Bookmatching, steam bending, lofting, marrying ribs, French-cut planks. This is the language of wooden boat builders, leisure time craftsmen, reminiscent of another time, when what sailed the seas started as part of the earth. And it can return to the earth when its day is done. A wooden boat revival is happening locally and bringing more than the satisfaction of constructing a seafaring vessel, but belonging to a club of sorts, a place to find a fellow man or woman and get in the groove, literally. Build your own tub. Remember, Winkin, Blinkin and Nod did not sail off in a fiberglass shoe.
The first thing that hits you as you enter The Community Boat Shop on Bluff Road in Amagansett, is that good smell of wood. The second is the light reflecting on the boats in various stages of development, coming from the amazing view of the ocean on the front porch. You are in a workshop with raw materials that will one day become a boat. Maybe this year’s raffle boat, a Swampscott Dory. Or last year’s Sunshine Tender. As a member, you can take out one of the boats for a nice row or sail. A Beetle Cat, perhaps. A Catspaw Dinghy. Ask the skipper, Ray Hartjen, he is your guide, as head of The East End Classic Boat Society. But it didn’t start there, Hartjen humbly tells me, and it did not start with him.
“The Community Boat Shop’s philosophy, started back in the 80’s on Gann Road in Springs, with a man called John Collins,” Hartjen says. “He built boats.” There were a bunch of people involved back then. Pat Mundus (daughter of famous shark guy, Frank Mundus of Jaws fame), George Wilson, Bill Dickerson, to name a few. Hartjen was asked to be on the original board. They worked with the East Hampton Historical Society and the Marine Museum Committee. Hartjen presented the idea of a Community Boat Shop in 1998, and “it was warmly received.” Hartjen went to Job Potter and the Town Board. Potter told him, “the Board will love it.” But Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Ten years later, in 2008, The Community Boat Shop became operational. It now boasts 170 members, 20 or 30 come in over time, 15-18 are steady boat crafters, and on any given day, there are 8-15 people, mostly retired, inside, building boats. Is there a type of boat shop person? Not really. Members are sailors, authors, historians, fishermen, artists, restorers, movie cameramen, executives, plumbers, professors, and retired educators, like Hartjen, himself. And lately they are getting younger and younger.” Twenty and thirty year old guys are checking out the Boat Shop,” Hartjen says. Recently, a young woman in her 20’s, an apprentice in yacht restoration, in Newport, Rhode Island spent some time there. “So it’s not just old fogies; new life is coming in, a new drawing card,” says Hartjen, a smile in his voice. “I like projects. Things to keep me busy and out of the recliner.” Hartjen is no slouch. He recently ran for East Hampton Town Trustee. He almost won! He is a dedicated environmentalist, a downright interesting man, and besides developing the Trail maps on Route 114, Skipper Ray is trying his darndest to rebuild the Pussy Pond Bridge in Springs.
Keeping the boat shop up and running takes money for supplies to build boats, repair donated boats, and have a community workshop and gathering place open and available. Donations from “angels,” have made it all possible. A couple Hartjen met on Shelter Island donated $20,000 and every year since matched it. Another generous soul, donated $15,000. Every year a boat is built and raffled off at various community events around town. The Big Clam Contest in September at The Marine Museum, in front of the Community Boat Shop, is one such event. The Springs Fisherman’s Fair in the summer, is another. Harbor Festivals in Montauk and Sag Harbor are yet another Boat Shop raffle opportunity. Right now, members finished restoring a 13-foot Beetle Cat. Pfizer Corporation donated a boat kit a while back, called a Bevin’s Skiff. Worth $800. Members put it together and it is for sale.
“We are either restoring older boats that are donated, or building new ones to raffle off or for community members’ use on local waters. One, an original Herreshoff 12½. Another, a 1930s ice boat, donated, repaired and sold. Meanwhile, Boy Scout troops visit and learn a thing or two about boat building. Springs School has visited. “We are not equipped to teach, as they do in other places, like ‘Floating The Apple’ in NYC, a boat building ‘experience,’” Hartjen says. “We are still learning ourselves.” But there is opportunity to learn the history and mathematics of boat building by observation. “How in the planks of wood, you see the sides of a tree, how the wood is steam bent, and you have just a minute and 30 seconds to finish bending the planks for the boat. Knowing there is not a square corner anyplace, when building a boat. You have to deal with angles constantly.”
Pop in and see for yourself what a Community Boat Shop is all about. Hartjen calls it “A dreamer’s paradise. The boat shop is that attractive.”
“We build a boat a year,” says Hartjen. Not a bad pastime. As Rat said to Mole in The Wind And The Willows, “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.”
East End Classic Boat Society, 301 Bluff Road, Amagansett. 631-324-2490. Visit their website: eecbs.org and see the wooden boats they have built and the events they have planned. Like the July 14Classic Boat Fair at the Boat Shop. Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., are Boat Shop days and the skipper is aboard. Contact him directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Membership is $35 for individuals. $45 for families.