Shelter Island sailor Amanda Clark, who competed in the 2008 Olympic Games in China, isn’t the only standout athlete to come from eastern Long Island waters. That really shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the area’s proximity to the water and the various venues available.
Peconic Bay, for one, is seen as an ideal site for regattas and training because it offers little tidal action, deep water, a good breeze and light boating traffic. And then, of course, there’s the outstanding scenery.
“We have beautiful wind, beautiful clean waters,” Clark said. “An extremely beautiful place.”
Larry Suter, 64, of Mattituck may be the most accomplished sailor that the North Fork has produced. A former member of the United States sailing team, Suter was 22 years old when he was a starboard tailor on Intrepid while she defended the America’s Cup against the Australian boat Gretel 11 off Northport, R.I.
Following that experience, Suter worked as a sailmaker for a while to better understand setting up sails. He then sailed in various regattas in Europe.
Sailing in the 470 class, Suter took 12th in the Olympic trials one year. He also has a North American championship to his credit.
Suter showed an ability to adapt and compete in various classes. In 1999, in only his second Sunfish regatta in two years, he took second place in the North American Championships. Over his career, Suter has won eastern Long Island championships in Sailfish, Sunfish and Comet class boats. He was a runner-up in a Comet International Class championship one year. In 1992, Suter and Nick Scandone won the U.S. Sailing Multihull Championship. Then, in 1998, he teamed up with Jon Farrar to win the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta.
One of Suter’s thrills came in 2005 when he was a member of a 15-person crew that finished in first place in the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) 12-Meter World Championships in Newport, R.I. “Winning a world championship is definitely a major thing,” Suter said. “There were high fives up and down the boat.”
But what made it special was the fact that Suter was aboard Courageous, the same boat that won the America’s Cup in 1974 and 1977 (the year that media mogul Ted Turner sailed it). It was one of many historic boats that competed in that regatta.
“These are boats that are history,” Suter said. “People aren’t timeless; boats are timeless. These are boats that won America’s Cup.”
For all his sailing exploits, though, Suter may be even better known as an Olympic coach. He found satisfaction in coaching.
“It’s like baking a pie or putting a meal in the oven and watching it come out right,” he said. “Hopefully it comes out right.”
In 1999, Suter coached in the world championships in Melbourne, Australia, in what he called at the time the largest regatta in the history of the world. Some 2,500 sailors from 87 nations competed. Both of the sailors Suter coached did well. Morgan Reeser finished 11th in the 470, and Linda Wennerstrom was 17th in Europe dinghy. They were both the top American sailors in their class.
Suter coached Reeser and his crew, Kevin Burnham, who took eighth place in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Suter is also a former coach of Amanda Clark’s. She later went on to sail a 470 in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, finishing 12th with her crew, Sarah Mergenthaler.
Others have excelled as well. Jay Mills, a Greenport native, was a standout sailor for both his Hobart and William Smith Colleges team in upstate New York and The Hotchkiss School, the private high school he attended in Lakeville, Conn.
Mills was the team MVP and an all-American honorable mention in his senior year for Hobart and Williams Smith Colleges in 2008.
Before going into college, though, Mills had already made a name for himself. In his senior year in high school, he finished fourth in the Single-Handed High School National Sailing Championship in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Later that year, Hotchkiss, as one of the top two high school teams in the United States, received an invitation to compete in the British Schools Dinghy Racing Association International finals at the West Kirby Sailing Club in England. Hotchkiss finished second to Point Loma (Calif.), the same team that Hotchkiss was runner-up to in the United States 420 Class national championships in May.
“I was pretty bummed,” Mills said afterward. “Of all the teams, they’re the team I wanted to beat.”
Joe Townsend, a former Southold Town Board member, had a rowing career in which he rowed for the national team in the Pan American Games and at the United States Olympic Trials.
Townsend and Rob Buchanan, who was a part-time Greenport resident at the time, rowed with the Motley Rowing Club seven years ago, taking third place among 34 boats in the senior masters eight-man shell in the 40th Head of the Charles in Boston, one of the largest rowing competitions in the nation. Motley completed the two-and-a-half mile race in 12 minutes 23.891 seconds, finishing behind the Leander Boat Club (12:16.115) and the Grosse Ile Rowing Club (12:17.750). At the same time, Motley finished ahead of the fourth-place 1980 Rowing Club, which included members of the 1980 United States Olympic Team.
Buchanan expressed the great respect he held for the Motley Rowing Club. “These guys are kind of like the Mount Rushmore of the rowing world,” he said. “They’re like royalty.”