Boat Builders United

The volunteer panel from left: Jim Brannigan of Syosset; George Lindsay of Oyster Bay; William Shephard of Plainview; Al Miller of Oyster Bay and Bob Larsen of Hicksville.

A panel of Ida May Project volunteers let out the secret of their success as they spoke at the Koenig Center on July 19. That is where the Oyster Bay Historical Society’s exhibit of Long Island Traditions, Inc. executive director Nancy Solomon’s exhibit of wooden boat building yards still active on Long island is open through Sept. 4.

While the Ida May Project (IMP) is one of them, “Jakes,” (Jakobson Shipyard) isn’t there, said IMP vice president Jack Hoyt.

“It’s not here any more so it can’t be part of the exhibit,” said Hoyt, adding tha while everyone knows about Jakes, and some know about the Christeen, they are still trying to get out word about the Ida May.

Inside the Christeen Corp boatyard on West End Avenue the secret is that the wooden boat building volunteers really enjoy working with each other. An amiable, knowledgeable group, they share a passion for working with their hands after many years working as professional engineers and executives.

From left: Jack Hoyt, IMP vice president; Jim Brannigan of Syosset; Bill Shephard of Plainview; George Lindsay and Al Miller of Oyster Bay and Bob Larsen of Hicksville (Photos by Dagmar Fors Karppi)

For 75 years, the Ida May dredged for oysters and the new boat will have that capability too, said Hoyt. IMP volunteer Jim Brannigan, a retired Wall Street financial analyst (which he said uniquely qualifies him for the project) groaned at the thought of using the dredge. He volunteers dredging up marine life while crewing aboard the Christeen and said the thought of doing that on the much larger Ida May would happen.

“Over the screaming objections of the crew,” Brannigan said. Hoyt softened the blow saying, “We will probably use the boom to pick up the marine critters.”

Knowledgeable volunteer William Shephard, after 30 years as an senior electrical engineer with Grumman who volunteered at the South Street Seaport restoring the Wavertree, a $20 million project for New York City; helped built the oyster sloop Christeen; built a Friendship sloop (used in Maine for lobstering,) the Scimitar, with his son Billy; worked on the keel restoration for the Christeen and is working on the Ida May. He is an example of why shipwright Josh Herman has found that the skills the volunteers have learned puts them in a position to do most of the work themselves. It is the reason the boat has been proceeding so well without having to pay professionals to do the work: a needed solution for lack of funding.

Volunteer George Lindsay was eyeing the opportunity to work on the Ida May when retiring from his post as Tilles Center general manager. With a background in stagecraft and coming from a family which has sailed here since 1932, he is a natural.

Since moving to Oyster Bay in 2004, Ed Miller comes directly through the Oyster Festival, the WaterFront Center and crewing on the Christeen to working on the Ida May. He builds furniture and for him, wrestling with the 1,000-pound standing drill with a rotating table featured at the boatyard is an added thrill.

A photo of the current incarnation of the 50-foot, 49-ton wooden boat Ida May.

Bob Larsen of Hicksville, retired from working with computers for the state as well as earlier in construction, said, “Using your hands and working with this group is incredible for their sharing their knowledge of things. These guys know everything worth knowing about boat construction.” And he has a family tie: his grandfather’s brother worked for Jakes.

Hoyt offered that the Christeen has taken out students from Adelphi University, Jericho and Oyster Bay high schools for marine education. Seniors from the Life Enrichment Center are taking a tour on Aug. 3, and regular public tours of the bay are offered regularly. Ida May will join her smaller sister ship in those tasks while adding to the mix by providing a larger stable deck (no heeling when under sail) making a better “desktop” for students’ experiments and dinner cruises for the public.

The 50-foot, 49-ton boat is more than 50 percent complete and will launch in two or three years. To do so means raising $147,000 for essential parts and machinery for the ship. Sponsorship opportunities are available and a Friends of the Ida May is being formed to help the IMP reach its goals. For more information about the IMP, see them on Facebook or on the web at or by calling 516-305-9204.

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