By Emily J. Weitz
The East End Classic Boat Society (EECBS) was formed for the love of the tradition of boat building, a tradition that helps to define this region. Twice weekly, members gather together to work with their hands in the woodshop, which is ripe with the smell of freshly cut wood. Next weekend, SOFO (The South Fork Natural History Museum) is partnering with the EECBS to open the doors to the public, to allow kids and adults alike the opportunity to observe a real boat shop in action.
“It’s part of our community outreach program,” says Ray Hartjen, Project Director at EECBS. “Parents and children will be able to watch the boat building, and part of the program will give them an opportunity to mess around with some wood.”
The boat they’re currently constructing is a twelve-foot wooden vessel that could be used for rowing, sailing, or as a motor boat with an outboard motor. Once completed, it will be entered in a raffle, which serves as a fundraiser for the organization and is raffled at festivals like HarborFest.
“We are using white oak for the keel, bow and stern,” says Hartjen. “The planking for the boat will be Atlantic White Cedar, which is found in the Southeast and brought here via a sawmill in Rhode Island.”
Some of the materials used will be local, however.
“We go off into the woods and harvest trees with the help of tree harvesting people,” says Hartjen. “We use sassafras, which is often cut up for firewood. It’s the old-fashioned ingredient in root beer, but it also happens to make a very nice paddle.”
At next week’s event, Hartjen will demonstrate how to make a paddle out of sassafras.
“We’ll plane down the tree, cut the outline of the pattern, and people can help round the shaft of the paddle, and help us whittle it down.”
Some aspects of the boat are ready to go, and others will be in the works this weekend.
“We have the transom cut and ready to be put in place,” says Hartjen. “The keel has just been cut, but it hasn’t been refined. It has to be sanded, papered, and shaped.”
So on Saturday, between 9 and 2, people can come by the shop and see what volunteers are doing every Saturday. The twelve or so members who come regularly are at the boat shop on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Since their workshop on Bluff Road was constructed, the group has built four boats of various kinds, many of which are steeped in East End tradition.
“The Sharpie is a traditional East End boat,” says Hartjen. “It could be between ten and sixteen feet, with two planks to a side. The planks come down to below the water line, and these flat-bottom boats can be pulled out onto the beach easily.”
Sharpies are historically for commercial uses, like for baymen who need to tend to their traps or for people heading out to dredge for scallops.
“Sharpies are usually made out of wood or plywood,” explains Hartjen, “though they may have fiberglass on the seams.”
Hartjen points out that the wooden boats they make in the shop are environmentally sound.
“You don’t see wooden boats lying around on the shoreline rotting,” he says. “Boatyards get filled up with fiberglass boats, and they have to pay to have them cut up and brought to the dumps. In Gardiner’s Bay there used to be 100 wooden boats, and nature managed to recycle them back into the world.”
Back in the early part of the 20th century, Tom Bennett was a big boat builder here on the East End.
“The East Hampton Maritime Museum had a boat that David Rattray had sailed on when he was young,” says Hartjen. “It was in a dilapidated state. One of our guys took the measurements of the boat so it could be reproduced, and we built a reproduction of it in the back yard of the Marine Museum.”
The money collected from the raffles goes to keeping the shop going, and keeping the tradition alive. This Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., all East Enders are invited to see what the tradition is all about.