Rowing is a sport that builds the body while nourishing the spirit. It immerses you in our great natural marine environment often at sunrise or sunset when the waters are calmest, and the earth is transfixed in a magical peace. Boats cut through the water with majestic grace, swiftly yet silently propelled by a rower sitting just inches above the surface. Strength and determination are the only things that a rower takes with them. The shell is paper thin, the weather unpredictable, the currents and tides changing, but the journey to combine sport and soul is ongoing. A rower becomes part of the natural habitat. Rowing has been for centuries, and forever will be, a sport that is one with the environment.
Originally founded as the Oyster Bay Rowing Association in 1958, forming members had previously rowed on the historic Harlem River at the Viking Boathouse, founded in the early 1800’s and Gravesend Bay at the Nautilus Boathouse, founded in 1833. The group originally had a small shed on the North side of Oyster Bay (Centre Island Beach). The organization grew and in 1972 Sagamore Rowing Association was formed as a not-for-profit New York State corporation and took over management of the boathouse to run recreational and competitive rowing programs for area high schools and colleges, as well as adults. Sagamore Rowing Association was named after the home of Theodore Roosevelt, who himself rowed to find solitude and privacy on the waters of Oyster Bay.
That same year, Al Lawn, Jim Long, Al Borghard, Gunther Uthgenannt, his father Bruno Uthgenannt, and several others started a high school rowing program. Coached by the 2 Als, Jim, and Bruno, students from Syosset HS, St. Dominic’s, Holy Trinity HS, and Macarthur HS were included. Adding to SRA’s small fleet, Bruno and Gunther brought 2 singles, 2 doubles and a four from Union Boathouse(est. 1850) on Dyckman Street from the then defunct Viking Rowing Club(1915-1972) on the Harlem River where they had been rowing. In 1980, Suffolk County offered the club the use of the Coindre Hall Boathouse on Huntington Harbor and through the efforts of club members, Sagamore’s home base was relocated from Oyster Bay to Huntington. Al Borghard started Cold Spring Harbor High School Crew in 1981. Hofstra University Crew Club was started in 1988. C.W. Post Crew was founded in the 1960s and came to Sagamore later.
In 1986, Sagamore reached an agreement with Friends World College in Lloyd Neck to use a mostly vacant building on the property for a new boathouse. The Reginald M. Minor Boathouse, named after legendary Sagamore member Reggie Minor, was completed in 1989. Peter Bisek and Al Borghard started Friends Academy Crew that year as well. The addition of a second facility helped Sagamore to grow and serve a larger membership base. Cold Spring Harbor HS Crew achieved varsity status in 1990 through the efforts of Al Borghard and Steve Porpora. CSH Crew rowed out of Coindre Hall and then the Minor Boathouse. In 1992, Al Borghard and Jim Long successfully started St. Anthony’s High School Crew out of the Coindre Hall boathouse. Bill and Irene Ober ran a recreational rowing team for Huntington High School under Sagamore until Bill was able to convince Huntington High School to make the team official in 1998.
In 1996, after 10 years of considerable expense (over $75,000 in personal money), and thousands of hours of dedicated work by volunteers to restore the facility, Friends World College closed and the campus was privately sold and subdivided, forcing Sagamore to leave the Minor boathouse which still stands today, but unused. With the need to consolidate two locations into one, Cold Spring Harbor HS Crew volunteered to leave Sagamore and moved first to Fidler’s Green and then eventually to their own new boathouse, (named after Al Borghard) at Eagle Dock in order for the remaining Sagamore members at the time, Friends Academy Crew, St. Anthony’s HS Crew, Huntingon HS Crew, and Sagamore members, to fit into Coindre Hall.
To help continue growth, in 1997, the Town of Oyster Bay voted unanimously in favor of allowing SRA to establish a facility at Beekman Beach. This magnanimous gesture allowed the club to once again serve the rowing public in the Oyster Bay area. With the financial assistance of club member Tad Kunishi, Sagamore built a Quonset hut in the Beekman Beach parking lot. Friends Academy Crew as well as many Sagamore master rowers relocated to Oyster Bay. Additionally, in the Fall of 1997, Gunther Uthgenannt, Spencer Ross, Mike Wagner, Richard McLoughlin, Jim Hughes and Coach John Callinan who came to teach at Chaminade after teaching and coaching crew at Beach Channel High School from 1992-1997, successfully proposed the idea to start a rowing team at Chaminade High School to Chaminade’s President Brother George Endres, S.M. Coach Callinan built wooden racks in the Quonset hut to help manage the growing need for equipment storage.
In 1999, Jennifer Murphy and another parent from Half Hollow Hills schools started a rowing Club which Sagamore allowed to start at the Coindre Hall Facility, first coached by Jim Long and Mark Leigey. HHH Crew developed under the direction and care of Alfred Lozito and renamed itself the Long Island Rowing Club to welcome any and all athletes, both Junior and Adult. Long Island Rowing Club now currently serves Suffolk County in the way that Sagamore previously did.
In 2000, working with the Town of Oyster Bay and Nassau County, Sagamore disassembled the Quonset hut and moved into Building H of the former Jakobson Shipyard in Oyster Bay as part of a project to turn the former shipyard into a park. Under the direction of Ellen and Jim Hughes, Our Lady of Mercy High School started a rowing program at this point out of Sagamore’s new Oyster Bay boathouse and Chaminade HS Crew moved to their own boathouse on Bar Beach in Port Washington. In 2001, Sagamore started the Crew Club of Oyster Bay, an all junior club team that allowed athletes from any local high school to row under their banner and hired Troy Smith has junior head coach. Troy would help develop the junior programs and run and develop the LI Champs and LI Frostbite regattas up until 2014.
In 2002, Sagamore unsuccessfully campaigned to build a new boathouse on Goldstar Battalion Beach only a few feet away from the Coindre Hall building. In 2010, due to the unsafe conditions of Coindre Hall, Sagamore was forced to vacate after over 30 years of operation. Sagamore was permitted to set up an outdoor facility at Fleets Cove Beach in Centerport. At the loss of Coindre Hall, St. Anthony’s HS Crew left Sagamore to set up at their still current home of Dowling College on the Connetquot River. In 2012, Sagamore agreed to hand over management of the Fleets Cove Facility to the Long Island Rowing Club and Huntington High School Crew. Sagamore currently operates only out of the Oyster Bay boathouse and continues to lobby for a new boathouse to be built in Oyster Bay.
Since 1972, Sagamore has trained thousands of rowers. With numerous Olympians, World, National Team members and medalists, Sagamore Rowing Associations is one of the most established rowing clubs in the country. As indicated above, Sagamore Rowing Association has launched a dozen high school and university rowing programs on Long Island, in addition to many adult programs.
The popularity of rowing continues to grow and now offers tremendous educational incentives to college bound athletes, especially young women. The sport draws upon Long Island’s sublime environment, rich with history. Rowing back to the boathouse on a still evening, as the sun sets on the horizon, it is possible to imagine the feeling of our early Long Island ancestors. The quiet itself is a bit mystical. The sound of oars rhythmically hitting the water, the calling of birds, the feel of the breeze and the smell of the salt air; there is nothing more pristine and perfect. Rowers are so close to the water line that the quality of the environment fills all of the senses. The sport is profoundly dependent on protection of this resource. The purity of our natural environment surrounds you and instills a lifelong respect for the simple beauty of this magnificent creation.