Tag Archive | "East End Classic Boat Society"

Handcrafting Wooden Boats

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By Francesca Normile


Building wooden boats by hand seems a craft more prevalent in the South Fork of the early whaling days than it does to the South Fork of today. However, the East End Classic Boat Society (EECBS) — which is based in a newly crafted boat building workshop (complete with water view) in Amagansett — proves that notion wrong.

A not-for-profit organization focused on sustaining the traditions of wooden boat building and restoration, the boat society a group made up of primarily 10 regular participants (mostly men) who are, according to member Burt Van Deusen, “All up there in age.”

“I found out that we can share a lot of things together even though we’re all from different backgrounds,” says Van Deusen. “And I kind of like the experience of all the people and what they bring to the boat.”

“I mean, no decision can be made without some kind of group therapy session ahead of time,” continues Van Deusen laughing. “Nothing goes smoothly, but it gets done and these boats are just winding up so beautifully. I think it has surprised us all that we could do it. We all bring different things to the boathouse every week. I look forward to the lunch breaks with these people, I’ll tell you that.”

The society’s most recent project is a just completed 12-foot 8-inch Catspaw dinghy. It will be the featured vessel in the society’s upcoming Classic Boat Fair, which will take place rain or shine on Saturday, July 17. Over 30 boats (some of which are for sale) will be on view in addition to the Catspaw. Ray Hartjen, president of the boat society, expounds on the difficulties and rewards of building a boat by hand.

“The operation is kind of fun and awing,” says Hartjen. “You steam a half-inch piece of wood for half an hour and when it comes out you could tie it into a knot it is so limber.”

“It’s a challenge. When you’re steam-bending the plank, essentially you’re torturing it,” adds Hartjen with a laugh. “And you’ve only got a minute and a half after you pull it out before it gets too hard to manipulate.”

 “One of the most interesting parts of whole process is that we were able to get Atlantic white cedar for the boat [in boards that were] cut from a tree from balk to balk,” says Hartjen. “So you can see how the wood is at the base of the tree and as it tapers up, you can really see the shape of the tree.”

Van Deusen adds that symmetry was important in building the Catspaw, and obtaining it required an immense amount of care and labor.

“We’re making a smooth boat,” said Van Deusen of the Catspaw. “You keep each side identical — and they have to be as close to identical on each side as possible. You split each plank down the middle to make the left and the right side planks[…] The splitting is probably the hardest thing. It takes about 10 minutes to split one and we all hold our breath while we do it.”

This group has a lot of boat building experience under their belt and have worked through the trials of accidentally split planks and the challenges of meticulously matching up each board with the others to create a smooth exterior. But as a result of their efforts, in the end they have produced an object that is a source of great pride for everyone involved. Lovers of wooden boats will be happy to know that raffle tickets are being sold for the Catspaw.

The Classic Boat Fair will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Community Boat Shop, located behind the Marine Museum at 301 Bluff Road in Amagansett. The event — which includes light food and beverages, demonstrations on rope tying, splicing and whipping,  a raffle for the Catspaw, and a nautical flea market (which, according to Hartjen, “is a bunch of excess junk that belongs to boats”)— is free of charge. The Community  Boat Shop is also open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

 

A Boat Shop Casts Off

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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.