In the 1800s, Greenport, Port Jefferson, Setauket and Northport responded to the demands of domestic and foreign trade by becoming wooden shipbuilding centers. In the hubbub of shipyards of yesteryear, owners worked tirelessly alongside their men, fashioning vessels from oak, chestnut and yellow pine that proudly bore their names.
The East End Classic Boat Society, founded in 1998 and incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in 1999, continues this glorious legacy on a smaller scale.
Vice President Bill Good said that the mission of the volunteer group is to preserve the region’s longstanding tradition of building small wooden boats, which in days gone-by were used in pursuit of a livelihood through fishing, clamming, and hunting,
The Society endeavors to keep the traditional skills entailed in wooden boat building alive, said President Ray Hartjen, a retired educator who has nurtured a love for fine woodworking since childhood and who now relishes the opportunity to pursue this passion on a regular basis.
According to Hartjen, the Society’s greatest accomplishment to date has been building the Community Boat Shop, located at 301 Bluff Road in Amagansett. Society members had been building boats outdoors and had dreamt of a facility where they could work year-round since the early 1990s. This dream took shape when the East Hampton Historical Society suggested a partnership with the East End Classic Boat Society. Hartjen negotiated with the Town of East Hampton for a parcel of land behind the Marine Museum, and construction of the Community Boat Shop was approved in 2006. The two year-long project—a labor of love completed predominantly by volunteers and paid for with an outpouring of financial support from community benefactors—was completed in 2008.
“We built it ourselves,” Hartjen said of the 28’ x 48’ two-level building with a timber-frame structure. It’s the place where on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., members can be found building small rowing boats like the Swampscott Dory, completed a month ago. An example of small boat building at its best, the Swampscott Dory showcases the beauty of Atlantic white cedar, white pine, black locust, and mahogany.
The group—which boasts 180 members from all walks of life who share a love of fine marine craftsmanship—also restores old boats. The Society is currently restoring a Herreshoff 12 ½ which dates from the early 1920s. “It’s a gem of a boat,” said Hartjen.
Good described the process of building and restoring small boats as both “an art and science,” and the Society takes pride in doing it the old-fashioned way.
Those who attend the Society’s workshops and seminars learn the traditional skills of steam-bending wood, building a hollow mast, knot-tying and other nautical skills, while enjoying the camaraderie of like-minded volunteers, young and old.
The Society has already built four boats at their new facility, including a Catspaw dinghy and a reproduction of a Bennett skiff. The group is currently considering its next project.
The Society raffles the small boats that they painstakingly construct to keep their organization afloat, Hartjen explained. The group will be selling raffles for the Swampscott Dory at venues including the Sag Harbor Fest, Greenport Maritime Festival, and Riverhead Fall Festival.
Hartjen is also buoyed by the thought of the Society’s upcoming end of the year party, which takes place between Christmas and New Years at Sag Harbor’s American Hotel.
To learn about the East End Classic Boat Society’s upcoming events, ongoing projects, and the benefits of membership, visit