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Faces of the Oyster Festival: September 17, 2010

Together, This Duo Books the Tall Ships

The second of a series on the people who make the Oyster Festival happen.

The Tall Ships sailing into sunlit Oyster Bay harbor every October heralds the start of another Oyster Festival. This year’s fleet include a pair of vessels certain to delight buffs: the Gazela, a three-mast, 177 foot long Barquentine wooden fishing ship built in 1901 in Portugal; and the Cutter Chinook, a World War II ice-breaking tug.

Over the years Tall Ships have included historic windjammers and pirate ship replicas, rebuilt European fishing boats and New England oyster sloops. Last year, a tug built 60 years ago at the West End’s long-ago Jakobson Shipyard returned to its place of origin – and a hero’s welcome.

Two volunteers book the Tall Ships for the Oyster Festival: Jim Werner and Jennifer Sappell.

Mr. Werner discovered the Oyster Festival in 2007, having recently moved to East Norwich with his bride Kristen. The young financial planner walked the fairgrounds and saw how much volunteer effort was needed. He approached Rotary a few days later and volunteered. His offer was accepted. Meanwhile he himself was recruited into the organization, whose mission is Service Above Self. His first assignment - help schedule next year’s fleet of Tall Ships.

“Here I am knowing nothing at all about anything nautical,” he says with a laugh. “I rowed crew back in school. That’s it.” He is currently a member of the Sagamore Rowing Association.

Owner of a Hofstra MBA degree, the Halliday Financial Group planner falls back on a business-like approach. “The American Sail Training Association has a guide that lists the registered ships,” Mr. Werner said. “We track who’s visiting which festivals and reach out to them.”

Competition for Tall Ships rages year-round as festivals, groups and institutions compete nationally. Ship owners, captains and booking agents know the market, and can be tough negotiators.

In wrangling Tall Ships, often the WaterFront Center is the ace in the hole. “We can use electrical and water hookups, make showers available, handle garbage pick-up, and provide similar services,” Mr. Werner said. “Captains like that.”

Ms. Sappell worked part-time in the WaterFront Center in the ‘00s. Although she now administers the Long Island North Shore Heritage Association, she remains friendly with waterfront staff and regards her West End stint as a kind of nautical homecoming.

“I love being around boats, but even more I love being around people who love boats,” she said. “I’m more crew than captain, is the truth.

“I think it’s in my blood,” she adds with a laugh. “My grandfather built his own boat.”

While not a boat owner herself, Ms. Sappell takes advantage of her proximity to water – she and her husband reside in North Syosset – to do plenty of kayaking.

Born in western Massachusetts, Ms. Sappell came to Long Island in 1973 for school, choosing the State University at Stony Brook largely because of its undergraduate housing near the shore. After completing her degree in social sciences she went to work at a series of human service agencies. Eventually she moved into banking then financial administration.

Business took her a long way from the shoreline. Family responsibilities, she said, drew her back. “The WaterFront Center was like coming home,” she said. “I love maritime history, all those traditions and lure. The beauty of it all. Those brass propellers the ships had are works of art!”

Ms. Sappell scouts potential Tall Ships much of the year. Her annual vacation at her family’s home on Maine’s Penobscot Bay offers prime seating for the daily display of sailing elegance.

Negotiating with ship owners or representatives, she positions Oyster Bay as convenient and accommodating. “If I know the ship is based in Maryland, and it’s scheduled to be in Newport at the end of October, my approach is - ‘Hey, we’re in your path,’” says Ms. Sappell with a laugh.

The naturally deep harbor – about 17 feet deep at low tide – compares well with other docks, and opens the waterfront to most Tall Ship contenders. Ms. Sappell is quick to state this fact in negotiations.

Each of the partners is quick to praise the other.

“Jennifer has an incredible network of connections,” said Mr. Werner, who served last year as Rotary president. “She knows boats and she knows who to call,” Mr. Werner said. “She is an incredible resource.”

Ms. Sappell returns the compliments.

“Jim has been truly a delight, a pleasure to work with,” she says. “Jim has integrity, spunk, good humor and drive. He inspires me.”

Visit the Tall Ships next month at the Oyster Festival, and be inspired too.

(The above was submitted by ImageQuest Communications, Oyster Festival promoter.)