A tall order: Port Jeff looks for tall ships to fill dock...

A tall order: Port Jeff looks for tall ships to fill dock as planned schooner deal falls through

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The Schooner Elizabeth will be used as a placeholder at the village dock. Photo from Jason Rose

Port Jefferson residents continue to look toward the harbor expecting to see masts of a tall ship high above the surrounding buildings, but they may have to wait for a while longer.

The Amistad will make a brief appearance in Port Jefferson Harbor July 18. Photo by Chris Ryon

Back in March, the village had announced negotiations with The Halie & Matthew, a 118-foot-long schooner originally set to dock in Port Jefferson Harbor. It was the result of months of work by the Port Jefferson Harbor Education & Arts Conservancy and local maritime enthusiasts, but village officials said negotiations fell through when the schooner company, Maine Windjammers Inc., wanted to work the vessel partly as a restaurant, operating outside the normal hours of the pier.

“We’re like, nope, absolutely not,” said Mayor Margot Garant at a July 15 village meeting. ”The pier closes at dusk … The tone and tenor of that agreement changed so drastically that it just fell apart.”

Village Attorney Brian Egan confirmed the scope of the operation the schooner company desired was inconsistent with what the village originally intended, that the ship would be used for tours and as a promotional platform for the village. Port Jefferson would have given the boat exclusive access to one side of the pier near Jeanne Garant Harborfront Park for four years.

However, the search for tall ships in the harbor is far from over, at least according to Port Jefferson village historian Chris Ryon. 

Ryon and other enthusiasts had set up the Port Jefferson Tall Ship Committee, a subset of the conservancy, to bring a tall ship to the harbor. Ryon said he was unfazed by the setback, saying they already have other plans in the works. The village historian and other committee members set up the Port Jeff Maritime Facebook page to advertise for additional tall ships, from which he said they have received several offers.

“We’re opening up the dock for free to schooners and are saying ‘come on down,”
he said.

These plans include using fellow committee member Jason Rose’s own still-to-be-reconstructed schooner, Elizabeth, as a placeholder at the dock site.

“[Rose] is a very altruistic person,” Ryon said. “He really wants that schooner to be a part of Port Jeff.”

The Amistad will make a brief appearance in Port Jefferson Harbor July 18. Photo by Chris Ryon

Ryon, who attended the July 15 meeting, said there were two ships they were looking at, one being the Amistad, a re-creation of the famed African slave ship where slaves rebelled against their captors in 1839. Famously, the slaves would eventually gain their freedom in court after being brought into New London Harbor in Connecticut. The ship will dock for a brief time Thursday, July 18, while the ship’s crew takes measurements of the dock.

Another ship, the schooner SoundWaters, has also been in talks with Ryon, Rose and the tall ship committee about docking in the harbor for a yet undetermined space of time.

In anticipation of the Hallie & Matthew, the village hooked up the dock to be used by the schooner with electricity, but whichever ship next moors there would be able to use it.

The dock in question currently only contains the Stony Brook University-owned Seawolf, which resides on the dock’s west edge. There is currently no other boat residing on the east edge.

Ryon added the Port Jefferson Yacht Club has made its own dock available should the village wish to house two tall ships at the same time. The club’s dock is actually deeper than the village-owned dock, the village historian said. The yacht club’s dock is 11 feet deep at dead low waters, while the village-owned dock is 5½ feet deep at dead low closest to the shore.