Sailing Organization recognizes Island Coach

Sailing organization recognizes Island coach
By Elizabeth Laytin | 09/22/2011 10:18 PM | Featured Stories, News Shelter Island Reporter

Peter Needham, in his fourth year as coach of the Shelter Island High School’s after-school sailing team, was selected “Sailor of the Week” last week by US SAILING, the national governing body of the sport. Jake Fish, communications director of US SAILING, said Mr. Needham had been chosen because of his leadership and dedication to a local community’s student sailing program.

“He provides opportunities for sailors after the summer season,” Mr. Fish said.

Mr. Needham receives a small stipend from the school for managing its sailing program and donates many hours of his time and the use of his 18-passenger van for trips.

“It’s quite an honor,” Mr. Needham said. “US SAILING seems to appreciate those who are giving back to the community. I do it because I believe in it.”

Mr. Needham, 57, is married, with three children and has been a member of the Shelter Island Yacht Club since 1983. He is vice president of Coecles Harbor Marina & Boatyard and has been building boats since 1979. His company is well-known for building four boats for Billy Joel. Two of his children, Connor and Mackenzie, are now on sailing teams in college after having competed on the high school sailing team.

In 2008, Yacht Club members, including Commodore Brook Aquilino, agreed to keep the doors open beyond the summer season for a high school sailing program. Mr. Needham said the club recognized that local students could benefit from a spring and fall after-school program. “Summer sailing is expensive. Most of the kids that come into the school program have never sailed in their lives. Just like Shelter Islanders don’t ride horses,” Mr. Needham said.

Mr. Needham went to the Board of Education and won approval for the program, which got underway that fall with Mr. Needham assisted by another local sailing figure, 2008 Olympic competitor Amanda Clark. “Amanda put on her Olympic uniform and had a slide show in the school auditorium,” he said. “Twenty-three kids signed up.” Mr. Needham said Connor and Mackenzie took turns as skippers until all the budding sailors had enough experience to man four 420’s, two-man boats with no spinnaker or trapeze.

This fall, “probably eight” have gone out for the program, Mr. Needham said. He said the number fluctuates.

“When we go to regattas, we try to get everyone to sail,” Mr. Needham said of the fall and spring programs. “Some kids aren’t crazy about competition. But if they sail for the high school, they can compete at the college level. And they’re physically in great shape.” The sailing team has traveled to Tom’s River, New Jersey; Norfolk, Virginia; and New Orleans to race.

A video interview of Mr. Needham and his son Connor is on the Official US SAILING Roadshow blog dated September 7 ( The interview was conducted by Will Ricketson of Shelter Island, one of two Roadshow hosts.

Alan Garrison, the Yacht Club general manager, had nothing but praise for Mr. Needham and his efforts to start the program. “Yacht Club members and people from the community chip in so the students don’t have to purchase anything,” he said. “An anonymous donor purchased new dry suits for the team a year or two ago,” he said. Mr. Garrison’s son Drew took over as skipper when Mr. Needham’s son and daughter left. “He’s number one now,” Mr. Garrison said.

Mr. Needham also praised Ms. Clark. “Amanda works with the team whenever she can. She drills them,” he said. Ms. Clark was unavailable to comment. She is off -Island training for an Olympic trial on December 12 in Perth, Australia.

Greg Nissen, her husband and general manager of Camp Quinipet, also praised Mr. Needham. “Peter was the driving force to get this thing going, to give his time every afternoon. He made it a huge priority. He had thought about this forever,” he said. “Nothing like this existed in 2000. Amanda wanted to get with Peter to make sure things happened.”

Mr. Needham said he likes to have fun with his team. “I make them wear their dry suits when we get out at Greenport to walk to Starbucks. Some didn’t want to do it. But when they started walking, people thought they were astronauts.”