Down to the sea
There’s something about the shoreline that draws people: the beauty of the sunset, the smell of the surf, the sound of the waves. It refreshes us, calms us, makes us recall good times and dream of new ones.
There also is something about Sea Cliff, the small, one- square-mile village whose name describes it: a cliff overlooking the sea. Located on the North Shore of Nassau County, this village, known for its many magnificent Victorian homes, has 18 public parks, seven churches and, above all, glorious views of Hempstead Harbor and Long Island Sound.
If there is anything that ties together the people of Sea Cliff, it is their orientation toward the sea — and toward their boats. Sailing is a focus of activity for young and old. Even nonsailors in Sea Cliff can’t help feeling connected to the sailboats. Their masts fill the harbor like the teeth in a comb during the height of the sailing season.
“There’s no place like Sea Cliff,” says George Christman, longtime resident and veteran sailor. “It’s an open harbor, and in 10 minutes you can be sailing in the Long Island Sound.”
Bicentennial port of call
Sea Cliff became known internationally in 1976, when local author and illustrator Frank O. Braynard created OpSail, which brought Tall Ships from all over the world to the village en route to New York Harbor to celebrate the country’s bicentennial.
The event celebrated “the brotherhood of the sea” and the coming together of men and women from many nations to share in a great endeavor.
Braynard was a founder of the annual Around Long Island Regatta, now in its 31st year, hosted each summer by the Sea Cliff Yacht Club. The club and the village both offer junior sailing programs, as well.
Sailing for some is a hands-on challenge between sailors and Mother Nature; there are skills and navigation to be learned, all kinds of rigging, different sails for different purposes and more. For others, it’s a simple escape from the hectic workweek, a chance to slow down and reconnect with our families and ourselves.
In 1865, a group of Methodists came to Sea Cliff by steamboats from New York City to hold prayer meetings. They were attracted by “the sea breeze, excellent bathing, an admirable harbor, a favorite anchorage for yachts, boating and very respectable fishing,”according to an article in the Sea Cliff Journal.
In 1871, the group purchased 240 acres of farmland from the Carpenter family. Tents were set up originally, but in time, a domed tabernacle that could seat 5,000 was built, along with a steamboat dock and boardwalk. In 1890, the camp era ended, and the tabernacle was sold to a German Methodist group that began selling land for private homes.
Home building really took off and Sea Cliff became a very popular summer resort, with magnificent Victorian homes and “Gingerbread cottages.”
Even today, it’s a village somewhat apart, without big highways, shopping centers or housing developments. And there still is, as the Sea Cliff Journal reported back in the 1870s, that fine sea breeze, admirable harbor and favorite anchorage for yachts and boating.
BY KATHY KMONICEK