Decades ago, the Mecox Yacht Club at the end of Bay Lane in Water Mill was a place where a diverse group of sailing enthusiasts gathered for sailing lessons, racing and leisurely days on the water. Thayers, Hildreths and Halseys were there; so was Julie Burmeister, a longtime Bridgehampton resident who learned to sail there and later counted herself among the first female skippers who raced Comets and Sunfish at Mecox, and who called it “a different kind of club than almost anything around.”
The grassroots sailing and racing club — which was established in 1939 and, even before that, was located just across the water before the great 1938 hurricane washed it away — ran aground in the 1990s. The owner of the land raised the rent on the property where the Mecox Yacht Club had its tiny boathouse, ushering in an era of complex troubles that led to the club’s demise. But several years ago a group of Southampton Town residents joined together to revive the club, and on Wednesday, town officials and residents cut the ribbon on the new 12-by-16 foot boathouse at what is now known as Mecox Bay Park.
“I’m hopeful,” Ms. Burmeister, one of the residents active in the efforts to revive the community sailing operation, said this week. “I’m hoping we can pick up on the attitudes that the hostilities have ended and that people will realize its potential.”
The conflict she was referring to was a thicket of lawsuits from surrounding property owners who objected to the idea that something with the words “yacht club” in its name should be reestablished on a public beach so close to their own homes.
“The neighborhood went berserk. They had heard about our petition,” Ms. Burmeister recalled. “[The club] had a long history of people who knew it and 200 people signed a petition, but that became the size of the parking lot, and it went from bad to worse.”
The lawsuits spanned several years, but in October of 2017, assistant town attorney Kathryn Garvin announced the legal storm had cleared.
“This was a nice win for the townspeople to keep public access to public waterways alive,” said Jeff Mansfield, another Bridgehampton resident who spent years of his youth sailing at Mecox and who recently helped fight the fight for the park. “I’m very pleased that after a lot of time and money, that the town and the townspeople have prevailed and there will be public sailing on that bay for generations to come.”
Andy Russell, a Water Mill resident who was also instrumental in bringing the park vision to fruition, said the effort “is all about continuing a slice of history and using an under-utilized natural resource for the betterment of the community.” He recalled the steady southwesterly ocean breezes that propelled his early love for sailing, a sport he learned at Mecox.
“It is hoped that this new chapter of sailing here will bring those earlier benefits of fun, camaraderie and competition to the current community’s children and adults,” said Mr. Russell, who in 1959 won a division of the Eastern Long Island Championship out of Shelter Island as a teenager and in 1977 won the Long Island Sunfish Championship.
While there are no formal sailing lessons or racing programs operating at the park currently, Ms. Burmeister, Mr. Mansfield and Mr. Russell all said they hoped the town would establish some formal ones there, as it has in other locations.
According to Southampton Town councilwoman Christine Scalera, after the property owner raised the rent on the land in the 1990s, it was learned that taxes had not been paid in some years, and the land was turned over to Suffolk County, which then ceded it to Southampton Town. Ms. Scalera said this week that was what allowed the town to formally establish a park at the end of Bay Lane. She explained the new boathouse and racks for 18 kayaks and other small craft cost between $80,000 and $90,000. She said they were funded with parks reserve moneys, which come not from taxpayers but from developers who have to pay into the reserve in lieu of meeting parkland requirements in their subdivision plans. The 18 racks will be awarded via a lottery system if there is more demand than availability.
“We’re very excited to be able to do this,” Ms. Scalera said. “People like Jeff Mansfield, Julie Burmeister and Andy Russell were the driving force behind this, and many more were passionate about it, so that we weren’t going to let it not happen, and I’m glad it worked out the way it did.”
She called the road leading up to the ribbon cutting “long and winding.”
“Since they brought me there, I’ve fallen in love with the park,” Ms. Scalera said. “You can’t help it. You share their dream.”