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Sag Harbor: Harborfest 2012

September 22, 2012

After a workweek spent in the grimy city (yes, New York, you might be exciting and alive and fascinating, but you are also dirty and crowded and filled with some questionable people) it’s always nice to escape to some peace and quiet.  The Hamptons, including the beautiful Sag Harbor, are only two and a half hours by train (1 1/2 hours by car) and yet you might as well be a whole world away. Unfortunately, this is also what turns the town in a tourist haven during the summer months.

Despite the crowds of (not-always-deserving) Manhattanites, celebrities and ordinary tourists, there really is no place to be in the summertime than the Hamptons, and the end of summer is always bittersweet. However, fall is just as beautiful on the East End of Long Island, and less crowded. Every mid-September Sag Harbor hosts Harborfest, a weekend celebration of Sag Harbor and it’s history, and while the event does draw tourists, it is a celebration of locals.

HarborFest is marked by walking tours of Sag Harbor’s colonial streets, visits to Sag Harbor’s tiny little museums, music from local groups,corn shucking contest and a clam chowder contest, among other things. But the highlight is the Whaleboat Races, which takes place at the Windmill Beach where Main Street turns into Long Wharf. Local businesses get together a team of employees or friends and they all compete against each other in a series of heats, with a men’s division and a women’s division, to win a trophy. The Whaleboat Races are always a good time; when I was a kid my Mom rowed in them every year, and finally took home the trophy with her teammates (alas, I have never learned to row; I can barely paddle a kayak).


A view of the boats lined up along Long Wharf. 20120922-001315.jpg

That itty-bitty black cannon on the ground is set off at the start of every whaleboat race. The cannon was originally owned by a local resident, and a box of cannonballs apparently costs $60, according to the Chamber of Commerce.


Kids playing in one of the whaleboats (these are actually smaller replicas of the real whaleboats that were used back in the day).


This cute little whale is the centerpiece of the Whaleboat Races: as the teams complete the circuit, the bowman must “harpoon the whale” (in reality, they just throw a foam bat at a piece of sticky cardboard, to be on the politically safe side. But back in the day, according to my father, they apparently used real harpoons).20120922-001440.jpg

Lots of food stalls and vendors selling everything from jewellry to paintings set up on Long Wharf, including this Airstream trailor selling snacks (that’s the windmill behind it).20120922-001505.jpg

A beautiful old house in the village, replete with patriotic flair. This house has exquisite outside gardens. 20120922-001514.jpg

Entrance to a house in the village that’s for sale. I was drawn by the fact that it looked a little unkempt, but just the entrance to the house alone was so amazingly detailed, with the moldings, blue ceiling and Eagle doorknocker.20120922-001529.jpgLastly, no trip walking around Sag Harbor Village is complete without taking in the  thoroughly ‘modern’–not to mention controversial–addition to the town: artist Larry Rivers’ Legs sculpture, which, as you can see above, is pretty explanatory. The sculpture is owned by the two art dealers who live in the gorgeous house behind it, which was actually a former Bethel Baptist church, but has become the subject of fierce public debate as the village has insisted on the need for a building permit, among other regulations. Since 2008 the owners have been battling the town to keep the legs posed and poised where they are.

Personally, I love the legs, and don’t feel that they infringe on the colonial charm of my hometown. But such is the small-town politics, where life is so unhurried and unworried that people can come up with ludicrous building laws (the Hamptons is the kind of place where people are prohibited from running lawn mowers and leaf blowers at certain times of the day). After a week in the city, it’s always a joy to go back to the place I’ll always call home. After all, if your home is paradise, who wouldn’t want to go back and at least visit?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2012 11:42 PM

    I was giggling as this reminds me of Toronto.. hahaha..


  2. September 25, 2012 2:24 PM

    Great photoessay. It looks like it was great fun.

    • October 8, 2012 10:49 PM

      Thank you! Yes, HarborFest is a great time to celebrate not only the town but also the sea and being outdoors. I’m glad I still get to attend it now that I’m older and no longer living there!

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