Sidelines: Good Ol’ Sag Harbor

Flowers were laid into the water in remembrence to all those who lost their lives to suicide, including David Pettigrew, prior to the start of the day's whaleboat races on Sunday, 9/9/18.

Every year after HarborFest weekend, and usually following two days of contentious whaleboat races, I feel compelled to write this column, attempt to calm any unsettled waters and shed positive light on the festivities past. This year’s topic of conversation, among others, leads right to the heart of the festival itself.

As many asked over the weekend, was this the last year for HarborFest?

Before addressing that pressing issue, I’d like to first congratulate Team Whalers and their intrepid rowers Billy Martin and Ray Pettigrew, who, along with teammates Sal Lantiere and Randy Leland, won this year’s men’s whaleboat championship.

Despite having won the coveted Whalers Cup 17 times prior to this year, Sunday’s victory was extra special considering the passing of Ray’s brother, David Pettigrew, earlier this year. David played an important role in whaleboat racing every year, and his loss was memorialized in a touching tribute delivered by Ray on the beach on Sunday.

Team Whalers were crowned the 2018 Whaleboat Race Champions during the 2018 HarborFest celebration on Sunday, 9/9/18

It was fun to watch the women’s team from Brown Harris Stevens and the Sag Harbor Fire Department Juniors win for the first time, though both divisions saw dwindling participation from years past. Only four women’s teams entered the competition this year, and therefore only two rowed in the final following a pair of semifinals on Sunday, an arrangement that proved to be a point of considerable contention, but a choice the committee stood behind as the only viable option.

We saw the return of Roy Schoen to the competition as he and Joey Early, joined by his brother, Dirk, rowed their way to a pair of victories in Saturday’s preliminary rounds, flashing those who could still remember back to the days of the Corner Bar’s whaleboat racing glory. The Corner’s women’s team, with Monica Miller leading the charge, reached the finals but ultimately fell to Brown Harris Stevens after a brutal moment of locked oars in the homestretch.

In the end, whaleboat racing once again provided the heart and soul of HarborFest, a unique tradition with rich history in Sag Harbor. We need to continue this tradition, and the tradition of HarborFest itself.

Which brings me to the earlier question about whether the festival will continue.

Sag Harbor — and its still-vibrant community of longtime, year-round residents — has taken its fair share of hits over the last year including the loss of several cherished restaurants, a continued increase in high-end development and shifting demographics that some perceive as an erosion of old school traditions.

With grey skies and drizzling rain dampening an otherwise festive atmosphere last weekend, the darkest cloud hanging over the festival was the future of HarborFest itself, with incessant chatter about whether increased fees levied by Sag Harbor Village would cause the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce to cancel the annual event.

But rest assured, Sag Harbor. HarborFest will return in 2019 and, hopefully, for years to come.

Lisa Field, who owns the Sag Harbor Variety Store and is president of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said on Monday there was so much goodwill from the community over the weekend, and such positive response from the nonprofits that lined Long Wharf and were give a platform to raise funds and awareness about their good deeds, that she was “all in” for next year and beyond.

“As long as others continue to want this and help keep it alive, I believe the Chamber of Commerce can and should spearhead this event,” she said. “I’m still really upset about the fees the village is charging. I think it’s wrong, especially when so many of our nonprofit organizations benefit from HarborFest’s existence and how many local families love this tradition. But I also don’t want to see it end. So we suck it up, pay our fees, and look to the greater good that we are bringing to our village.”

So with that, I say see you next year at HarborFest. Who’s got a team?