Isabel Runge, a former collegiate rower who had to leave for Boston after steering the boat to a semifinal win earlier Sunday afternoon.
It was a shame to see the race decided, in part, by faulty equipment. Team Whalers, with Ray Pettigrew and Billy Martin, who have won the cup 17 times since 1993, had their tiller snap in the final on Sunday and were unable to compete down the stretch. The silver lining was their daughters, Maddie Martin and Kristin Pettigrew, rowed the Lady Whalers to victory in both the youth and women’s divisions, along with their boatmates, Amanda Stanis and Phoebe Miller.
When the races were over, and the sun set on another successful round of whaleboat races, my thoughts shifted to another mate of ours at The Express, who sits just outside the new Captain’s Lounge, but who is largely responsible for the whaleboat racing we enjoy every September, which, in my opinion, is what makes HarborFest HarborFest.
The wait is over, Bryan Boyhan. The Sag Harbor Express will be carved into history on the coveted Whalers’ Cup. No longer will we be remembered as just organizers or spectators. Memories of our teams drifting out to sea and fuddling with oars can be laid to rest. For this year, at least, we won’t have to chase down the men’s cup to have it engraved. The cup will remain here, in our office, waiting to be engraved with the name of a newspaper that has served Sag Harbor for 158 years and counting.
Bryan helped revive what was once known as the Old Whalers Festival in 1991 and brought back whaleboat races, which he ran with the help of others for the next 24 years under the banner of Sag HarborFest. I jumped on board in 2016, joining a regular committee that includes Pettigrew, Dirk Early, Dave Thommen, Chris and Tracy Kohnken, Eric Bramoff and Ernest Schade, not to mention those who help the event go off every year including Joe Early, Kenny von der Heyden and Russ Nill, who make sure the whale actually floats, and Rick Pickering, who generously houses the whale and whaleboats at his Ship Ashore Marina. The Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce and its president, Lisa Field, should be commended for a tremendous weekend all around.
But the driving force behind whaleboat racing has always been Bryan, and it was a joy to see him holding the Whalers’ Cup on Sunday afternoon. John Steinbeck, Bob Barry, Bob Freidah and others helped bring whaleboat racing to Sag Harbor in the 1960s, and Bryan brought it back in the 1990s. Steinbeck wrote in his welcome to the second Old Whalers Festival in 1964 that the event would prove to be “more reverent and memorial and confused and historical and crazy than the one last year.” In a comment that Bryan can surely relate to, having had to diffuse many whaleboat-related confrontations and debates over the years, Steinbeck wrote, “If all goes well we share the happiness; but if the Village blows up, I get the blame.”
Well, Bryan, after all those years of getting the blame, you can now enjoy a little bit of the happiness, courtesy of Terry and his crew. And for anyone who questions faulty equipment, or whether women should be allowed to row in the men’s division, I again reference Steinbeck’s welcome statement in which he said, “complaints may be made in Riverhead, or will be individually taken care of behind Otter Pond and perhaps in it.”