The world’s longest sunfish race kicks off this weekend at the Southold Yacht Club.

Seventy-four sunfish boats have registered to set sail at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in a race that dates back more than half a century and includes sailors from Florida, Virginia and New England along the Eastern Seaboard.

“This game is absolutely unique,” said Beth Fleisher, chair of the club’s tournament committee. “Mola sunfish are 14-foot boats. We usually sail a race that can take 15 minutes, half an hour, or even 45 minutes. That’s how small boat racing works – over many races in a day.

“But this race is going around Shelter Island,” she said, which is about 26 miles, the length of a marathon.

“It’s uniquely challenging because sunfish sailors are using skills that they don’t normally use. You have to be constantly sailing in these very active boats, and oh, the top boats take about four hours to get there, depending on the direction of the wind. “

Ms Fleischer told the Suffolk Times that sailors could set out in almost any weather, save for thunderstorms.

“We had a lot of wind. We had no wind – we had to shorten the race at the time because the boats didn’t have enough wind to go around. We’ve had some races where it kept stinking rain. A full nine yards. No matter the weather Whatever God throws at you, we all get.”

In many ways, the race is a sailing marathon.

“Just to finish the race — about 26 miles, which is a lot of distance for this small boat, and be at sea for at least four or five hours — so it’s really an event to finish the race. Big deal,” Ms. Fleischer said. “We made sure that unlike any other competition, we don’t just hand out standard trophies and things like that, but we also hand out beautiful certificates of completion.

“Not everyone who starts ends,” Ms. Fleischer warned. “Every year we have people who think it’s something they can do, something they want to do, and they decide to do it halfway through. [that] They are done.

When asked how sailors should prepare for such a long race, Ms Fleischer demurred.

“Let’s put it this way,” she said. “I’m not going to tell anyone what to do, but you’re definitely going to want to be in good shape and in good shape. You want your boat to be in good shape so your boat doesn’t break apart. You want your body to Be in good shape so your body doesn’t break down.”

Awards will be given to the top 10 boats, but there are also trophies for the oldest person to complete the course, the first person over 50 to complete the course, and several other categories, she said.

She said hot dogs should think twice.

“It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m a young, healthy 24-year-old, so I have an advantage’ — that’s not true.”

And then there’s the current.

“Whether you’re on a big boat, a keelboat, a 40ft boat or this 14ft boat, there are nasty, nasty, nasty currents and tides around Shelter Island. There are eddies,” she warned. “If you look at a chart of the waters around Shelter Island … the water is sometimes nine feet deep, sometimes six inches deep.

“All these changes in depth, and the currents and tides that run around Shelter Island and other coasts, create sinister eddies, counter eddies, and fast-moving currents. So if you’re on a boat that might be four or Five knots, and the current is against you at two knots or more (this can happen around South Ferry), and you’re sailing incorrectly relative to the current, you’re doomed. It’s really interesting ,” she concluded, “but it’s not random.”

She called the race a “true test of every aspect of sailing.

“With sports intelligence, can you figure out what’s best and most beneficial at the moment? Can you figure out where to put your boat so that you’re either in the current when the current is flowing with you, or when the current is flowing against you Are you out of the current? Can you sail where the wind is strongest?

“Most races are about sailing around buoys. This race, there are no buoys. You just sail around the island and you can get as close to shore as you can, but if you get stranded, all you have to do is walk your boat backwards because you can’t Push the boat over. Land. If you hit a rock, you should know it’s there. So it’s really, really fun.”

A small group of volunteers is expected, not only from Southold Yacht Club, but also from nearby clubs, including Menantique Yacht Club on Shelter Island and Old Bay Yacht Club in New Suffolk.

“We have motor boats that remain in the fleet so that if anything happens to anyone they can get back to the yacht club safely,” Ms Fleischer said.

While nearly every boat is piloted by a single competitor, there are also some two-person teams competing, including two “older adult sisters” and a father-daughter team.

“It’s an annual tradition for them, even though it’s not comfortable carrying two adults in a small boat. We give out a separate trophy for the first boat to carry two people.”

Ms. Fleischer said that while teens had to be 15 (with parental consent) to compete, there were also contestants in their 60s, 70s and even 80s.

This year, 86-year-old Joe Sullivan, who originally conceived the game, is back in the game.

In the summer of 1970, as a new member of the Southold Yacht Club, he sat on the shore, looking across the bay at Shelter Island. He turned to a club official and asked a question he thought might sound silly at the time.

“Did someone sail Sunfish around Shelter Island?” The official didn’t know. So he asked the chairman of the club’s competition committee, who didn’t think so. So, in the summer of 1971, he and a group of members started a tradition that continues to this day.

“I knew there was a long-distance sunfish race in Connecticut, so I looked at a map, drew it, and I said, ‘I think ours is longer.’

“So we’re calling it ‘the world’s largest sunfish race around Shelter Island, New York'”

The young sailor started planning what time of day would be best to start racing. He studied the tide charts and made a decision.

“I want to make sure we’ll start with the current receding so that when we get to Gardner Bay, for example, the tides change and the current starts coming back with us. That would be ideal.”

“But of course, being unfamiliar with the tide charts, I misread them and as soon as the first race started in 1971, the tide came and that proved to be a big problem.”

“It was a tragic experience.”

Mr Sullivan said he was ashamed.

At the awards ceremony after the first match, “I stood up and apologized to everyone.

“I said, ‘Look, we’ve never done this before. This is the first experience. I know it’s tough,'” he continued, feeling terrible, “and it didn’t make a lot of sense.”

He said he was booed when he promised it would be the first and last match of its kind.

“No, no! We loved it! It was great!” he laughs, recalling the enthusiasm of the crowd.

“They were very, very excited!”

Mr Sullivan says this year will be his 50th anniversarythe th and final.

After finishing fourth last year and 10th the year before, he will once again be fighting for first place this year.

“I’m not going to throw in the towel,” he said with a laugh. “Somebody older than me won the game.”

The Southold Yacht Club is located at 165 North Parish Drive, Southold. Registration and breakfast begin at 8:30 am, followed by an awards ceremony with beer and a buffet.

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