A Boat Shop Casts Off

Posted on 26 September 2008

For hundreds of years ship yards small and large thrived in the coves and bays around the East End. They were where men and women crafted the vessels that plied the coast for trade, or scudded across the water pushed by gentle breezes for sheer pleasure.

In many quarters, what was once an important economic engine here has been all but lost, the skills that were passed from generation to generation disappearing as the interest in — and the ability to make a living by — the old way wanes.

The East End Classic Boat Society hopes to reverse that trend, and this Saturday will throw open the doors to its new boat shop in Amagansett to a public they hope will help grow their ranks. Founded in 1999 as a group who shared an admiration of classic and traditional boats — and the skills it took to build them —  the members have been holding workshops and programs around the South Fork for nearly a decade to keep the old skills relevant.

 “We had been running programs on boat building at different locations,” said Ray Hartjen, who is president of the society. “We had a family boat building workshop on the lawn of the Custom House in Sag Harbor, we’ve had demonstrations at HarborFest. We’ve done them in my backyard and we had whipping classes at the home of Pat Mundus in Northwest. So we decided we needed a place to do all this.”


When the group formed as a non-profit organization in 1999, they hadn’t thought about a building. Their’s and other workshops had been moving in fits and starts for several years, and someone had suggested that the EECBS and the East Hampton Historical Society join forces. That hasn’t occurred, but they did find land adjacent to the historical society’s Marine Museum on Bluff Road, donated by the U.S. Government, and a little over four years ago started the voyage to get approval for, and build, the post and beam structure that stands there today.

“We were a year and a half in front of the town planning board,” said Hartjen, “and we got the feeling they hated the project. They thought it was a horrible idea.”

Mr. Hartjen credits a shift in the board’s administration with helping to move the plan forward. And for the past two years, teams of volunteers have given up their weekends — and longer — to help put the building together; much of it with materials that have been donated.

The rest of it — including $128,000 for the post and beam structure itself — was paid for with money raised through the generosity of people who have a clear passion for boats.

“We’ve raised over $350,000,” said Hartjen.

“A couple took me to dinner on Shelter Island and told me ‘we have a surprise for you,” he said. “They wrote me a check for $20,000, just because they liked the project.”

“People would come and look at the shop and fall in love with it,” said Hartjen. “’I’m good for $25,000, send me a bank transfer,’ said one man.”

“We would be nowhere without the deep pockets from Amagansett,” he said.

The reward can be seen in the facility that has space a boatwright can dream about. Wide open with a deck that faces south to the ocean, Hartjen jokes it would be great for a party. Tools and power that are easily accessible and an interior and barn doors that allow for substantial-sized projects are welcome.

At hand right now is a Swampscott-style dory the society is building from plans, said Sag Harbor’s Pierce Hance, a member of the society’s board and an active volunteer.

The 12 ½’ dory — or what is built of it — will be on view this Saturday.

“It fit our parameters,” said Hance. “We wanted a boat that was manageable in size, and one where we could learn about lofting and framing, and also had the potential for duplication.”

Hartjen was impressed with the wood the society acquired to build it.

“It’s Atlantic white cedar in 16-foot lengths, and 12 to 15-inches wide. Mostly totally clear,” said Hartjen. “Our boatwright’s jaw dropped when he saw it.”

Hance said the boathouse offers a great opportunity to learn, and membership is reasonable at $35.

The shop has already been visited by interested folks, observed Hartjen, and fathers come down with their sons to learn a skill together working on old boats.

“People who don’t even own a decent hammer, coming down to learn how to plane down to a line,” said Hartjen. “It’s amazing.”

The open house will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a ribbon cutting at 2 p.m.


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