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Mar 2, 2010 12:29 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Dedicated group hoping to bring back a piece of history

Editor's Note: Update: Mr. Manfield will no longer be making a presentation to the Southampton Town Board on March 11. The matter was referred to the town's Parks and Recreation Department.
Mar 2, 2010 12:29 PM

At the dead end of Bay Lane in Water Mill overlooking Mecox Bay sits a small, broken down cottage. The windows are boarded up, the white paint is cracked and peeling and the floorboards on the tiny porch are jagged and cracked. If you blink, you could miss it—the overgrown beach grasses reach higher than the roof in many areas and a rusty flagpole pokes forlornly into the gray winter sky.

Buried among the grasses in the front of the tiny structure is the overturned hull of a Sunfish, one that looks like it hasn’t seen a sail in years. The salt water laps gently at the pebbles that sit just a few feet in front of the little house.

It’s hard to believe looking at the structure now, but decades ago, the end of Bay Lane was a popular destination for a small group of children in the area who had a passion for sailing. They would gather at the small clubhouse, known during those days as the Mecox Yacht Club, and learn to sail

14-foot Sunfish on the bay. Their parents would lounge on beach chairs and the few rocking chairs that sat on the small porch and relax as they watched their children skipper their small crafts around the bay, soaking up the sun and the beauty of summer on the East End. Potato fields surrounded the club where there are now mansions. Lessons were taught three days per week in July and August with inter-club races on Sundays and at the end of the season, awards and trophies were handed out to the top sailors.

Jeff Mansfield, 44, of Bridgehampton has held on to some of those trophies and certificates for more than 30 years. To him, they represent some of his fondest childhood memories, and he’s not the only one who feels that way. Fred Ritz, 44, also of Bridgehampton, took sailing lessons at the club along with Mansfield and several other children during the 1970s and says it was the perfect way to spend a summer afternoon. Children in the area learned to sail at the modest yacht club for the better part of last century until the club’s demise in the early 1990s when the private landowner raised the rent to a price the membership could no longer afford. Not long after, the property was seized by Suffolk County after the discovery that the taxes had not been paid. Because the county had no use for the land, it turned it over to the Town of Southampton and the Parks and Recreation Department, which has been in control of the area ever since.

Last summer, Mansfield and several of his peers who were associated with the club decades ago spearheaded an effort to bring the club back into existence and restore it to its original glory. The beauty of the club, they say, was its dedication to the purity of sailing and the simplicity of life on the East End. The group would love nothing more than to revitalize the small club and bring back the tradition of teaching local children the art of sailing in the same low-key, laid-back environment they enjoyed decades ago.

In order to make their vision a reality, they will need to secure a long-term lease from the Town of Southampton and permission to restore the clubhouse and run sailing lessons. The first step in that process will take place on Thursday, March 11, when Mansfield will make a presentation at a Town Board work session at 9:30 a.m.

The local residents say they have no plans to put any type of extension on the tiny cottage and that, first and foremost, they want the club to be recognized as a low-key establishment and a friendly environment where local children can learn how to sail.

“We’re not looking to make history, we’re looking to repeat history,” Mansfield said last week as he stood in front of the abandoned cottage during a cold, rainy winter day. “It was modest, but it was classy.”

According to Mansfield and his peers, the impetus for reviving the club is twofold. They believe the community would benefit from a club that would offer sailing lessons to children in the area and they also believe that the club is a vital part of local history.

“There’s no venue for sailing lessons for the children in our community,” Mansfield said. “A lot of kids spend all their time playing video games. Here’s a great opportunity to use town land to promote physical activity and camaraderie.”

Mansfield grew up in New York City and spent his summers in Bridgehampton. He moved to Bridgehampton with his family two years ago and says that for him and his peers, the yacht club represented everything they love about the area.

Like Mansfield, Ritz cherished the days he spent at the club during the 70s and is in support of bringing the club back to life.

“It was a lot of fun,” Ritz said. “We used to gather there just after lunch on Sundays and it was a whole afternoon of racing and camaraderie with friends.

“I’m absolutely for it,” Ritz said of the effort to revive the club. “It was a wonderful time in my life. You had friends and met other people and learned the sport of sailing which his fantastic, because we’re surrounded by water. It was a great thing for the community to get kids involved in something they might not otherwise partake in. It’s a resource that should be utilized.”

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Hope they are able to do it, and keep it as charmingly low key, small and unassuming as it used to be. Pehaps they might provide a few scholarships to local kids who couldn't afford it otherwise, like a few from the Bridgehampton Child Care Center for whom it would open an entirely new world.
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Mar 2, 10 11:57 AM
2 members liked this comment
Update for those who read the story in the newspaper: Mr. Manfield will no longer be making a presentation to the Southampton Town Board on March 11. The matter was referred to the town's Parks and Recreation Department.
By BOReilly (135), 27east Web Editor on Mar 3, 10 11:20 AM
More sailing video games for the kids and a nice plastic house should make it more today.... like....ya know what I'm sayin?
By johnnyb510 (1), southampton on Mar 3, 10 11:43 AM
Do it!
By ride the truth wave (125), southampton on Mar 3, 10 2:54 PM
If you build it they will come..
By ride the truth wave (125), southampton on Mar 4, 10 10:55 AM
Ah, yes. The Mecox Yacht Club. I do hope the folks save this building and the spot. Is it protected now? It should be and I hope there is about an acre of land around it protected also.
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on Mar 4, 10 5:00 PM
I remember, over 50 years ago how this little building was used to store the ice boats for the winter season. I remember so well for this was on the edge of my family's potato farm. I came up briefly last year and rode by and was surprised to see this little building still standing, though overgrown. What a piece of the past, when life was gentle and moved at a slower pace.....
By lgfla (8), Southampton on Mar 10, 10 10:12 AM