Westhampton Yacht Squadron Celebrates 130th Anniversary, Resilience in Unprecedented Times

Commodore J.M. Sheehan in front of the original clubhouse signage.

By Gabriela Carroll

Westhampton Yacht Squadron is celebrating its 130th anniversary this summer. The club has gone through many stages and locations since its initial establishment as a part of the Westhampton Country Club in 1890, and commodore J.M. Sheehan is honoring the anniversary as a sign of the club’s resilience in the face of strife, like the current pandemic.

The club has made a name for itself as one of the premier sailing clubs on the East End, as well as a year-round social place for its members, including weekly casual dinners on Friday nights.

“We’ve built a hangout space as much as we have a sailing space,” Sheehan said. “The beauty of it is that once a member joins here, even if the clubhouse is not open, you’re welcome to sit outside. People come down here, they’ll bring food and wine in the evening and watch the sunsets.”

The pandemic has shifted many of Yacht Squadron’s long-time traditions, like the Friday night dinners, which Sheehan and club manager Dot Capuano adapted into a take-out dinner model to keep members connected to the club. Over a hundred members came to pick up a take-out dinner each week in the spring, far more than how many came to in-person dinners at that time in previous years, Sheehan said.

The main clubhouse in Remsenburg is steeped with tradition. The faces of the old commodores, dating back to the first ever in 1890, are lined up at the top of the main room, and the burgees, or flags, they received from visiting clubs hang all over the space.

Over time, the club developed their grounds and technology. The Yacht Squadron added solar panels in 2003, and updated its former clubhouse into a junior sailing center in 2018.
Sheehan’s most recent visit to outside clubs was in March to the oldest sailing club in the world, Royal Cork Yacht Club in Cork, Ireland, which celebrated its tricentennial this year.

Though the 130th is not as significant an anniversary, Sheehan said he felt in the chaos of the pandemic, the club’s strong history in the face of obstacles, like their sale from the country club after the club went bankrupt, and the destruction of property in hurricanes Sandy and Irene, is comforting to look back on in unprecedented times.

The Yacht Squadron’s efforts to keep camps, lessons, and dinners alive have been met with much positive feedback from members, according to Sheehan. As more people turn to outdoor and water activities, many members of the club are around more often and more connected than ever, Sheehan said.

“Everyone that joins loves the place,” Sheehan said. “We’re in the heart of Remsenburg. It’s such a sense of community. We have a lot of generational members, kids that have taken programs, and then, you know, the families are members, and then they move away and then they come back again. Everyone that’s joined, especially the children have a great sense of history with the club and connection. We’ve had challenges, you know, with storms and hurricanes, and now COVID, but we seem to pull through.”