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Sailors Race for Deafness

Imagine, if you can, not hearing the fluttering wind, the luffing main or the snap of your sheets hitting the deck. Now imagine being the first sailor to cross the finish line, all without the sound of your boat and environment to guide you.

Imagine, if you can, not hearing the fluttering wind, the luffing main or the snap of your sheets hitting the deck. Now imagine being the first sailor to cross the finish line, all without the sound of your boat and environment to guide you. This is what Donald Street III has accomplished countless times. Donald, also known as “D3”, is the deaf son of acclaimed sailing author Donald Street II and inspired the Sound for Deafness Regatta, which held its second annual event in Oyster Bay, New York, on August 1, 2013.

The regatta, sponsored by Oakcliff Sailing Center, the WaterFront Center, Oyster Bay Marine Center and several others, benefits the Mill Neck Family of Organizations, whose mission is to enhance the quality of life for both deaf individuals and those who have other special communication needs. One of the organizations is the Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf, which educates individuals with hearing loss and other communication difficulties to show students that they are not “disabled,” just “differently-abled,”—a fact recently proven by Gerry Hughes, the first deaf sailor to single-handedly circumnavigate under sail.

The Sail the Sound for Deafness Regatta encourages individuals to share their love for the water by allowing sailors and spectators of all abilities to witness sailors competing and supporting each other while enjoying the sport of sailing—all to raise funds for deaf services.

But the regatta isn’t only for sailors. In fact, it is open to the community. While a fleet of classic wooden yachts competes in Oyster Bay, spectators can view the race from the deck of one of three boats, including the 1800s oyster sloop Christeen, which was captained by Peter McAndrew and had a sign language interpreter on board. The public supported the cause by also participating in an evening race and attending the gala after-party at the elegant Mill Neck Manor House, located on Mill Neck School campus.

The regatta, spearheaded by Nancy Leghart, director of advancement for the Mill Neck Family of Organizations, Dawn Riley, executive director of Oakcliff Sailing and Dave Waldo, executive director of the The WaterFront Center in spring 2012, included eight boats, eleven racers, 42 spectators and nearly 200 party goers.

Despite the foreboding forecast of rain, luck prevailed and the rain stopped just in time for the race. Starting at Green Buoy #5 in front of Seawanhaka, the second oldest yacht club in North America, the race began with Flounder, a Herreshoff Fish, over the line first; followed by Dolphin, a 36ft Herreshoff Sloop built in 1914; Storm, a 49ft 1949 Luders Yawl racing for Services for Deaf Adults; and Blue Sky, a 2002 Blu Sail 24 special regatta entry. Next came Clio, a 46ft Fife sloop built in 1921 and racing for Hearing Health Awareness/the Audiology division of Mill Neck; followed by Banzai, a 43ft 1905 Herreshoff NY 30 Sloop sailing for Deaf Education; and Nautilus, a 43ft 1905 Herreshoff NY 30 Sloop, racing for Preschoolers with Speech/Language Delays and Autism. Caper, a 56ft 1957 Rhodes Sloop started last, but caught up to the fleet quickly in the building 7- to 10-knot southerly.

The fleet sailed a close reach to the Lloyd Neck sector light, keeping it to port, then headed north to Green Buoy #1 at the mouth of Oyster Bay. Flounder, skippered by Woody Glen, took an early lead, with Blue Skies and Storm not far behind. As the fleet rounded the mark, chutes opened one by one and the leeward leg was on. Beating back to the sector light for a starboard rounding, Flounder held her lead just in front of Blue Skies and Storm.

After leaving the sector light, Flounder led to the finish, tacking as she approached Cooper’s Bluff and crossed the line for honors. Next came Blue Sky, Storm, Dolphin and Banzai. Cheers arose from the Christeen and the other spectator boats as everyone reveled in the excitement. 

Sailors and spectators wrapped up the evening at the Mill Neck Manor, which was built in the early 1920s. Originally, the manor was a school for deaf children from 1950 to the late 90s until the school relocated to the state-of-the-art Deaf Education Center on campus. Now, the Manor, with its elegant stained glass windows, hand-carved wood paneling and detailed ceilings, is the perfect place to host an after party. Everyone gathered for live music, cocktails, fine cuisine donated by restaurants, a silent art auction, raffles and an awards presentation. The Manor was filled with pleasant conversation—both verbal and signed—dining, dancing and camaraderie.

An awards presentation capped off the evening. Fran Bogdanoff, the school’s interim superintendent, accepted the Mill Neck Manor Cup on behalf of the Deaf Education Center. The Cup was awarded for having collected the most donations for the event, and trophies were awarded to sailors who placed first, second and third.

The most notable part of the evening was when Luke Street, one of Donald’s sons, won a trophy for having the most elegant vessel in the regatta. Luke proudly and graciously accepted his trophy as Donald remarked that his son was never as comfortable anywhere else as he was at Mill Neck, and that he couldn’t believe how assertive Luke had been on the water and throughout the evening.

The awards, however, are not what the Sail the Sound for Deafness Regatta is truly about, which Donald, aboard Nautilus, proved when he sacrificed placing first in order to teach a less-experienced helmsman how to steer. Where others may not have turned over the helm, Donald exemplified the real intentions of the event, namely, to support and help others achieve success and be part of a community.

Overall, the Sail the Sound for Deafness classic regatta raises funds to support Mill Neck’s programs and services, but more importantly, it raises awareness. By including a variety of people ranging from seasoned sailors and newcomers to the typically-abled and the differently-abled spectators and racers, the regatta creates solidarity among the community. Like so many fundraising regattas, the event served, not just to collect donations, but also to cultivate friendships. This incredible opportunity is not to be missed in years to come as it grows with increasing cooperation in the celebration of difference.

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